The Philosophical System of <I>Śiva Śatakam</I>and Other Śaiva Poems by Nārāyaṇa Guru

In Relation to <I>Tirumandiram</I> by Tirumūlar

by Hanna Urbańska (Author)
©2022 Monographs 562 Pages


This full-scaled monograph, rich in factographic material, concerns Nārāyaṇa Guru (1855/56--1928), a founder of a powerful socio-religious movement in Kerala. He wrote in three languages (Malayalam, Sanskrit, Tamil), drawing on three different literary conventions. The world of this complex philosophic-religious literature is brought closer to the reader with rare deft and dexterity by the Author who not only retrieves for us the original circumstances, language and poetic metre of each work but also supplies histories of their reception. Thanks to numerous glosses, comments and elucidations supplied by the Author, we can much better understand how Nārāyaṇa’s mystical universe creatively relates to the Tamil Œaiva Siddhānta and to Kerala’s variety of Vedānta tradition.
Prof. Cezary Galewicz

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. The biography of Nārāyaṇa Guru
  • 2. Works of Nārāyaṇa Guru (in a chronological order)
  • 3. Śaiva Hymns Composed by Nārāyaṇa Guru
  • 3.1 Daiva Daśakam – “Ten Stanzas on Deity”
  • 3.2 Hymns devoted to Śiva
  • 3.2.1 Kōlatīrēśa Stavam (“Hymn Dedicated to Lord from Kōlatīra” [Kōlattukara])
  • 3.2.2 Piṇḍa Nandī – “Foetal Gratitude”
  • 3.2.3 Mananātītam or Vairāgya Daśakam – “Ten Verses on That Which Transcends Mind” or “Ten Verses on Renunciation (Detachment)”
  • 3.2.4 Indriya Vairāgyam – “Detachment from Sense Pleasure”
  • 3.2.5 Śiva Prasāda Pañcakam – “Five Stanzas on the Grace of Śivan”
  • 3.2.6 Ardhanārīśvara Stavam – “Hymn to the Half-Woman Lord”
  • 3.2.7 Cidambara Aṣṭakam – “Eight Verses on Cidambaram or Consciousness-space”
  • 3.2.8 Śiva Stavam (Prapaňcasṛṣṭi) – “Hymn Dedicated To Śivan” or “Creation of the World”
  • 3.2.9 Sadāśiva Darśanam – “Vision of Sadāśivan”
  • 3.2.10 Cijjaḍacintanam – “Reflections on Mind and Matter”
  • 3.2.11 Kuṇḍalini Pāṭṭǔ – “Song of the Kuṇḍalini Snake”
  • 3.2.12 Svānubhāva Gīti (“The Song of Ecstatic Self Experience”) or Amṛta Taraṅgiṇi (“The River of Immortality Nectar”)
  • 3.2.13 Tēvārappadigaṅgaḷ – “Verses of Tēvāram”
  • 3.2.14 Śiva Śatakam (“One Hundred Verses devoted to Śivan”)
  • 4. Philosophical system of Śiva Śatakam
  • 4.1 The elements of Śaiva Siddhānta system
  • 4.2 Paśupati – Paśu – Pāśa
  • 4.2.1 Pati or Paśupati – Lord Śiva
  • 4.2.2 Paśu – individual soul bound with fetters
  • 4.2.3 Pāśa – bondage or defilement (Mala)
  • 4.3 Three defilements: Āṇava Mala, Karma Mala, Māyā Mala
  • 4.4 [Para] Śiva-[Parā] Śakti. The concept of Ardhanārīśvara
  • 4.5 Grace (aruḷ, anugraham), mercy or compassion (kāruṇyam, kṛpana, daya)
  • 4.6 The tattva system
  • 4.6.1 The pure tattvas system as presented in Tirumandiram
  • 4.6.2 The concept of the pure tattvas in Śiva Śatakam
  • 4.6.3 The concept of Nāda tattva in Śaiva Siddhānta
  • 4.6.4 Guru’s concept of Nādam
  • 4.6.5 Śuddhāśuddha Māyā and her products
  • Niyati – fate or destiny
  • Kalā – aid for knowledge; Vidyā – knowledge; and Rāga – desire or wish
  • 4.6.6 Aśuddha Māyā and her products
  • The senses (indriyas) and the objects of senses (viṣayas)
  • Inner organ (antaḥkaraṇam) or mind / heart (mati, manas)
  • Five gross elements together with their tanmātras
  • 4.6.7 Concept of transcendent space
  • 4.6.8 The Ultimate Reality beyond tattvas in Śiva Śatakam
  • 4.7 Three states of the soul: Kevala, Sakala, Śuddha Avasthā
  • 4.7.1 Kevala state
  • 4.7.2 Sakala state
  • 4.7.3 Śuddha Avasthā
  • 5. Liberation (Mukti or Mokṣa)
  • 6. The Liṅga concept in Guru’s works
  • 7. Kuṇḍalinī Yoga in Śiva Śatakam
  • 7.1 Elements of Candra Yoga. The Metaphor of Milking Mother-Cow
  • 8. Mythology in Śiva Śatakam
  • 9. Sanskrit or Tamil? Some remarks on the influence of Tamil literature in Śiva Śatakam
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

