Narayana Guru
Born(1856-08-20)20 August 1856
Died20 September 1928(1928-09-20) (aged 72)
Known forKerala reformation movement
  • Madan Asan (father)
  • Kuttiyamma (mother)
PhilosophyAdvaita Vedanta

Sree Narayana Guru (IPA: [nɑːrɑːjɐɳɐ guˈru]) (20 August 1856 – 20 September 1928)[1] was a philosopher, spiritual leader and social reformer in India. He led a reform movement against the injustice in the caste-ridden society of Kerala in order to promote spiritual enlightenment and social equality.[2] A quote of his that has become popular: "one caste, one religion, and one god for all human beings". He is the author of the Advaita poem Daiva Dasakam, which is one of the most used poem in Kerala for community prayer.[3]


Narayana guru at Meditation. Narayana Guru meditated for 8 years at Pillathadam cave at Maruthwamala mountain and attained enlightenment. The area was secluded with heavy forest and inhabited with wild life.[4]
Excerpts from Anukambadasakam

Is the Reality that drives the chariot proclaiming the Supreme Truth (Lord Krishna),
Or the Ocean of Compassion and patience (The Buddha),
Or the Guru who wrote lucid bhashyas (commentaries) on Advaita (Adi Shankara),
this Compassion embodied one?
Is he the Almighty appearing in human form
Or righteousness manifesting in divine human form
Or the holy Son of God (Jesus Christ)
Or the merciful (Prophet) Nabi, the pearl, the gem?

Excerpts from Atmopadesa Śatakam

യുകിലകമേ പലതല്ലതേകമാകും;
തുകയിലഹമ്പൊരുളും തുടര്‍ന്നിടുന്നു.

"I, I," thus, all that are spoken of,
when carefully considered,
inwardly are not many; that is one;
as the receding I-identities are countless
in their totality, the substance
of I-consciousness continues.

Narayanan, né Nanu, was born on 20 August 1856 to Madan Asan and Kuttiyamma in an Ezhava family of ayurvedic physicians, in the village of Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram, in the erstwhile state of Travancore.[5] Unlike other Ezhavas who confined their Sanskrit reading to ayurvedic works, Narayanaguru studied religious texts as well.[6] His early education was in the gurukula way under Chempazhanthi Mootha Pillai during which time his mother died when he was 15. At the age of 21, he went to central Travancore to learn from Raman Pillai Asan, a Sanskrit scholar who taught him Vedas, Upanishads and the literature and logical rhetoric of Sanskrit. A year later, he married Kaliamma but soon disassociated himself from the marriage to commence his public life as a social reformer.[5] He returned to his village in 1881, when his father was seriously ill, and started a village school where he taught local children which earned him the name Nanu Asan.[5]

Leaving home, he traveled through Kerala and Tamil Nadu and it was during these journeys, he met Chattampi Swamikal, a social and religious reformer, who introduced Guru to Ayyavu Swamikal from whom he learned meditation and yoga.[7] Later, he continued his wanderings until he reached the Pillathadam cave at Maruthwamala where he set up a hermitage and practiced meditation for the next eight years.[5]

In 1888, he visited Aruvippuram and spent time meditating in a cave near the Neyyar River. It was here that his first and one of his prominent disciple, Sivalingadasa Swamikal, who hailed from an orthodox Nair family, discovered him. During his stay, he consecrated a rock from the deepest part of the Neyyar River, a whirlpool sinkhole known as 'Sankaran Kuzhi'. It is believed that it was in this 'Sankaran Kuzhi' sage Agastya gave his worshipping Shiva Linga to Neyyar river somewhere before leaving. This rock was established as the idol of Shiva, and the site has since been known as the Aruvippuram Shiva Temple.[8][9][10] The act, which later came to be known as Aruvipuram Pratishta, created a social commotion among the upper caste Brahmins who questioned Guru's right to consecrate the idol.[11] His reply to them that "This is not a Brahmin Shiva but an Ezhava Shiva"[12] later became a famous quote, used against casteism.[13][14] It was here, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam)[15] was founded on 15 May 1903 by the efforts of Padmanabhan Palpu, better known as Dr. Palpu, with Narayana Guru as its founder president.[16]

Guru shifted his base to Sivagiri, near Varkala in 1904 where he opened a school for children from the lower strata of the society and provided free education to them without considering their caste. However, it took him seven years to build[5] a temple there, the Sarada Mutt was built in 1912. He also built temples in other places such as Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Thalassery, Kozhikode, and Mangalore and it took him to many places including Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) where he made his final visit in 1926. On his return to India, he was involved in a number of activities including the planning of the Sivagiri pilgrimage which was planned after his visit to Pallathuruthy in 1927 to attend the anniversary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam.[5]

