About Sree Narayana Guru

Sree Narayana Guru was born in the year 1854 AD at Chempazhanthy, in the suburb of the city of Trivandrum, the present capital of Kerala State, India. In those days Trivandrum was the capital of a princely state called Travancore. Before Travancore came under the hegemony of the Maharaja Marthanda Varma there were eight feudal chiefs who were politically powerful and opposed to the ruling prince. One such chief was of Chempazhanthy. Narayana Guru's father was Madan Asan and his mother was Kutti Amma. He was the only son of his parents in the family of Vayalvaram, of which a small cottage is still remaining next to a Bhagavati Temple called Manakkal. Even though Madan Asan was not rich, he was of moderate means. His title, Asan, shows that he was looked upon with respect by his villagers. It is not known if he was a teacher. It is likely that Nanu, as Narayana Guru was called by his parents, learnt Tamil, Malayalam, and Sanskrit from his father.
In the days of Narayana Guru the most vital information everyone wanted to know of another person was his caste. This may look ridiculous to the present generation, but no one thought so in those days. Everybody wanted to know caste and everyone revealed his caste also as a matter of course.
Nanu's first teacher was his own father, Madan Asan. He had formal schooling in the village school of Chempazhanthy Pillai. Apart from Malayalam and Tamil he learned by heart, as was the practice in those days, Sidharupa, Balaprabodhana and Amrakosa. He was blessed with a penetrating understanding and a sharp memory from very early childhood. Although there were a few schools in Travancore and Cochin in those days, Nanu's circumstances were such that he had to satisfy himself with what he received from his father, his uncle Krishnan Vaidyar and the village schoolmaster.

