6. A TEMPLE IN TELLICHERRY

When Kumaran Asan visited Tellicherry in 1905 miracle stories about Swami had already started gaining currency in north Malabar. Asan met many of the Tiyya leaders of the locality and explained to them the message of Swami. He told them that Swami had recognized  temples as one of the means of rejuvenating the community. Founding a temple at Tellichery would therefore be quite relevant. The leaders were impressed and they decided to have a Siva Temple at Tellichery. But the hurdles to be crossed were many. The Tiyyas  of north Malabar were divided into two segments. Which had nothing in common. On the one side was the minority who saw the hallmark of fashion imitating the English. They had no faith in Temples. On the other was the great majority groveling in ignorance and poverty. It was a feat in those days even to think of positioning oneself between these groups and funding a temple. Yet the great public worker and organizer, Kottiyath Ramunni, came forward with complete confidence and made them accept the decisions. He persuaded them quoting Swami’s own words: “A temple will build itself”. 

Swami himself came to Tellichery in March 1906. People in their thousands were waiting to welcome him with respect and devotion. With his natural charm he conveyed his message to them.

They bowed to him as though he was an incarnation of God. The first peg to mark the base of the temple was struck during his stay in Tellichery. On his return to Travancore, Swami sent Kumaran Asan again to Tellichery. In April that year Kottiyath Ramunni laid the foundation stone for the temple in Asan’s presence. A collection box was installed at the site on the same day. Within a year the collection amounted to Rs. 7,568/-. It must be remembered that it was the paltry contributions from the half-starved poor that made up this remarkably huge amount. One aspect of Swami’s words quoted by Ramunni became clear to the leaders. The enthusiasm of several men made it possible for the work to be completed by the beginning of 1908. The instllation was done by Swami himself in that February. He suggested the name: Jagannatha Temple.

Swami hinted that it would be a good idea to throw the temple open even to the depressed classes. Progressives like Moorkoth Kumaran took the hint in all seriousness. This led to a much debated controversy and Swami himself was called upon to give the final verdict. In front of a huge gathering Swami softly announced his decision: “Pulayas can be admitted inside the temple”. At that moment Moorkoth Kumaran who never bowed his head before anyone fell prostrate at Swami’s feet. That was the first and last occasion when  he prostrated before anybody. Even several years later, those who witnessed the scene used to recount it with a thrill!

A few years later Moorkoth Kumaran spoke at a mammoth temple assembly: “ The temple as envisaged by Swami should be such as would enrich the people culturally and financially through their attached groves, libraries, lecture halls, educational institutions and industrial centers. Let the temple remain a centre of such activities. Let it be a means of social uplift both to those who have faith in idol worship and to those do not have , each according to his convictions….. Members of the depressed classes were not originally admitted inside the Jagannath Temple of Tellichery. Later they were given entry. At present if there is any section of people which does not consider the Sree Narayana  Temples as places of worship, it is only the caste Hindus.Even congressmen who are bent upon gaining for the depressed classes entry into the caste Hindu temples do not come to worship at Sree Narayana temples. Is this proof of their intentions and sincerity in the concept of temple entry?” 

Moorkoth Kumaran (1874-1941)was one who had taken it as his life’s mission to explain the precepts of Swami and to strive to bring them to the level of practical application. A beloved teacher, a reputed litterateur and a lively speaker, Kumaran could fulfill this mission effectively. It was his nature to view incidents and individuals with a critical eye. Few subjects have escaped his criticism and ridicule. Even that critical mind was overwhelmed with wonder in the presence of Swami. Nothing but devotion pervaded it. This is what he has written : “ At a time when Brahmin supremacy was at its zenith and held everyone else in serfdom, when it was universally accepted as a royal edict that none other than a Brahmin had the undisputed right to act or advise in matters spiritual, when the Vedas and other religious scriptural texts meant not a thing to the members of our community, when every non-caste Hindu sincerely believed that a temple was an institution so holy and divine that they could not even go near it, an Ezhava born and brought up in a poor home and who appeared on the scene after wondering about none knew where, established temples, conducted installation ceremonies giving room not even to the most learned Brahmin priest to say a word adversely- one is at a loss to know what to say of those whose intelligence fails to recognize this as the greatest of miracles”.

