Chapter V : Aruvippuram.

River Neyyar in South Travancore, originates from the mountain of Agasthya Kutam, and joins the sea at Poovar in the West making the land in its course highly fertile.  After about 20 miles from its origin, the   river swells to become a very strong flow.  It passes though a rocky terrain generating a special musical note of its own and then, suddenly drops to a deep pit called Shankaran Kuzhi.  The area is a beauty spot of nature, where the river unravels in all her glory.  The foamy white flow is interrupted by projecting black rocks here and there as if the flow of virtue is obstructed on the way by concentrated evil and cruelty.
On both the banks of the river the foliage is so thick that, from a bird’s  perspective, the area appears like a green   silken carpet on which   runs a white silver  streak with black spots on it.
A small hillock  on the  western side of Shankaran Kuzhi, has played a very  important role in the social and religious progress  of the people of Kerala.  Once upon  a time, the  whole area was a thick forest, which  attracted only two types of people, yogis who  wanted to withdraw from the rumpus and turmoil  of humanity and enjoy the beauty of virginal  nature, and hunters who wished for the pleasure  of killing animals.  But now this hillock has  become the holy land which attracts thousands of devotees.  The only reason for this transformation was the presence of our protagonist, Sree Narayana Guru.
He came down from the mountain  top after penance  and settled down on this hillock.  News spread by word of mouth that there was  a siddha on the  hill top, performing  miracles.  ( the miracles are mentioned  in the next  Chapter). What each one heard was repeated  with a little exaggeration and a little imagination  and finally the end product lost its credibility  and degenerated into a type of fantasy inviting  ridicule.  But  those who had met the Swami  personally and understood  his   character and  way of life, knew the exact truth.
There is no doubt that Kumaran Aasaan had  taken the Swami as his model, to describe a hero in one of his long poems, who had achieved victory over sensuality.
“Fear did not touch him, he was kind and considerate to all.  The stamp  of courage was on his face, and daring  in his words.  He was like a responsible king with his sceptre and an innocent child with toys at the same time.  He could maintain this equanimity as he had conquered the  enemy within him, namely his mind.  Indeed such persons are the lucky ones!”.
As the programme executive for the uplift of the downtrodden, when he looked at humanity from the moral heights of  his self and the physical height of Aruvippuram,  what was the scene?.
The virtues of Hinduism had been disfigured  beyond recognition due to pride  and selfishness of its preceptors,  and the resultant  pernicious customs.  Hundreds of years have passed  like this.   Those  who enjoyed the privileges granted  by the religion had degenerated to the status of jealous  wealthy men who  could not stand the prosperity of others.   Therefore, religion became  like a misers’  money in their hands.  They would not use it  properly for themselves nor would they give to others.  When spirituality and other values to be derived  from the  religion are lost, this set  of people had resorted  to other means to prove that they are superior. The present caste system is the means they adopted  to establish their imagined superiority.  They  tried and succeeded to  get royal approval to  this system, feigning   religious sanction  and  divine attribution.  The theory that a person’s “Caste” (Varna)  is to be  decided by the quality of  his mind and actions, was  conveniently inverted  to mean that a person’s quality is decided  by  his caste.  When the quality of the mind  of those superiors deteriorated  thoroughly, this  inversion  was the only means to maintain their pseudo-superiority.
This was thoughtfully followed by the declaration, that  as one inherits the wealth of  the  family, caste also is inherited as paternal  or  maternal legacy as per the established tradition.  Neither virtuous nor  evil deeds can effect a change  of caste.   This system got  royal approval from Hindu kings, as  they were also beneficiaries to some  extent.  Thus a system which was perpetuated  by artificiality and false interpretations of religion,  became an established tradition to be pitilessly  implemented as hereditary right  by the rulers.   It came to pass that all other  principles of Hinduism could be ignored, but caste could  not be.  A Hindu can opt out of “Chathurashrama”.  But he cannot come out of  “Varnashrama”.  Varna dharma became compulsory.
