To Kanchi & Sri Lanka
In 1916, the Guru’s sixtieth birth day (Shashti Poorthi) was celebrated in a grand scale both inside and outside Kerala. Records are there, which show that this celebration was held in all villages of Kerala and in the big cities of Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, Coimbatore, Bangalore and Mangalapuram, and also outside India in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Singapur & Burma.
In September 1916, Madras High Court Chief Justice Sadasivayyar, and Justice Krishnan invited the Guru to Madras. Responding to the invitation he visited Madras and the Ashramam at Kancheepuram. The Sree Narayana Satsanga Samithi at Chintadripet was started on this occasion.
Visit to Ramanashram
On his return trip to Kerala, the Guru visited Ramana Maharshi at Thiruvannamalai. In 1916, while the Guru was relaxing after the inauguration of Sree Narayana Sevashram at Kancheepuram, he was invited to Ramanashram at Thiruvannamalai by the disciples of Sree Ramana Maharshi. The Guru’s disciples also had wished to visit Ramanashram. Responding to the invitation, the Guru visited Ramanashram, along with disciples like Achyuthananada Swamy and Vidyananda Swamy. The famous poem Nirvruthi Panchakam was written by the Guru on this occasion (The author has seen the five stanzas of this poem, in the record note book kept at Ramanashram)
The well known philosophical poem Darsanamaala was composed during this period, on request by the disciples like Vidyananda Swamy etc. The Guru used to dictate the stanzas and Vidyananda Swamy travelling beside the Guru, had written them down on the spot. The second part of Darsanamaala “Apavaadadarsanam”, was composed while they were at Ramanashram. It is known that this was done while the Guru was taking rest under a Jamba tree in Ramanashram, with Vidyananda Swamy beside him to write them down. Mahakavi Kumaran Asan had written an interpretation to Apavaada Darsanam, under the title “Manana Maala Thatparyam”. This has been published).
Mangalananda Swamy, from Sivagiri, had once asked Ramana Mahrshi directly about this visit. The Maharshi had said “All that time he had nothing to tell me. He knows everything. He knows everything”. Mangalananda Swamy remembers that, Ramana Maharshi had repeated this phrase, “he knows every thing” a number of times during their conversation.
Visit to Sree Lanka
The Guru visited Sri Lanka in 1918 , along with his disciples responding to the desire of his Sri Lankan devotees. Sri Bodhananda Swamy made all arrangements for this trip. During this trip, from Rameswaram onwards the Guru changed over to wearing saffron clothes. The usual practice is that when a person is initiated to the ascetic order, saffron clothes are given to him by his Guru. But Sree Narayana Guru had no one to perform this ritual. There is no one to give me saffron clothes, hence God is my Guru, so saying he took the clothes by himself and put them on. Then onwards, until his demise he was in saffron.
Following the Guru’s suggestion, an organization by name “Vijnanodayam” was started in Sri Lanka. The Guru stayed in Sri Lanka for 12 days. Among his retinue, there was a very eloquent orator by name Ayyappan Pillai. This gentleman was initiated into the ascetic order and was given the name Swamy Satyavrathan. The Guru bestowed the responsibility of guiding the activities of ‘Vijnanodayam” on him and left him in Sri Lanka with blessings. Under his leadership 42 night schools were started and a number of prayer halls were constructed and started functioning in different parts of Sri Lanka. The Guru had installed Sree Narayana Mandiram also at Colombo.
Second Visit to Sri Lanka
The Guru visited Sri Lanka again in 1926. In seems the Guru had thousands of devotees, and a number of disciples belonging to different castes and creeds. The Guru was received in the main Buddha Vihar and the Buddhist monks had declared him as the second Buddha. More than that, The Govt., to express its respect for the Guru, renamed a part of Colombo City (The Capital of Sri Lanka) as Sree Narayana Puram.
This time he spent almost two months in Sri Lanka and Tamil Naadu. Sri Vidyananda Swamy, Sugunananda Swamy and Hanumangiri Swamy accompanied the Guru in this trip. The Guru was displeased with the attitude and behaviour of some members of SNDP, that was the reason for this prolonged trip to Sri Lanka.
Tagore and Gandhiji with the Guru
On 15th Nov 1922, the renowned poet Tagore and his family, along with Sri C.F. Andrews came to Sivagiri to visit the Guru. Tagore opened their conversation with the introductory remark that his heart felt a great change on meeting the Guru. The Judgment passed by Swami Vivekananda in 1896, “Kerala is a lunatic Asylum – Madmen live in the homes there” after visiting Kerala in 1892, must have flashed in the thoughts of Tagore. What Tagore saw in 1922 was not the Kerala seen by Vivekananda. The lunatic asylum had become a peaceful asylum, and a spiritual asylum, and a model state for the whole of India to look up to. Tagore did not fail to mention this when he praised the Guru by remarking you seem to have done a lot of work. The Guru’s humble response was that “I have done nothing much”. Tagore had seen the complete embodiment of spirituality in the Guru. We can infer it from what he had written down in the visitors’ diary (Appendix).
Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Sivagiri was three years after this. Gandhiji had sent his disciple Acharya Vinoba Bhave to Sivagiri as a pilot before him. Vinoba Bhave concluded that the Guru was one among the incarnations in Bharat. Mahatmaji who heard this definition, made haste to meet the Guru. So, on 22nd March 1925, the meeting took place.
Those were the days when Vaikkam Satyagraha was going on. Gurudev had already visited Vaikkam and blessed the Satyagrahis. The architect of this Satyagraha was the Guru’s favourite disciple T.K. Madhavan. He had gone to Thirunelveli, met Gandhiji and sought the co-operation of Gandhiji as well as the Congress party before launching this battle of perseverance. It is worth noticing that this was the first venture of Gandhiji’s Satyagraha programme. After visiting the Satyagraha camp, Gandhiji came down to Sivagiri and met the Guru. This meeting had brought about tremendous changes in Gandhiji. The dialogue between these two great men is given below.
Gandhi : Has Swamiji come across any injunctions in the Hindu Scriptures in favour of untouchablity?
Guru : None.
Gandhi : Do you have any difference of opinion about the Satyagraha at Vaikkom meant for the eradication of untouchability?
Guru : No.
Gandhi : Do you suggest any additions or any changes in that Movement?
Guru : No. I understand the Satyagraha Movement is going on very well.
Gandhi : Besides removing untouchablity what else should be done to improve the lot of the lower sections of the society?.
Guru : They should have education and wealth. I don’t think inter-dining and inter-caste marriages are to be taken up immediately. Give them enough opportunities for improving their lot in line with others.
Gandhi : Some people say that this non- violent protest is ineffective and to secure one’s rights use of force is compulsory. What is your opinion about it?
Guru : The Puranas (mythological legends) say that use of force is necessary for kings and they have made use of it several times. But the use of force by common man cannot be justified.
Gandhi : Some people think that religious conversion is the proper way to get freedom. Do you recommend that?
Guru : It is observed that those who had undergone religious conversion had secured some sort of freedom. On seeing that, if people say that conversion is a must for freedom, they cannot be blamed.
Gandhi : Does Swamiji believe that the Hindu Faith is adequate for spiritual salvation?.
Guru : Other religions also show the path to salvation.
Gandhi : Let alone other religions for the time being. Do you think Hinduism is enough for spiritual salvation?.
Guru : Of course Hinduism is quite sufficient for spiritual salvation. But people hanker more after worldly freedom.
Gandhi : That is all because of the restrictions arising from untouchability etc., Let it be. But do you feel that conversion is a must for spiritual salvation?.
Guru : No, conversion is not necessary for spiritual freedom and salvation.
Gandhi : But we are trying for worldly freedom, will it be achieved?
Guru :It will be achieved. But going to the grass root of it, to achieve total and complete freedom, Mahatma may have to be born again.
Gandhi : (laughing) I believe it will be achieved in this lifetime itself. By the way, untouchability is observed even by the lower castes. Are all people allowed to enter Swamiji’s temples?
Guru : Yes. All are allowed, at Sivagiri. Pulaya and Paraya children live, take food and study there with other children. They take part in prayers and worship also, together.
Gandhi : Very happy to know that.
Gandhi pointed to a mango tree in the courtyard and tried to justify the caste system by expressing that, as the difference in the size and shape of leaves is a natural phenomenon, difference between human beings is also natural. But the Guru negated this argument with the fact that though the leaves are different in shape and size, their juice tastes the same, similarly all human beings are the same in essence. Gandhiji appreciated the logic in this argument. He stayed at Sivagiri on that day, and participated in the rituals of worship.
Gandhiji returned from Sivagiri as a different man. He himself had expressed it. His concentration on the upliftment of Harijans increased after this. He had declared, that the objective of his South Indian tour was fulfilled with the visit to the Guru, and that the visit was the most fortunate event in his life .
Along with Gandhiji, E.V. Ramasami Naickar, C. Rajagopalachari, Mahadeva Desai, Devadas Gandhi etc., were also there. Gnadhiji had visited Sivagiri twice more. Great men like Swami Shraddhananda, Pandit Rishiram, Divan C. Rajagopalachari, Divan Watts, Diwan Mandat M. Kishnan Nair, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Rao Bahadur, P. Sundaram Pillai, etc., ,had visited the Guru, at different times and received his blessings. Mahakavi Ulloor S. Prameswara Ayyer, who used to visit the Guru often and receive his blessings, had deep devotion and respect for the Guru. The eminent scholar Punnassery Neelakanta Sharma also was an admirer of the Guru, and had composed a number of poems in praise of the Guru.
Eminent poets like Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon, A.R. Rajaraja Varma, Vidwan Panthalathu Koyithamburan, K.C.Kesava Pillai, Sreekanteswaram Padmanabha Pillai, Azhakathu Padmanabha Kurup and later poets like Shankara Kurup, Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon, Vayalar Ramavarma, Pala Narayanan Nair, M.P. Appan, Nalankal Krishna Pillai etc have also written poems praising the Guru. The Guru’s individuality was such a wonderful one that whoever came to know him, became his admirer.