←10 | 11→


Nārāyaa Guru is well-known in Kerala first of all for his reformist activity. Literary heritage of that extraordinary personality comprises over sixty poems composed in three languages (Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil); however, the contemporary society of South India recognizes him as the consistent executor of the sentence: “One caste, one religion, one deity for human being” (Oru jāti, oru matam, oru daivam manuyanŭ). For a dozen of years after Nārāyaa Guru’s samādhi, his reforms have been influencing the personal and social life of Kerala people. Apart from steadfast struggle for equal rights, easy access to education, dynamic economic development, Guru has left to his disciples and followers absolute silence as regards superiority or inferiority of religious, social and political ideas and beliefs. Today’s political, economic and social situation, together with the direction and pace of transformations consuming modern India, may have not necessarily positive impact on Guru’s literary and reformist heritage. Indeed, Nārāyaan as a magnificent leader and observer predicted what the long-term effects of his reformation process would be.

My original plan was to prepare the translation and commentary on the one of Śaivite works composed by Nārāyaa Guru, entitled Śiva Śatakam – “A Hundred Stanzas Devoted to Śivan”. The poem is believed to be the fruit of several years of severe penance undertaken by Guru in the place in Tamil Nadu called Marutvā Mala; that is why, in Śiva Śatakam, one can discover both the description of ecstatic states of mystic who keeps practicing yoga as well as the sense of fear and doubt – the companions of the one who decided to attain liberation at that time in order to continue the life of social reformer and spiritual leader for the sake of many people from Kerala. Still, it must be remembered that Guru’s personality had been earlier shaped with the ascetic life led under the influence of masters, such as Thycaud Ayya, and with the principles of philosophical scriptures which he studied for a long period of time. In this case, the introductory part presenting the philosophical system that constitutes the basis for the Malayalam poems of Guru – added as a complement to the English translation – appeared to be essential. Nārāyaa Guru’s compositions have been strongly influenced by Sanskrit literary tradition studied since childhood and by Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta at the same time. Sanskrit mythology and poetics, the philosophy of South Indian Śaivism, the twilight language of Siddhas, the practices of Śiva Rāja Yoga lie at the root of all Guru’s works.

The complete translation of the poetical work composed in Malayalam language supplemented with selected portions of several Malayalam commentaries could not come to light without kind help of Father Francis Arakkal, Professor of Śrī Śakarācārya University of Kālai. Father Francis was well-disposed enough to spend great deal of time – several hours daily during six months – discussing corrections and adjustments to be made within the translated text of Śiva Śatakam. ←11 | 12→Precious piece of advice concerning interpretation of the translated poem was offered by present chief of Nārāyaa Gurukulam, Svāmi Muni Nārāyaa Prasād – an author of the one of six commentaries on Śiva Śatakam text. Equally precious suggestions were given by Tyāgisvāmi, Nitya Caitanya Yati’s disciple. Each stay in Varkala Gurukulam appeared to be a valuable lesson and sui generis pointer.

Nārāyaa Guru’s biography so far seems to be a conglomerate of more or less credible stories. It is extremely difficult to judge credibility of each of these tales included and modified within dozens of biographies composed by writers who just yearned for Guru’s holiness and infallibility. At the same time, however, one can get the impression that in many aspects the Guru’s life story does tie in with biography of Śakara or Buddha; it must be acknowledged, then, that the first chapter of the book devoted to the life history of Kerala mystic appears to be the carefully arranged collection of such tales with premeditation blending historical facts with fiction.

In the next chapter, devoted to the literary heritage of Nārāyaa Guru, I have seen fit to include the short profile of each work composed by Guru supplemented with the English translation of selected portions or stanzas. Apart from that collection which comprises over sixty philosophical works put in chronological order, I have taken into consideration poems considered by some scholars, biographers as well as Guru’s disciples to be composed by Nārāyaan. Hymns devoted to Śiva Himself have become the subject of the successive chapter.