Soon after the meeting at Pallathuruthy, which was the last public function he attended, Guru became ill and underwent treatment at places such as Aluva, Thrissur, Palakkad, and finally to Chennai; the physicians attended to him included Ayurvedic physicians like Cholayil Mami Vaidyar, Panappally Krishnan Vaidyar and Thycauttu Divakaran Moos as well as allopathic physicians viz. . Krishnan Thampi, Panikker, Palpu and a European physician by name, Noble. He returned to Sarada Mutt and died on 20 September 1928, at the age of 72.[5]


Fight against casteism

Casteism was practised in Kerala during the 19th and early 20th centuries and the backward castes such as Ezhavas and other untouchable castes like Paraiyars, adivasis and Pulayars had to suffer discrimination from the upper caste community.[17] It was against this discrimination that Guru performed his first major public act,[5] the consecration of Siva idol at Aruvippuram in 1888. Overall, he consecrated forty five temples across Kerala and Tamil Nadu..[citation needed]His consecrations were not necessarily conventional deities; a slab inscribed with the words, Truth, Ethics, Compassion, Love,[18] a vegetarian Shiva, a mirror and a sculpture by an Italian sculptor were among the various consecrations made by him.[19] He propagated the ideals of compassion and religious tolerance and one of his noted works, Anukampadasakam, extols various religious figures such as Krishna, The Buddha, Adi Shankara, Jesus Christ.[20]

Aruvippuram Shiva Prathishta

As narrated by Shivalingadasa Swamikal, who was the first disciple of Narayana guru, who had also witnessed the event:

The Guru had discussed the idea of a shrine at the creek with many of his devotees. The Guru could understand that everyone wanted it. That is how the Guru ordered that the day of Shivaratri in 1888 could be the Pratishtha. The Guru did not tell the people who had gathered there for the Shivratri Vrat, except that he pointed to a rock facing the river and said that they can be here. Shivalinga Dasa Swami, Naniyashan and Bhairavan Shanti were there as assistants to the Guru. Guru did not tell even them what he was going to do. However, the devotees who had gathered there had made all the preparations they could. Around the rock where the Guru was standing as a pedestal, a pandal was tied and raised on top of the rock. Marotikayas are cut in the middle and oil is poured into them and lit. Those lamps were fixed on the thatched roofs. Nadswara reading was also arranged. Vaidyas arranged Ashtabandham for idol fixation. Gurudev was in a solemn silence all that day. At that time no one had the courage to even look at the face of the Guru who was as radiant as the golden idol in meditation near the Parnashala. At dusk all the lights turned on. The devotees started chanting the Panchakshari mantra. It was half past midnight. The night when devotees stay awake for Lord Shiva who has drunk poison. The Guru awoke from meditation and came out of Parnashala. Like the rising sun. Guru went straight to the river. In Neyyar there is a kayam (whirlpool sinkhole) called "Shankaran kuzhi". The rushing river turns around and flows forward in the deep Shankarankuzhi. Nothing comes up when fallen into Shankaran Kuzhi!.It is believed that Agastya gave his worshipping Shiva Linga to Neyyar river somewhere before leaving. As the crowd swelled, the Guru sank into the lake. Time passes.It has been a long time after guru disappeared under the water.People are standing with their arms folded and unable to even say a word. Only the chanting of the mantra of the river can still be heard. Then the Guru emerges from that bed. In his right hand he holds up a rock in the form of Shivalinga and with his left hand he climbs up holding the rock like an expert. Walking straight on, he reached the edge of the rock he intended to place. He held the rock close to his chest and stood meditatively, tears flowing from those compassionate eyes. He remained in meditation for hours. A ray of light from the sky rushed through the air and touched the stone in the Guru's hand. He placed the round stone on the flat stone. Rock fused to rock. The Vaidhyas who were waiting for the Ashta Bandham asked the Guru, "Should the Ashta Bandham be applied?" The Guru's lips, which were sealed in silence, spoke for the first time that day. "No. It's already fixed!"[8][21]

India's first - All India Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition

In 1905, Sree Narayana guru organized All India Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition at Kollam, first time in India to facilitate Industrialization and agriculture.[22] Guru wanted to convey the importance of regaining the lost worshipping places (later rebuilt by the Guru himself) and wealth. This was according to his quote:[23]

Be Enlighten by knowledge, Be strengthened by organization, Be prospered by Industries

