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Sri Narayana Guru


Narayana Guru (August 28, 1855 – September 20, 1928) was a spiritual leader and social reformer in India. Born into a family of the Ezhava caste in an era when people from such communities were regarded as Avarna. He led a reform movement in Kerala, against the injustice in the caste-ridden society of Kerala in order to promote spiritual enlightenment and social equality. The current of social transformation led Kerala into the mainstream of political struggle for freedom and responsible government in the 20th century. The important outcome of this ferment was the awakening of the masses especially the lower orders in the Hindu society, against social injustice and evils. Until the 20th century, governmental positions were denied to lower castes and non-Hindus. The SNDP movement originated among the Izhavas (toddy-tappers) of Kerala in the late nineteenth century. Izhavas were regarded as unapproachable in the traditional caste hierarchy.

Sri Narayan Guru Early Life

Shri Narayana Guru, the great Hindu saint and social reformer spearheaded one of the most important social reform movements. The Guru was born in 1856 in the Ezhava community, which had a status far below that of the Nambudiris. He fearlessly criticized and campaigned against the rigors of the caste system, the Brahmin hegemony and the numerous social disabilities of the Ezhavas and other lower castes. Soon Shri Narayana Guru became the rallying point for the Ezhavas and Thiyyas to unite and organize.

Philosophy of Sri Narayan Guru

  • Sri Narayana Guru became one of the greatest proponents of Advaita Vedanta, the principle of non-duality put forward by Adi Shankara, for both hail from Kerala.
  • For self-realisation through spiritual education, compassion, and peaceful coexistence of humanity. He was also an egalitarian who advocated social equality and universal brotherhood.
  • He condemned discrimination in the name of caste, creed and religion. Education was one of his primary concerns by which, he believed, that one could uplift his/her quality of life.
  • His philosophies are best reflected in his poetic ventures that mingles aesthetically the principles of ethics, logics and metaphysics.
  • His famous words one caste, one religion and one god for mankind modified by one of his disciple no caste, no religion and no god for mankind worked as a fresh waft in the socio-cultural realm of the then Kerala
  • Guru proposes his philosophy of egalitarianism. The Guru’s philosophy emphasised the consistency between true existence of the “common reality” on Earth and one Divine behind the creation and sustenance of the Universe, dismissing any concepts of illusory worlds.
  • It was Sri Narayana Guru's efforts, along with those of Sri Chattampi Swami, which stemmed mass conversions in the late 1890s and led to the opening up of public spaces, including temples, to all Hindus, regardless of their caste, in Kerala.
  • Sri Narayana Guru was a visionary and fought for the rights for the lower caste people in Kerala. He established the Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam and the Arivipuram temple.

Sri Narayan Guru and Vaikom Satyagrah

The social protest of Vaikom Satyagraha was an agitation by the lower caste against untouchability in Hindu society of Travancore. It was reported that the trigger for the protest was an incident when Narayana Guru was stopped from passing through a road leading to Vaikom Temple by an upper caste person. It prompted Kumaran Asan and Muloor S. Padmanabha Panicker, both disciples of Guru, to compose poems in protest of the incident.
Another disciple, petitioned for rights to enter the temple and worship, regardless of the caste. A host of people announced Kerala Paryatanam movement and with the support of Mahatma Gandhi, the agitation developed into a mass movement which resulted in the opening of the temple as well as three roads leading to it to people of all castes. The protest also influenced the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936.

Social, Cultural, Religious and Ethical view of Sri Narayan Guru

The Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), literally the society for the propagation of moral teaching of Shri Narayana came into being 15th May 1903. Within a short period, the Guru and Yogam drew towards them a brilliant band of dedicated workers, including the poet Kumaran Asan, whose efforts constitute an eloquent testimony to what a community, submitted to centuries of tyranny, can do and achieve through unity, realism and organism. Shri Narayana was, however, no sectarian philosopher and leader. A programme of action founded upon such sublime humanism and social purpose was not destined to remain confined to one caste only; it soon became the philosophy of Hindu reformation, encompassing all castes, including the Brahmin.
The Shri Narayana Movement had developed as a reformative and reaffirmative movement within the Hindu religion. The temple that Sri Narayana Guru consecrated to Lord Siva, the Mirror consecration at Kalavancode and the like were against the Hindu upper class domination. In effect, it was an attempt to reform the caste and the religion. He was responsible for a thorough transformation on the style of life involving new religious beliefs, ritual and outlook. He provided and ideology or withdrawal and self-organization that raised the self-respect, honor and worth of individuals. It was an ideology of protest against the Brahmincal value system of hierarchy and pollution. Swamy established a parallel source of legitimacy with his institutions of temples, priests, monks and monasteries.

All Religions' Conference

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.