The relevance and importance of the teachings of the saint-poet- philosopher-social reformer Sree Narayana Guru are increasing day by day and have been influencing millions of people all over the world. Of the hundreds of biographies of Guru, this book in three parts is unique as it depicts the life of this spiritual preceptor, chronologically detailing the varied roles he played to change the social, economic, political, religious and spiritual life of the people and the countless incredible miracles he performed during his 72 years of worldly existence.
The book provides an in-depth study of the social conditions prevailed during the nineteenth-twentieth century Kerala. A picture is clearly drawn on how an avarna liberated a society steeped in ignorance to such heights that the higher-ups in social order could not even dream of, by a bloodless spiritual revolution. The different roles Guru enacted in his life and the numerous miracles he performed, not highlighted so far in any biography, find a prominent place in this book. The life of Guru is presented here as it was. Readers can form their own conclusions about this great soul. The Foreword by Prof. M.K. Sanoo is a lead to the life of Guru.
K.K. Ramachandran got graduated from University of Calcutta in political science and economics, after obtaining formal education from his native place. He joined one of the units of J.K. Organisation, Calcutta and retired from their Delhi office. He was Assistant Editor of Kerala Rashmi, a monthly published from Calcutta. He published a novel and a few short stories under the pseudonyms "Seetha" and "Ramchand". Ramachandran is actively involved in the propagation of Gurudharma and now settled in Annamanada, Thrissur.
Saint or social reformer? Gyana-yogi or karma-yogi? Or Both? The debates notwithstanding, there is universal agreement that Sree Narayana Guru (1856-1928) is the most influential person Kerala gave birth to in the nineteenth century. He shook the state out of the centuries-old slumber of ignorance and slavery and pioneered the Renaissance Movement which laid the foundations of modern Kerala (and, incidentally of the acclaimed Kerala model as we understand today). There is hardly any sphere of human activity he hasn't left his impress upon - religion, education, social change, ethos, etc. - and change for the better. It was on the fertile climate of ideas created by Guru those political movements; communism in particular, took deep roots and radically transformed the face of this tiny state. The metamorphosis - from "the lunatic asylum of India", as Kerala was described by Swami Vivekananda in 1893 to the "sanest state in the country" is entirely due to the revolution ushered in by this great saint.
K.K. Ramachandran's book on Guru is being published at a critical time in the perennial discourse on the continuing relevance and significance of Guru's life and thought. Two recent controversies at the national level deserve mention: the first relates to a far from truthful reference to Guru as "the charismatic preacher" by the journalist Ramachandra Guha in his book on Indian history, and the second, a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the validity of an ardent devotee of Guru taking the oath of office in the name of Narayana Guru; the court is expected to give a verdict whether Guru should be treated as a god or not. The first can be dismissed as a journalist's ignorance of Kerala history. The second, however, is serious. In a land where historical figures like Jesus Christ and the Buddha are worshipped as gods, no court (and not judge) can ever prescribe qualifications that go into the making of a god; it should be left to the devotee if he should treat Sree Narayana as god or not. Both instances, both however, point to a total ignorance or Kerala history as an absence of subaltern perspective in assessing the contribution of a great soul like Sree Narayana Guru.
Kerala at the turn of the nineteenth century was a most miserable place. More than 80 per cent of its population, irrespective of caste - upper or lower - lived in utter poverty and indescribable misery. To make matters worse, large sections of the population - the lower castes - suffered from humiliating practices like untouchability, ban on public roads, temples and schools, inaccessibility to any government employment, etc. These inhuman practices had the social sanction of the ruling and priestly classes. A rigid hierarchy based on some barbaric ideology had been created to retain their power, profit and privilege. Neither the oppressed nor the oppressor questioned, let alone challenge, the sanctity of these evil social practices. Isolated instances of rebellion were ruthlessly put down. Shankara's "Advaita Siddhanta" stopped on the threshold of the upper caste. The arrival of Islam and Christianity failed to make any inroads into the bleak and grim social scenario except to convert a percentage of frustrated population into their fold; the colonial powers rarely interfered. It never occurred to any "educated" ruler of the state that he was presiding over one of the most uncivilized states in the country. The spice business and interaction with foreign countries that historians wax eloquent about never touched the lives of the common people; these had no impact on their social life. Into this hopelessly dark horizon Sree Narayana Guru rose like the sun dispelling darkness and ushering in a dawn, to remove the veil of ignorance and empower the helpless majority with strength and dignity.
Years of meditation, rigorous yogic practices and wandering in the forests and mountains had made Guru a saint; years of learning immersed in the Vedas, the Upanishads and other religious texts had made him a scholar-poet in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit. When he emerged on the public life of Kerala in the 1880s as the Enlightened One, he knew the role he was destined to play: uplift the marginalized millions from the fetters of ignorance and slavery, and the privileged from the chains of blind traditions and superstitions. To fight these evil practices Guru had only two weapons at his command: an unassailable spiritual force and an ocean-deep knowledge. The momentous step in this direction was the installation of a Shivalinga at Aruvippuram near Trivandrum in 1888. (Ramachandran has given a detailed account of this historic event in this book.) To the dazed priestly class who questioned the right to consecrate an idol his firm reply was: "We have not installed a Brahmin Shiva".