“Varna”, a flexible classification of  people  based on their intellectual level as a sort  of division of labour, degenerated into an artificial  and arbitrary  system of segmentation of the  people.  If a fence which was intended to protect a garden  grows wild like a forest, spreads out and occupies  the entire garden, the original plants are subdued,  made unrecognizable or simply destroyed.  The  once beautiful garden would become an unwieldy forest full of thorny and spiny growth.  This is what  happened to Hinduism.
This was the condition of Kerala as seen by Sree Narayana Guru from  Aruvippuram.
At this point in social history, the condition of those who were condemned as inferior castes, was extremely miserable under local chieftains.  They did not have the scope and liberty to maintain themselves, at least clean and tidy.  Their bodies, clothes and even food were soiled and spoilt.   They  had no freedom  to use the public roads.  They were not supposed to appear in the vicinity of certain  upper caste persons.  Education    was not within  their  reach.  Though schools were maintained by Govt. using  the taxes paid by these people also, they were not  admitted to schools.  When they applied for jobs, their applications were rejected on the ground  that they  were not educated .  If someone got himself educated  somehow or other, and applied for the job, he was blatantly insulted  by saying that he did not have the  high social level to be the colleague of Savarnas. Though they were called  Hindus, their religious practices and rituals were different, and demeaning.  They worshipped inferior and evil deities like  Gulikan, Kuttichathan, Chudalamaadan, Karinkaali etc.  Their  important rituals in worship were animal sacrifice  and drunken orgies.  Their money, as offerings to  Savarna temples was shamelessly accepted but  they  were not allowed even to enter temple premises  Prasadam (the remnants of offerings to the deity)  was flung to them from a distance.  These poor  innocents accepted that, after spending their money, and return satisfied as though they had a glimpse of god.  When they came to the temple, carrying offerings to the deity, they were not  allowed even to recite the deity’s name. On the otherhand they were expected to recite obscene verses which is a taboo to any decent person.
The power of speech is a gift of God to be used to sing his praise and to utter good and pleasant words. But  these unfortunate beings were compelled to misuse that gift to recite vulgar words that should never  be uttered, and to sing obscene songs which  will inspire  only evil and immorality.  They were physically  mentally and morally degraded.
With the objective of keeping them permanently depraved and defiled, they were ordered to perform the heinous action  of  beheading thousand of animals and birds, within  the ambience of Savarna Temples.
Is it not an irony that a minority could impose these rules and traditions and a majority  was subdued and subjugated to obey all these?.
When the entire world was illuminated by the light of knowledge and ushered in improvements  in their  living conditions, only these people closed  their eyes to all that and remained in the self-created darkness of  ignorance.  Narayana Guru strained  his mind to awaken these people from their psychological slumber.
In India great men had been trying  to eradicate caste system and uplift the downtrodden since long ago.  Those who know the history of caste  discrimination, would  agree that the project which  Narayana Guru launched in Kerala was definitely  novel and more  effective.  There is  no use founding a new  religion for the low castes.  We have  to note that Brahma Samaj   and Arya Samaj  could not gain popularity among the  Avarnas of   Kerala.  As an alternative  to Hinduism,  the people had Christianity and  Islam  before them as an escape route from social stigma  but they did not think of that as a solution. Will such people accept another religion?.
The Swami understood the psyche of the people.  It is  not their habit to traverse a new path. They will follow only the old path.  Therefore, the solution is to illuminate the old path.  So he wisely  decided that the path had to be lit up slowly and they  must be carefully led through the  same path to a  new goal without precipitating  a revolution through   blood shed.  This has o be effected gradually.  What  did he do for this?.
