JAGATHGURU SREE NARAYANA GURUDEVAN was born in A.D. 1855 in Vayalvaram house, Chembazanthi, a quiet little town, about 12 kilometres north of Trivandrum(Thiruvananthapuram), the capital of the then Indian native State of Travancore. Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)is today the capital of Kerala, one of the most fascinating States of India, nestling in the south-west corner, with the Western Ghats in the east and the Arabian Sea on the west forming its main borders. There are two communities in Kerala known generally as Nairs and Ezhavas, who form the largest castes in that State; Nairs were Sudras belonging to the hierarchy of the Varna (caste) system and so were counted among the cluster of the higher castes known as Savarnas (those
having caste). The Ezhavas were an unapproachable caste belonging to the group of castes outside the Varna system and were, therefore, Avarnas (outcastes, those not in the caste purview). Sree Narayana Guru was born as an Ezhava.
Contact with Ezhavas at a distance of 12 feet was supposed to pollute the Savarnas, this distance increasing as one went up the scale of castes until at last the Ezhava polluted the Brahmin at a distance of 32 feet. At the same time, there used to be a number of castes below the Ezhava, one below the other, who polluted each other in various ways at varying distances. The maltreatment which these Avarnas had to suffer was so horrible and meaningless that Swami Vivekananda characterized Kerala as the ‘lunatic asylum of India’. Even so, hey seemed to have had a method in their madness and some of the exceptions to these caste restrictions make Kerala an intriguing part of India. There is evidence in the birth-place of Sree Narayana Guru that in the past, Nairs and Ezhavas did cooperative closely with each other without, be it noted, violating the polluting distance between them. The highly numerous, sturdy agriculturist
Ezhava, who was the traditional toddy-tapper too, proved to be a strong arm for the chieftains in their frays. There is, for instance, a temple of Goddess Bhagavathy which belongs to the Ezhavas near the birth-place of the Guru where the festivals were conducted jointly by Nairs and
Ezhavas. Two platforms on two sides of the temple still bear witness to the custom, whereby the Ezhavas and the Nairs cooperated in conducting the ceremonies at shrines, even though they took care to sit apart while doing so.
The great poet Kumaran Ashan, who was to the Guru what Swami Vivekananda was to Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, records that Sree Narayana Guru or rather Nanu as he was affectionately called, was a mischievous boy. The instances of mischief given by Ashan are, however, significant and revealing. The little boy would take special delight in running out to touch the lower caste people and then return straight to the orthodox members of the family to touch and pollute them. Fruits and sweets specially reserved for the gods were the main targets of his foraging raids. He would eat them with gusto, saying, “If I (the child) am
pleased, the gods would be happy.” Those were the childish pranks of this boy who later became an Adwaitin i.e. a person who saw everything in the universe as the manifestation of the ONE.
Mooloor S. Padmanabha Panicker, another contemporary, who knew Nanu intimately, says that they boy had an inborn sympathy for the poor and the down-trodden, a sort of aversion towards worldliness, and had from a very tender age a religious turn of mind. One evening, while he was returning from school along with other boys, he saw a Sanyasi (recluse) passing that way. The ochre-coloured dress, the flowing beard and the unkempt coiffure of this stranger amused the children. They jeered at him, laughed at him, and even threw stones at him. Little Nanu could not stand this. Unfortunately he was not big enough to prevent them from hurting the Sanyasi
or old enough to advise them of the wrong they were doing. He did what he could: he cried. The children were stunned. The Sanyasi saw this, went up to the boy and consoling him, carried him on his shoulders to his house, the other boys trailing behind, feeling guilty, puzzled and foolish!
With a philosophical temperament far above his age, he would join issue with elders on philosophical points holding his own with a sureness that astonished everyone. They saw him very often lost in deep thought, most probably trying to solve on his own, problems to which elders around him had no answer. The puzzles disturbed him immensely.
found. The sun had set and still Nanu had not turned up. Tired, sad, disapplinted and wondering what to do, they sat silent in the house, when all of a sudden they got the news. A Pulaya (Harijan) working in the fields came running and panted out that Nanu was seen hiding in a
thicket. Nanu’s uncles and cousins and aunts and others, too, hurried to the place, gathered him in their arms and brought him home, he riding on his uncle’s shoulders. When they anxiously enquired why he had gone away to the jungle and had sat there alone so long, Nanu replied:
“Two days ago when uncle died, there was moaning and wailing among everyone here. In a short while all that sorrow seems to have vanished. There were pleasant faces, smiles and laughter all around. That made me go away and sit hiding, all by myself, in the jungle.”