Sree Narayana Guru

Sree Narayana Guru Birth and Childhood
Jagath Guru, Shree Narayana Guru was born in 1855 A.D. in Vayalvaram house, Chempazanthi, a quiet little town, about 12 kilometers to the north of Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), the capital of the then Indian native State of Travancore and is now the capital of Kerala. There are two communities in Kerala known generally as Nairs and Ezhavas. The largest castes in that State; Nairs were Shudras 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). Shree 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, they 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 Shree 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 Bhagavathi which belongs to the Ezhavas near the birth-place of the Guru where the festivals were conducted together 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.

A Cowshed
In that place stands a hut that could rightly be mistaken for a cowshed. This hut which appeared to be too old to stand erect, with no windows except for three iron bars in a yawn in the front for letting in air and light into three small rooms was the house where Shree Narayana Guru was born. His father was 'Madan Ashan', a teacher and a physician, and his mother's name was 'Kutty'. Untouchable, May even unapproachable and down-trodden, as the Ezhavas happened to be, there were even in those dark days a fair sprinkling of "Vaidyas" (or physicians) among them practicing the Ayurvedic system, whose texts were in classical Sanskrit. Naturally, therefore, there were Sanskrit scholars of high caliber among them. In fact, the entire landscape of Kerala is peppered with Ezhava Vaidyas (physicians) and Sanskrit scholars, so much so that one could state that Ayurveda and, for that matter, Sanskrit too survived among the masses in Kerala due to the Ezhava Vaidyas . Of course, the "Namboodari Brahmins" were the inaccessible to the ordinary run of men and their number was small. Shree Narayana Guru's maternal uncles were "Vaidyas" and Sanskrit scholars, Krishnan Vaidiar being an "Ashan" (or teacher), also. As a social reformer who strove hard to uplift his own caste, he nevertheless tried understandably, to keep the castes below the Ezhavas in their place. Untouchability and Unapproachability were not anathema to any caste, so long as the customs applied to people below them.