SREE NARAYANA GURU provided guidelines on religion to the prople at large—people who had to live an active rather than a contemplative life. He wanted them to understand that religion was not a mere formula or a
set of rites and ceremonies, but a way of life. It ermeated all life and was decoid of differences between the sacred and the profane. The metaphysics ofAdwaita is based on soul-force which should from the ultimate impulse of our normal principles in life. Without that sublime impulse, our morality would become one of convenience only;
where honesty at its best would be, as Bernard Shaw put it, a matter of mere policy. Converserly, Adwaita
philosophy becomes pointless unless it teaches men to treat their followmen as equals. In Kerala, the greatest
impediment to such conduct was the abominable caste system. Naturally, therefore, the Guru’s message of universal live was expressed in the idiom of the people of Kerala, When he said: "One caste for man. "
He did not command that the householder should rise up and have the mystic experience of a supreme identity with the ONE. They were not to worry themselves about a fuzzy nderstanding of Vedanta either. They were simply to love their fellowmen as themselves and it would follow as the day the night, they would proceed towards universal love, love of the Lord, our God.
The famous saying of Jesus Christ that there are only two
commandments comes strongly to mind in this context.
“The Lord our God is one Lord.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God
With all thy heart, and with all thy
Soul, and with all thy mind, and
With all thy strength: this is the first
And the second is like this, namely:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
There is no other commandment
Greater than these.”
-St. Mark 12/29-30
The awful atrocities committed by the higher castes on the lower castes have been mentioned earlier. The fact, however, is that no caste including the Namboodiri Brahmin was exempt from the miseries and ignominies suffered on account of the superstitions and customs orevalent in Kerala. The eldest son alone of a Nambudiri could marry within the caste, leaving many a Nambudiri lady to suffer compulsory maidenhood all her life or become one of the several wives of a Nambudiri, who could in some cases be old enough to be her father. Their sufferings can be grasped better by reading the novels and short stories written by great Nambudiri women writers than by reading dry pages of history. The younger members could have morganatic
connections with Nair women, but the children were not only deprived of in heritance, but were also forbidden to touch their father, lest they pollute him! Sree Narayana Guru never raised his voice against higher castes because he realized that the villain of the whole piece was not any
caste or individual, but superstition.
The whole social milieu would have made you laugh if it were not for the tragic implications behind these farcical situations. Oilmen were a caste by themselves. But even among them, the oil crushers formed a caste inferior to the oil-mongers. Even people of the same caste would
not intermarry if they happened to live on the opposite sides of certain rivers. Sometimes even a road would do trick. You may marry into a caste, but your wife would be forbidden from entering the kitchen in your house. Truly could one say that the Kerala of those days was a
“Wonderland” of superstitions.
The sad part of it all was that the caste system functioned by a series of kicks, the last man, poor fellow, kicking the cat. In this hierarchy of kicks, the Ezhavas too were by no means innocent. While they yearned for admission into temples of the higher castes, some of the temples
consecreated for them by the Guru were not thrown open to castes below them. In other ways, too, they tried to maintain their superstitious superiority over others. Swami admitted the lowest castes into the institutions at Varkala and Alwaye. Several Ezhava leaders followed suit and had the lowest caste boys as domestic servants and cooks. The implication of such a
practice can be appreciated better when it is remembered that in the India of those days, a domestic servant soon became, so to say, a member of the family. Those of us Indians who are over forty years of age still remember how old domestic servants used to chastise us children, just like uncles. Castes came closer to one another- when the lower caste people were admitted into that elastic family circle. The Ezhavas who number several lakhs were divided into Thiyyas,
Chovans, Thandans, etc, who did not intermarry. Swami’s advent very soon moulded them into one community throughout entire Kerala. The temples, institutes, hostels, etc. of the Ezhavas were thrown open to all castes. As Murkot Kumaran put it: “Even Brahmins were now permitted temple entry.”
When several branches of the Ezhavas who had so far lived more or less in closed circles were brought into one big community, thereby becoming the largest caste, the Nairs and others too combined together and formed bigger groups or societies for their own betterment. Further,
the repercussions of Sree Narayana Guru’s activities resulted in all castes of Kerala opening their eyes and taking vigorous action to reform their own customs and rites. By this time, i.e. the early decades of the twentieth century, the reform movement and activities of the Arya Samaj,
the Brahmo Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission and the Servants of India Society had spread their influence in Kerala society, thereby accelerating and informing the social movements here with modernising tendencies. The Nambudiris of Kerala, who were counted as the most orthodox
of Brahmins, now became one of the foremost of radical communities in India. Their revolutionary activities on the fields of widow remarriage,etc. were most amazing. The Nairs formed a society on the lines of the Servants of India Society and effected most significant changes in social life. The Pulayas stood up as men conscious of their rights. Happily,
however, there was no violent animosity in Kerala in those days towards such activities by different castes. The seed for it all was sown by Sree Narayana Guru who had thus
in his own unobtrusive way upturned the virgin soil of orthodoxy and brought forth a goodly harvest of welcome changes within a short span of 50 years. Kerala is unique in that the untouchable castes here have progressed much more and much faster than in the other States of India. This great progress was achieved without shedding a single drop of blood. Although the earlier struggles by the lower castes against oppression had produced violent fights with the vested interests, the movement for self-dependence in their rise in the social field under the
leadership of Sree Narayana Guru was obstructed, if at all, in a more civilized manner. As against that, there were famous instances in those days where the higher castes came out to help and lead the movement of the untouchables for their rights. The satyagraha at Vaikom
provided the came of this co-operation.