The profile of thirteen Śaivite hymns begins with the poem regarded by Guru’s later followers as the universal prayer. To be sure, Daiva Daśakam does not refer explicitly to Śiva; however, the Deity that has been made addressee of this short and beautiful in its simplicity poem, bears the characteristic of Śiva Himself. The Śaivite works of Guru – since they constitute the collection of dozen or so interrelated devotional hymns – have been interpreted in a more profound way; in such cases, the provided translation comprises the majority of stanzas included within a poem, while in other cases it makes up the complete hymn. The whole collection concludes with introductory analysis of Śiva Śatakam.

The leading philosophical system of Śiva Satakam (as well as of the majority of Śaivite works composed by Guru) is Śaiva Siddhānta. It is necessary to pay a lot of attention to the basic concepts of that system if one is determined to comprehend the philosophical system of Nārāyaa Guru himself. It has been attested by the majority of the biographic sources that Nārāyaan was proficient in Tamil literature and language; he was himself the author of the collection of Śaivite devotional hymns composed in classical Tamil language. At the same time, however, one must remember that Kerala is regarded as an Advaita Vēdanta territory; since his childhood Guru has been devoted to Vedānta studies (claiming to be the Śakarācārya’s successor). The result of such blend of these two philosophical and literary traditions was the monistic system, enriched with bhakti elements characteristic of Dravidian culture. Nārāyaa Guru gives special importance to the role of Grace (Aru) identical to the Ultimate Reality or Substance (Poru) which is Śiva Himself. In one of his short poems on moral issues (dharma) – Anukampā ←12 | 13→Daśakam – he states: aruuavanāu jīvi – “The one who has Grace in his heart, is the living one”. It is highly significant that Guru – while mentioning the trinity of essential concepts of Śaiva Siddhānta – aru anbanukampa (“Grace, Love and Compassion”), shows preference to the first one, as if it could be the source and the key to solve all mysteries and doubts. In order to grasp properly Guru’s intention of giving preference to Aru one should keep in his mind the particular function of such literary work: Guru was first of all the reformer struggling to set the social system to rights and, in such a case, his reformist activity was required to be sanctioned with Lord’s intervention deeply rooted within each individual being regardless of its social position. The concept of Grace being Lord Śiva identical to the sole Reality – Substance that pervades all beings without exception and difference, characteristic of Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta that preaches the lack of any difference within caste, religious or social system (cf. Kudumbaicittar or Tirumūlar), might have become an excellent vehicle for reformation. It is Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta that defines the individual soul as follows: “You may say that Śiva and the soul are both Cit, but I tell you that Śiva is Aru Cit, while the Soul is a Cit on the way to Aru. […] The two, although connected are not the same, though not strangers either” (Shomerus 2000: 348).

It seems that non-monistic Śaiva Siddhānta system which claims that “there is no dualism in their way of existence, nor any monism in natures, but a life in and with each other, an advaita relationship”1 – for Nārāyaa Guru, brought up and fed with tradition of purely monistic Advaita Vedānta, was not always acceptable. However, there is one very special Tamil work which accepted both the Vedāntic monism of Sanskrit Upaniads along with their mahāvākyās like TAT TVAM ASI, as well as the realistic monism of Kashmir Śaivism, namely Tirumandiram by Tirumūlar which comprises over 3000 stanzas. It is Tirumandiram itself that preaches the well-known concept: oē kulamum oruvaē tēvaum naē niaimi (“There is only one race, one God; do think only of goodness” – TM 7 2104).

Thus, one can find in Guru’s poems the blend of two traditions – Sanskrit and Dravidian one, bhakti and purely monistic point of view, since such aspects might have contributed to the success of his reformist mission. From this perspective, Tirumandiram might have become the perfect literary source for Nārāyaa Guru. I decided to fix my attention on this Tamil composition when analysing the philosophical system within literary heritage of this great mystic from Kerala, although one can find here references to other Siddhas’ works. The following stanzas are a case in point in terms of the correlation between these two philosophical systems, namely Tirumandiram and Guru’s hymns:

