LIFE AND TIMES OF SRI NARAYANA GURU

TOMB OF NARAYANA GURU AT SIVGIRI NEAR VARKALA


Nārāyana Guru was born in 1856, in the village of Chempazhanthi near Thiruvananthapuram, the son of Madan Asan, a farmer, and Kutti Amma. The boy was dotingly called Nānu. Madan was also a teacher ("Asān") who was learned in Sanskrit and proficient in Astrology and Ayurveda. As a boy, Nānu would listen to his father with keen interest when he narrated stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to the simple folks of his village. Nānu was initiated into the traditional formal education Ezhuthinirithal by Chempazhanthi Pillai, a local schoolmaster and a village officer. Besides schooling, young Nānu continued to be educated at home, under the guidance of both his father and uncle Krishnan Vaidyan who was a reputed Ayurvedic physician and a Sanskrit scholar, where he was taught the basics of the Tamil and Sanskrit languages and traditional subjects such as Siddharūpam, Bālaprobhodhanam and Amarakośam.
As a child, Nanu was very reticent and was intensely drawn to worship at the local temple. He would criticise his own relatives for social discrimination and the apartheid-like practice of segregating children from, supposedly, lower castes. He preferred solitude and would be found immersed in meditation for hours on end. He showed strong affinity for poetics and reasoning, composing hymns and singing them in praise of God. He lost his mother when he was 15. Nānu spent the most part of his early youth assisting his father in tutoring, and his uncle in the practice of Ayurveda, while devoting the rest of his time for devotional practices at the temples nearby.[4]

Transformation as master, yogi and seeker of truth
The young Nanu had a keen mind and was sent to a famous scholar, Kummampilli Rāman Pillai Āśān at Karunagapalli, a village fifty miles away from his home, at the age of 21. Living as a guest in a prominent family house Varanapallil near Kayamkulam, Nānu, along with other students, was taught Sanskrit language and poetry, drama and literary criticism, and logical rhetoric. He studied the Vedas and the Upanishads. He also began teaching in a near-by school. His knowledge earned him the respect of many and he came to be known as "Nanu Asan".
Nanu returned home to spend some time with his father, who was on the death bed. For a short period he ran a village school for the children of his neighbourhood. While continuing his quest for "the ultimate truth", Nānu would often spend time in the confines of temples, writing poems and hymns and lecturing to villagers on philosophy and moral values.

Married life
Under pressure from his family, Nanu married Kaliamma, the daughter of a traditional village doctor. The marriage was a simple affair with the groom's sisters themselves investing the bride with the 'Thaali' (wedding knot) on his behalf. The bride remained with her parents, since Nanu asan became a wanderer not long after.
'Parivrajaka' (A Spiritual Wanderer)
After the demise of his father and wife, Nanu Asan continued his life of a wandering Sanyasin. He became a 'Parivrajaka' (one who wanders from place to place in quest of Truth). It was during one these days that Nanu met Kunjan Pillai, who later came to be known as Chattampi Swamikal. Kunjan Pillai, who discovered and appreciated Nānu Āśān’s philosophical genius and passion for Yoga, introduced him to Thycaud Ayyavu, a Hatha yogi. Under the Yogi, Nānu Āśān mastered various Yogic practices including Hatha Yoga. The exposure gained from this scholastic experiences had a lasting impact on the later life and philosophy of Nārāyana Guru.

Enlightenment and its poetic expression
Nānu moved to his hermitage deep inside the hilly forests of Maruthwāmala, where he led an austere life immersed in meditative thought and yoga and subjected himself to extreme sustenance rituals. This phase of solitude lasted for 8 long years. After an unpretentious life of over thirty years abounding in knowledge and harsh experiences, this epoch is considered the culmination of the meditative recluse; the point at which Nārāyana Guru is believed to have attained a state of Enlightenment.
Nārāyana Guru’s later literary and philosophical masterpiece Atmopadeśa Śatakam (one hundred verses of self-instruction, written in Malayalam circa 1897) is considered a fertile poetic expression, encapsulating the Guru’s philosophy of egalitarianism, emanating from the author’s attainment of an experienced state of primordial knowledge and quintessence of the Universe; and his ensuing ability to view the human race, from a dignified and elevated perspective, as nothing but one of a genus, in unqualified equality and without any racial, religious, caste or other discriminations whatsoever.