Swami Vivekananda  had a firm belief that  any attempt to awaken the people of India  should have  a solid foundation   based on religion.  Narayana Guru also found this to be true.  The Avarnas had  nothing that  deserved  to be considered religion.  What they had were  only some pernicious traditions which they thought  were religious rituals.  Hence,  how could their  religion be  reformed when they have  no religion?.  What is the path that he could open for them?. Only when we turn to look at the past we will see the Swami’s methods clearly.  Before we start to do that  we have  to remember a few important points.
There is no need to mention specifically  that the Swami, who was a Yogi and an ascetic (Sanyasi)  had absolutely no tinge of caste in his mind. But, because the purpose of his birth and life  was to uplift the downtrodden people of Kerala,  he had to work  among them.  The highest ranking  among the Avarnas was the  Ezhavas or Thiyyas.  He found it  convenient  to make  use of this community as the medium to work for  improving the life of Avarnas.  Because he was born  in that caste, the people of this caste  nurtured  a special affection and  respect for him.  They were proud of him, so he was sure and certain that they would  follow his instructions verbatim. Not only that, all the injustice and cruelty meted out to  the Avarnas by Savarnas  reflected in their  behaviour also.  They treated their caste- inferiors with equal malice and disdain  which they received from  their caste- superiors. The Swami knew what a stumbling block this  behaviour was.  But  he had the wisdom to turn  the tables, and make it his special advantage .
All the modern Indian leaders have  the fear of losing their prestige and popularity  among the Savarnas, if they try to influence the Savarnas to eradicate  caste system.  It is much more easier to unite the Ezhavas, and their inferiors than to unite Savarnas and Avarnas. After considering all these, the Swami decided  to join the Ezhavas and make use of them  as a tool for religious  and social reformations.   But we have to remember  that from the beginning till the end of his life the  thought of his caste never entered his mind.
An unconscious  change from  good  to  better is the real step towards prosperity.  The  religious  practices of Thiyyas were  indeed heinous  and diabolic.  But, they had a hidden   desire to follow  better methods  and  rituals.  This was proved by their actions.  They were not allowed to enter Savarna temple  where the  rituals of worship were of  a superior  level.  Though  they were made to wait  at the prescribed distance   to avoid defilement  of the deity and the upper  caste people (theendapaadu), they found satisfaction in making offerings in kind and cash to the deity.  Not  only the illiterates, but the educated  also did the same.  The Swami decided  that this hidden desire in them  to improve  themselves was to be converted into a motive force to propel them towards progress.  That is how  the decision and arrangements to consecrate a temple at Aruvippuram came to pass.  The narration of this  by Kumaran Aasaan is quoted   from an old issue of Vivekodayam.

“At  this young age, the Swami was quite  impressive to look at, and was easily recognizable  in any crowd. The rays of  internal peace that radiated  from his countenance proclaimed that he was a  super-human.  If he was seen in a town  or even in a small village, a big crowd used to gather  around him.  But it was his habit to slip away  from crowds and roam about all alone.  During  these days the Swami had written a number of beautiful  hymns, on Lord Subrahmanya in both Sanskrit  and Malayalam. It was the early stages of western education in India which  has revived  atheism also among the people.  It can be convincingly mentioned that the Swami’s  life was an antidote to this.  At this stage, without any restrictions the Swami used to partake any item of food and drink ( of course, no liquor)   that was given to him.  There  were rumours that the Swami had taken poisonous  food also  and nothing had happened to him.
In one of his wanderings, he  came to Aruvippuram in the year 1884 AD. He was very much fascinated by the scenic beauty of the location.  The mighty flow of  River  Neyyar forcing its way through  gaps between  boulders making melodious music echoing  from the  sandy banks and high hills on both sides, and the  green foliage all around, captured his heart.  Sometimes he came there   to spend days together in some caves or creeks without food and unknown to others.  Gradually people observed this and some devotees started to bring food for him.  After that, Aruvippuam did not remain a secluded place for long.
