Saturday, May 2, 2009


WE HAVE SEEN that the Guru worked for wiping out the degradation of worship that had taken place in the rites performed by theAvarnas. He did not criticize the gods they worshipped or the legends that formed the foundation of that worship, but only the mode of worship. Nevertheless, he wanted to substitute those old images which had an association with animal sacrifice and drunkenness, and replace them by gods whose temples did not have such associations. He observed the way to progress which the people themselveswere taking and led them along the same path, fully confident that hecould bring them where he wanted them; somewhat like a clever
boatman who rows along with a tide to bring the boat to the right destination.
He noticed them crowding at the temples of the high castes, standing at the prescribed distance outside, tying up their offerings in small pieces of cloth and throwing them over the wall. The prasadam or remains of offerings to the god were thrown back to them, again over thewall. If that was the path they were anxious to take, it did not matter if the temples would not let them in, he would take the temples to them.

And that was exactly what he did in establishing the same type of temples for the Ezhavas. All the same, the Sree Narayana temples were like and yet unlike the old temples in the land. The Function of Temples He did not see need for building temples in the old manner, spending a lot of money. Money should not be lavished on festivals, fire-works and such other wasteful items. Large airy rooms where peoplecould assemble with ease and listen with comfort to dissertations on religion and other topics would be more appropriate. Every templeshould have gardens around it. There should be schools add technicalschools too as ancillaries to these temples. The money received asofferings should be spent for the benefit of the people.He was against digging tanks as adjuncts to temples as far aspossible because temple tanks are very rarely kept clean. Bathingcubicles with overhead pipes were preferable.Sree Narayana temples are as a rule kept very clean, they havegood gardens around, the temple tanks have clean water. There are schools ranging from the primary schools to high schools attached totemples. A few technical schools, hostels for working girls, libraries of religious books and other similar institutions are already there and more of them are being continually built.The officiating priests in these temples are members of the lowercastes, each one having successfully undergone nine long years’ training in mantra
(spell),tantra(mystical formula for attaining supernatural powers),Sastras(scriptures), Vedas,Upanishads and adhyatmic (spiritual) philosophy. This educational system is aimed at making each priest a well-rounded personality deeply versed in religious lore. They
are not to be priests who just conduct a ceremony in a mechanical manner, repeating mantras like parrots.

Sree Narayana Guru did not accept the contention of the socalled modern-minded persons who apprehended that temples would very soon become useless buildings.

The Guru: “How can that be? Temples should be kept clean. People will come there, bathed and fresh, wearing clean clothes. An assemblage of such people intent on prayer will induce good thoughts in all. Their talks will soon turn to noble ideals. They will remember God.Breathe fresh air. Some would performpoojas
and go on fast. All these would calm their minds, enabling them to see their mundane worries from soothing angle. Faith will dispel greed in some others. Everything depends on faith. Are not these benefits? Temples are necessary. Do not misuse them, and then you will find their utility.”

If despite all these benefits there comes a times when people lost their faith in such temples too, what then? Swami had foreseen this objection also. At that time these temple buildings could be used for other purposes. Buildings, like food, are always wanted. And unlike food, which disappears when eaten, buildings will remain there for constant use, although their use may be different at different times. The guru even suggested on different occasions that they may be used as schools, libraries, meeting halls or even as weaving sheds. He was not unaware of a growing disbelief in God during the twenties of this century. Therefore, he asked people who came to him for installing temples:
“Do people still want temples? Will they not accuse me of putting up stones?”
“We want them,” they replied, and he gave them what they wanted.

Raison D’etre of Idol Worship

Idol worship is, after all, only one of the lower steps in Hindu
The highest is oneness with God
The next, silent meditation and understanding.
The third step is worship of idols
The fourth pilgrimage and performance of
This is a popular Sanskrit verse which Dr. Radhakrishnan used to quote. Swami realized that the time had come to show the people these higher steps also. He did not preach that philosophy, he lived it. He built temples with different idols, emphasizing in granite structures that idols were symbols, used as aids to concentration. Indians have always tended to retain their ancient beliefs andmould them—sometimes perhaps to distort them—in such a way as tomirror a new social philosophy or to fit them into a new metaphysicalscheme. The religious leaders have at times succeeded, at least among the educated, in transforming the very patters of beliefs; for Indian mythsas well as the religions around which they have grown are closely tied tothe social temper. In the nineteenth century, Swami DayanandaSaraswati, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Vivekananda, Raja RammohanRoy and others interpreted mythology in the light of the Upanishads to make the same old myths serve the modern religious renaissance in Hindu religion initiated by them. The great body of myths has also been used, as mentioned earlier, for ages past as source materials for symbolswith which to express metaphysical concepts. In other words, thelearned man accepted the primitive beliefs and deities, and wove themwith suitable modifications into the new spiritual system by means of legends that narrate the evolution of a village goddess into goddessShakti (energy, strength), the principle of primordial energy, or Siva, herconsort, Vishnu, the Lord of the universe, etc.All these changes turned the old simple straightforward tales of
wonder and mystery into complicated conceptions that were confusing tothe common men. They were, therefore, thrown back on earlier beliefswhose attendant ways of worship they could understand better. The deities and idols worshipped by the Avarnas of Kerala belonged to this type of religion.

The deities are not devils; Avarnasbelieved them to be gods.Outsiders, even when they are Indians, find it difficult to understand thisin the same way as the Europeans found it difficult, at first, to understand Hindu religion. Even those Indians who have studied these pre-Hindu religious have approached the subject wearing the Western glasses of a scientific outlook.

There is space only to quote one instance, to show how the insiders see them. The man with the Western scientific approach condescendingly declares: “They have a fearful goddess who is represented as devouring children!”

A society in which every pregnancy meant nine months of anxiety,every safe delivery a narrow escape from death, every childhood acontinuous fight for life, the goddess (or nature) becomes a terrificgoddess, swallowing children. The Shakespearean expression, “Nature isred in teeth and claws,” has only to be pictured and dramatized to get at this pre-Hindu deity’s form. The same argument could clarify themystery of the other gods in Kerala. They are not demons by any means.The people conceived them as gods.By the time the Guru started his mission of effecting revolutionarychanges in faith, several factors had prepared the ground for him inKerala. The seeds of change he sowed did not fall on rocks or sand orthorns, but on fertile ground. For instance, the beginning of antenatal care, the gradual increase of proper sanitation and health care, hadrendered the old goddess and other deities into vanishing conceptions.But who would replace them and by what?

Kerala was waiting for a sage who has crossed the ocean of samsara(worldliness) and arrived at the “other shore” as it were, to do this.When, therefore, Sree Narayana Guru appeared on the scene, hewas welcomed by a people who were ready for a change. The Guru provided them with “Aryan gods” as the first step and took them up the stairs by a series of temples where the symbols rose in internal significance until at last the Adwaita Ashrama at Alwaye gave all believers in God, to whatever creeds they belonged, a place to meet together, talk together, pray together, live together.


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