Sree Narayana Guru's

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Life is a journey towards the ultimate liberation of the soul from the bonds of life and death. However, this journey is never completed in one lifespan. It stretches across a number of lives (births and rebirths). The sages who are great visionaries, have recommended two paths for this journey. (1) Vichara-marga (The path of contemplation) (2) Upasana- marga (The path of worshipful action). In sloka 29 of Atmopades-satakam Narayana Guru has said about Vichara-marga.


manamalar koytu mahesa pooja cheyyum

manujanu mattoru vela cheithidenda


(Plucking mind-flower, who worships Grand God, for him no other thing to do.)


This is most suited to those who wants to renounce the world.


Upasana- marga can also be called Karma-marga (the path of action). This is the path highly suitable to the common man. This path has suggested four human values (Purusharthas) in life.These are Dharma (ethical value) artha (wealth or possession) kama (instinctual desire) and moksha (liberation). A man’s action should be based on Dharma, as a guiding principle and restraining force. If he surrenders such action to God, or considers them as offerings to his Guru (Gurupooja) then it becomes worship.


Upasana means ‘’sitting near’’. (upa- near. asana- seat). A devotee ‘sits’ near God when He is in his mind. The worship of gods by Hindus, and the faith of Christians in Jesus Christ (as an object of worship or reverence) are both Upasana-marga. The basic difference is that, the Hindu has been given the freedom to chose his God (Ishtadevata) of worship, according to his faith and inclination.


Prarthana (prayer or overt pleading), Bhajan (chanting in groups), Archana ( veneration, adoration of the divine name with offerings), Japa (repetition of a sacred name or Manthra), and Dhyan (meditation) are various forms of worship. Islam also follows this path of worship. But the Sufis follow a system of mysticism with the objective of attaining union with God and this is a form of Vichara-marga. In the second part of sloka 29 in Atmopades-satakam Guru again refers to Upasana- marga.


vanamalar koytu mathallayaykil maya

manuvuruvittumirickkil maya marum


(If this is (Vichara-marga) not possible, let him pluck wild flowers and offer, or let him repeat a mantra- that is also maya. Then the maya will disappear.)


Whether worship (prayer) should be performed standing or sitting, has no fixed rules. In temples and public places standing is preferable for convenience. Children usually chant their evening prayers sitting on the floor in their homes. In either case, the devotee should keep his back erect (to avoid discomfort to the spine) and should be able to install his (her) deity of choice in the mind. While participating in community prayers, it is advisable to go with the rhythm and speed of the group.




The atman (soul) is God. The soul is the seat of spiritual energy. In Bhagavad Gita-13. 1, Lord Krishna says:


Idam sareeram Kaunteya

Kshetram iti abhidhiyate’


This body, O Kaunteya, is called the kshetra or field’. The body is the Dharmakshetra of the Jeevatman (human soul). For this reason the Guru tells his disciple in search of Truth ‘ Tat Twam Asi’- That Thou Art, i.e, You are Brahman, the ultimate Truth. When Christ said that God (Father) is in heaven and ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’, he meant the same concept as ‘ Tat Twam Asi’. Hindus pray closing the eyes to realize that ‘Truth is in, and does not require external organs. When in the beginning of Atmopades-satakam Narayana Guru says ‘restrain your five eyes within’- he means control your five sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, touch, tongue).



 (God of choice)


Hinduism allows a follower to choose his ‘Prateka’ (symbol or object of worship). In other words, he can choose that Ishtadevata, whose divine form helps him the most to concentrate. Then the devotee is able to concentrate on his Ishtadevata and also His/ Her image in his mind. Then all that he sees, hears or does is related to that Ishtadevata. This is just what is said in the prayer ‘Harinamakeertana’.


yathonnu kanmathathu narayanapratima

yathonnu kelppathathu narayanasruthikal

 yathonnu cheyvathathu narayanarchanakal

 yathonnathokke hari narayanaya nama:


When the mind is filled fully with the image of the Ishtadevata, then the person automatically transcends the barriers or limitations of religion. If a Christian sees only ‘Christ’ in his neighbour and not a Hindu, Muslim, or other caste, he also arrives at the same conclusion. The people who try to convert others into their religion in the name of God, expose the hollowness or hypocrisy of their minds. For a genuine devotee, the temple, the church and the cross represent God. Guru makes this clear when he said ‘Whatever be the religion, it is enough if man strives to be a good human being’. In other words, human welfare is more important than religion.