One; two, nothing; remaining in oneness, having escaped from contradictions
(Or: insignificance) within religious systems, remaining as the wise one,
By means of the holy feet (Tam. Parāparai nēyattaip-pādattāl ceu),
The Siddhānta Siddhi remains Śivam Itself. (Tirumandiram 5 1437)
aiyoumui nauvaen piiyilaaātirunnu, palaporuum
vaivākkikkoannannaiyōonniccoiňňu varumonnē //55/ 95//
Deprived of the bottom, the top as well as the centre [middle],
You remain without being subdued to my comprehension,
When providing the support (vaivŭ) for the diversity of forms (palaporu),
You come beyond all that, o the Only One!
Onnennum raennum ninnivanennum paaňňu pataarutē
innikkaavayellām ninnōonnāyŭ varunnu kaavallē // 56/ 96//
Do not let me hesitate whilst defining like this:
One [is real]”, “Two [are real]”; “This I-subject – He [is real]”; all that which is perceived here,
Comes as united within You, o the One Beyond that Untruth!
(Nārāyaa Guru, Svānubhava Gīti)

Tirumūlar denies all contradictions within religious systems and suggests remaining in Oneness that transcends all (including monism of some systems). The leading practice and the main path is an attainment of Lord’s lotus feet by means of His Grace which results in the state of Bliss (Śivam), i.e. the state of absolute union within Ultimate Reality.

At this point, let us consider the concept given by Nārāyaa Guru in his devotional hymn Svānubhava Gīti regarded as Malayalam equivalent of Tamil Tiruvācakam (perhaps, one should detect here the Malayalam extract from Tirumandiram). Guru stresses the necessity to eliminate all contradictions, even though he believes that the main obstacle is not so much the variety of systems as the attitude of individual being itself that wrongly defines or recognizes the Reality. Why? The multitude of systems and variety of opinions constituting the horizontal aspect of the very same reality can decide neither about its final and ultimate form nor the spiritual condition of the individual being. The latter one depends on the quality of vertical aspect of reality, depicted by Guru as follows: the top-centre-basis (feet). The scheme of liga which represents the innermost universe of each individual soul, introduced by Nārāyaa Guru in his philosophical and devotional works, aims to emphasize two matters: first of all, the path leading ←14 | 15→an individual being amidst variety of religious or philosophical systems can lead the soul astray when it becomes lost in the jungle of logical investigation and confrontation. In the case of the stanza of Tirumandiram it is stated: “the Siddhānta Siddhi remains Śivam Itself”. The philosophy of Śaiva Siddhānta shows preference to Śaivites on the liberation path; as a result, the Vedānta followers are regarded as inferior to them (Shomerus 2000: 205–206; 242; 246). Nārāyaa Guru avoids such reference, since Kerala society – influenced strongly by Vedānta tradition and open to other religious systems – was expecting other pointers. In this respect, the vertical aspect of reality introduced by Guru plays the crucial role: it is an allusion to the famous myth – the story of Viu and Brahmā who wished for recognition of the ultimate reality represented by the Śivaliga; the one who succeeded in such competition was Viu alone searching Lord’s feet. Guru suggests that such attitude is decisive during spiritual progress of the soul dependent completely on the Lord’s Grace. The life and spiritual condition of each individual being is dependent on its inner attitude in the verical aspect, not on the multitude of external systems which constitute the horizontal aspect of the same reality. Such an attitude – one can describe it as the attitude of Liga – determines the quality of innermost transformation. Another important matter is that Guru mentions transcendent Soleness (Aloneness – Substance), defined here in Dravidian language as param-poru, but social conditions make him shift attention onto the phenomenal world of multiplicity (pala-poru), the stable basis and foundation of which is identical with that sole and transcendent Substance. The expression ai, which signifies the basis, foot and foundation, remains ambiguous and evokes a variety of similar associations in all Guru’s works.

It seems that – although Guru composed plenty of poems influenced by Śaiva Siddhānta system – his main principle remained the simple Vedāntic example – the vision of the One or Sole Ocean comprising all waves that at the end of day dissolve completely within depth as identical to it3. Let us compare stanzas extracted from Śaiva hymns:

The first stanza (Sadāśiva Darśanam) has been influenced by the Śaiva Siddhānta concept of three eternal substances: Pati, Paśu and Pāśam depicted by Guru as entities that remain in mutual relations. However, one can find here a tendency that reaches its height in Svānubava Gīti: the moment an individual being falls into the Depth or the empty Void, it becomes the Void or Depth itself; along the same lines, the matter – together with the path leading to liberation – is identical with the same Depth of Ocean representing Soleness – kaivalyam. In Tirumandiram (e.g. 4 1357), one can find stanzas revealing monistic tendencies of the whole system:

The whole inhabited [with Śakti = thanks to aru] space has become the limitless Void;
A well-learned space has become the Extreme Sharp (pungent) Space (kauvei);
No more other spaces; no more Path; no more state “by oneself”;
No more space restricted; it remains immersed in the lack of weariness (movement).

