Is the Reality that drives the chariot proclaiming the Supreme Truth (Lord Krishna),
Or the Ocean of Compassion and patience (The Buddha), Or the Guru who wrote lucid bhashyas (commentaries) on Advaita (Adi Shankara), this Compassion embodied one? Is he the Almighty appearing in human form Or righteousness manifesting in divine human form Or the holy Son of God (Jesus Christ)
Or the merciful (Prophet) Nabi, the pearl, the gem?
Narayana Guru, née Nanu, was born on August 28, 1855[note 1] to an Ezhava peasant, Madan Asan and his wife Kuttiyamma, in the village of Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram, in the erstwhile state of Travancore, in British India. His early education is known to be in the gurukula way under Chempazhanthi Mootha Pillai during which time his mother died when he was 15. At the age of 21, he went to central Travancore to study under a known Sanskrit scholar from the Puthuppally Varanappally family, by name, Raman Pillai Asan, who taught him Vedas, Upanishads, as well as the literature and logical rhetoric of Sanskrit. He returned to his village in 1881 when his father was seriously ill, and started a village school where he taught local children which earned him the moniker, Nanu Asan. A year later, he married Kaliamma but soon disassociated himself from the marriage to commence his public life as a social reformer.[note 2]
Leaving home, Guru traveled through Kerala and Tamil Nadu and it was during these journeys, he met Chattampi Swamikal, a social and religious reformer, who introduced Guru to Ayyavu Swamikal from whom he learned meditation and yoga. Later, he continued his wanderings until he reached the Pillathadam cave at Maruthwamala where he set up an hermitage and practiced meditation and yoga for the next eight years. In 1888, he visited Aruvippuram where he meditated for a while and during his stay there, he consecrated a piece of rock taken from the river, as the idol of Shiva, which has since become the Aruvippuram Shiva Temple. The act, which later came to be known as Aruvipuram Pratishta, created a social commotion among the upper caste Brahmins who questioned Guru's right to consecrate the idol. His reply to them that This is not a Brahmin Shiva but an Ezhava Shiva later became a famous quote, used against casteism. It was here, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam) was founded on May 15, 1903 by the efforts of Padmanabhan Palpu, better known as Dr. Palpu, with Narayana Guru as its founder president.
Guru shifted his base to Sivagiri, near Varkala in 1904 where he opened a school for children from the lower strata of the society and provided free education to them without considering their caste. However, it took him seven years to build a temple there, the Sarada Mutt was built in 1912. He also built temples in other places such as Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Thalassery, Kozhikode, and Mangalore and it took him to many places including Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) where he made his final visit in 1926. On his return to India, he was involved in a number of activities including the planning of the Sivagiri pilgrimage which was planned after his visit to Pallathuruthy in 1927 to attend the anniversary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam.
Soon after the meeting at Pallathuruthy, which was the last public function he attended, Guru became ill and underwent treatment at places such as Aluva, Thrissur, Palakkad, and finally to Chennai; the physicians attended to him included Ayurvedic physicians like Cholayil Mami Vaidyar, Panappally Krishnan Vaidyar and Thycauttu Divakaran Moos as well as allopathic physicians viz. . Krishnan Thampi, Panikker, Palpu and a European physician by name, Noble. he returned to Sarada Mutt and it was here, he died on September 20, 1928, at the age of 73.