Friday, March 25, 2011

No Caste For This Guru


In the 18th century Kerala was famous for its social and religious inequalities. The society was extremely traditional with the upper castes ruling the roost and the untouchables and the downtrodden subjected to untold miseries. To transform itself from this backward situation to an egalitarian society, a number of religious reformers and saints had to undergo tremendous social boycott and opposition from the society. Amongst such reformers, the foremost in the field was Sri Narayana Guru who was born in a small village near Trivandrum in 1854. At this time Kerala was so much a hotbed of casteism and untouchability that Swami Vivekananda went to the extent of calling the place ‘a lunatic asylum’.

The religious customs were so rigid that outcastes were forbidden from entering the Hindu temples and worshipping the Hindu Gods like Shiva, Vishnu etc. Untouchability existed not only between Brahmins and Shudras, Shudras and outcastes but also between the various subdivisions and sub-sects. Strictures were placed against members of certain lower classes being seen or in the proximity of higher classes. The penalty for breaching custom was torture and even ostracism. Among the outcaste communities, the Ezhavas were at the top and the sweepers were at the lowest stratum. These communities had their own separate temples and engaged their own Poojaries. The temples were built of temporary structures with thatched roofs. The Ezhavas, however, were permitted to learn Sanskrit and could take up Ayurveda as a hereditary profession. It was in one such well-educated family that Sri Narayana Guru was born in 1856. His uncle, an accomplished and well-respected Ayurvedic physician and also well-versed in Sanskrit, undertook the boy’s upbringing and education.

It is said of Narayana Guru that as a child he never cried: not at his birth, nor when the umbilical cord was cut, nor when, as an infant, he was hungry. This indication of perfect equanimity even from birth explains his immense spiritual stature. He started his private education under a private tutor and later studied Ayurveda and Sanskrit under his uncle. For higher education in Astrology, Sanskrit, Ayurveda and Vedanta, he became a student of the then famous Vedantic scholar Raman Pillai Asan at Pudapalli. After completing his studies, he joined as a teacher and got married in 1882 when he was 26 years old. However, as his mind was philosophically oriented right from childhood, he bade farewell to family life within a few months and took up to the life of a wandering mendicant in search of Truth and stopping in lonely places and meditating. It was during this period that he was firmly established in Jgnana. He fully understood the futility of caste differences. During this quest for knowledge, he met many Gurus, learned Patanjali’s Yoga and was initiated into the task of Self-realisation. But sometime later, he realized that what was required of him was not renunciation but social reformation and make the society aware of the importance of learning that all men are equal regardless of their birth, caste, creed and social status.

In the year 1888 on the Mahashivaratri Day, Narayana Guru went to the eastern bank of the river Neyyar in Aruvippuram, Trivandrum. He spent the first watches of the night in deep meditation and around midnight he went inside the river for a bath. After sometime he emerged carrying a beautiful Shiva lingam and sat for meditation again. Finally at about 3 AM he emerged from the meditation and installed the Shiva lingam in a temple amidst the chanting of the Panchakshari Mantram ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Installation of a Shiva lingam in a temple was considered a monopoly of Vedic Brahmins till that time. The Aruvippuram Ashram and the temple served as Narayana Guru’s centre of activities till 1905. Thereafter he shifted his headquarters to Varkala where he founded the famous ‘Sri Narayana Paripalana Yogam’ to propagate his message of
“One caste, one creed, one God for all mankind”.

It was Narayana Guru’s custom not to venture out to visit others, probably due to his retiring nature and the sensitivity of the caste situation prevailing at that time. However, his fame as a great saint spread all over the country and many dignitaries from all walks of life called on Narayana Guru and paid respects. Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore visited him in November 1922. On the day of Tagore’s visit, a huge gathering had collected in the Ashram to have a glimpse of Tagore who had already attained fame by then as the very first Indian to receive the Nobel Prize. Tagore arrived in a palanquin accompanied by Deenabandhu C.F. Andrews. As the two men faced each other, Tagore fell on his knees and prostrated before Narayana Guru. While taking leave of him, he prostrated again, took both hands of the saint and kissed them. Talking about the great man he said “I have frankly to admit that I have never seen a person so far in my life who is at par with Narayana Guru in spiritual attainment and the zeal to fight for social justice. I shall never forget that radiant face illumined by the self-effulgent Light of Divine Glory and those mystic eyes of the great soul.”

Although it was not Narayana Guru’s practice to visit other saints or famous people, there was only one notable exception when he went all the way to Tiruvannamalai in 1916 to meet Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He had a high degree of reverence and regard for the Maharshi as is evident from the fact that if any one from Tamil Nadu called on him, he would ask the visitor if he had seen Bhagavan. If the reply was in the negative, he would say “Having been in Tamil Nadu, if you have not seen Bhagavan Ramana you have wasted your life”. Before taking leave of Bhagavan, Narayana Guru asked for pencil and a sheet of paper. He sat down under a nearby mango tree and composed on the spot five beautiful shlokas in Sanskrit, eulogizing the greatness of Bhagavan. He gave the caption “Municharya Panchakam” to the composition, placed the sheet of paper before Bhagavan and prostrated before him.

Narayanaa Guru died in 1928 after a long illness. When he fell seriously ill at the beginning of the year, first a telegram and then a letter were sent to Bhagavan. The Maharshi felt that someone from the Ashram should visit Narayana Guru. Since Kunju Swamy was from Kerala and a Malayalee by birth, it was suggested that he should go. When he met Narayana Guru and prostrated before him, Guru asked him “Are you coming from the Maharshi? Is he all right?” He then accepted the proffered lime and pressed it to his eyes with great reverence. Ten days later he attained Mahasamadhi


ARTICLE NO. 449---Kerala's Sri Narayana Guru
Created:Friday, June 20, 2008 11:09 AM


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