(വിദ്യ കൊണ്ട് പ്രബുദ്ധരാകുക, സംഘടനകൊണ്ട് ശക്തരാകുക,വ്യവസായം കൊണ്ട് അഭിവൃദ്ധിനേടുക)

Vaikom Satyagraha

The social protest of Vaikom Satyagraha was an agitation by all backward caste communities against discrimination in Hindu society of Travancore.[24] 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. T. K. Madhavan, another disciple, petitioned the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly in 1918 for rights to enter the temple and worship, regardless of the caste.[25] A host of people including K. Kelappan and K. P. Kesava Menon, formed a committee and 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.[25][26] The protest also influenced the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936.[27][28]

Sivagiri pilgrimage

Sivagiri pilgrimage was conceived by three of the disciples of Guru viz. Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar, T. K. Kittan Writer and Muloor S. Padmanabha Panicker which Guru approved in 1928, with his own recommendations.[citation needed] He suggested that the goals of the pilgrimage should be the promotion of education, cleanliness, devotion to God, organization, agriculture, trade, handicrafts, and technical training and advised Vaidyar and Writer to organise a series of lectures on these themes to stress the need for the practice of these ideals, stating this to be the core purpose of Sivagiri pilgrimage. However, his death soon after delayed the project until 1932 when the first pilgrimage was undertaken from Elavumthitta in Pathanamthitta District.[29]

All Religions' Conference

Guru organized an All Religion Conference in 1923 at Alwaye Advaita Ashram, which was first such event in India.[30] During this period, communalization escalated into riots in India. In Kerala, the Malabar rebellion occurred. According to the Simon Commission report, more than 112 major communal riots took place in India between 1922 and 1927. Throughout this time, the guru also received letters from a communal leader, Abdul Hamid Qadri Badayuni, from Uttar Pradesh, who later moved to Pakistan. The guru responded to his queries and questions through letters. The All Religions' Conference, which was the first of its kind in India, was organized against this backdrop to foster peace among the various religions of the country [31][32][33] 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.[34]

Spiritual Initiations to People of All Faiths

Sree Narayana Guru provided spiritual initiation to people of all faiths and sects. He initiated an individual from an orthodox Nair family in Koyilandy, who missed seeing the Guru upon his arrival due to huge crowd. This individual composed a poem in praise of the Guru and sent it through a friend. Upon reading the poem, the Guru blessed him by saying he will become a great yogi. This individual later became a yogi and known as Sivananda Yogi of Koyilandy.[31]

Guru Narayana initiated Abdul Khader Masthan, a Muslim man, into spirituality. Born into the traditional Muslim family of Valiyakandy in Kannur city, which was traditionally involved in the copper business, Abdul Khader Masthan came into possession of a copper plate as part of the business. The inscriptions on the copper plate were in the Chenthamizh language. Being illiterate and unable to read even Malayalam, he found it difficult to interpret this ancient script and sought help from many, but to no avail. Eventually, Narayana Guru provided a solution.[31][35]

Upon examining the script, Narayana Guru read it but did not tell the meaning to him rather he smiled at Abdul Khader Masthan and advised him to consult Sufi saints in Tamil Nadu, who could decipher it's meaning. Following Narayana Guru's guidance, Abdul Khader met with a Sufi saint in Tamil Nadu. The saint read the inscription, which turned out to be a Sufi text. Inspired by this experience, Abdul Khader Masthan later became a renowned Sufi saint known as Icha Mastan. He has composed many Sufi poems including praise of Shiva.[31][35]

Sree Narayana Guru welcomed a Muslim named Khader during his Sri Lankan visit who expressed a keen interest in becoming his disciple. Khader inquired whether he would be accepted into the group and if a change of religion was necessary. The Guru assured him that changing his religion was not a prerequisite to becoming a disciple. A year later, during Narayana Guru's second visit at Sri Lanka, Khader met him again, this time dressed as a Hindu saint instead of his usual white Muslim attire. The Guru, feigning ignorance, asked Khader who he was. Disappointed, Khader reminded the Guru that he was his disciple, initiated the previous year. Narayana Guru expressed his recognition of the 'old' Khader and reiterated that changing his Muslim attire was not necessary to be his disciple.[36][37]

