Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reclaiming Sree Narayana Guru from Guru Bhakts


Sree Narayana Guru
At Aluva Adwaita Ashram, I stand disappointed. I have been wishing to come here for a long time. In fact for the last few months I have been trailing the footsteps of Guru, visiting places wherever he had gone. Hardly I got the vibe of the spiritual magnanimity in those places that Guru once had held closer to his own spirit, but now fallen into the hands of those people who are hell bent on making Guru a God. They have almost forgotten the distinction between the notions of Guru and God. To certain extent these notions are interchangeable. However, the moment one it replaced by the other, things could go astray. That seems to be exactly the case with Sree Narayana Guru today.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
Aluva Adwaita Ashram was established by Guru in 1913 -14 with a clear intention to impart Sanskrit knowledge to the children who came from poor conditions. Guru chose the teaching of Adwaita via the language of Sanskrit for two clear reasons, that anybody from his time could easily understand. First of all, the wisdom of Adwaita was restricted by the Brahmin class in order to protect the 'so called ' purity of it. Guru saw the irony of it. If a philosophy that proclaimed 'Abheda' (no difference) between beings and God, and one another, how could it be denied to a set of people in the name of caste hierarchy. Guru himself was initiated to Sanskrit education in childhood by his father and later by a Sanskrit scholar. Secondly, Guru wanted to challenge the caste hierarchy of his time ( late 19th and early 20th century) by setting up Sanskrit education centres, only to remind the society that it had once poured molten lead into the ears of those lower caste people who even happened to listen to Sanskrit verses being recited. Guru lived in such a caste ridden society and despite having achieved the status of a Jeevan Muktha, the one who had gained deliverance even while living not really in Samadhi, the final state, Guru wanted to 'act' upon the existing social hierarchies. Sanskrit was a great and symbolic linguistic tool for him. Today when we see a Prime Minister hailing from a lower caste propagating Sanskrit and yoga, two integral parts of Adwaita philosophy, we could say that what Guru had started a century back as a social revolution has now been institutionalised with state patronage and the Prime Minister of the country leading the propagation of it from the forefront. Whatever accusations that one could make against this, it would be a great failure from their side if they do not recognise the fact that even the caste based political parties had not taken this exclusive and forbidden tool of language of power and authority with the vehemence that the present regime has taken. Had Sanskrit been a language that perpetuated hierarchies, in a lopsided way, Guru wouldn't have chosen this language as a tool of power for the downtrodden classes.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
In Sivagiri, Varkala, Sanskrit is practiced and in Aluva, I do not find any trace of Sanskrit being taught. Right behind the Adwaita Ashram premises, the Aluva river/ Periyar flows calmly. At a distance one could see a ghat where during the auspicious days, people come out to make offerings to the souls of their departed dears. The Shivaratri festivals here are very famous. Down the river, the village Kaladi, the place of Adi Shankaracharya is located. Also one could reach the Kaladi Sanskrit University, which carries Adi Shankaracharya's name in it. Guru's choice of the place was not only pragmatic but symbolic as well. He literally bought the place (while the other locations where Guru treaded and stayed were often donated by village lords who either became his disciples or were impressed by his spiritual as well as social aura) and made an invisible bridge to the life of Shankara, who even had desired the dominance of Vedic ritualism towards the end of his life. Shankara also accepted finally that knowledge and wisdom are not limited by the gross body marked by caste or class. Guru created an invisible bridge to this Shankara by the language of Sanskrit.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
Unfortunately, the people in Kerala seem to have transported Guru into another godhead and have heaped ritualistic sheens over him, almost wiping out his philosophical as well as sociological teachings. Like in any of the place of Guru, in Aluva too, one could see these teaching and maxims fro Guru's literary oeuvre pasted on placards, hanging from the trees. People seem to be least interested. They are more keen toward, the free food served at the dining hall. May people think that eating from such places would bring them godly blessings. In my opinion, those people could afford to buy their own for from restaurants should desist eating from community kitchens and let the poor and destitute eat from there. I am told that the main building, which is renovated and built in a fashion that remotely resembles Sivagiri but without its grace, is a temple where Guru is worshipped. The temple closes at 12 noon and reopens only at 5 in the evening. I go near the closed glass door and see the statue of Guru at the far end in a hall and a hall meant for silent meditation. But I believe silent meditation is the last thing here because there is a list of rituals and pujas on the board which people could pay for. One young man with too many sandal paste marks on his body sits inside the counter reminding me of all what Guru had stood against.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
I had seen this in Sivagiri too. Every place with Guru's touch has been changed into a place worship. Guru himself is worshipped in these places. The irony that Guru played out in his life as a spiritual as well as a social leader is hardly understood by people today. Guru established  temples in order to challenge the Brahminical hegemony in consecrating idols and setting up temples. Guru had clearly articulated the rationale behind his temple establishments. He said that temples would lead to cleanliness and education. It would elevate people to social and customary sophistication. Critics say that Guru freefully destroyed native thickets (Kaavu) where primitive pagan gods were worshipped by people of his caste and lower than that, thereby paving the way for Brahminical ritualism and its ideological proliferation.  But Guru had an absolutely different view on these issues. He considered such worshipping of the pagan gds would keep them in the permanent darkness of ignorance, and superstition. He wanted this situation to be changed and wanted people move towards the light of education via the imitable model of Sanskrit education or education in general. It was something akin to the attitude of the Indian nationalists who went ahead to gain english education in order to counter the socio-political, economical and cultural domination of the British in their own language.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
Guru had declared his universal existence as a spiritual being. But he never said he was a god to be worshipped. He never insisted that people should follow Sanskrit ritualism in their god worship. Guru with his deep understanding of Malayalam and Tamil wrote prayers, moral poetry and poetry that exalted gods in local language in order to be used in the daily worship in households. This was exactly what his contemporary Ramana Maharishi had done in Thiruvannamalai. But today in the places of both these Gurus we could see Sanskrit / Vedic ritualism taken predominance. Ironically in the case of Sree Narayana Guru, people have now resorted to such pagan practices of making offerings to Guru and seeking blessings for marriage, job, social success, economic crises and so on. Guru was never a miracle worker. What one sees today in the worship of Guru is the action replay of what he had destroyed once the native thickets via breaking the pagan idols.