Consecration of Siva Lingam at Aruvippuram

Narayana Guru's Tomb at Sivagiri
Learning from the sacred books and the practice of Yoga did not quench the thirst of Nanu. He continued his wanderings in quest of Truth. By and by, he came to a beautiful place called Aruvippuram. It was a forest area. There were hills around. A gurgling rivulet (of river Neyyar) also flowed there. As more people sought him out for healing or advice, he and his disciples felt the need for a regular temple for worshipping Shiva. At a beautiful spot near the river, he had his followers build a small canopy of coconut leaves and mango leaves over an altar on a rock jutting out in the water. The year was 1888. They improvised lamps with shells and arranged them in rows. They were lighted at dusk and a piper began to play devotional tunes. The whole place was soon filled with pious village folk. Gurudevan, who had been sitting apart and meditating all night, stood at midnight and walked into the river. As thousands watched silently (If silence had music, the atmosphere was filled with it, wrote one correspondent) he descended into the river and then reemerged, holding an idol of Shiva. He stood beneath the canopy with it in his arms for three hours, totally lost in meditation, tears flowing down his cheeks. Finally, at three in the morning, he installed the idol on the pedestal. His action was equivalent of overturning the tables of the money changers, or refusing to give up a seat on the bus. From the beginning of time, so far as anyone knew, only Brahmins had ever installed an idol. Yet when Gurudevan performed the sacred rite it appeared so natural for him to pick up a small rock and install it. To those who questioned the timing of the consecration saying it was not an astrologically auspicious time, he replied: Horoscope is to be cast after the birth of a child, not before. He instructed to place a plaque containing a motto on the temple wall which read as:
Devoid of dividing walls of Caste
Or hatred of rival faith,
We all live here
In Brotherhood,
Such, know this place to be!
This Model Foundation!
A new phase began in the Guru's life in 1904. He decided to give up his wandering life and settle down in a place to continue his Sadhana (spiritual practice). He chose Sivagiri, twenty miles north of Thiruvananthapuram. Goddess 'Amba' became his deity of worship.
Next, he started a Sanskrit school in Varkala. Poor boys and orphans were taken under his care. They were given education regardless of caste distinctions. Temples were built at different places - Thrissur, Kannur, Anjuthengu, Tellicherry, Calicut, Mangalore. A temple was built for Sharada Devi in 1912, at Sivagiri. Worship at such temples helped reduce to a large extent superstitious beliefs and practices.
One of the temples built in Thrissur is the Sri Narayana Temple at Koorkenchery. The temple has a school in its compound named Sri Narayana School. The School encourages students' talents by organising talent competitions. These competitions, regularly held every year, have been a platform for youngsters to stand up and recognise their talents.
In 1913, he founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva. This was an important event in his spiritual quest. This Ashram was dedicated to a great principle - Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (all men are equal in the eyes of God). This became the motto of the new Ashram.
When Nārāyana Guru attained the age of sixty, his birth day was observed throughout the west-coast from Mangalore to Sri Lanka. Between 1918 and 1923 he visited Sri Lanka many times. In 1921, a Conference of Universal Brotherhood was held at Aluva. Again in 1924, a conference of all religions was held there. Guru stressed the need for a Brahma Vidyalaya for a comparative study of different religious faiths.
Sree Nārāyana Guru had many followers and disciples. Nataraja Guru, a notable disciple of Sree Nārāyana Guru, introduced Guru's visions and ideals to the western world. He established Narayana Gurukulam in 1923 at the Nilgiris with the blessings of Nārāyana Guru.

Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (The Brotherhood of All)
In 1913, the Guru founded an Ashram at Aluva. It was called the Advaita Ashram. This was an important event in the life of the Guru. The Ashram was dedicated to a great principle - Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (all human beings are equal in the eyes of God). In 1921, a Conference of Universal Brotherhood was held at Alwaye. Again in 1924, a conference of all religions was held there. The Guru stressed the need for a Brahma Vidyalayam for the comparative study of various religious faiths. An institution called Narayana Gurukulam was established in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu by Bodhananda Swamikal and later handed over to Nataraja Guru.
Final Ceylon Journey
Gurudevan visited Ceylon again in 1926. He had some moving experiences while travelling in Tamil Nadu in connection with his journey to Ceylon. While he was in Sree Ganapathi temple in heavy rain he said, "If there is anyone writing my biography, these experiences should not be missed, they should be recorded."After that journey to Ceylon, Gurudevan did not want to return. He went back only after repeated requests of his disciples and devotees.
Message to Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam
In a message to the SNDP Yogam in 1926 Gurudevan declared, No community can make progress except through organization. He further said in that message, The name Ezhava does not denote a caste or a religion and he made temple rights to everyone. Therefore people can be admitted to this organization without paying heed to differences of caste.
On June 14, 1927 Sree Narayana Guru consecrated a mirror - with the message "Om shanti" written on the surface - in a temple in Kalavankode. The prathishta of the mirror is symbolic in that Advaita philosophers interpret the mirror as the visible symbol of the unity of the Finite and the Infinite. That was the last prathishta that the Guru would do. Schools rather than temples are to be preferred, he exhorted in a dramatic shift of focus. Gurudevan participated in the anniversary of the SNDP Yogam held at Palluruthi in 1927. It was a splendid meeting which demonstrated the sincere, devout faith of the people in Gurudevan. T. K. Madhavan was one of the chief architects of this meeting. In 1928 Gurudevan took part in the special meeting of the SNDP Yogam at Kottayam and gave away registration certificates to the branch organizations.

Sivagiri pilgrimage
Sivagiri pilgrimage was conceived by Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar and T K Kittan Writer. It was duly approved by Gurudevan on January, 1928. The setting was SNDP's Nagambadam Shiva temple. It was 3 pm and Gurudevan was resting under a mango tree when the two presented the concept of Sivagiri pilgrimage. Before giving its his blessings he set out the goals of such a pilgrimage. He said: "Let the pilgrims congregate at the beginning of the European New Year. It should be Dhanu 16-17 in Malayalam calendar. Let the pilgrims observe 10 days'self-purification according to Sri Buddha's principles of five purities (pancha dharma) - body, food, mind, word, deed.
He ruled that pilgrims could wear yellow clothes - the colour of the garments Sri Buddha wore. Let no one purchase yellow silk because we have recommended yellow garments. Not even new clothes are required on the pilgrimage. A pilgrim can dip a white garment in turmeric water and wear after drying. The pilgrimage should be conducted with simplicity and preferably be accompanied by the chanting of hymns. There should be no shouting and pilgrims should scrupulously avoid trappings of ostentation.