Is the Reality that drives the chariot proclaiming the Supreme Truth (Lord Krishna),
Or the Ocean of Compassion and patience (The Buddha), Or the Guru who wrote lucid bhashyas (commentaries) on Advaita (Adi Shankara), this Compassion embodied one? Is he the Almighty appearing in human form Or righteousness manifesting in divine human form Or the holy Son of God (Jesus Christ)
Or the merciful (Prophet) Nabi, the pearl, the gem?
Narayana Guru, née Nanu, was born on August 28, 1855[note 1] to an Ezhava peasant, Madan Asan and his wife Kuttiyamma, in the village of Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram, in the erstwhile state of Travancore, in British India. His early education is known to be in the gurukula way under Chempazhanthi Mootha Pillai during which time his mother died when he was 15. At the age of 21, he went to central Travancore to study under a known Sanskrit scholar from the Puthuppally Varanappally family, by name, Raman Pillai Asan, who taught him Vedas, Upanishads, as well as the literature and logical rhetoric of Sanskrit. He returned to his village in 1881 when his father was seriously ill, and started a village school where he taught local children which earned him the moniker, Nanu Asan. A year later, he married Kaliamma but soon disassociated himself from the marriage to commence his public life as a social reformer.[note 2]
Leaving home, Guru traveled through Kerala and Tamil Nadu and it was during these journeys, he met Chattampi Swamikal, a social and religious reformer, who introduced Guru to Ayyavu Swamikal from whom he learned meditation and yoga. Later, he continued his wanderings until he reached the Pillathadam cave at Maruthwamala where he set up an hermitage and practiced meditation and yoga for the next eight years. In 1888, he visited Aruvippuram where he meditated for a while and during his stay there, he consecrated a piece of rock taken from the river, as the idol of Shiva, which has since become the Aruvippuram Shiva Temple. The act, which later came to be known as Aruvipuram Pratishta, created a social commotion among the upper caste Brahmins who questioned Guru's right to consecrate the idol. His reply to them that This is not a Brahmin Shiva but an Ezhava Shiva later became a famous quote, used against casteism. It was here, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam) was founded on May 15, 1903 by the efforts of Padmanabhan Palpu, better known as Dr. Palpu, with Narayana Guru as its founder president.
Guru shifted his base to Sivagiri, near Varkala in 1904 where he opened a school for children from the lower strata of the society and provided free education to them without considering their caste. However, it took him seven years to build a temple there, the Sarada Mutt was built in 1912. He also built temples in other places such as Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Thalassery, Kozhikode, and Mangalore and it took him to many places including Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) where he made his final visit in 1926. On his return to India, he was involved in a number of activities including the planning of the Sivagiri pilgrimage which was planned after his visit to Pallathuruthy in 1927 to attend the anniversary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam.
Soon after the meeting at Pallathuruthy, which was the last public function he attended, Guru became ill and underwent treatment at places such as Aluva, Thrissur, Palakkad, and finally to Chennai; the physicians attended to him included Ayurvedic physicians like Cholayil Mami Vaidyar, Panappally Krishnan Vaidyar and Thycauttu Divakaran Moos as well as allopathic physicians viz. . Krishnan Thampi, Panikker, Palpu and a European physician by name, Noble. he returned to Sarada Mutt and it was here, he died on September 20, 1928, at the age of 73.
Fight against casteism
Casteism was practised in Kerala during the 19th and early 20th centuries and the lower caste people such as Ezhavas and Thiyyas and the untouchable castes like Paraiyars, tribals and Pulayars had to suffer discrimination from the upper caste people such as Brahmins. It was against this discrimination that Guru performed his first major public act, the consecration of Siva idol at Aruvippuram in 1888. Overall, he consecrated forty five temples across Kerala and Tamil Nadu. His consecrations were not necessarily conventional deities; a slab inscribed with the words,
Truth, Ethics, Compassion, Love, a vegetarian Shiva, a mirror and a sculpture by an Italian sculptor were among the various consecrations made by him. He propagated the ideals of compassion and religious tolerance and one of his noted works, Anukampadasakam, extols various religious figures such as Krishna, The Buddha, Adi Shankara, Jesus Christ.
Sivagiri pilgrimage was conceived by three of the disciples of Guru viz. Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar, T. K. Kittan Writer and Muloor S. Padmanabha Panicker which Guru approved in 1928, with his own recommendations. He suggested that the goals of the pilgrimage should be the promotion of education, cleanliness, devotion to God, organization, agriculture, trade, handicrafts, and technical training and advised Vaidyar and Writer to organise a series of lectures on these themes to stress the need for the practice of these ideals, stating this to be the core purpose of Sivagiri pilgrimage. However, his death soon after delayed the project until 1932 when the first pilgrimage was undertaken from Elavumthitta in Pathanamthitta District.
Guru organized an All Region Conference in 1923 at Alwaye Advaita Ashram, which was reported to be first such event in India. It was an effort to counter the religious conversions Ezhava community was susceptible to and at the entrance of the conference, he arranged for a message to be displayed which read, We meet here not to argue and win, but to know and be known. The conference has since become an annual event, organised every year at the Ashram.