Chandogya Upanishad (III. xiv. 1.) says ‘Sarvam khalvidam Brahma’- i.e. Indeed, the whole world is Brahman. In other words everything finally converges into that One- Paramatman (Supreme Being). When a devotee gives a name and form to the Nirguna Brahman (Supreme Being without form or attributes), he makes Him a Saguna Brahman (with form and attributes), which he finds easier to comprehend and worship. This does not mean he cannot see God in other forms or images (idols), though he need not. There is nothing wrong in doing so. All religions allow pilgrimage to different places of worship. Whenever a devotee goes to a temple, he first contemplates on his Ishtadevata, before praying to others. He also sees all ‘gods’ as different forms of his Ishtadevata. We know that the Ayyappa devotees first chant ‘Swameeye Saranam Ayyappa’ whenever they visit a temple on their route to Sabarimala.


Having chosen a particular Murti (pratika, symbol) and firmly installed it in the mind, it may be difficult to change that murti (Ishtadevata.). Therefore it is advisable to include all other deities in his spiritual ambit of worship without digressing (deviating) from his Ishtadevata. When one worships Devi (the Mother Godess), he should understand that this Devi represents all beings and gods. Similarly a person who worships Lord Siva should see in Him the totality of all gods. Refer to what Narayana Guru has said in Jananee-navaratnamanjari. (sloka-6.)


meenayathum bhavati manayathum janani

nee nagavum naga khagam

thanayathum dhra nadee nariyum

naranum aa nakavum narakavum

nee namaroopamathil nanavidhaprakrti

manayi ninnariyum ee

njanayathum bhavati hey nadaroopini aho!

nadakam nkhlavum


When a devotee saw everything (movable and immovable) in Devi, when he worshiped Her, what transformed was his outlook, i.e. his mind. If this happens to thousands of people, then the world will have a progressive revolution. Those who try to convert others should specially understand this phenomenon. What is expected in the path of devotion is a change in his mental outlook, not the religion of one’s neighbour. If a devotee continues to see in his neighbour the same Ishtadevata even after conversion, then what is the meaning of conversion. Those advocate or promote conversion do not know the real meaning of religion, or they put religion into immoral use.


Isavasya Upanishad (6) says:

 ‘He who sees all beings in the Self itself, and the Self in all beings, feels no hatred




This is a query or doubt raised by many devout followers of Narayana Guru. The Mundaka Upanishad (III. ii. 9.) says ‘Brahmaveda Brahmaiva Bhavati’. i.e. anyone who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. Since Brahman represents Truth, and the Guru is a knower of Truth, he becomes Truth himself. The Gurustuthi is recited with this in mind.


Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu

Guru Devo Maheswarah

Guru sakshat Param Brahman

 Thasmai shri Gurave namah.


Which means, ‘Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru is Deva, Guru is Maheswara. Guru is the Supreme divinity incarnate. Salutations to the Guru.’


Therefore we can choose such a Guru as one’s Ishtadevata. It is better to accept a living Guru as one’s Ishtadevata than a character from the epics.


An advocate of non-duality may question the appropriateness of installing a Guru as God. For him it may not be necessary. But in case if a believer in duality feels the need to do so, it is improper for the believer in non-duality to question the need of the former to do so.Lord Krishna says in Gita (III. 26.):


Na budhi-bhedam janayet

ajnanam karma-sanginam

Josayet sarva-karmani

Vidvan yuktah samcaran.’


Which means ‘The enlightened man should not create disturbance in the beliefs of the ignorant, who are attached to work. Working, while himself remaining diligent (unattached and attentive to one’s duties), he should make them do all the duties’.



