Caste-religious vices and untouchability in Kerala were a major obstacle to the waves of national renaissance that emerged in other parts of India at the end of the nineteenth century. The new social order would not have been possible without opposing the feudal social relations and the caste system that underpins it. Narayana Guru was one of the leading social reformers who led and inspired this historic process. With his gentle life and vision, the Guru shattered the dark forts of the caste system and created a new social atmosphere in Kerala with his liberal vision of ‘Mathamethayaalum Manushyan Nannayal Mathi’ It means ‘Whatever the religion, it is enough for man to be good’. Narayana Guru, who shaped his approach to life on the basis of Advaita philosophy, transformed spirituality into an expression against racial bigotry and immorality.
Birth and education
He was born on the 20th August 1854. (Kolla Varsham: 1030 Month : Chingam, Star : – Chatayam) in the village of Chempazhanthi near Thiruvananthapuram, the youngest of four children of Madanasan in Kochuvila and Kuttiamma in Vayalvaram. Narayanan is the name given to him by his parents. As a child, he was popularly known as Nanu by his family and neighbors. Born into a lower caste Ezhava family at a time when caste system and untouchability existed, he overcame such vices and interacted with the children of the lower castes. Even at a very young age, he did not respect any ritual in the name of untouchability.
Narayanan ‘s primary education was in the form of the traditional gurukul system under Narayana Pillai in the house of Kannankara, the then chieftain of the famous Chempazhanthi Pillai family. After getting basic literacy from his father, he learned ‘Siddharoopam’ and ‘Balaprabodhanam’ from Kannankara Narayana Pillai. Nanu started acquiring Sanskrit and medical texts from his uncle the great Krishnan Vaidyar. Later, he joined the famous Kummampally Raman Pillai Asan’s Educational Center at Varanappally, Kayamkulam, Central Travancore to study Sanskrit. Narayanan, who was very proficient in Sanskrit, Tamil, and Malayalam from an early age, was called ‘Nanubhaktan’ by his classmates as he was a man of perfect devotion and thought.
Narayana Guru’s first work is considered to be Gajendra Moksham, a ‘Vanchippattu'(Song Sung by Boat men in kerala) written at the request of the literary critics of Varanappally. Narayanan also wrote a few hymns to God Vishnu in Sanskrit during this period. Velutheri Keshavan Vaidyan, Perunnelli Krishnan Vaidyar and Krishnanasan from Puthukkad Matam were Narayanan’s classmates during this period. In three years he was able to study poetry, debate, grammar and theology. Nanu, who had returned to his home in Chempazhanthi due to illness, had been helping his father with farming for some time. The rituals of prayer, meditation, japam and fasting were strictly observed while grazing cattle and spending time in the forest. It was his custom to read and explain the meaning of Puranas to the villagers who came to his house.Later, with the establishment of a school in Kadakkavur and the teaching of Sanskrit to children, Nanubhaktan came to be known as ‘Nanuvasan’.
He also read a variety of books on religion and philosophy. What attracted him the most was Advaita. But he was not ready to be confined to the crust of his own soul. He observed that human life is fleeting and that life mixed with pleasure and pain is illusory, and therefore needs to be given a unique meaning to life. He observed that racism and untouchability were deadly diseases of society, and realized that the society could be made healthy only if it was adequately treated. Nanuvasan’s contact with the people, who were treated as untouchables, caused resentment among his relatives. But no unequal reprimand could deter him.
His relatives thought that marriage would bring about change in Nanu, who came home only occasionally with the concept of the life of a Messenger, without any focus on worldly matters. However, his marriage to his distant relative Kaliamma in 1882 did not change Nanuvasan’s spiritual life. Their marriage did not last long.
Lesser Known Facts
In the book ‘Narayana Guru’ written by P K Balakrishnan, it is recorded that the Guru says that he was ordained by the British.The Guru says this figuratively but many do not realize that there is a great truth hidden in it
During the First World War, a conversation took place between Sreee Narayana Guru and a disciple.
Swamis: We must all pray for the victory of the English. They are the gurus who gave us asceticism.
Disciple: It is customary to give Kashayam by chanting mantras, which means to give asceticism. Could not understand the meaning of the command of the feet.
Swamis: Isn’t it said that Shudradis should not be sanctified even in the time of Lord Rama? Aren’t Hindus the ones who rule by looking at the Smritis?
(Smriti is an ancient Hindu religious text) (Shudradis – Lower Caste people)
See how beautifully and elegantly the Guru rejects the Hindutva Samhitas and the caste-based social system. Narayana Guru, who was born in the Ezhava community, knew very well that if the system based on Smriti had existed, he would never have been able to choose this path without the authority to become a monk. The Guru realized that the English had played a crucial role in enabling the downtrodden to stand tall as human beings.
It was not his love for the English that prompted Narayana Guru to wish them victory. On the contrary, the Guru wanted the British to succeed, even if they were foreign powers, because if they failed, their power in India would diminish and people of lower caste would gradually fall back into the hands of the Hindu upper castes, who would legislate on the basis of Smriti. The fact is that he hated so much of those upper caste ideologies.
Those who need to better understand the scope of this statement of the Guru are the Lower Caste organizations like S.N. D.P . But they forget the history of a bygone era that they have gone through. Once again, the upper castes have become the pioneers of the Hindutva ideology and support the caste system. Look at the paradox they have gone through.