Aluva Adwaita Ashram 
In Bhakti Guru could be God and God in turn could be Guru. Nobody could stop people from such ways of worshipping. But that would never help Guru's spiritual teachings for social as well as spiritual refinement and sublimation of the human beings in general. With various interests including political and social sanctions, acting upon the idea of Sree Narayana Guru it has become all the more difficult to extract the pristine philosophical and spiritual Guru from the ritualistic din. But that has to be done.
Sree Narayana Guru
Extracting Guru from the ritualistic cacophony and taking him to a field of silent contemplation is all the more necessary today because Guru's philosophy transcends times and is relevant today unprecedentedly. In a world that is seriously going through individual isolationism through technology and many people falling into the pits of depression due to lack of real anchor, Guru's philosophy stands as a refuge and solace as well. He had said the world is one despite the different religions. Man has only one religion that's humanity, he said. He also said that whatever one does for one's own satisfaction should be equally soothing for others. Guru is a leader who walked from inside to outside which many of his contemporaries did in reverse process. Guru practiced Gita in its purest spirit. He developed detachment from the results of his actions. He was a Karmayogi with Bhakti and Gyana as support. He remained in Ananda because he was unaffected by the organisational misdeeds that happened in his name. Perhaps, today to such vehement vandalism is done one guru by Guru's worshippers themselves. But it should be the mission of those people who see Guru as a spiritual guide and philosopher who did choose a karmic and gyaan path to lead humanity from its condemned fate of self-delusion to a bright world of justice, equanimity, peace and joy. It is time to retrieve that Guru. And the bargain should be quite enriching.








(Images courtesy Aksharananda and Internet)






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