(Purification of the mind)


When a devotee contemplates on and worships God, and his mind and intelligence gets saturated with the thought of God, his mind gets purified automatically. The objective of worship is this purification of the mind, which the devotee seeks. When the mind is pure, Truth reflects itself in the mind just like an image in a clean mirror. In other words, to seek something from God, the devotee has to approach Him with a pure mind. If a person asks for food in a dirty vessel you may refuse to give him since the food will be contaminated or just deny him food. But if you have the inclination to give him food, you will ask him to come with a clean vessel. This is also what happens when we seek something from God, that one’s mind should be pure. Look at any religion; the purpose of worship is to attain purity of mind.


Often we find an attitude among certain sections of people, that only their Guru is genuine and all others are fraudulent (crooked). This is sowing scorn (hatred) to reap scorn. Since a knower of Truth is Truth itself, and Truth is One (and only One), to attribute differences or discrimination among Truth knowing Gurus has no meaning (it is ignorance). The followers of Guru can see those institutions that believe in the equality of all religions, as sister concerns.



(The Principle of Non-violence)


The principle of a-himsa (non-violence) advocates that no injury (or harm) should be inflicted on anything through one’s mind, speech or actions. Every sin takes one farther from liberation. Along with Bhakti the principle of non-violence is taught for this reason. It is meaningless to say ‘I don’t kill, I only eat’, because the person who eats motivates the person who kills in his act of violence. In Jeevakarunya-panchakam (2), Narayana Guru has said:


kollavrtham utthamamam athilum

thinnavrtham etrayum utthamamam

ellamathasaravum orkkilithe-

nnalle parayendathu dhaarmikare.


The non-killing vow is great indeed

And, greater still, not-eating to observe;

All in all, should we not say, O men of righteousness

 Even to this amounts the essence of all religions?’


Among the Ten commandments, there is one that says ‘Thou shall not kill’. This is the same as the meaning intended by non-violence. Killing without actually killing (mental torturing) is also a kind of slaughter.


Islam permits killing. Since not enough vegetables, fruit or grains grow in the desert areas, there is a need to kill animals for survival. Thus this religion allows ‘killing’ in genuine need.



(Devotion at the Feet of God)


This is a special path among the paths described under Bhaktimarga (path of devotion). Here, the devotee depends on the ‘feet’ of God to cross the ocean of mundane life (samsara). Now let us see the two stanzas (a) Daiva-dasakam (1), and (b) one from Kaalinatakam.


daivame kathukolkangu

kaivitathingu njangale

naavikan nee bhavabdhikke oru

aavivanthoni nin patham


(O God, protect us here, (as a father protects his son.) You are the captain, and your feet the steam-ship to cross the ocean of mundane life.)


namasthe, mahaghora samsaravara-

nnidhikkakkarekkeruvan thrppadattha-

rinakkappalallathoralambanam ma-

ttenikkonnumillamba kaarunyrasae.


Padabhakti shows a devotee’s humility or humbleness. Bharata goes to the forest to recall Rama to Ayodhya. But Rama does not return since he had to fulfill his promise to his father. Then Bharata brings back the pair of Rama’s sandals. He could have brought some divine weapons, which could be useful against enemies attacking Ayodhya, from the vast armoury of Rama. Then why did he bring the pair of sandals? A devotee yearns for services at the feet of the Lord. Hanuman requested Rama for Padasevanam as his Dasa.


The concept of Padasevanam can be seen across most of Guru’s compositions. For instance look at the way ‘Kolatheeresastavam’ starts:



phalakshanadharmishtarilettam prathikulan

paalikkanamennepparichodinnu kulathoor

kolathukarakkovilil vaazhum paramesan.


Here, those who approach with the belief that God’s feet are the only source of refuge are favourably disposed people (virtuous). Those who are not righteous are called unfavourably diposed people (non-virtuous). The same concept is repeated in sloka five of Sivaprasada-panchakam.



akkani thattiyerinju karam kazhuki

thni mukthi pazhuthu choinjozhukum

kanakakkodiye kazhal ekuka nee.


The word ‘kazhal’ stands for feet. Here, the devotee says it is enough if God stretches His feet for him to cross the ocean of worldly life (samsara). Now let us look at sloka nine of ‘Shanmukhastothram’.


luptapinda pitrprithikriya cheivathinnum ithonninum

klipthmilla yenikku thavaka padasevanam enniye

labdhavidyanivan bhavadkripa undithenkil ananya sam-

thrpthiyum padabhakthiyum varu maasu shanmugha paahimam.