Throughout his life, Guru - in his pronouncements, discourses and writings - stressed the oneness of the essence of man. He democratized Shankara's theory of jeevatma-paramatma to embrace all human beings, irrespective of their caste, colour, gender and religion. His messages like "One caste, One religion and One God for man" and "Irrespective of caste, man must strive to be good" became household quotes in every Malayali home. Gandhiji whose attitude to caste and religion was always ambivalent, in his interview with Guru in the shade of a mango tree at Guru's Ashrama (1925) said: "Guru, each leaf of this tree is different from the other. How could you then say that they are all equal?" Guru's reply was sharp and clear: "But they will all taste the same." This statement also crystallizes the essence of his whole life's teachings - the oneness of the human soul and the variety of its manifestations. The same inspiring message runs through the large number of philosophical discourses he wrote in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit. Perhaps, the finest exposition of Shankara's Advaita theory in Malayalam is the one composed by Guru in the form of a simple prayer, Daivadashakam.
One of the defining features of Sree Narayana thought is its unswerving commitments to social change, to progress and to the creation of an egalitarian society. Being a prophetic thinker Guru intuitively recognized that man does not live by "religion" alone. Spiritual illumination has to be matched by material progress. For him spirituality divorced from human experience, devoid of compassion and service to humanity was the very anti-thesis of spirituality. Naturally he refused to follow the beaten path, sitting in the dark corner, counting beads. Guru had never read Karl Marx. But as a karmayogi he arrived at the same philosophical conclusion of Marx that philosophers so far had only interpreted the universe, the point was to change it. For that Guru gave a prescription to the ignorant landless and homeless: "Enlighten yourselves through education, empower yourselves through organization." Today more than a century after he gave the call, the complaint is often "too much education and too many organizations".
It is a mistaken notion, understandable in the caste-based Indian context, that Guru represented the depressed classes only. Nothing is farther from the truth. In his Messianic march towards change, progress and freedom he had the solid support of the enlightened majority of all communities. He was instrumental in subjecting every community to a self-analysis aimed at shedding age-old superstitions and charting out new paths. He was also constantly interacting with spiritual leaders and social reformers of the period like Chattampi Swamikal (1853-1924), Vagbhadanandan (1885-1939) and Ayyankali (1863-1941). A major reason for the support of people of all shades and opinions for the liberation movement started by Guru is the total absence of anger or bitterness in his writings and discourses. His wit, free from sarcasm, was a rare quality in a spiritual leader. Being a true saint Guru spoke for all mankind, never for sects.
In writing and compiling this book I am greatly and immensely indebted to the works of the great poet Kumaran Asan, Moorkkothu Kumaran, Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, Kottukkoyikkal Velayudhan, Sreemad Satchidananda Swamikal, Chambadan Vijayan, Dr T. Bhaskaran, Prof. M.K. Sanoo, Koickal K. Jacob, M.K. Sreedharan, Swamini Sreedharan, V.T. Saseendran and other distinguished writers on Narayana literature. It is indisputable that Sree Narayana Guru is one of the most extraordinary saints born in this world. He was a radical revolutionary, a social reformer, a poet of highest order, a non-dualist philosopher who revived and streamlined non-dualism for the masses and an apostle of peace. Of course, many more epithets can be proffered on this multifaceted personality. We cannot find any other man, who has so deeply and wholly influenced Kerala, nay Indian society, in the twentieth century and thereafter as Guru, a fact that speaks eloquently about his glory and greatness. Certainly he will influence the whole world as he does now for the attainment of a world of one caste, one religion and one God for man.
There are hundreds of books available to know and spread the message and vision of Guru. Then why this book? The question is pertinent and the answer is hidden in the pages of this book.
Often I feel that I am not capable of bringing out a fraction of the profundity and majesty of this phenomenon called Guru. His immeasurable greatness is too deep to be written or completed by any writer. But fully knowing this I have tried my best and the result in a nutshell is in this humble book. From this if one could discover the new dimensions that I understood and presented of his greatness, I can legitimately feel proud to have succeeded in my mission.
My aim was to compile and present to the readers only a few out of thousands of miracles performed by Guru but on second thoughts I felt that a short life-sketch of Guru is essential to understand those miracles in their true spirit. Though the extraordinary events form the major portion of this book, the short biography will be quite appropriate for an understanding of the vision and philosophy of Sree Narayana Guru. During its writing, I had the privilege to talk to many distinguished celebrities on Narayana literature and came to know that the miracles not so far heard or recorded are greater in number than those that have seen the light of the day. I have translated into English only a few out of the recorded miracles. Then what to speak of the innumerable unrecorded ones that are told and retold and in circulation in almost all places in Kerala where Guru had gone and stayed. Before entering the great magical world of Guru's extraordinary accomplishments, it is essential to undertake a short journey into the life of Guru to get a proper perspective of his deeds and actions.
I do not claim that this book is perfect or infallible. For the rendering of miracle portion I have relied on recorded history. I repeat that nobody has written a complete book about Guru and nobody will be able to write a full story on him as he is too great a philosopher to be restricted to a few books. That is why when Nataraja Guru mentioned to Guru about writing his biography his remark was that coming generation would not believe in his story. I am confident that the readers and critics of Narayana literature will welcome this attempt as a humble addition to their libraries. Prof. M.K. Sanoo has blessed me by writing a foreword to this book. I have no words to express my gratitude to Sanoo Maash, the professor’s professor. The Malayalam language is proud of him for his various books on different subjects and I pray to the Almighty to give long life and strength to complete the varied works now in his hands.
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