People started coming for him from different places.  His interaction  with the people began, with simple cures for their  health problems, sometimes exorcising ghosts and demons, giving  advice  and suggesting solution to all their problems and  finally instructing  them about  religion and ethics.  People had first-hand experience of his power of foresight  and the ability to divine the thoughts of others.  People of different castes came there to pay obeisance to him, and some became his disciples.  Householders  from far and near started to bring  victuals  like rice, stay back to cook and feed others . Gradually, because of the Swami’s presence, Aruvippuram became  a  holy place for the people .  During the Swami’s absence  also people came there, took bath  in the river, offered  prayers and returned.  The Swami   felt that a house of worship would be  most suitable    for the area.  He started  to mention this to some young devotees, who came regularly.  His wish  was openly expressed  a few days before Sivaratri (an auspicious day  for the worship of Lord Siva) In the year 1888 AD. In that jungle around Aruvippuram,  there was no scope to get  an idol of Lord Siva made.  The Swami also did not ask for that.  What he wanted was  to convert a flat rock on the eastern  bank of the river  into an altar, and pick up a stone resembling the  Sivalinga (the symbolic representation of Lord Siva) from the  river and install it on Sivaratri Night.  People co-operated with him and made some arrangements.
On hearing that the Swami was present there, some devotees had assembled there to fast  and keep awake during the night ( rituals observed on Sivaratri).  The altar was sprinkled with flowers, a small thatched  shed was built on the rock as a tentative roof. Some started  to play  the  naada swaram  (a musical instrument resembling  the organ-pipe), and others chanted panchakshari (Om namah Sivayah).  By midnight, the Swami had a  bath in the river and came to the shed.  He picked up the stone to be   installed and stood still in  meditation for  nearly three hours.  Tears flowed down on that  brilliant face.  All  those  who stood there  recited panchakshari with intense devotion.  At  three O’ Clock, the Swami installed  the piece of  stone on the altar and performed ablutions.  Those who witnessed this say that some miracles happened at that  time.
The above given is the narration by Kumaran Aasaan.
How many of us have  thought deeply about  this and understood the  meaning of what the Swami did? This was an axe  set at the root of the absolute authority  of priesthood, which had been the tradition of Hindus  for thousands of years.  According  to Hindus, only  a Brahmin has the authority to perform any religious  rite.   When Savarnas  or Avarnas needed any  propitiatory rites to be performed, they seek the  Brahmin to do it on their behalf.  All Hindus  sincerely  believe that such rites are effective and  fruit-bearing only   if performed by a Brahmin. Of all these rites authorized to be performed by Brahmins, the most important one is the consecration of a temple.  The  popular belief is that  only the Brahmin has the eligibility to do it, because only he knows the  mystery behind  it.  Thus the  Brahmin became the agent between man and God, on earth.  The Swami, through this daring action  has exposed the mystery behind  it and proved that all these are misconceptions.  Not only that. Through this action, the Swami has  illustrated that not only Vedic knowledge, but also knowledge of the  Absolute (Brahma Jnanam)  is not the monopoly of one  caste, and  it can be achieved  by anyone  of any caste. If this is not an axe to the power of Brahmin  priesthood , what else is this?.
Without understanding the power  and ability of the Swami or the objective and meaning of  his action, some Ezhava chieftains had tried to dissuade him from this, by telling him that only Brahmins were allowed to install the idol of Lord Siva.  But, one Brahmin who had understood  all these, simply asked him “ Does anyone other than the Brahmin have the right  to install Lord Siva. The Swami, who had  silenced the protests of the Ezhava chieftains by his  will power, put an end to the Brahmin’s doubt  by the  smart retort, “ What I have  Installed is only an Ezhava Siva” .
Once it is well convinced  that  no one has the authority over another, the next  step is to make that person stand on  his own feet.  Before  we start analyzing how the Swami trained the   Avarnas to be self – dependent  and generated courage and self-respect  in them, it is better to learn about certain  experiences  of the people,  which added intensity to their respect , devotion and faith in him.