The devotee confesses that he is ignorant of everything except to worship God at his feet. This also means a devotee need not know anything beyond this. Further, to attain Padabhkti the grace of God is needed.


Padabhakthi is the fundamental concept enshrined in Daivadasakam, the Guru’s composition that has received the maximum popularity. If we were to analyse deeply all his compositions, we shall infer that Padabhakti is the true devotion, which Gurudeva wants us to realize.



(The path of Refuge)


Under Padabhkthi, we saw that a devotee takes refuge at the feet of God. ‘Swameeye saranam Ayyappa, Budham saranam gachami, Sangham saranam gachami, Dharmam saranam gachami’ are all ways in which a devotee asks God for refuge. This approach is called ‘Saranagathi’. Saranagathi is the utmost point in Bhakti. Here the devotee surrenders everything to God. See what Guru says in ‘Pindanandi’ sloka-1.


kalpichapole  varumennu ninachukandi-

ttarppichidunnadiyan okkeyumangu sambho!


Ordered by Thee, all comes about.

Thus knowing, this Thy servant

 To Thee now surrenders all.’


When the devotee gets the belief that everything takes place according to the wish of God, he surrenders everything to God and does not desire any possessions for himself. ‘Whether he should lead a worldly life or renounce the world, let it occur according to God’s wish’. This is the mental attitude of a Bhakta. In Pindanandi sloka-9, Guru repeats:


ellamarinju bhagavanivaninneduthu

chollenamo duritamokkeyakattane nee


lellam kalanjeruthileri varunna sambho


Full well aware art Thou, good Lord of all

 Hence what need is there for humble me to tell?

 Do banish, pray, all agony!


Thy servant has no one here, and if Thou me disown. Then all is lost.


O Saviour coming mounted on a bull!’


The underlying principle of Pindanandi is Saranagathi. In order to elucidate our helplessness, there is the reference to human embryo (which is helpless in the mothers womb). This same submission is repeated in sloka-13 of Atmopadesa-satakam.


thrigunamayam thiruneeraninjoreesa-

nnakamalarittu vanaghiyakshamari

sakalamazhinju thaninju kevalathin-

mahimayumattu mahassilanitenam.


Having offered the inner flower of ‘I’ to that Lord, smeared with sacred ashes of the three gunas, having cooled down the senses, unwound everything, and become calm, even the desire for samadhi gone, sink in to the glory.’


Here the first part refers to Saranagathi, where a devotee salutes wholeheartedly, God, who is full of noble attributes. When one submits to God his ego (aham) it is equivalent to ‘wholehearted offering’.


The best example of Saranagathi is the story of Markandeya. Destined to live 16 years Markandeya clung to the Sivalinga, when Yama’s messengers tried to drag him away from earth to the nether region. The messengers were in dilemma. If they were to throw the noose round Markandeya’s neck, it will also fall round the Sivalinga. If this happens Siva would destroy them. In such a situation the way of God is the way of the devotee, or his desire. Thus Markandeya became immortal. This is the principle behind Saranagathi. Just as Markandeya realized that he had no other refuge other than clinging to the Sivalinga, When a man is helpless he should hold on to the Lord’s feet. This is an act of total submission and the principle of Padanamaskaram (prostration at the feet of God).



(Divine Play/Frolic)


Paramatma (The Supreme Soul) is the ‘ONE’ that represents all. The Chandogya Up. III.xiv.1 says Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma (All this, indeed, is Brahman). In Daivadasakam Stanza 5, Guru has clarified this: -


You are the act of creation, the creator

And all that is created.

You, God, is the element (material)

Used in creation.’


In other words, God represents everything, the creator and the created. That means God is the rat and also the cat that devours it. Now, you may ask ‘what then is the meaning of all these?’ It means, there is nothing behind these statements except that these represent the Divine Play of the Lord.


