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How to become a Brahmin


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 Hole.

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 useless.

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 social activist.

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 different matter.]

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.

Shivagiri Temple



  1. Hari OM
    Honour to the True Guru!

    The light that such men shed does not fail - if that were true we would not know of them or their teachings. The failure is only ever with the students - or those who refuse to become so. These leading lights knew and understood human nature and that every individual must arrive at the fullest understanding in their own time, or not, as the case may be. If, by failure, you mean that wars still happen, injustices and deprivations... then you too miss the point of their lessons. The outreach is always to the individuals in the congregation. We all of us must take responsibility for our own growth. However, each of us is at a different stage of growth. The chances of the entire population of the planet reaching the same point of revelation are beyond reckoning. The teachings are sound, but the spread is dependent upon who has 'the ears.'

    As a point of interest and connection, Sri Narayan Swami's first mentor/guru was Chattampi Swamikal (whose birthday is also this week), who was a great advocate of rights and social justice. Chattampi-ji was a visitor of the Menon household, where the child Balan was impressed and enjoyed his visits... after a convoluted journey of learning and rebellion against tradition and religion, Balan came full circle and eventually became Swami Chinmayananda - another great educator and advocate of equality. From this lineage, comes this poor student and would-be teacher... _()_ YAM xx

    1. Thank you for adding so many details. Chattampi Swamikal is also very well-known in Kerala. Kerala's textbooks carry lessons about him.

      Yes, the light carried by such people does not fail. When I write about the failure, I speak rather metaphorically and with the intention of provoking the reader. It is not these great people who fail but we, the ordinary mortals.


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