Thursday, December 09, 2010

One of Kerala’s greatest sons

K.P. Joseph’s biography of Sree Narayana Guru, the powerful religious and social reformer, will be re-issued next month

Photos: The cover of the book; author K.P. Joseph

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 1888, Sree Narayana Guru had come to the beautiful spot of Aruvippuram, 24 kms from Thiruvananthapuram. There were forests all around. The river Neyyar flowed nearby. As the people came to meet the guru in large numbers, a need arose for a temple to worship Lord Shiva.

During the festival of Mahasivarathri, Sree Narayana Guru meditated till midnight. Then he got up and went into the river. Thousands of village folk watched in silence. He submerged himself. Then after a few moments, he came up with a piece of rock.

An altar, with flowers, camphor and incense sticks, had been built nearby. He placed the rock on it. The crowd began to pray in front of it. “It was a blasphemy,” says K.P. Joseph, the author of the ‘Gospel of Guru Sree Narayana’. “Only Brahmins were allowed to install idols.”

The next day, a group of irate Brahmins came and shouted at Sree Narayana Guru. He replied, “This is not a Brahmin Shiva, but an Ezhava Shiva.” The Brahmins became tongue-tied by his reply.

Sree Narayana Guru belonged to the lower-caste Ezhava community. For centuries they were oppressed by the higher castes. “The Ezhavas suffered terribly in a feudal set-up,” says Joseph. “For example, there was a breast tax for women.”

A government official would measure the size of the breasts. The bigger the breasts, the higher the tax. A poor woman at Chertala got so angry that she cut off her breasts and threw it in front of the official. The men also had to pay tax according to the size of their heads.

But it was Sree Narayana Guru who brought dignity back to the Ezhavas. He established several temples throughout Kerala. “The reason behind his great impact in Kerala is that he gave the one and only formula for development for the lower castes: get educated,” says Joseph. “The way forward is not by receiving free rations and sops. It is knowledge that liberates the human being.”

Sree Narayana Guru opened many schools and colleges. “He followed the path laid out by the Christian missionaries,” says Joseph. More than 30 per cent of the population of Kerala belongs to the Ezhava community, and they have been transformed.

At his home in Panampilly Nagar Joseph is in an animated mood. “I have been an admirer of Sree Narayana Guru for long,” he says. A publisher-friend Vijayan Pandala asked him to write a book about Sree Narayana Guru and Joseph decided to go ahead. Of course, he consulted many books, including the seminal work on Sree Narayana Guru by the literary critic, M.K. Sanu. But Joseph was keen that he did not want to write just another book on the Guru, when there are already so many accounts.

“Once, while going for a morning walk, I was struck by an idea,” he says. “I could write it in the way the Bible has been composed.” Which is exactly how he wrote the book. It is written in numbered paragraphs, and throughout, 'he' is used with a capital 'H'.

“My Christian friends were very upset by this,” he says. “Like Sree Narayana Guru, I believe that human beings are created in the image of God. Those who partake of God become godly. So, in order to indicate that Sree Narayana Guru is a godly man, I used the letter 'H'. I felt it would draw attention to his likeness to Jesus Christ for whom 'H' has been used.”

When the book came out, Joseph presented a copy to the Library of Congress in Washington and received the astonishing news that it was the first book on the Guru that they had received.

Joseph, a former international consultant to the United Nations, is the brother of K.P. Fabian, the retired Ambassador. He has lived abroad for many years. So far, Joseph has published five books, among which there is a memoir of K.P. Hormis, the founder of Federal Bank. Joseph's future plans include biographies of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Buddha. “Gandhi, Buddha, and Sree Narayana Guru are the three greats of India,” he says.

Now the book on Sree Narayana Guru, which was published in 2003, is going to be re-issued next month, in a revised edition. Justice K. Sukumaran, who is writing an introduction to the new edition, says, “Joseph explains clearly the message, career, and the social relevance of Sree Narayana Guru. The readability and accuracy are admirable. Because of the beautiful style, this book will appeal greatly to Western readers.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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