Notable disciples


Writings and philosophy

Guru published 45 works in Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil languages which include Atmopadesa Śatakam, a hundred-verse spiritual poem[41] and Daiva Dasakam, a universal prayer in ten verses.[42] He also translated three major texts, Thirukural of Valluvar, Ishavasya Upanishad and Ozhivil Odukkam of Kannudaiya Vallalaar.[43] It was he who propagated the motto, One Caste, One Religion, One God for All (Oru Jathi, Oru Matham, Oru Daivam, Manushyanu) which has become popular as a saying in Kerala.[44] He furthered the non-dualistic philosophy of Adi Sankara by bringing it into practice by adding the concepts of social equality and universal brotherhood.[44]


Conversation with Nataraja Guru

ഗുരു : മുത്തുചിപ്പിയുടെയുള്ളില് മുത്തുണ്ടാവുന്നതെങ്ങനെ ?
നടരാജഗുരു : സ്വാതി നക്ഷത്ര ദിവസം മുത്തുചിപ്പിയുടെ ഉള്ളില് വീഴുന്ന തുള്ളി വെള്ളം ഉള്ളിലിരുന്ന് പാകപ്പെട്ട് മുത്തായി എന്ന് പഴമക്കാ൪ പറയുന്നു.'
ഗുരു : ഒരു ജന്തുവിന്റെ ശരീരത്തിലെ മറ്റ് അവയവങ്ങള് ഉണ്ടാക്കുന്നതുപോലെ അതിന്റെ ഉള്ളില് ഒരു മുത്തുകൂടി ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു ധരിച്ചാല് പോരേ

(തുട൪ന്ന് ഗുരു നിനക്ക് വേദാന്തം മനസ്സിലാക്കണമെന്നുണ്ടോ എന്ന് ചോദിച്ചു. ഉവ്വ് എന്ന് പറയാ൯പോലും മറന്ന് ശ്രദ്ധാപൂ൪വ്വം ഗുരുവിന്റെ കണ്ണില് നോക്കി നിന്ന നടരാജഗുരുവിനോട്)

ഗുരു : നീ വെള്ളം കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ടോ ?
നടരാജഗുരു : ഉണ്ട്
ഗുരു : ഓളം വെള്ളമാണെന്ന് നിനക്കറിയാമോ ?
നടരാജഗുരു : അറിയാം
ഗുരു : എന്നാല് പുതിയതായി അറിയേണ്ടതായിട്ടൊന്നുമില്ല. വേദാന്തം ഇത്ര തന്നെ

Guru: How can there be a pearl inside a pearl mussel?
Nataraja Guru: It is said that on the day of Swati Nakshatra, the drop of water that falls inside a pearl mussel ripens inside and becomes a pearl.
Guru: Just like the other organs of an animal's body, a pearl is also formed inside it, is it not enough to understand it?

(Then Guru asked if you want to understand Vedanta. Nataraja, who forgot to even say yes and was looking intently into the Guru's eyes)

Guru: Have you seen the water?
Nataraja Guru: Yes
Guru: Do you know that wave is also water?
Nataraja Guru: I know
Guru: Then there is nothing new to know. Vedanta is so.

Public acceptance, honours and veneration

Guru 1967 stamp of India
5 Coin

In 1916, Ramana Maharshi hosted Narayana Guru at his Tiruvannamalai ashram when Guru was returning from a trip to Kancheepuram where Swami Govindananda, a disciple of Guru, had established the Sree Narayana Seva Ashram.[45] Rabindranath Tagore met Narayana Guru at the latter's ashram in Sivagiri in November 1922. Tagore later said of Narayana Guru that, "I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Narayana Guru or a person who is at par with him in spiritual attainment".[46] Three years later, Mahatma Gandhi visited Guru during his 1925 trip to Kerala to participate in the Vaikom Satyagraha[47] after which the Indian independence movement leader stated that "it was a great privilege in his life to have the darshan of an esteemed sage like Narayana Guru."[citation needed]

On 21 August 1967, Narayana Guru was commemorated on an Indian postage stamp of denomination 15 nP.[48] Another commemorative stamp on him was issued by Sri Lanka Post on 4 September 2009.[49] The Reserve Bank of India issued two sets of commemorative coins depicting Guru's image, each valued at 5 and 100 respectively, on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary.[citation needed]

The first of the several statues of Narayana Guru was erected at Jagannath Temple, Thalassery in 1927 while he was still alive.[50][51] His statues are seen in many places in Kerala which include a 24 feet statue at Kaithamukku in Thiruvananthapuram.[52] The Government of Kerala observe the birthday, the Sri Narayana Jayanthi, and the date of death (Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi) of Narayana Guru as public holidays.[53]

