Narayana Guru

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Narayana Guru
Narayana Guru.jpg
Narayana Guru
Born ca. 1854
Chempazhanthy, Travancore (now Kerala, India)
Died 20 September 1928
Varkala, Travancore (now Kerala, India)
Hindu sant, sadhu and social reformer of India

Narayana Guru (ca. 1854–1928), also known as Sree Narayana Guru, was a Hindu sant, sadhu and social reformer of India. He was born into an Ezhava family, in an era when people from that community and other communities that were regarded as Avarna faced much social injustice in the caste-ridden society of Kerala. Gurudevan, as he was known by his followers, led a reform movement in Kerala, rejected casteism and promoted new values of spiritual freedom and social equality.[1]

He stressed the need for the spiritual and social uplifting of the downtrodden by their own efforts through the establishment of temples and educational institutions. In the process he denounced the superstitions that clouded the fundamental Hindu cultural convention of caste.


A digitised image of a photograph taken when Narayana Guru was sixty

Family and early life[edit]

There are many legends surrounding the life of Narayana Guru but few certain facts until his rise to prominence in 1887. He was born probably in 1854, the son of an Ezhava peasant, Madan Asan and his wife Kuttiyamma, in the village of Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram.[2] Most likely, he was educated at least in part by a Nair teacher from a nearby village. He was deeply influenced by Vedanta and by ideas of social equality and social and religious reform. He taught religion and Sanskrit to local children and also to have studied yoga with notable ascetics such as Chattampi Swami. He was an itinerant yogi for some time and Cyriac Pullapilly says that he was probably married for a few years but "his worshipful biographers ignored this part of his life out of reverence for his later ascetism".[3][4]

In the course of his wanderings in search of enlightenment, Narayana visited Aruvippuram. There people sought his advice and powers of healing and he and his followers erected a temple to Shiva in 1887. He installed a small rock as an idol within that, defying the tradition that this was done by Brahmins.[citation needed] As a youth, Narayana Guru turned away from the temple rituals of his local village and traveled widely, living an ascetic lifestyle and seeking religious understanding. He eventually became a schoolteacher and then a religious reformer.[5]

Narayana's literary and philosophical masterpiece is claimed to be Atmopadesa Satakam (one hundred verses of self-instruction), written in Malayalam around 1897.[6]

Narayana Guru's Tomb at Sivagiri

In 1904, Narayana settled at Sivagiri to pursue his Sadhana (spiritual practice). He chose Amba'as his deity and subsequently opened a Sanskrit school in Varkala. Poor boys and orphans were taken under his care. They were given education regardless of caste distinctions. Temples were built at different places – Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Tellicherry, Calicut, Mangalore. A temple was built for Sharada Devi in 1912, at Sivagiri. Worship at such temples helped reduce to a large extent superstitious beliefs and practices.

In 1913, he founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva, dedicating it to the principle of Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (universal brotherhood - all men are equal in the eyes of God).

Narayana's 60th birthday was celebrated throughout the west coast from Mangalore to Sri Lanka. Between 1918 and 1923 he visited Sri Lanka many times. In 1921, a Conference of Universal Brotherhood was held at Aluva. Again in 1924, a conference of all religions was held there. He stressed the need for a Brahma Vidyalaya for a comparative study of different religious faiths.[citation needed]

Sivagiri pilgrimage[edit]

The Sivagiri pilgrimage is said to have been conceived by Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar and T K Kittan Writer, along with the poet Mooloor S. Padmanabha Panicker. Though the idea to hold a pilgrimage was approved by Narayana Guru as early as 1928, it was not until 1932 that the first pilgrimage was undertaken.[7]

Narayana stated the goals of the pilgrimage to be the promotion of

  • Education
  • Cleanliness
  • Devotion to God
  • Organization
  • Agriculture
  • Trade
  • Handicrafts
  • Technical training

He advised Vaidyar and Writer to organise a series of lectures on the themes with experts conducting them. The lectures should be listened to attentively. More important, the principles should be put into practice. Success must accompany efforts. Only then will the country and the people benefit. this must be the core purpose of Sivagiri pilgrimage.

The first Jnana Vigraham of Narayana Guru

Finally, it was decided to start the first pilgrimage from the village of Elavumthitta in Pathanamthitta District. The S N D P unit No.76 of Elavumthitta selected five youngsters for the pilgrimage. All five pilgrims wore bright yellow dress. All the way to Sivagiri, they were reciting 'Swaathanthrya gadha' – written by the poet Kumaranaasan. The dominant thought in their mind was the mission to fulfil, will have to reach Sivagiri, a great responsibility bestowed on their shoulders by the Sreenarayana devotees. Their mission was a great success. Today thousands are following the way they have shown.[citation needed]

The Palluruthi event in 1927 was the last anniversary of the Yogam which Narayana attended and was also his last public function.[citation needed]

Narayana went to Vellur Mutt at Vaikom to rest. There he was taken ill. He went to Alwaye and later to Trichur for treatment, then to Palghat and to Madras.[citation needed]


Guru became seriously ill in September 1928. He remained bedridden for some time. Devotees came in large numbers to have a glimpse. The same year, his birthday was celebrated in many places, including Kerala, Madras, Mangalore, Sri Lanka and Europe. He died on 20 September 1928.[8]

Public acceptance, honours and veneration[edit]

Commemorative coins issued by the Reserve Bank of India in 2006 on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Nārāyana Guru. Click on picture for enlarged view.