To clarify this principle of ‘Divine Play’, Guru has composed his work ‘Kundalini-paattu’. The usage of Pasu (animal) for the created, and Pasupathi (the Lord of the animals) for the creator, is common. It is rather rare for us to find an analogy referring to the created as ‘Snake’ and the Creator as ‘The Snake charmer’. However such references can be seen in Tamil literature. The Guru has employed this analogy while composing ‘Kundalini-paattu’. Just as the snake charmer uses the snake for his ‘play’, the Lord uses His creations as a means to entertain Himself. This is called the Divine Play. This has been dealt with also in ‘Jananee-navaratna-manjari’ as ‘O! everything is a play or drama’.


The analogy of the Snake and Snake charmer is more appropriate to describe the ‘Divine Play’ rather than the ‘Pasu-Pasupathi’ usage. The owner only grazes or looks after his cattle. There is no role for play here. Therefore the intended meaning does not come out clearly. But in the ‘Snake- Snake charmer’ analogy the word ‘play’ becomes clear, since the snake (created) sways or dances to the tune (and will) of the Snake charmer (The Lord).


All human actions are ‘swaying’ to His tune. This is, therefore taking part in the ‘Divine Play’. By understanding the principle behind God’s creation, Guru advises that all of us must become a part of this Divine Play. If it is not so, life is a superstitious act, without knowing the Truth. The message of ‘Kundalini-paattu’ is: - ‘A life should not be spent somehow, but lived as a part of the Divine play, i.e. according to God’s will’.


O! Snake, dance

Search for your home (burrow);

Seeing the dance of Divine Bliss

Dance! O! Snake.

O! Snake, dance’ means the Lord wants us to be a part of his Divine Play.


Search for your home’ means the Lord is the source and refuge of all beings. Search for Him within yourself, closing all your five senses. Here dance (Adal) has the same sense as living (Vazhal) of Daivadasakam and ‘search for home’ is equivalent to effort to find the Truth (Azhal in Daivadasakam). Within us the cosmic dance of Siva, who represents Truth, is being performed. Understand this and dance to His tune. Thus be a part of the ‘Divine Play’.




There are two ways of action (1) doing something knowingly and (2) unknowingly or out of ignorance. When one acts without knowledge he is a puppet (an idol). Even while worshipping the devotee should do it consciously realizing the principle behind his worship. Guru’s compositions are full of Tatvam (That-ness, Truth, Reality) to emphasize this aspect of Bhakti. While Daivadasakam is considered as a simple composition, the commentators are still to understand the depth of its meaning.


Devotion is the way to Liberation and one’s life is the pilgrimage to reach that destination. There are two ways to travel. One knowing the way and the other, groping to find the way, not knowing it. A devotee can reach his destination easily just as a traveler reaches his destination, when he knows the way. A man who travels not knowing his way may not even know that he is proceeding in the wrong direction. This is why we find the chances of reaching the destination is rather remote.


Tat Tvam is composed of Tat means ‘that’ and Tvam ‘Thou’. Tat denotes the soul. Who am I? From where all these creations arise? When a truth-seeking disciple goes to a Guru with hundreds of such questions, since the Guru is not able to touch or point and show the ‘soul’ (Atman), he replies by saying ‘What you asked is ‘that’- and that is yourself’. Here ‘Tat’ only indicates the soul. Thus the Guru diverts the attention of his disciple on to his inner self. The Guru advises him to close all his five senses to avoid external disturbances. This is the beginning of the pilgrimage towards ‘That’, i.e. the Truth. Thus the pilgrimage or search within oneself starts here.


Narayana Guru explains clearly what is Bhkthi (devotion) and who is a Bhakta (devotee) in sloka-2 of Bhaktidarsanam.


anusandhiyate brahma

brahmanandaghana yatah

sada brahmanusandhanam



This means ‘Brahman is constantly under contemplation in the mind. Because Brahman is heavy with Bliss. When a devotee continuously contemplates the Brahman, it is called Bhakti’. In sloka-6 in the same composition, Gurudeva explains it further:


anando’hamaham brahma-

tma’hamasmiti rupatah

bhavana satatam yasya

sa bhakta iti visrutah


I am Bliss, I am Brahman. Whoever has the constant perceptions that ‘I am the Soul’ he achieves fame as a Bhakta.’


Let Guru bless us to become devotees who understand the basic principles of Bhakti.