In 1916, Ramana Maharshi hosted Narayana Guru at his Tiruvannamalai ashram when Guru was returning from a trip to Kancheepuram where Swami Govindananda, a disciple of Guru, had established centre, Sree Narayana Seva Ashram.Rabindranath Tagore met Narayana Guru at the latter's ashram in Sivagiri in November 1922. Tagore later said of Narayana Guru that, "I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Narayana Guru or a person who is at par with him in spiritual attainment". Three years later, Mahatma Gandhi visited Guru during his 1925 trip to Kerala to participate in the Vaikom Satyagraha after which the Indian independence movement leader stated that it was a great privilege in his life to have the darshan of an esteemed sage like Sree Narayana Guru.
Narayana Guru; Narayana Prasad (translator) (2007). Garland of visions: Darśanamālā of Narayana Guru. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN9788124603918. OCLC167576536.
Nataraja Guru; Narayana Guru (2001). An integrated science of the absolute: based on the Darśana mālā (Garland of visions) of Narayana Guru. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN9788124601846. OCLC50756278.
Narayana Guru; Narayana Prasad (translator) (1997). The Vedānta-sūtras of Nārāyaṇa Guru: with an English translation of the original Sanskrit and commentary. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN9788124600856. OCLC37282506.
Narayana Guru; Sreenivasan (translator), K (1994). The song of the self: a new translation of atmopadesasatakam (one hundred verses of self-instruction). Thiruva-nanthapuram, Kerala: Jayasree Publications. OCLC222527764.
Narayana Guru; Nataraja Guru (translator) (1969). One hundred verses of self-instruction (Atmopadesasatakam). Varkala, Kerala: Gurukula Pub. House. OCLC695387.
Narayana Guru; Nityacaitanya Yati (translator) (1982). Vinayakashtakam: eight verses in praise of Vināyaka. Varkala: Narayana Gurukula. OCLC863337667.
Narayana Guru (1969). One hundred verses of self-instruction. OCLC606239200.
Works on Narayana Guru
Narayana Guru; Ṣājī, K. N. (2002). Nārāyaṇaguru: jīvitaṃ kr̥tikaḷ darśanaṃ. Tr̮śśūr: Kar̲ant̲ Buks : Distribution Cosmo Books. OCLC52929384.
Narayana Guru; Bālakr̥iṣhṇan, P. K. (1969). Nārāyaṇaguru (in Malayalam). Kottayam: Sahitya Pravarthaka Co-operative : Society Ltd. OCLC31116295.
Narayana, Guru; Nityachaitanya, Yati (2003). That alone, the core of wisdom: a commentary on Ātmopadeśa śatakam, the one hundred verses of self-instruction of Narayana Guru. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN9788124602409. OCLC915135852.
Narayana Guru (1961). Souvenir to commemorate the 107th birthdau of Sree Natayana Guru. Singapore: Sree Narayana Mission. OCLC498088723.
Narayana Guru; Kesavan Vaidyar, C. R (1990). Śr̲īnārāyaṇaguru Svanthaṃ Vachanaṅgaḷiloode (in Malayalam). Kōṭṭayaṃ: Ḍi. Ṣi. Buks : Distributors, Current Books. OCLC27111533.
^The exact date of birth is disputed but two organizations directly related to Guru viz. Sreenaryana Dharmamadom, Maruthwamala and the online archives of Sree Narayana Guru mention the date as August 28, 1855
^Cyriac Pullapilly writes on Guru's marriage that his worshipful biographers ignored this part of his life out of reverence for his later asceticism.
(Re)construction of ‘the Social’ for Making a Modern Kerala: Reflections on Narayana Guru's Social Philosophy, Satheese Chandra Bose, published in Satheese Chandra Bose and Shiju Sam Varughese (eds.) 2015. Kerala Modernity: Ideas, Spaces and Practices in Transition. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan.
Sree Narayana Guruswamikalude jeeva charithram– Moorkoth Kumaran-(The official biography as approved by Sivagiri mutt.) Published by SNDS Trust
Sree Narayana Gurudeva Krithikal – Sampoorna Vyakyanam – G Balakrishnan Nair- (Works of Sree Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations – ten parts compiled in two volumes) published by The State Institute of Languages, Kerala.
Brahmarshi Sree Narayana Guru – Dr. T. Bhaskaran- published by Sahitya Akademi.
The Word of the Guru : The Life and Teaching of Guru Narayana : Nataraja Guru, D.K. Printworld, 2003, New Delhi, ISBN81-246-0241-7
Srinarayana Guruvinte Sampoorna Kruthikal (Complete Works of Sri Narayana Guru): Mathrubhoomi Publishers, Kozhikode, Kerala
Sri Narayana Guruvinte Mathavum Sivagiriyum (Sivagiri and the Religion of Sri Narayana Guru): K. Maheshwaran Nair
Narayanaguru- Editor: P.K.Balakrishnan (A collection of essays in Malayalam):March 2000, (First Edition 1954), Kerala Sahitya Academi, Trichur, Kerala.
The Philosophy of Narayana Guru: Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, D.K. Printworld, 2003, New Delhi, ISBN81-246-0236-0.
Sree Narayana Gurudev - the Maharshi who made Advaita a Science - [Prof:G.K.Sasidharan]: Many Worlds Publications, Kollam, Kerala (First Edition 2014)
M. K. Sanu (2017). O. V. Usha (ed.). Sree Narayana Guru - Life and Times. Translated by P. R. Mukundan. Open Door Media. p. 280. ISBN978-8193219614.