Illumination in the hearts of devotees- that was Swami’s concept about the purpose of temples. He always took care to give expression to this idea in words as well as in deeds. It was a lamp that he installed in a temple at Murukumpuzha near Trivandrum in 1922. On it were inscribed words to mean Truth, Duty, Compassion, Love. Such installations have been done in one two other places also. The mirror installed in Kalavankodam Temple at Shertallay is well known.  In fact when Swami was invited for the ceremony the intention was not to install a mirror. The organizers had actually got a conventional idol ready for installation. But when Swami arrived at the place a controversy was raging between two sections of devotees – those claiming to be progressives  denouncing idol-installation as a retrograde step and others demanding the conventional idol. Swami watched the scene with a smile and held separate discussions with both the groups. Discussion as far as Swami was concerned was mainly a session of patient listening with an occasional but searching question from his side. None could guess his reaction to the answers. His face always remained undisturbed, always calm.

Swami was always keen on listening to the views of others. He had but few words to say to them.

In this case too he listened to either side. He did not say whether the idol was to be or not to be.  He did not proclaim that idols were unnecessary, nor did he say anything to the contrary. With his natural smile he asked for a good mirror. When the article was brought he inscribed on it the sign “Om”. “Why not we install this?” he asked. Before anyone could raise a debate on this the installation was done. He did not try to explain the profound principle involved in the act. Nor did he make it appear that he had started something novel. He acted as though what he had just done was something quite common and left the place.

Controversies are for others. They did their part well and still at the game.

Many explanations about Swami’s unorthodox installations have been put forward by his contemporaries. Dr. Palpu saw these temples as great instruments for the spiritual, social and economic uplift of a backward community, as institutions which fostered friendliness and comradeship, and as trusts for the common weal. But this was only his explanation. Swami never broke his silence over this issue. 6. A TEMPLE  IN TELLICHERRY.

When Kumaran Asan visited Tellicherry in 1905 miracle stories about Swami had already started gaining currency in north Malabar. Asan met many of the Tiyya leaders of the locality and explained to them the message of Swami. He told them that Swami had recognized  temples as one of the means of rejuvenating the community. Founding a temple at Tellichery would therefore be quite relevant. The leaders were impressed and they decided to have a Siva Temple at Tellichery. But the hurdles to be crossed were many. The Tiyyas  of north Malabar were divided into two segments. Which had nothing in common. On the one side was the minority who saw the hallmark of fashion imitating the English. They had no faith in Temples. On the other was the great majority groveling in ignorance and poverty. It was a feat in those days even to think of positioning oneself between these groups and funding a temple. Yet the great public worker and organizer, Kottiyath Ramunni, came forward with complete confidence and made them accept the decisions. He persuaded them quoting Swami’s own words: “A temple will build itself”. 

Swami himself came to Tellichery in March 1906. People in their thousands were waiting to welcome him with respect and devotion. With his natural charm he conveyed his message to them.

They bowed to him as though he was an incarnation of God. The first peg to mark the base of the temple was struck during his stay in Tellichery. On his return to Travancore, Swami sent Kumaran Asan again to Tellichery. In April that year Kottiyath Ramunni laid the foundation stone for the temple in Asan’s presence. A collection box was installed at the site on the same day. Within a year the collection amounted to Rs. 7,568/-. It must be remembered that it was the paltry contributions from the half-starved poor that made up this remarkably huge amount. One aspect of Swami’s words quoted by Ramunni became clear to the leaders. The enthusiasm of several men made it possible for the work to be completed by the beginning of 1908. The instllation was done by Swami himself in that February. He suggested the name: Jagannatha Temple.