Rabindranath Tagore is reported to have said 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" after meeting Narayana Guru at his ashram in Sivagiri in November 1922.[9]

On 21 August 1967, India Post honoured him by issuing a commemorative postage stamp of denomination 15 nP.[10]

In 2009, the Government of Kerala recommended to the Union Government that Daiva Dasakam, a prayer song written by Narayana Guru, be adopted as the national prayer song.[11]

The International Center for Sree Narayana Guru Studies was established in 2005.[12] Numerous other institutions, particularly those operated by the SNDP, are named after him.

Both Sree Narayana Guru Jayanthi and Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi Day are public holidays in Kerala.[13]

Notable disciples[edit]


The 1985 Malayalam film on the life of Sree Narayana Guru, Sree Narayana Guru by P.A. Backer, won the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration of 1985.[16] In 2010, another film on the life of the Guru, titled Yugapurushan, was directed by R. Sukumaran.[17] The 2014 Tulu movie Brahmashri Narayana Guru Swamy also has a story based on his life.[18]


In Malayalam[edit]

  • Swanubavageethi
  • Atmopadesa Śatakam
  • Advaitha Deepika
  • Arivu
  • Daiva Dasakam
  • Jeevakarunya Panchakam
  • Anukamba Dasakam
  • Jathi Nirnayam
  • Jathi Lakshanam
  • Chijjada Chinthanam
  • Daiva vichinthanam – 1 & 2
  • Athma Vilasam
  • Shiva Shathakam
  • Kolatheereshastavam
  • Bhadrakaalyashtakam

In Sanskrit[edit]

  • Darsana Mala
  • Brahmavidya Panchakam
  • Nirvruthi Panchakam
  • Slokathrayi
  • Vedantha Suthram
  • Homa Manthram
  • Municharya Panchakam
  • Asramam
  • Dharmam
  • Charama Slokangal
  • Homa Mantram
  • Chidambarashtakam
  • Guhashtakam
  • Bhadrakaliashtakam
  • Vinayaka Ashtakam
  • Sree Vasudeva Ashtakam
  • Janani Navaratna Manjari

In Tamil[edit]

  • Thevarappathinkangal


  • Thirukural
  • Isavasyo Upanishad
  • Ozhivil Odukkam

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pullapilly, Cyriac K. (1976). "The Izhavas of Kerala and their Historic Struggle for Acceptance in the Hindu Society". In Smith, Bardwell L. Religion and social conflict in South Asia. International studies in sociology and social anthropology 22. BRILL. pp. 24–46. ISBN 978-90-04-04510-1. 
  2. ^ "Film based on Gurudevan". Retrieved 2 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Pullapilly, Cyriac K. (1976). "The Izhavas of Kerala and Their Historic Struggle for Acceptance in the Hindu Society". In Smith, Bardwell L. Religion and Social Conflict in South Asia. Leiden: BRILL. pp. 35–36. ISBN 9789004045101. 
  4. ^ Ramachandran, V. K. (1997). "On Kerala's Development Achievements". In Drèze, Jean; Sen, Amartya. Indian development: selected regional perspectives. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 309. ISBN 0-19-829204-X. 
  5. ^ Younger, Paul (2002). Playing host to deity : festival religion in the South Indian tradition. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 127. ISBN 0-19-514044-3. 
  6. ^ "Sri Narayana Guru: A short biography – Chronology of Events". Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "Elavumthitta - the birthplace of Sivagiri pilgrimage". The Hindu. January 4, 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Chapter XI : The Last Days of A Great Life – THE BIOGRAPHY OF SREE NARAYANA GURU". Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi (31 December 2011). "The Other Tagore". Frontline (Volume 28 - Issue 27). Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  10. ^ "Stamps 1947-2000". India Post. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Kerala recommends national prayer song to Centre". The Hindu. October 7, 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  12. ^ "International Centre for Sree Narayana Guru Studies". Sree Narayana Mandira Samiti. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  13. ^ "Kerala Gazette" (PDF). General Administration (Coordination) Department, Government of Kerala. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  14. ^ Das, Sisir Kumar. A History of Indian Literature 1911-1956. Sahitya Akademi. p. 306. ISBN 81-7201-798-7. 
  15. ^ a b Kusuman, K. K. A Panorama of Indian Culture: Professor A. Sreedhara Menon Felicitation Volume. Mittal Publications, New Delhi. p. 44. ISBN 81-7099-214-1. 
  16. ^ "33rd National Film Awards" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Yugapurushan (2010)". IMDb. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  18. ^ "Now showing: 50th Tulu movie". The Hindu. May 3, 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • (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 Sree Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations – ten parts compiled in two volumes) published by The State Institute of Languages, Kerala.
  • Brahmarshi Sree Narayana Guru – Dr. 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
  • Guru – Kumaranasante Drushtiyil : DC Books, Kottayam, Kerala
  • 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
  • Sri Narayana Guru – Jeevitham, Darsanum, Kruthikal: Editor: K.N.Shaji, Current Books, Trissur, Kerala
  • 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.
  • Yukthirekha August 2004 (Special issue commemorating the 150th Birth Anniversary of Sri Narayana Guru) – Dhanuvachapuram Post, Trivandrum-695503, Kerala.
  • Sree Narayana Gurudev - the Maharshi who made Advaita a Science - [Prof:G.K.Sasidharan]: Many Worlds Publications, Kollam, Kerala (First Edition 2014)

External links[edit]

Media related to Narayana Guru at Wikimedia Commons