|Sri Narayan Guru
“Aaron, dear!” The glimmer
that characterised Andrews’ eyes was accentuated as he smiled through the long
beard that made him look more like a Hindu sage than a Christian priest.
“You want to convert the Indians to Christianity. But I’ve seen our
Christ walking on the shores of the Arabian ocean wearing the robe of a Hindu
sage.” He described his meeting with Sri Narayana Guru, the Jesus in
Travancore. He spoke about Tagore and Ambedkar. Aaron was already
aware of Gandhi.
“It is not the Indians who need our
light,” concluded Andrews. “We stand in need of their light.”
Aaron was scandalised and did not
conceal his feeling.
“We have this silly notion of life
as a series of sins and God as the all-forgiving father waiting for the
prodigal sons to return home begging for forgiveness. You are going to a
country whose scriptures do not differentiate between God and human
beings. Aham Brahmasmi, I am God, they say.”
The above passage is extracted from my novel Black
Today Kerala celebrates the birth anniversary of the
same Narayana Guru mentioned in the above conversation between the real Charles
Freer Andrews and a fictitious character in the novel. The words about the Guru
were really spoken by Andrews though in a different context.
Andrews was not exaggerating when he compared Narayana
Guru with Jesus. The Guru and the Christ and the Buddha and the Mahatma all had
the same vision if you care to understand them properly. They all sought to
deliver the human soul from silly notions and superstitions, fissiparous ideas,
and the normal human vices such as greed and envy and egotism. They all strove
to teach the deeper meaning of human life.
And they all failed. Miserably.
To focus on the Guru today, his birthday, he was born
in 1856 in a low caste Ezhava family. Notwithstanding his caste, he went on to
study Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and eventually attained enlightenment. He
questioned the malpractices of his religion and taught people that what
mattered really was not god, caste, and such things, but humanity. “Whatever
your religion, be a good human being,” he proclaimed. If you are a good human
being, nothing else matters. Not your religion, not your caste. If you are not
a good human being then your religion and your caste and your god are all
Every enlightened person taught this same lesson if
you care to understand them.
One of the biggest ironies in the Guru’s life is that
he built Shiv Temples while advocating ‘One Caste and One God for all people’.
Those were days when Shiva was the god of the Brahmins
in Kerala. Brahmins considered it their sole privilege to worship Shiva.
Narayana Guru rebelled against that privilege and built his first temple in
1888 at Aruvipuram. In 1904, he constructed the Shivagiri Temple which is a
famous pilgrimage centre in Kerala until today.
The Guru was a rebel. He lived in a time when the
lower caste people were exploited by the higher castes, particularly the Brahmins.
As Francis Buchanan, Scottish physician, geographer, zoologist and botanist who
lived in India in early 19th century, wrote, the Brahmins in Kerala
never did any job except exploit the lower castes. They not only exploited the
lower castes but also tortured them if they dared to question the inhuman hubris
of the Brahmins. It is in such times that Narayana Guru dared to set up temples
for the lower caste people with a higher caste god as the presiding deity. The
Guru was not just a spiritual guide; he was a philosophical rebel and a daring
|C F Andrews
O V Vijayan was one of the best 20th century Malayalam novelists. He was an Ezhava by caste. One of his novels, Generations (തലമുറകൾ), delineates the attempt of an Ezhava to achieve Brahminhood through knowledge. He succeeds too but becomes disillusioned with his new status. He understands his personal hubris (which set him on a quest for Brahminhood) is no different from the inhuman Brahmin hubris.
It is simple humaneness that the Guru tried to teach
to his followers. It is the same humaneness that the Buddha and the Christ and the
Mahatma possessed and tried to communicate. [That they failed miserably is a
I bow in humility to touch the feet of the Guru on his
birthday today knowing fully well that I am incapable of touching the sublimity
of his vision. I am more like Vijayan’s protagonist, incapable of shedding hubris.