Becoming a Guru
From 1884 to 1904 Narayana Guru's headquarters was mostly at Aruvipuram. The S. N. D. P. Yogam, founded with the blessings of the Guru, became a powerful mouthpiece of all the socially and economically oppressed people of Travancore. The call for justice and equality made by the Yogam also began to be echoed in other parts of Kerala and Madras State (now Tamilnadu). Narayana Guru was a parivrajaka and he never stayed in one place for more than a fortnight. Even in those days when there were no roads, he walked on foot to almost every village in Kerala and the then Madras State. This enabled thousands of people to relate to him personally. His ideals and mode of life influenced them. From all the accounts, he roamed about in South India, healing people of their physical and mental maladies and inspiring everyone to live a clean life of love and co-operation. Since those days these accounts have become legendary and therefore it is hard to separate fact from fiction. However, his life had a close resemblance to that of Jesus Christ who wandered in Judea, Jordan, Galilee and Syria healing people and giving sermons. In 1901 the State Census Manual of Travancore recorded Sree Narayana as a Guru and an erudite Sanskrit Scholar. A sharp drop in the statistics of the commission of crime was also alluded to as a result of the correcting and moralizing influence of Narayana Guru on the society.
Affinity with the Tamil culture
Narayana Guru knew Tamil even in his boyhood days. Before going to Marutvamalai and even after settling down in Aruvipuram, he was in close contact with several Tamil scholars and the well known ashrams and adheenams in Tamilnadu In the ashrams of the Saivites in Karaikudy, Madurai, Kumbhakonam and Tiruchendur the Guru was always received with great honor. The Sannyasins of the Kovilur mutt in Karaikudy even now remember him as a Guru of their spiritual hierarchy. Narayana Guru was very thorough with , Sivapuranam and all the works of Pattanathu Pillayar, Manicka Vachakar, Appar, Sundaramurti, and Tirujnana Sambantar. He even translated part of Tiruvalluvar's TiruKural, Ramalinga Swamikal, who became very famous in Tamilnadu as an advocate of integral vision (samarasam) and social equality (samerase suddha sammirga nilai), was like an elder brother to Narayana Guru. Taimanavar's hymns such as Sukhavari must have influenced Narayana Guru's composition of hymns and psams. The Guru was, however, critical of Taimanavar's sentimentalism. Narayana Guru was not in the habit of writing compositions in his own hand. He always sung them for his devotees and only very few of such compositions were recorded by people. Among these are three Tamil works, which have been recovered from the fast disappearing records of those days. One Such work entitled Tevaram has been recently published by Dr. T. Bhaskaran of the Malayalam Department of the Kerala University. To understand · the Malayalam compositions of Narayana Guru, one should have a fairly good familiarity with the myths and legends popularly sung in Tamilnadu and also should know some of the basic terms used by the followers of Saiva Siddhanta and Sivadvaita.
Sanskrit Background
We have already mentioned that the Guru had a very systematic and very good training in Sanskrit grammar, rhetoric, poetry and Vedanta philosophy. His understanding of other Darsanas was also precise and profound, Unlike the traditional uncritical acceptance by students of the commentaries and notes given by previous Acharyas like Sankara, he was critical. Even though, by and far, he was an Advaitin and a good defender of Sankara, he was very sympathetic in giving his attention to the arguments of Ramanuja and Madhva directed against Sankara. We will have occasion to discuss this in a later chapter where we have to compare Narayana Guru's stand with Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva.
The Guru mostly relied on his own experiences, which were in perfect res3nance with the original teachings of the Upanishads. Outside the Prasthanatraya the only other books he had accepted were Yoga.Vasistha Ramayana of Valmiki and the Yogasutras of Patanjali. He had, however, his own reservation in accepting all that is given in these works, as the last word on yoga.
Guru and Mahatma Gandhi
It is an irony of history that the man who dedicated his entire life for the cause of abolition of caste is today pinned down to the name of a particular caste group of Kerala as their benefactor; while Mahatma Gandhi, who ardently believed in the four varnas and the merit of occupational distribution implied in the caste system, is now venerated as the foremost champion against casteism and untouchability.
Some followers of Narayana Guru, headed by T. K. Madhavan wanted to include in the policy and program of the Indian National Congress, the abolition of taboos and the shown to people nick-named as the untouchables. Mahatma Gandhi was not convinced of Narayana Guru's doctrine of "One Caste, One Religion, and One God." However, Mahatma Gandhi found it was of great political advantage to include the program of abolishing untouchability in the general schedule of the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi called himself a Vaishnavite and he wanted to see India as a people of Vishnu (Vaishnava Janata). In spite of his love for all and his universal outlook, he hated Hindus embracing Christianity or Islam.
