COMPREHENSIVE SCHEME of activities which the Guru suggested to the down-trodden to take up for their advancement included social reforms also. As far back as 1912, he summed up the various proposals which he had been suggesting at different times in response to the needs of each occasion .
Education appropriate to the times was, he said, the sine quanon
of all progress. Society did not enough promising boys who could grow up as assets to any community. Lack of money was the main obstacle that prevented them from rising to higher levels. Rich men should come forward to help these intelligent, studious, hard-working lads by granting them scholarships and other monetary aids.
Girls’ education should be encouraged, and should never be neglected. Suppressed humanity should be made to stand up on its own legs. The masses should be provided with cottage industries and work- places in the cooperative sector. Instead of continuing as suppliers of raw materials to the affluent countries and purchasing finished products from them at high cost, they should produce manufactured goods in this country itself and thus help the poor. Let the money of the rich be utilized for these purposes also.
Universal education is indispensable. Audit literacy and establishment of libraries in every locality should be encouraged. While waiting for the unlettered to learn to read and write and progress slowly, leaders should provide them with short-cuts to cultural advancement.
Learned men should inculcate modern ideas and culture in the illiterate through speeches, songs, dramas and similar means of development of culture.
The S.N.D.P. had started a magazine called Vivekodayam which aimed at raising the cultural level of the ordinary man by a process of selective modernization. Kumaran Asan who edited the journal, was the greatest disciple of the Swami and one of the greatest thinkers and poets
of modern Kerala.
Religious practices, social customs and rites often have, the Swami said, symbolic meanings which should not be overlooked. The magazine advocated a modern approach to inter-communal marriages and also in reforming and shortening the duration of various ceremonies as well as
in the economizing in their cost. The status of marriage rites was raised to that of a sacrament, costly, meaningless customs, etc. were to be abolished. The orthodox who did not quite appreciate these changes raised the canard that Asan was writing on his own, without Swami’s consent or even knowledge. This suspicion was cleared by Swami at one or two public functions when he advocated the need to adopt these reforms by the community. In those days the marriages of non-Brahmins were, as a rule merely social functions, the Brahmin marriages alone being sacraments with prayers, mantras, vows, poojas and all the rest of it, taking up three or
four day’s time.
Swami converted the non-Brahmins marriages also into sacramental ceremonies with the performance of pooja, the chanting of Vedic verses, the exchange of vows, and with other concomitant observances, all of them hand-picked by the Guru out of the elaborate
rituals of the orthodox Hindu marriage system. The Guru, who knew the modern man’s mind through and through, limited the duration of the wedding ceremony of half an hour. And for those who were too busy even for that, he prescribed an abridged version that would last only ten minutes.
It is interesting to note that after Swami’s close followers among the Ezhavas had adopted this sacramental ceremony and conducted it in temples, non-Brahmins such as the Nairs, and others commenced transferring their marriage functions to be precincts of temples. The Ezhavas and some of the higher castes used to conduct a mork- marriage prior to the regular marriage which took place only after a girl came to age. A small ornament called the Tali which was the symbol of the marital status was tied round the neck of the child by the person who conducted the ceremony. The real marriage ceremony, however, was performed after the girl had grown up, the bridegroom being someone else altogether. The Guru declared that this Tali Kettu (tying of the Tali) function was meaningless and ordered its abolition. In some cases, he sent messages to this effect direct to the parents of the children. In one or two instances, he walked into the midst of the crowd at the eleventh hour of the function and persuaded the father of the girl to stop the
ceremony. The fathers agreed. It is noteworthy that in one instance it was the mother of the child who agreed to the stoppage of the function more readily than the father.
Another custom stopped by the Guru was the public feast and function conducted when a girl attained puberty. These and other similar functions abolished by the Guru saved the
families the thousands of rupees which were being lavishly squandered in carrying out social ceremonies that had become redundant in this age. By a sort of osmotic process the Nairs and other castes too stopped observing these functions after the Ezhava community had carried out
the reforms at the instance of the Swami.
There were certain castes in Kerala who were numerically so small that those microscopic minorities suffered certain disabilities peculiar to themselves. They were unable to stand up against the atrocities committed on them. As they were scattered in different localities, they
found it difficult even to get their children married to members of their own caste. The Swami made the Ezhavas gather them into their fold and thereby saved them from a social crisis. The year in which he did this was as early as 1906. It was more or less in this connection that he asked almost in despair:
“A casteless society has to be formed. Who will work for it?”
The thought led to the formation of the Sree Narayana Dharma Samaj, consisting of sanyasis whom he had enrobed, a Samaj that was drawn from different castes including Brahmins, Nairs, Ezhavas and others. The institutions at Sivagiri, Alwaye, etc. where caste distinctions
had been wiped away from the very beginning are run by this Samaj of sanyasis who were
brahmacharis (celebates) with no worldly burdens of wife, children, family, etc. to restrict their service to the weal of mankind.
They also run religious institutions, schools, charitable dispensaries, etc. Illuminating the minds of the lowest castes by the philosophy taught by the Swami is also part of their missions.
Prohibitions As early as 1921 he stated that “Liquor is poison. It should not be produced, sold or consumed,” anticipating the promulgation of
prohibition by several years.