Saturday, May 2, 2009



NANU, THE YOGIN left the heights of Maruthwa mountain as well as the solitary life in the cave, Pillathadom, and came down to the shining levels of the sea to mingle in society. He now lived in the world but was not of it.

This time, he went from temple to temple, in and out of Kerala, walking barefoot all the way, a true mendicant who partook of whatever foods pilgrims and pious householders offered him. If no one offered him anything on any day, he quietly starved. Engrossed in prayers and meditation or simply watching, as in a mirror, the world pass by, his bodily needs were his last concern. He slept wherever and at whatever place he happened to reach at night. “The bare earth for a bed, and one’s own arm for a pillow”—that is how he has portrayed the life of a devotee.

The holy appearance, the kindly eyes, the soft caressing wise advice that assuaged your sorrows, the smile that soothed your wounds like a balm—those were among the manifest spiritual qualities of his which immediately drew people to him. Amidst all this, and actually crowning them all, there were this humility and self-effacement, the surest signs of an emancipated soul. They were powerful magnets that attracted worshipping crowds about him.

Simple, pious people ministered to him in their own way. At Suchindram temple, for instance, they even made him submit to being garlanded and taken around the temple in a procession. His habit of not protesting at such sincere, rustic, soulful ways was taken full advantage of by that happy-go-lucky crowd who enjoyed all the din and bustle as important adjunctions of bhakti. To the average Indian, the greater the confusion created in a festival, the greater the merit that accrues to the devotee. One can picture with a smile how much Nanu Swami, who had an irrepressible sense of humour, would have enjoyed that ride. Kanyakumari, Kulachal, arimkulam, Poovar, Kovalam and Trivandrum were among the several sea-beaches where he wandered about for days on end, helping the poor in their daily chores, while they in turn offered him whatever they had.

At night, when birds were ensconced in their nests, beasts in their lairs and men in their homes, Nanu Swami would sit and pray, facing the sublime sea, meditate on the beach, and then sleep on the fish-nets lying there. Early morning when fishermen arrived, he would quietly walk
away, or help them in their chores. They offered him what they ate: fish cooked in different forms. Swami liked fish and enjoyed doing manual labour. “This sanyasi does not disdain work. He lends a hand in our tasks. He brings us luck. He eats whatever we give him,” they would
remark among themselves. A very strange sort of Swami, wasn’t he? Of course, there were people who laughed at him. It was only the simple fishermen and others who were like children that could come unto him in utter love and innocence.

A close disciple writes:Nanu the Swami

“When fishermen gave him fresh, uncooked fish, he would accept that too, and take it to an old woman, living along with her only daughter on a hillock close by. The old women would cook the fish and serve a meal with fish and a portion of her own meagre food. Noticing the dire
poverty of the family, he taught them how to prepare coconut fibre out of husk, helping them thus to eke out their paltry income.”

News spread that Nanu Swami, who had been so long performing tapas, was now a mendicant amidst the populace, performing wonders and curing people of even so-called incurable diseases. Some believed that he was a jnani. Others thought he was a mere beggar. A few who
knew his scholarly uncles felt sad that the heir of a respectable family should be wandering about like a man who had lost his balance of mind. Cherukkan Vaidyar, a good shikari (hunter), well known in those days, saw one morning a man, a magnificent specimen of humanity, standing in the house of a Pulaya (Harijan) pulling out some roots or nuts from the fire in the hearth, while the housewife stood aside in awe and surprise. That person who had a green shawl round his shoulders was soon recognized as Nanu Swami by the Vaidyar, who was not at all surprised at the Swami’s absolute unconcern about the observance of caste and custom. He went up and invited the Swami to his house. The Swami went with him and stayed there for a while.

Nairs, Christians and Muslims

Nairs, Christians, Muslims and Channars (low-caste Tamilians) were notable among those who respected the Swami. Among the Ezhavas, Dr. Palpu’s house invariably received him with great regard and played the honoured host to the sanyasin . Dr Palpu’s son later became the most famous disciple of Swami-Nataraja Guru. Mooloor S. Padmanabha Panicker, who was, as already mentioned, a close associate of the Swami, records the Swami’s own recollections thus:

“I have lived for days with Muslims, partaken of their food along with them and from the same plate. Eaten flesh and fish. I used to play with their children, carrying their babies in my arms and feeding the hungry ones with my own hands.”

It is also known that he had mastered Muslim mysticism and philosophy in those days. He had a great regard for the yogic practices of Muslims described by Dara Shikoh, the great mystic, the son of Shahjahan the Moghul Emperor and the unfortunate brother of Aurangzeb. Muslims, too, were in agreement with the Swami’s interpretation of the verses in the Koran. Great Muslim scholars in southern Travancore esteemed him highly.

There were Christians who respected him greatly. The peacock image in the temple consecrated by the Swami at Aruvipuram was the offering of a Christian, Marian Chattambi, who held him in high regard. When a young Christian evangelist solicited him to be converted, the Swami chuckled: “Why? I am already a Christian.”


