Many worship him as a god; many more venerate him as Guru of modern Vedanta in Kerala. Like the Buddha, Sree Narayana Guru set out to serve humanity, though he had attained personal salvation by severe penance. He pushed Kerala irreversibly into the process of social uplift. He reminded Mahatma Gandhi who met him at Varkala that it was not just untouchability that had to be done away with; the backward classes and the poor needed access to education and economic uplift. Rabindranath Tagore travelled to Sivagiri to meet him. We highlight five places intimately associated with him.
Sree Narayana Guru was born at Chempazhanthi, about 10 kms from Thiruvananthapuram, in 1855. The place then used to be a jungle. Grateful generations of followers have lovingly, reverentially preserved the house where he was born, though the forest has long disappeared. In its place, there are schools and a college run by the SNDP. Now famous as a pilgrimage centre, it is accessible by bus.
His first teacher was Kunju Pillai Asan of Kayamkulam, who forecast an exceptional future for him. He became a teacher and then as was the norm, his parents married him off. But he was restless and wandered off into the forests of Maruthwamala range, which is now part of the Kanyakumari district. There is a legend, which says that a fragment of the Sanjeevani Mountain fell off here while Hanuman was taking it to revive Lord Rama. Sree Narayana Guru's search for truth led him to the top of the hill where he is said to have done penance at the Pillathadam cave. Maruthwamala is about 5kms from Kanyakumari.
Sree Narayana Guru's compassion for people suffering from the social injustices made him choose to live among fisherfolk, and at a lovely forest near a stream at Aruvippuram. They were denied entry to temples and Sree Narayana Guru installed a Siva temple here. Brahmins were outraged. The Guru silenced them with a retort: 'I have installed only an Ezhava Siva here!' This sounds sarcastic. But the more you think of it, the more the inner meaning strikes you. Aruvippuram is about 22kms from Thiruvananthapuram. It is accessible by road.
His followers increased. In 1903, they registered a Company, the Sri Nararayan Dharma Paripalana Sangham, which is now so much better known as 'SNDP'. In 1904, he established an 'ashrama' in Varkala, with a temple to Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. He founded an order of monks.
Temples across Kerala
Travelling through Kerala, he established temples 'where all could congregate as brothers'. The Guru spearheaded campaigns against the alcohol habit, and other social evils. He discouraged the worship of deities who had to be propitiated with blood sacrifices. At the Kolathumkara temple in Kulathur near Thiruvananthapuram, he replaced a fierce installation of Bhadrakali with that of a strictly vegetarian Siva. He innovated several installations of deity such as a mirror, so that a devotee would realise that he himself was one god. He was the greatest force for universal education. A landmark was the establishment of the Jagannatha Temple at Thalassery, in 1908. In 1927, a statue made by an Italian sculptor was installed there. He also built temples at different places, including Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu and Kozhikode.
Sree Narayana Guru passed away in 1928. Now, Guruswamy is inseparable from the conscience of the people of Kerala. His mortal remains have been interred in Varkala, where his mission started.