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Narayana Guru, Rationalism and Atheism

Eventhough Narayana Guru had built a number of temples and composed many poems in praise of popular Hindu deities, he had many atheist followers. This shows his love for humanity as a whole which is irrespective of any faith based affiliations. Many of his atheist followers in fact considered him as an atheist1. For instance, one of his prominent disciples Sahodaran Ayyappan was a militant atheist and one of the founders of Yukthivadi, the first rationalist/atheist magazine in Malayalam. When Sahodaran Ayyappan modified Narayana Guru's famous catchphrase, Oru Jati, Oru Matham, Oru Daivam Manushyanu (One Caste, One Religion, One God for Humanbeing) and re-written it as Jati Venda, Matham Venda, Daivam Venda Manushyanu (No Caste, No Religion, No God for Humanbeing), the latter did not protest2.

Casteism prevalent amongst the Hindus even in the first half of 20th century was so rabid that uppercaste people refused to have food along with the people belonging to lower caste and "untouchable" communities. Hindu scriptures were profusely quoted by them to justify this practice. The Ezhava community in which Narayana Guru was born too was not immune to this barbaric practice even after half-a-century of Narayana Guru's work. When Sahodaran Ayyappan inspired by Narayanaguru's message of caste-less and creed-less society launched what is called "Panthibhojanam" or community feasts participating people belonging to various castes and communities, the Ezhava lords called him "Pulayanaiappan" (Pulaya was used as a derogatory term for having feast with the "Pulayas", an "untouchable" community in the caste-hierarchy of Hinduism) and tried to forcibly prevent the feast. It is in this context that Narayana Guru came out in support of Sahodaran Ayyappan and sent the message reproduced alongside. Translated into English, the message reads: "Whatever be one's religion, costume, language etc, since their caste is the same, there is nothing wrong in having inter-marriages and community feasts". It is this message of Narayanaguru which transgresses the established canons of Hindu religion (or any religion for that matter) that makes Narayanaguru a rationalist icon.

To avoid the attempts made by a section of his followers to identify him with Hinduism alone, Narayana Guru was forced to state explicitly that he did not belong to any religious sects. Through a message he sent in the year 1916, he proclaimed : It is years since I left castes and religions. Yet some people think that I belong to their religion. That is not correct. I do not belong to any particular caste or religion.

Some other prominent rationalist/atheist leaders, apart from Sahodaran Ayyappan, associated with Narayana Guru were M.C.Joseph, C.V.Kunhiraman and Mithavadi Krishnan.

A message sent by Narayana Guru to Sahodarasangham during their annual conference - May 15, 1921

A message sent by Narayana Guru to Sahodarasangham during their annual conference - May 15, 1921

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).


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