The magnitute of this act of consecration of a Siva idol by the Guru can be better understood by a glance at the customs of the day. In Kerala, the Ezhavas and the castes below them were, as already stated, denied entry into Hindu temples. For that matter, they were forbidden
even to walk along the public roads adjoining the temples. When the idol of a temple was taken in a procession round the town, the lower castes had to clear out of their own houses situated along the route of the procession.
The higher castes also who were allowed to enter the temples had to bear their own share of the indignities. Each caste had to stand at a prescribed distance from the holy shrine, one behind the other, with the Brahmin standing nearest to the sanctum sanctorum.Even among the
Brahmins, the higher groups alone could perform pooja (worship) inside the temple. The discrimination did not stop their either. Every Poojari cannot install an idol and consecrate it. A handful among the highest branch of the Brahmins alone had the divine right to do so. And yet, here was an Ezhava performing this most sacred of sacred ceremonies, knocking out the very bottom of the caste system and all that it stood for, at one stroke. No wonder, the people were taken aback.
Superstitious people expected the skies to fall. The intellectual elite raised their eyebrows. The orthodox described the act. But when all was said and done, the protests were not overwhelming. It resounds to the credit of the broad-minded among the Brahmins and the higher castes of Kerala that they did not, “Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.” Genuine spirituality still commands respect from Indians as a whole, especially in Kerala. Or will that also be reckoned as a method in the madness of the Keralites? In any case, Sree Narayana Guru’s
commanding personality overcame all opposition.Amidst all this hullaballo, a sprightly young Nambudiri asked the Guru what right he had as an Ezhava, to consecrate an idol of Siva.
The Guru replied with a disarming smile:
“I consecrated the Ezhava Siva.”
That sparkling play of fanciful wit, so puckish in its whimsicality, silenced the orthodox objector. Who would have the heart to spoil the brilliance of that retort by ruther argument! Certainly not a Nambudiri; for the nambudiris are well known for that type of bon mots. One would like to fancy that the Nambudiri would have smiled, and pondered:
“This wonderful man has usurped not only the Brahminical right to install an idol, but has also caught hold of our chief weapon, the witty retort, to deflect an attack.” We see him fencing in this manner throughout his life. These witticisms, adding sauce and spice to the story of his life.
Controversies Silenced. Kerala nodded in appreciation of the brave act. The short chapter
of sharp criticism was over. Sree Narayana Guru went on establishing one by one, year after year, Hindu temples on the pattern of the orthodox temples of the higher castes.
There are more than 30 temples of this type, dotting the map of Kerala, with one or two in Karnataka, a couple or so in Tamilnadu and Sri Lanka. Thirty temples consecrated by an untouchable, and now functioning with aplomb and no one to object. That is Kerala for you!
In one instance a few persons complained that the Swami had not consulted astrologers and ascertained the propitious time for installing an idol before consecrating it. Once more, the Swami replied in one sentence:
“We cast a horoscope only after a child is born, and not the other
way about, don’t we? The idol has been sanctified. Now you may please
cast the horoscope.”
That was an eye-opener to those who made a fetish of observing propitious times for every little act. Later on, objections came from the rationalists. An editor of a newspaper asked him at Trichur where the final touches in the construction of a temple were being given.“Swami! Are we not encouraging superstition by encouraging all this worship of idols, or rather stones, if I may put it bluntly?” The Guru smiled that charming smile again, this time with a tinge of pity in it.
“People worship God and not a stone.”
And then, he added with a chuckle:
“At least not until other people tell them so. One has deliberately to confuse them, before they will begin to think on those lines.”
Here, once more, we have that spontaneous reply couched in the simplest of words, complete in a single sentence, conveying an idea that could have become a full-fledged speech in anyone else. The intellectual propounds, the jnani reveals! Some other critics had other grounds of objection. According to them a yogin was wrong in consecrating idols and persuading people to worship them. That question is still being asked. Sree Narayana Guru was following the Gita in this matter. A yogin, it is true, has no need for idols as aids to concentration, but the people required them as steps to rise towards spirituality; and so the Guru provided them with what they yearned for. As the Gita puts it:
“Let no enlightened man unsettle the minds of ignorant men who
are attached to their work. Himself doing all works with good faith, he
should make others do as well.”
Sree Narayana Guru observed that the Avarnas were worshipping their ancestors, tribal heroes, heroines, tragic persons whose life-stories had a sublime qualities of Greek tragedies. They also worshipped hills and rocks, stones and brooks, snakes and other fearsome creatures,
spirits that spread pestilence, or created miseries all around; in short, everything in life. He could understand all that and never said a word against them. He could not, however, tolerate the drunken brawls and the sacrifice of fowls by the hundred in the name of worship. These were
corrupt practices that had to be stopped. And he stopped them wherever he came face to face with them. He never lectured. He simply said, “We must stop this,” and people, as simply, obeyed him. In more than a hundred places, he unseated the gods whose names had associations
with the killing of birds and consumption of liquor, replacing them by idols of Siva, Subramania and Ganesa and instituted poojas of the type performed in temples dedicated to them. Such poojas are technically known as “Uthama Pooja” (the highest form of idol worship).
In a village , the Guru walked into a place to worship while drunken brawls were in full swing. The authorities of the temple stood up as one man and with folded hands, received him as an honoured guest. They offered him a seat, wiping the dust off it with their own hands. When the Guru said calmly that these barbarous rites should be stopped, they did not dare to disobey. But
would the devotees who were all dead drunk, agree? After holding whispered consultations among them, they put the blame on “Chathan”, the deity himself.
“We have no objection, Swami. But we are afraid to displease the god Chathan.” was their reply. The Guru smiled and said:
“We shall take care of Chathan. Will you please appease Chathan Maistry here?”
Needless to say, the income from the ale of all these fowls sacrificed went to Chathan, the Maistry. The Guru smiled; the authorities laughed, the crowd roared. The contagious laughter swept Chathan Maistry off his feet. He agreed. The drunken brawls and the ‘bloody’
ceremonies were stopped at that shrine. People returned home and in the calm atmosphere of their houses, ruminated how vested interests had corrupted religions all the world ever. Once more, the Guru lances an abscess with an epigram honed at the stone of wit. What were the ideas of the Guru in establishing Sree Narayana temples? A few talks he had with the leaders of the community cleared up the issue.