Sree Narayana Guru Samadhi is commemorated on 21 September every year in Kerala. It is a regional public holiday to observe the death anniversary of the spiritual leader and social reformer who died in 1928 on this day.
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Sree Narayana Guru was born on 28 August 1855 (a day which is also observed in Kerala as a public holiday). He was a catalyst and leader for the reform movement against the oppressive caste system that prevailed in society at the time. His philosophy was based on social equality, education for all, and spiritual enlightenment.
Born into a family belonging to the Ezhava caste, in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in British India, he had an early education in Sanskrit, literature, the Upanishads, and the Vedas. He started a school in his village for the local children.
He soon left his village to travel through the length and breadth of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He learnt meditation and yoga from Ayyavu Swamikal, who was a spiritualist and social reformer too. Sree Narayana Guru then set up a hermitage in Maruthwamala, Tamil Nadu, where he spent the next 8 years immersed in meditative and yoga practices.
In the year 1888, he visited Aruvippuram village in Kerala and consecrated a piece of rock that he had retrieved from the river in the image of Lord Shiva, which was to become the first temple to have an idol consecrated by a non-brahmin in the state of Kerala. This sparked off the anti-caste revolution against the upper-caste Brahmin communities. Later, in 1903, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) was established here with Narayana Guru as the Founder and President. The organisation continues to this day with a strong presence across the state of Kerala.
In 1904, Sree Narayana Guru opened a school for children from economically weaker sections of society, irrespective of caste, offering education totally free, in the town of Sivagiri in Kerala. A temple, Sarada Mutt, was also established there in 1912. He built and consecrated temples in other parts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Sri Lanka too. The famous Sivagiri pilgrimage was planned on his return from Sri Lanka in 1926, which continues to this day.
In 1923, he planned and organised the very first All Religion Conference in India. This was held at the Alwaye Advaita Ashram. This event continues to be held every year at the ashram. His message for the event “We meet here not to argue and win, but to know and be known” is taken as the foundation for all future events.
Sree Narayana Guru had met Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi in his lifetime.
He passed away from a chronic illness at the age of 73 on 20 September 1928 at Sarada Mutt.
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Sree Narayana Guru’s most well-known writing is the hundred-verse spiritual poem called Atmopadesa Satakam. He is also well known for a 10-verse universal prayer called the Daiva Dasakam. There are 45 published works of the Guru in Malayalam, Tamil, and Sanksrit. He had also translated three major spiritual texts.
The Guru’s most famous motto is “Oru Jathi, Oru Matham, Oru Daivam, Manushyanu” which means “One Caste, One Religion, One God for All” and is followed as a social and spiritual slogan in Kerala to this day.
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Sree Narayana Guru has been commemorated by the Government of India and the government of Sri Lanka on postage stamps. The Reserve Bank of India had issued two sets of coins on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary. There are several statues of the guru in Kerala, from the one at Jagannath Temple in Thalassery to the one at Kaithamukku which is 24 feet in length.