Since the philosophical system of Tamil Siddhas, including the author of Tirumandiram, hinges on Kualinī Yoga, called Śiva Rāja Yoga, one of the chapters (7) has been devoted to the Kualinī concept. Another significant topic is the presence and role of mythological motifs in Śaiva Siddhānta works; the very same motifs have been adopted by Nārāyaa Guru in his Śaivite poems, so I thought it fit to examine these mythological stories in the context of Tamil literary sources (chapter 8). Apart from that, last chapter is associated with the Sanskrit literary tradition: since Malayalam – the language of Śiva Śatakam – has been permeated with the Sanskrit vocabulary, one can find in Guru’s works a lot of words and grammatical forms borrowed from Sanskrit. Nārāyaa Guru has been studying Sanskrit texts – including kāvya – for many years; hence his Malayalam hymns contain plenty of elaborate figures of speech. However, the most important matter is Nārāyaan was proficient in Sanskrit philosophical literature, which influenced among others Tirumandiram. Hence the question arises as regards the literary source of plenty of concepts included in Guru’s poems.←16 | 17→

There is an important remark to be made concerning the inconsistency in the transcription of Indian words, which appears both within the whole book and individual chapters or even sections. The reason for that is the derivation of these terms: for example noun “Śiva” in Sanskrit context is transcribed as Śiva; in Malayalam context – as Śivan; in the case of Tamil literary tradition one can find two versions: Śiva or Civa. Moreover, within Malayalam texts first two versions (Śiva and Śivan) become possible since the specificity of that language permits the Sanskrit version (Sanskrit loan-word) or its modified Malayalam version (e.g. suumnā or suumna). Such differentiation, however, is not strictly complied considering extremely subtle permeation of these three literary traditions.

Translation of Sanskrit and Malayalam works given in the book come from the author unless the name of a translator is given (only selected stanzas of Ātmōpadēśa Śatakam, one of the philosophical poems by Nārāyaa Guru, have been given in Yati’s translation). In the case of Tamil works, the adequate English translations have been given except for Tirumandiram: in this case, I took the responsibility to provide the translation based on the Malayalam edition by Nāyar, although in principle – considering his quite often deviations from original text – the Ganapathy’s edition remains the basic one. Being aware of the fact that such a translation leaves much to be desired, I have chosen to give also the English translation of relevant stanzas taken from two editions (10–volume edition with translation and commentary by Ganapathy and edition with commentary by Natarajan).

Given the fact that some of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil texts might have become the examples of various issues discussed in different chapters, one can find plenty of repeated stanzas quoted again and again along with all relevant commentaries. The main reason for that is the specificity of the interpreted texts: I believe the references introduced to the main text of book along with analysis of the adequate stanzas mentioned and interpreted before, on earlier pages, would make the perception of Guru’s mystic poems difficult or even impossible.

←18 | 19→

1. The biography of Nārāyaa Guru

The dominant feature of the Hindu society in Kerala in the nineteenth century was the predominance of the higher varas like Brahmins, Katriyas with the subordinate position of the lower castes; the former groups enjoyed the variety of privileges denied to the latter ones. The upper castes (Savaras) constituted the land-owning class, with all political power and authority as well as judicial matters in their hands. The Avaras were denied access to temples, schools, places of public resort and even public roads. There were manifold restrictions as regards their dress, ornaments manner of construction of their houses, etc.1 The caste of Nārāyaa Guru – Īava – was treated as untouchable by upper class people; however, Īavas were superior in social scale to other castes (like Harijans) and treated them as untouchables.2 At the same time, India was struggling under the suppression of the foreign rule. Nārāyaa Guru’s historical arrival at the scene of Kerala was at such a challenging time3.

Nārāyaa Guru was born on 28th August of 18554 (18565) in a small village Chempaanti, placed around 12 kilometres north of Trivandrum (Tiruvanantapuram), which is the capital city of Kerala. Guru’s home called Vayalvāram house was situated beside vast agricultural lands; its name might have originated from its proximity to the vayal (paddy field). The eldest were well-known for their knowledge of agriculture, medicine and teaching. Nārāyaan’s mother’s name was Kuiyamma; she was well-versed in religious texts Bhāgavata and Rāmāyaa6; his father – Māan – received some education, which is why he was respectably called Āśān (which means teacher)7. The couple had four children among whom Nārāyaan was the eldest and the only boy8.

