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The Sivagiri Mutt, built in 1904, is situated at the top of the Sivagiri hill near Varkala. Even decades after the guru breathed his last here in 1928; his samadhi continues to be thronged by thousands of devotees, donned in yellow attire, from different parts of Kerala and outside every year during the Sivagiri Pilgrimage days – 30 December to 1 January.
The Sivagiri Mutt is the headquarters of the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham, an organization of his disciples and saints, established by the Guru to propagate his concept of ‘One Caste, One Religion, One God’. The Guru Deva Jayanti, the birthday of the Guru, and the samadhi day are celebrated in August and September respectively every year. Colourful processions, debates and seminars, public meetings, cultural shows, community feasts, group wedding and rituals mark the celebrations.
Guru and Mahatma Gandhi
It is an irony of history that the man who dedicated his entire life for the cause of abolition of caste is today pinned down to the name of a particular caste group of Kerala as their benefactor; while Mahatma Gandhi, who ardently believed in the four varnas and the merit of occupational distribution implied in the caste system, is now venerated as the foremost champion against casteism and untouchability.
Some followers of Narayana Guru, headed by T. K. Madhavan wanted to include in the policy and program of the Indian National Congress, the abolition of taboos and the shown to people nick-named as the untouchables. Mahatma Gandhi was not convinced of Narayana Guru’s doctrine of “One Caste, One Religion, and One God.” However, Mahatma Gandhi found it was of great political advantage to include the program of abolishing untouchability in the general schedule of the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi called himself a Vaishnavite and he wanted to see India as a people of Vishnu (Vaishnava Janata). In spite of his love for all and his universal outlook, he hated Hindus embracing Christianity or Islam.
After the inclusion of the abolition of untouchability in the national program of the Congress, T. K. Madhavan and others did not want to wait for the fate of the program to come on its own. They decided to get involved in direct action. Mahatma Gandhi gave his approval too. The venue of the action was Vaikam, and it became famous as the VaikamSatyagraha. Narayana Guru placed his land at the disposal of the Satyagrahis to make their camp. Other leaders of Kerala who took an active part in the Satyagraha were Manhath Padmanabhan and Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai. Even though Narayana Guru gave his full consent and blessings to this agitation, he had his own views of Satyagraha. Afterwards, when Mahatma Gandhi met Narayana Guru at Varkala, the sage of Sabarmati and the Guru of Varkala had an interesting discussion which was of great significance in helping us to know the outlooks of these two great men. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Cochin, some Hindu enthusiasts wanted Gandhi to impress upon Narayana Guru the need to stop low caste Hindus from getting converted to Christianity. Mahatma Gandhi presented the subject in a tactful manner to Narayana Guru. He said The caste-Hindus and the low caste-Hindus are both the sons of Hinduism. The caste-Hindu is the elder brother who shoulders responsibility, and he therefore exercises certain privileges. The low caste-Hindu is his younger brother who is to be cared for. If the elder brother turns out to be somewhat rough and aggressive that should not make the younger brother a runaway from his mother Hinduism.
Narayana Guru could not agree with the logic of Mahatma Gandhi’s suggestion. The Guru said If a Hindu has no belief in his religion and has belief in another religion, it is good that he embraces the religion in which he believes. Such a conversion will help Hinduism in getting rid of a non-believer, and the religion to which the man gets converted will have the benefit of adding one more believer to it. Moreover the man will be benefited with love and sympathy which he will get from his fellow-believers. There is nothing wrong in such conversions. On hearing this Mahatma Gandhi approached the subject from another angle. He said: ‘The convert is embracing Christianity not for the spiritual worth of that religion but for the social and economic benefits he gets from that religion. Narayana Guru agreed to that and he wanted Mahatma Gandhi to understand it as a socio-economic problem, which could be met only by taking adequate measures that, could give social and economic justice to the aggrieved members of the society. This point went home to Mahatma Gandhi and it was even responsible for making a big change in Gandhi’s attitude .towards the entire problem of caste-conflict in India. It was significant that Mahatma Gandhi afterwards changed the name of his paper Navajovan to Harijan and even called himself a Harijan.
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