Swami hinted that it would be a good idea to throw the temple open even to the depressed classes. Progressives like Moorkoth Kumaran took the hint in all seriousness. This led to a much debated controversy and Swami himself was called upon to give the final verdict. In front of a huge gathering Swami softly announced his decision: “Pulayas can be admitted inside the temple”. At that moment Moorkoth Kumaran who never bowed his head before anyone fell prostrate at Swami’s feet. That was the first and last occasion when  he prostrated before anybody. Even several years later, those who witnessed the scene used to recount it with a thrill!

A few years later Moorkoth Kumaran spoke at a mammoth temple assembly: “ The temple as envisaged by Swami should be such as would enrich the people culturally and financially through their attached groves, libraries, lecture halls, educational institutions and industrial centers. Let the temple remain a centre of such activities. Let it be a means of social uplift both to those who have faith in idol worship and to those do not have , each according to his convictions….. Members of the depressed classes were not originally admitted inside the Jagannath Temple of Tellichery. Later they were given entry. At present if there is any section of people which does not consider the Sree Narayana  Temples as places of worship, it is only the caste Hindus.Even congressmen who are bent upon gaining for the depressed classes entry into the caste Hindu temples do not come to worship at Sree Narayana temples. Is this proof of their intentions and sincerity in the concept of temple entry?” 

Moorkoth Kumaran (1874-1941)was one who had taken it as his life’s mission to explain the precepts of Swami and to strive to bring them to the level of practical application. A beloved teacher, a reputed litterateur and a lively speaker, Kumaran could fulfill this mission effectively. It was his nature to view incidents and individuals with a critical eye. Few subjects have escaped his criticism and ridicule. Even that critical mind was overwhelmed with wonder in the presence of Swami. Nothing but devotion pervaded it. This is what he has written : “ At a time when Brahmin supremacy was at its zenith and held everyone else in serfdom, when it was universally accepted as a royal edict that none other than a Brahmin had the undisputed right to act or advise in matters spiritual, when the Vedas and other religious scriptural texts meant not a thing to the members of our community, when every non-caste Hindu sincerely believed that a temple was an institution so holy and divine that they could not even go near it, an Ezhava born and brought up in a poor home and who appeared on the scene after wondering about none knew where, established temples, conducted installation ceremonies giving room not even to the most learned Brahmin priest to say a word adversely- one is at a loss to know what to say of those whose intelligence fails to recognize this as the greatest of miracles”.

Illumination in the hearts of devotees- that was Swami’s concept about the purpose of temples. He always took care to give expression to this idea in words as well as in deeds. It was a lamp that he installed in a temple at Murukumpuzha near Trivandrum in 1922. On it were inscribed words to mean Truth, Duty, Compassion, Love. Such installations have been done in one two other places also. The mirror installed in Kalavankodam Temple at Shertallay is well known.  In fact when Swami was invited for the ceremony the intention was not to install a mirror. The organizers had actually got a conventional idol ready for installation. But when Swami arrived at the place a controversy was raging between two sections of devotees – those claiming to be progressives  denouncing idol-installation as a retrograde step and others demanding the conventional idol. Swami watched the scene with a smile and held separate discussions with both the groups. Discussion as far as Swami was concerned was mainly a session of patient listening with an occasional but searching question from his side. None could guess his reaction to the answers. His face always remained undisturbed, always calm.

Swami was always keen on listening to the views of others. He had but few words to say to them.

In this case too he listened to either side. He did not say whether the idol was to be or not to be.  He did not proclaim that idols were unnecessary, nor did he say anything to the contrary. With his natural smile he asked for a good mirror. When the article was brought he inscribed on it the sign “Om”. “Why not we install this?” he asked. Before anyone could raise a debate on this the installation was done. He did not try to explain the profound principle involved in the act. Nor did he make it appear that he had started something novel. He acted as though what he had just done was something quite common and left the place.

Controversies are for others. They did their part well and still at the game.

Many explanations about Swami’s unorthodox installations have been put forward by his contemporaries. Dr. Palpu saw these temples as great instruments for the spiritual, social and economic uplift of a backward community, as institutions which fostered friendliness and comradeship, and as trusts for the common weal. But this was only his explanation. Swami never broke his silence over this issue.