After the inclusion of the abolition of untouchability in the national program of the Congress, T. K. Madhavan and others did not want to wait for the fate of the program to come on its own. They decided to get involved in direct action. Mahatma Gandhi gave his approval too. The venue of the action was Vaikam, and it became famous as the VaikamSatyagraha. Narayana Guru placed his land at the disposal of the Satyagrahis to make their camp. Other leaders of Kerala who took an active part in the Satyagraha were Manhath Padmanabhan and Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai. Even though Narayana Guru gave his full consent and blessings to this agitation, he had his own views of Satyagraha. Afterwards, when Mahatma Gandhi met Narayana Guru at Varkala, the sage of Sabarmati and the Guru of Varkala had an interesting discussion which was of great significance in helping us to know the outlooks of these two great men. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Cochin, some Hindu enthusiasts wanted Gandhi to impress upon Narayana Guru the need to stop low caste Hindus from getting converted to Christianity. Mahatma Gandhi presented the subject in a tactful manner to Narayana Guru. He said The caste-Hindus and the low caste-Hindus are both the sons of Hinduism. The caste-Hindu is the elder brother who shoulders responsibility, and he therefore exercises certain privileges. The low caste-Hindu is his younger brother who is to be cared for. If the elder brother turns out to be somewhat rough and aggressive that should not make the younger brother a runaway from his mother Hinduism.
Narayana Guru could not agree with the logic of Mahatma Gandhi's suggestion. The Guru said If a Hindu has no belief in his religion and has belief in another religion, it is good that he embraces the religion in which he believes. Such a conversion will help Hinduism in getting rid of a non-believer, and the religion to which the man gets converted will have the benefit of adding one more believer to it. Moreover the man will be benefited with love and sympathy which he will get from his fellow-believers. There is nothing wrong in such conversions. On hearing this Mahatma Gandhi approached the subject from another angle. He said: 'The convert is embracing Christianity not for the spiritual worth of that religion but for the social and economic benefits he gets from that religion. Narayana Guru agreed to that and he wanted Mahatma Gandhi to understand it as a socio-economic problem, which could be met only by taking adequate measures that, could give social and economic justice to the aggrieved members of the society. This point went home to Mahatma Gandhi and it was even responsible for making a big change in Gandhi's attitude .towards the entire problem of caste-conflict in India. It was significant that Mahatma Gandhi afterwards changed the name of his paper Navajovan to Harijan and even called himself a Harijan.
Guru and Rabindranath Tagore
Nationalism is as much a blinding force as tribalism or parochialism. Many of the national leaders of India had saintly qualities and were deeply erudite in their scholarship. But their horizon of interest was confined to the tradition of India or at best to the problems of India. Rabindranath Tagore was an exception to this. He loved India more as a state of mind than a geographical area of the globe. He kept both his heart and mind open to all traditions and exposed himself to the influence of all religions and races. He lived and thought and envisaged the future of man as a true citizen of the world. His language was more of a poet than of a logician. His mystical insight was deep and profound. In short, in his thoughts, sympathies and visions, he was very close to Narayana Guru, if not identical with the Guru at least in some respects.
When Tagore's Gitanjali was selected for the Nobel Prize, he became the greatest pride of India. Narayana Guru wanted to know more of Tagore. His own disciple, Thampi (afterwards Nataraja Guru), was an ardent admirer of Tagore, and so he brought all the available works of Tagore, and told the Guru the substance of what he read. Narayana Guru appreciated Tagore's visions even in Gitanja!i, but he was not in favor of his own disciple imitating the style and diction of Gitanjali. The Guru knew that his century was meant to be an age of analysis and reason. So he advised his disciple Nataraja Guru to be clear and precise in his presentation and Substantiate his statements with evidence. Except in the matter of presenting thoughts as riddles, in all respects Narayana Guru considered Tagore as a good model for Thampi.
When Tagore visited South India, he was officially invited to be a guest of honor in the Sivagiri Mutt. Nataraja Guru was specially deputed by Narayana Guru to attend on Tagore. The following is an eyewitness account of the visit given by Nataraja Guru and referred to in his book The Word of the Guru. Once came the poet Rabindranath Tagore, on one of his Southern tours, to visit the Guru. In honor of the great poet of Bengal the people in the vicinity of the hermitage arranged a kingly reception. Elephants were requisitioned. He was to be brought in procession as far as the foot of the hill of the ashram. Musical accompaniments were arranged. The Guru stood in the verandah of his rest-house and himself ordered the best carpets that the hermitage possessed, to be brought out to adorn the foot of the seat of the honored guest. The people thronged with the guest, anxious to hear the conversation between the Guru and the seer of Santiniketan. Each of the crowd thought himself the chosen follower of the Guru, and, as space was limited, it took some time to establish silence for the conversation. The two veteran leaders greeted with joined palms, and sat down facing one another. The seer of Bengal broke the deep silence that marked their meeting, and complimented the Guru, on the 'great work' he was doing for the people. The Guru's reply was not delayed. 'Neither have we done anything in the past nor is it possible to do anything in the future. Powerlessness fills us with sorrow.' His words sounded an enigma to some. Others thought he was just joking. Still others examined the logic of the statement. A characteristic silence followed the remark. The crowd looked at one another for a meaning, but it was the Guru's face itself that gave the silent commentary to the words. Deep silence and earnestness sat on his features. Smiles of curiosity and the rival expectations of the people were drowned into the neutral depths of silence by the suggestion that was expressed on the features of the Guru. All was silent for a minute or two. The climax of the interview was reached in silence where all met in equality. Usual conversation followed and the poet and the crowd retired.

No comments:

Post a Comment

SNDP - Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam © 2012 | Designed by Shin Syamalan