As a boy Nārāyaan came to be known by his pet name Nāu (which means na + au – “not small one; a great person”9). Some biographies of Guru emphasize his ←19 | 20→uniqueness in many respects. The first story says his birth was extraordinary: as a new-born he did not cry, even when the umbilical cord was cut off, nor when he was bathed10. Although this fact might have been exaggerated as passed on by Guru’s disciple, it appears to properly reflect Guru’s inborn self-control11. He had extraordinary skill in learning and a photographic memory12. The first teacher of Nārāyaan was the head of the one of the eight eminent families in Chempaanti from Kaakara Taavāu house – Nārāyaa Pia. At first Nāu learned Malayalam; the next step was to study Siddharūpa, Bālaprabodha and Amarakośa13. He also learned fundamentals of Ayurveda from his uncles14.

There are several anecdotes which show Nāu’s attitude towards the contemporary situation in Kerala. Some biographers say that the spirit of Advaita was inborn in him to such degree that he used to condemn the caste system even in the childhood: he used to embrace the so-called untouchables and unapproachables to go home and touch his family members without taking a ceremonial purification bath15. As stated by Yati, “he wanted to prove in a practical way that no harm would befall anyone who hugged a poor man”16. He used to eat the sweets and fruits intended for offerings before they were pronounced sacred (prasādam). When elders tried to dissuade him from this habit, he retorted by saying: “If I am pleased, God will be also pleased”17. Another anecdote which shows the Nāu’s attitude towards caste system says one day he was passing by the side of the hut of untouchable one where the rice meal was boiling; as he was observing it, the rice started to come out of the vessel. Without hesitation Nāu entered the house and removed the vessel to save the meal for people. When the news reached to his family, they become furious; Nāu answered he did not lose anything, but if he had not done so people would have starved18.←20 | 21→

One day, Nāu and his friends returning from their Guru’s house met an ascetic on the way. The other children started mocking him and pelted stones at him. The hermit did not react, although boys attacked him. Unable to stop such a behaviour, Nāu broke down into tears. The ascetic carried him on his shoulders and took the boy to his house19. According to some biographies, the hermit said to the elders Nāu would become great one day, since “he has the spiritual strength to bring down the power of heaven to the earth to fight injustice”20.

When Nāu was about six years old, his oldest grandmother died in the Vayalvāram. People in the house were wailing and beating their breasts while reminding the love and affection of the dead member of their family. After her burial, the intensity of grief decreased; the relatives started talking merrily, involved in common occupations. The young boy could not understand the sudden change of the mood and behaviour of his relatives. He left the house, went to the shrubbery nearby and sat immersed in thoughts. Elders came in search of boy and took him home; when he was questioned about his escape, he answered he was irritated with behaviour of his relatives crying during the funeral only to start laughing and joking after one day21. “The practical jokes he played indicated the future iconoclast and the rationalist”22.

Nārāyaan became well-versed in Malayalam and Sanskrit languages with the help of his father, uncles and other teachers. He studied among others Siddharūpa, which explains the origin and development of sounds and words in different forms; the proficiency in the famous Amarakośa was commented by him in following words: “It is not possible to handle Sanskrit language without studying Amarakośa23. He learned Pāini’s Siddhānta Kaumudī by heart as well: “Generally, people leave it midway because of the toughness of the subject. Do not do it. If enough care is taken, your efforts will bear fruits”24. He studied and memorized many great epics (mahākāvya), both in Malayalam ad Sanskrit languages25 as well as Purāas26.

There is a lack of authentic information on how Guru became proficient in Tamil. Some biographers maintain that, during one of his journeys (he used to wander ←21 | 22→throughout the land, spending his time in temples and forests), he became familiar with Tamil book seller in Cālai Basār at Tiruvanantapuram. Nārāyaan learned by heart important books like Tirukkua, Tiruvācakam by Māikka Vācakar, Oiviloukkam by Kauayavaalār, Tirumandiram by Tirumūlar, Tēvāram, etc.27 Part of Tirukkua has been translated by Guru into Malayalam “without losing even a bit of its beauty in language and meaning and retaining its original style”28. Nārāyaan composed also hymns devoted to Śiva in classical Tamil language (Tēvārappadigaga).

