Narayana Guru was modern like Ambedkar and anti-caste unlike Gandhi

Narayana Guru’s messages of liberation through education and empowerment through organization clearly echo Ambedkar’s slogan ‘educate, agitate and organize’. He believed caste is the evil that annihilates the human and prevents the making of an egalitarian society, writes Ajay S. Sekher

By the early 19th century, the much-celebrated renaissance had already begun and modern Kerala was in the making (Sugathan 2016: 7). It had its origin in the western colonial modernity and missionary intervention; the Nadar revolts for self-respect; Ayya Vaikundhar’s defiant critique of both the British Raj and the Varnasrama-based Travancore kingdom; and in the socio-cultural interventions of Tykad Ayya and Chattambi Swamikal (Sekher 2017: 8-27). But it was Narayana Guru (1855-1928) who gave these modern values like liberty, equality and fraternity an ethical and compassionate social philosophy and visionary praxis on a higher human and secular plane through his articulations and pluralistic writings (Guru 2006; Velayudhan 2015). While the aforementioned three predecessors of Narayana Guru and others like them operated within the Vaishnava and Saivite Hindu meta-referential structure, we have in Guru a truly polyphonic and secular vision that encompasses various ethical and religious praxes of the world, including the rational and agnostic argumentative modes of critical enquiry. Modern Kerala thus came of age with the pluralistic and egalitarian ethical thinking of Narayana Guru in the late 19th century. His legacy needs to be recovered and cherished, especially when the Hindutva forces are trying to hijack him and reduce him into a “Hindu Sanyasi” in true fascist fashion; and when the elite in Kerala consider his thinking and writings to be worthy of informal education only, overlooking the fact that he was always for modern formal education and encouraged all his disciples to pursue university degrees and higher research.

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