History of Narayana Guru

Nārāyana Guru (1854–1928), also seen as Sree Nārāyana Guru Swami, was a Hindu saint, sadhu and social reformer of India. He was born into an Ezhava family, in an era when people from that community and other communities that were regarded as Avarna, faced much social injustice in the caste-ridden Kerala society. Gurudevan, as he was known by his followers, led a reform movement in Kerala, rejected casteism and promoted new values of spiritual freedom and social equality.[1]

He stressed the need for the spiritual and social upliftment of the downtrodden by their own efforts through the establishment of temples and educational institutions. In the process he denounced the superstitions that clouded the fundamental Hindu cultural convention of Chaturvarna.

Family and early life

Narayana Guru was born on 22 August 1854, in the village of Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram, the son of Madan Asan, a farmer, and Kutti Amma. He had three sisters.

As a child, Narayana was very reticent and was 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 a strong affinity for poetics and reasoning, composing hymns and singing them in praise of God. He lost his mother when he was 15. Narayana spent much of his early youth assisting his father in tutoring, and his uncle in the practice of ayurveda; the rest of his time was spent in devotional practices at the temples nearby.[2]

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 Asan at Kayamkulam, a village fifty miles away from his home, at the age of 21.[3] Living as a guest in a family house Varanapally 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 nearby 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", Nanu would often spend time in the confines of temples, writing poems and hymns and lecturing to villagers on philosophy and moral values.

Enlightenment and its poetic expression

Nanu found the life affected by an intolerable restlessness. One of his friends took him to Chattampi Swamikal. The two were attracted to each other at the first sight.[4] Nanu's keen intellect and imperturbability astonished Chattampi Swami and he took Nanu to his own guru Thycaud Ayyavu Swamikal.[4] Nanu became his disciple and got from him advanced training in yogic practices.[4] Later, 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.

Narayana's literary and philosophical masterpiece is claimed to be Atmopadesa Satakam (one hundred verses of self-instruction), written in Malayalam around 1897.[5]

Consecration of Siva Lingam at Aruvippuram

Narayana wandered in search of enlightenment, ending up at Aruvippuram. There people sought his advice and powers of healing and he and his followers erected a temple to Shiva in 1888. He installed a small rock as an idol within that, defying the tradition that this was done by Brahmins.

In 1904,. Narayana settled at Sivagiri to pursue his Sadhana (spiritual practice). He chose Amba'as his deity and subsequently opened 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, Anchuthengu, 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.

In 1913, he founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva, dedicating it to the principle of Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (all men are equal in the eyes of God).

Narayana's 60th birthday was celebrated 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. He stressed the need for a Brahma Vidyalaya for a comparative study of different religious faiths.

Narayana had many followers and disciples. Nataraja Guru was one and was responsible for introducing his visions and ideals to the western world.

Death

Guru became seriously ill in September 1928. He remained bedridden for some time. Devotees came in large numbers to have a glimpse. The same year, Gurudevan's birthday was celebrated in many places, mostly in Kerala, Madras, Mangalore, Sri Lanka and Europe. On 20 September 1928, Guru died