At that time, Nārāyaan lived in Vayalvāram. His uncle Kan Vaidyar, who was an Ayurvedic doctor and his teacher, used to send his nephew to plough the fields (Vayalvāram family had a lot of agricultural lands). It is another information conveyed by biographers: Nāu – because of his compassionate nature – could not plough the fields as it hurt him to beat animals employed for ploughing, so he allowed them to move freely29. Since twice a day he used to take a bath, smear sandalwood paste or holy ashes on his forehead and sit for meditation, he was called Nāu Bhaktan (The Pious Nāu), half mockingly and half seriously30. Once he was afflicted with small pox. Nāu – without informing his relatives – walked to the Bhagavati temple nearby Chempaanti and stayed there for over two weeks. After the recession of the disease he came back home; when asked by the family members who could see pock marks on his face and body, where he lived during the time of small pox attack, he answered he had stayed with Goddess Mother and She was the one who treated him31.

At the age of 22 (in 1877)32, Nārāyaan was able to continue his Sanskrit education in the village school of Putupai (Kāyamkuam) under the scholar Rāman Pia Āśān; according to tradition, he was a Sanskrit scholar proficient in astrology, palmistry as well as medicine, who strongly believed in the Advaita Vēdānta principles33. Guru’s extraordinary intelligence, keen observation, unusual power of comprehension (it has been remarked that Nāu used to open the textbook only in classroom, which proves that he was able to master anything at a single attempt)34 were admitted by all in the school35; as a result, he was made the caambi – the monitor of Gurukulam. Many say that Guru was not very particular about what ←22 | 23→he was eating during those days, but he definitely disliked non-vegetarian food36. At that time, he was a devotee of Lord Viu and Ka; he used to have visions of Ka in his dreams and during meditation (at that time he composed among others the hymn entitled Vāsudeva Aakam – “Eight Verses on Vāsudeva”)37 and Śrī Ka Darśanam (“The Vision of Ka”)38. Rāma Pia Āśān strongly believed Nārāyaan is the right person to whom he can transfer all spiritual wisdom. However, after two years of study in the school Nārāyaan had to return to Chempaanti (in 1879); severe dysentery made his stay at Vāraapai impossible39.

After his recovery, Nāu – who was a scholar in Sanskrit language – started a school in Chempaanti. However, according to caste system rules only Īava and Nāyar caste students used to come there. Nārāyaan started going to Pulaya people to teach their children; he also used to advise them about hygiene and cleanliness40. Later, he was teaching children in the neighbouring village Añcuteu41. He was known as the devotee of Lord Subrahmayan at that time42. Thus, he must have been thinking how to break the ties of domestic life. His parents and relatives, in turn, thought that a marriage would bind Nāu Āśān home and generate interest ←23 | 24→in homely affairs. They made arrangements for Nārāyaan’s marriage without seeking his consent. One of Māan Āśān’s sister’s daughter staying near Varkala had a daughter Kāiyamma who was chosen as a bride for Guru. In such way he was married when he was around 28 years old43.

After the death of his mother Kuiyamma, Nārāyaan nearly broke off all relations with the Vayalvāram house. He became a wandering ascetic, at night seeking refuge in inns, temple courtyards an caves. During one of his journeys he met his classmate Kan Vaidyan and stayed for a brief period at his Perunelli home. The householder had a large collection of spiritual and scientific books both in Sanskrit and Tamil language44. There was a yogi who visited Vaidyan’s home at that time, named Kuññan Pia Caambi calling himself amukhan Dāsan (later known as Caambi Svāmika), a great scholar45. They become attached to each other, undertaking many journeys together, engaged in spiritual discussions46. ←24 | 25→During one of such trips, in 1881, Caambi introduced Guru to his Yoga master Taikkāŭ Ayyā Svāmika, an adept of Śiva Rāja Yoga47, who accepted Nāu as his disciple and trained him in Yoga48. This relation brought about a significant shift in Nārāyaan: he turned towards Śaivism and [Śaiva] Advaita49. Following advice of Taikkāŭ Ayyā Svāmika, Nārāyaan left for Marutvāmala (Tam. Marundu Vā Malai) in 188450.