In popular media

The life of Narayana Guru has been portrayed in a number of movies starting with the 1986 film Sree Narayana Guru,[54] made by award-winning director P. A. Backer.[55] Swamy Sreenarayana Guru, an Indian Malayalam-language film directed by Krishnaswamy, released the same year. Almost a decade and a half later, R. Sukumaran made a film on the life of Guru, titled Yugapurushan[56] in 2010 with Thalaivasal Vijay playing the role of Guru and the film also featured Mammootty and Navya Nair.[57] Brahmashri Narayana Guru Swamy is a Tulu film made in 2014 by Rajashekar Kotian on Guru's life and the film was the 50th film made in the language.[58] His life during the eight years he spent at Maruthwamala (also known as Marunnumamala) has been adapted into a docufiction, titled Marunnumamala and the film was released by Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala on 9 August 2016.[59][a]

In 2016, Kerala High court observed that the statue of Sree Narayana Guru cannot be treated as a Hindu deity.[61][62]


In Malayalam

Guru's tomb in Sivagiri, Kerala

In Sanskrit

The first Jnana Vigraham of Guru

In Tamil


Translations of Guru's works into other languages


Narayana guru attained samadhi at Sivagiri, Kerala. The cause of death was indigestion and prostate inflammation. He had told all the great physicians and disciples of that time who came to treat him that the Guru had approached his samadhi in advance and that the ashram should be well looked after and that everyone should live as good people.. (January 18, 1928) The special public meeting of the SNDP meeting held at Kottayam was the last public ceremony attended by Narayana guru.

In 1927, naturopathy was carried out in Mangatukodi and Kandachira on the banks of Ashtamudikayal along with Pazhavila Chattambiasan. He was bedridden for a long time suffering from senile disease but was treated by many great doctors but could not cure the disease completely. He died during meditation in the presence of devotees on 20 September 1928 (Malayalam year 1104 Kanni 5). It was just three weeks after his 72nd birthday. The body was laid to rest in Sivagiri, Kerala Mathvalap. Today there is a hall with his statue.

See also


  1. ^ Marunnumamala – a docufiction in Malayalam on YouTube[60]


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Further reading

  • (Re)construction of ‘the Social’ for Making a Modern Kerala: Reflections on Narayana Guru's Social Philosophy, Satheese Chandra Bose, published in Satheese Chandra Bose and Shiju Sam Varughese (eds.) 2015. Kerala Modernity: Ideas, Spaces and Practices in Transition. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan.
  • Sree Narayana Guruswamikalude jeeva charithramMoorkoth Kumaran-(The official biography as approved by Sivagiri mutt.) Published by SNDS Trust
  • Sree Narayana Gurudeva Krithikal – Sampoorna VyakyanamG Balakrishnan Nair- (Works of Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations – ten parts compiled in two volumes) published by The State Institute of Languages, Kerala.
  • Brahmarshi Sree Narayana Guru – T. Bhaskaran- published by Sahitya Akademi.
  • The Word of the Guru : The Life and Teaching of Guru Narayana : Nataraja Guru, D.K. Printworld, 2003, New Delhi, ISBN 81-246-0241-7
  • Srinarayana Guruvinte Sampoorna Kruthikal (Complete Works of Sri Narayana Guru): Mathrubhoomi Publishers, Kozhikode, Kerala
  • Sri Narayana Guruvinte Mathavum Sivagiriyum (Sivagiri and the Religion of Sri Narayana Guru): K. Maheshwaran Nair
  • Narayanaguru- Editor: P.K.Balakrishnan (A collection of essays in Malayalam):March 2000, (First Edition 1954), Kerala Sahitya Academi, Trichur, Kerala.
  • The Philosophy of Narayana Guru: Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, D.K. Printworld, 2003, New Delhi, ISBN 81-246-0236-0.
  • Sree Narayana Gurudev – the Maharshi who made Advaita a Science – [G.K.Sasidharan]: Many Worlds Publications, Kollam, Kerala (First Edition 2014)
  • M. K. Sanu (2017). O. V. Usha (ed.). Sree Narayana Guru – Life and Times. Translated by P. R. Mukundan. Open Door Media. p. 280. ISBN 978-8193219614.
  • Nataraja Guru (2008). The Word of the Guru: The Life and Teachings of Guru Nārāyaṇa. D.K. Printworld. ISBN 978-81-246-0241-6.
  • Nityachaitanya Yati (2005). Narayana Guru. Indian Council of Philosophical Research. ISBN 978-81-85636-89-4.
  • Moorkoth Kumaran (1930). Life of Swami Narayana Guru (PDF) (in Malayalam). Telicherry: M. G. & Sons.