Nick Name: Nanu
Birthday: August 20, 1856
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Shree Narayana Guru Swami
Born Country: India
Born in: Chempazhanthy, Thiruvananthapuram, India
Famous as: Spiritual Leader, Social Reformer
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
father: Madan Asan
Died on: September 20, 1928
place of death: Sivagiri, Kerala, India
Founder/Co-Founder: Alwaye Advaita Ashram
Who was Narayana Guru?
Narayana Guru, also known as Shree Narayana Guru Swami, was a spiritual leader, saint and social reformer from Kerala, India. He belonged to the Ezhava community considered as 'Avarna' or belonging to the lower caste. He was a social reformer and led a movement to end the injustices prevalent in the Hindu caste-ridden society in Kerala. He believed in spiritualism, social equality, freedom, and brotherhood. He dedicated his entire life to promoting spiritual enlightenment. He is venerated as a saint and “Guru” for his profound Vedic knowledge, poetic excellence, and his teachings of tolerance and non-violence, which impacted a large population in India as well as abroad. He was instrumental in laying the groundwork for social and spiritual reform in Kerala. He believed that spiritual and social growth could be attained by education and establishment of learning centers. Thus, he built several temples, schools, and education centers for the underprivileged. He dismissed the 'Chaturvarna' and the beliefs attached to it. Many years after his death, he was commemorated on an Indian postage stamp by the Indian government. The Sri Lankan government also issued a commemorative stamp in his honor.
Childhood & Early Life
Narayana Guru, lovingly known as 'Nanu,' was born on August 28, 1855, in Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. His father, Madan Asan, was a farmer from the Ezhava community, and his mother was Kuttiyamma.
He was educated in the traditional gurukul system under the tutelage of Chempazhanthi Mootha Pillai. His mother passed away when he was only 15 years old.
At the age of 21, he traveled to Travancore (modern-day Thiruvananthapuram) to learn from the Sanskrit scholar Raman Pillai Asan, who belonged to the Puthuppally Varanappally family. From him, Narayana Guru learned the Vedas, the Upanishads, literature, and logic rhetoric in Sanskrit.
In 1881, he abandoned his studies and returned to his village owing to his father's ill health. He also set up a small village school to educate local children, where he was known as "Nanu Asan."
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Fight Against Casteism
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, casteism was the order of the day in the Indian society. People from lower castes like the Thiyyas and Ezhavas and the untouchable castes like Pulayars, Paraiyars and tribals suffered at the hands of the Brahmins.
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Even Guru wasn't spared of these atrocities, and hence as his first act of protest, he erected the Siva idol at Aruvippuram in 1888. He built over forty-five temples in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
He even sanctified several non-traditional objects like a slab with the inscriptions “Truth, Ethics, Compassion,” a vegetarian Shiva, a mirror, and also a sculpture made by an Italian artist.
He preached about living with compassion and tolerance for each other. One of his significant works, the "Anukampadasakam," praises the teachings of The Buddha, Krishna, Jesus Christ, and Adi Shankara.
The Vaikom Satyagraha was a social protest that began when people from the lower castes rebelled against untouchability practiced in the Hindu society of Travancore.
Reportedly, when an upper caste person stopped Narayana Guru on the way to Vaikom Temple, his followers and supporters were agitated and thus sparked the Vaikom Satyagraha.
Guru's disciples Muloor S. Padmanabha Panicker and Kumaran Asan wrote poems disapproving of the incident. In 1918, another follower, T. K. Madhavan, appealed to the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly for their right to enter any temple without any discrimination based on caste.
Protesters like K. Kelappan and K. P. Kesava Menon formed a group and declared it the 'Kerala Paryatanam.' Mahatma Gandhi also supported the movement, and it snowballed into a mass movement.
As a result, the temple was opened to all, and three roads leading to it were built for people of all castes. This protest played a significant role in the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936.
Writings & Philosophy
Narayana Guru wrote several religious works like "Atmopadesa Śatakam" and "Daiva Dasakam," which are collections of spiritual poems and prayers.
He also translated texts like "Thirukural of Valluvar," "Ozhivil Odukkam of Kannudaiya Vallalaar," and "Ishavasya Upanishad."
He believed in and preached the maxim "One Caste, One Religion, One God for All" (Oru Jathi, Oru Matham, Oru Daivam, Manushyanu).
He even propagated the non-dualistic philosophy of Adi Sankara, combining it with the concepts of social equality and brotherhood.
Family & Personal Life
Unfortunately, very little is known about Narayana Guru's personal life. However, it is known that he married Kaliamma when he was about 27 years of age. He did not live with his wife for long.
The visit to Pallathuruthy in 1927 was the final trip made by Narayana Guru. His health was deteriorating, and he had several physicians caring for him in his last days.
He moved to Sarada Mutt in Sivagiri in 1928, and died on September 20 of the same year.
His tomb is situated in Sivagiri, and every year September 20 is observed as 'Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi.' His birth anniversary is observed as 'Sree Narayana Jayanthi' and both days remain public holidays in his honor.