Marutvāmala is the mountain which forms a part and a southernmost tip of Western Ghats of Kaiyākumari District. Guru spent some years there, staying in the Piattaam cave at the top and practicing severe penance. It is said that he lived on roots and leaves; animals were his companions at that time51. Reminiscences of that can be found in Śiva Śatakam which was composed during Guru’s tapas in Marutvāmala: in stanza 24 Nārāyaan refers to medicinal herbs (marunnǔ) growing at the top of the mountain which can be an allusion to his stay there: the name “Marutvāmala” is explained as the Mountain of Medicines (Tam. Marundu Vā Malai The Hill-Abode of Medicinal Herbs). The same stanza mentions a tiger and a snake as a companions of Pulayan (the knowing one or the untouchable one)52. Marutvāmala is said to be the place where Guru attained self-realization53. The echoes of his spiritual experiences can be found among others in Śiva Śatakam; in the last stanza of poem Guru depicts the liberation as the bloom of water lily in the pond of the heavenly world illuminated with the cool moon light.

After leaving Marutvāmala, Nārāyaan travelled widely in South India, visiting a variety of places: Kaiyākumari, Koaccal, Tiruvanantapuram, etc.54 (other ←25 | 26→biographers believe that Guru left directly for Aruvippuam)55. Those people who met him during his wanderings accepted him as a Siddha. He spent his time with the poor sharing their food; he was quite active in helping the fishermen in their work56.

Aruvippuam is the place situated in Tiruvanantapuram district, on the banks of Neyyār river. The wild beauty made it an ideal place for staying alone and observing penance. In 1887, Nārāyaan started residing there permanently. Sometime after Guru’s arrival to Aruvippuam his first disciple – Koccappi Pia, later known as Śivaliga Svāmi – joined Nārāyaan in his hermitage57. People were coming to him from different places. Gradually Aruvippuam became a holy place of pilgrimage for them58. In 1888, during Śivarātri Nārāyaan installed the Śivaliga stone on the bank of the river. According to biographers, Guru took a dive into the river and after a long time he came up with a piece of stone shaped like a liga; he placed it on the rock platform. Since this kind of installation was against proper rituals59, Brahmin priests of Aruvippuam blamed him for violating religious norms. He gave the answer: “What I have installed is only an Īava Śivan”60. During his stay at Aruvippuam Nārāyaan composed Tēvārappadigaga a collection of ←26 | 27→Śiva hymns written in classical Tamil and Kualini Pāǔ – “Song of Kualini Snake”61.

In the next year, after Aruvippuam installation, i.e. in 1889, the southern region of Tiruvanantapuram district suffered from severe drought. People approached Guru staying in Aruvippuam at that time in order to ask him for help. According to tradition, Nārāyaan became immersed in deep meditation and after some time recited five stanzas of Arddhanārīśvara Stavam. It is said that after chanting that short prayer within a few hours the sky became thickly clouded and rain started pouring in torrents62. On the Śivarātri day of 1889, Nārāyaan installed one more Śiva temple at Vakkam, known as Vakkam Dēvēśvaram Temple63. In 1889, Guru installed the Dēvi Temple in the place of Bhadrakāi, whom people used to propriate with animal sacrifice and liquor, at Maantala in Tiruvanantapuram64. To worship the Goddess, Guru composed a nine-stanzas hymn known as Maantala Dēvī Stavam65. In 1893, Guru performed the consecration in Kōlattukara Temple near Tiruvanantapuram. He stopped some old traditions like animal sacrifice, a ritual to appease snakes and introduced new ones. He replaced the Bhadrakāi with Lord Śivan and moved the statue of Goddess to the northern side of the temple66. On this occasion, Nārāyaan composed a hymn which contains ten stanzas, known as Kōlatīrēśa Stavam67. In 1896, Nārāyaan reorganized the temple in amuam (Kōvaam), about 9 kilometres to the south of Tiruvanantapuram. He removed the idols of the previous deities worshipped with animal sacrifice and drunken orgies and installed Lord Subrahmayan instead. The place is known as Kunnumpāa ←27 | 28→Subrahmayan Temple68. Among several hymns devoted to this God, Subrahmaya Kīrttanam is the one composed during the period of this installation69.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (May)
Advaita philosophy Śaivism Tamil Siddhas Malayalam poetry Grace (aruḷ) Indian Mysticism
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 562 pp., 5 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Hanna Urbańska (Author)

Dr Hanna Urbańska is professor at the University of Wrocław (Institute of Classics, Mediterranean and Oriental Studies). The present monograph, devoted to the influence of Tamil literature (Tirumandiram in particular) on the philosophical system of Nārāyaṇa Guru, is a fruit of many years’ research conducted by the author in Kerala.


Title: The Philosophical System of <I>Śiva Śatakam</I>and Other Śaiva Poems by Nārāyaṇa Guru
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564 pages