His next appearance was at Arivipuram, another enchanting spot by a riverside. The river Neyyar in Kerala originates in Agastyakootam in the Western Ghats, flows west and empties itself in the Arabian Sea at Poovar, enriching all the way down the lands on both sides of its course. About 35 kilometres west of its source, the river flows through juts of pointed rocks and falls straight down a precipice to form a deep pool, popularly known from days of old as Shankaran Kuzhi, the pool of Shankara or Siva.

The rocks in their attempts to stop the flow of the river succeed only increasing its liveliness by converting it into a fast and lovely cascade rumbling down the fall. It provides a beautiful sight
where, after the monsoon the water is crystal-clear, enabling you to see the bottom, where the black rocks lie. A bird’s-eye view would paint a picture of the river as a light green ribbon wherein the rocks appear as shimmering polka dots that add to the beauty of the place. The
verdurous shores formed by a thick growth of tall trees give a depth to the scenery, adding to its eerie enchantment.

No one lived there and rarely did anyone go there either. The Swami’s contemporaries have reckoned 1886 as the year in which he started his tapas in that spot of heavenly charm, which appears to have been once again specially prepared by Mother Nature for a sanyasin to live in. He lived there in solitude with constant thoughts about the source of misery in the world.

This place, Cherukunnu, on the left bank of the river, has now become a landmark in the social, cultural and religious activities of Kerala’s history. A hundred or so years ago, it was the fringe of a forest inhabited by wild beasts and therefore frequented by royal hunters and their retinue. Of course, there were some religious- minded persons living in that quiet place in search of an escape from the din and bustle of crowds. Today it is a holy place for those who go there
for prayers and peace. In every sense, therefore, it is one of the most charming spots in Kerala which soothe the frayed nerves of modern man. News spread that Nanu Swami was now living in Aruvipuram in Cherukunnu and that he was a siddha (one who had attained spiritual
powers, saint) who performed miracles. Some saw him. They came back to the villages and town and described what they had seen. His radiant personality grew in mystery in the very process of their description. Hyperbole is the hallmark report by ordinary folk. People who came for darsan (holy vision) brought, as usual, offerings to the Swami. He gave them to those assembled there. A few others brought enough sweets to go round. The more practical devotees among them supplied a meal of rice and curry. The richer men brought rice and vegetables, cooked them there and served them hot and fresh. Holy days brought in bigger crowds. The place was fast becoming a place of pilgrimage and Nanu Swami was fast being idolized. That would
not do, he thought. And so, he told those who were close to him that he would install an idol of Siva for them to worship. He intended to do so on Sivaratri.

Kumaran Asan describes the solemn scene thus: “Sivaratri was only a few days away when Swami declared his intention of consecrating a lingam (Siva phallus) that night at that place.
There were no resources nor were there materials and much less was there the time for building a temple. Swami did not ask for anything.

“Let this flat rock be our pedestal. I shall dive into the river there and
bring up a round shaped piece or rock… That will serve us as a
Sivalingam. That is all,” he said.

The people around were only too happy to fall in with this plan. They erected a rough shamiana, as rough as the pedestal, over the place and decorated it with palm leaves and flowers. Pilgrims came in to keep their customary sleepless vigil on Sivaratri at this spot. A company of
nagaswaram musicians appeared, as if from nowhere. Flowers in plenty and a few temple lamps were the bare accessories which constituted the preparations for the ceremony. They were bare and meagre no doubt, but what did it matter, if they were so? The people’s hearts were full of
joy and hope, and filled with devotion. “At dead of night Swami had a dip in the river. He came up after some time with a Sivalingam in his hands, and walked into the make-shift
temple and stood there with his eyes closed in deep meditation, his hands holding the Sivalingam to his chest, tears flowing down his cheeks, completely lost to the world. For full three hours, he stood still in that asana (posture) while the entire crowd rent the midnight air with
continuous cries of, “Om Namah Sivaya, Om Namah Sivaya,” for full three hours. The whole lot of them appeared to have only one mind, one thought, one prayer among them. “Om Namah Sivaya—Obeisance to Siva.”
At three in the morning, Swami placed the Sivalingam on the
pedestal, consecrated it, and performed abhisheka (holy bathing of idol).

A new era dawned in Kerala at that predawn hour on February 10,
1888. When a temple was built there later on, Sree Narayana Guru got
the message of his life engraved in granite there:

“Here is a model abode
Where men live like brothers:
Bereft of the prejudice of caste
Or the rancour of religious differences”

He wanted Kerala to be that model; the whole world to be its manifestation. “One caste, One religion, One God for man,” is his message which has become famous all over the world and toward which mankind is striving, halting and unsatisfactory though the progress seems to be. But that does not matter. “Our ideals serve us, as the Pole Star guides the navigator at sea. His ship may never reach the Pole Star, but it reaches a safe harbour all the same.”


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