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Narayana Guru and temples

Narayana Guru founded a number of temples in Kerala and a few on the West Coast of Karnataka. Some scholars of his time who were influenced by the Brahma Samaj of Swami DayanandaSaraswati even suspected that the Guru was in favor of idolatry. Some others thought of Narayana Guru as Hindu revivalist wanting to protect the masses from being converted into Christians and Muslims. In fact all these are mistaken notions. He was always willing to give his guidance and blessings when people wanted to walk in the right direction. In those days the temples governed by orthodox theocrats were inaccessible to most of the working class people. Even though the temples were barred to the so-called 'low-caste' people, their offerings in money and kind were always accepted. Such shameless exploitation of the poor by their caste-superiors was to be met with in a telling manner. The answer lay in the founding of 'counter temples' which were open to all.

When people rallied round to make new temples, the chief passion that moved them was their thirst for liberty from the chains of social oppression and the enslavement of caste traditions. Narayana Guru was very particular that the new temples he founded were all to be on spots of great scenic beauty. The temple itself should be a work of art. From the first experiment of founding a Shiva temple at Aruvipuram he came to know how temples could become instrumental in changing the life style of people. The regular temple-goers became more and cleaner in their habits. The citadels of caste-superiority and domination were in and around the temples of orthodoxy. The secret of the sacredness of temples and the mystery of divinity, screened away from the eyes of all except the privileged classes, were now thrown open to the public by the temples of Narayana Guru. Through a series of installations of differently conceived deities, the Guru also wanted to educate the masses. After installing deities like Shiva and Devi, the Guru made a departure from the tradition by installing in one temple the inscription of certain words pertaining to higher values such as: Satyam, Dharmam, Daya and Santi. Even in Sivagiri Mutt the Guru did not allow such kind of offerings and rituals that would make the premises unclean and unhygienic. At the place called Kalavamkodam near Shertallai instead of installing any deity, the Guru installed a mirror with the inscription on it 'tat tvamasi, (that thou art).'"'

In certain places when people requested the Guru to make a temple for them, he advised them to have a school instead of a temple. Once in Trichur the editor of a progressive journal asked the Guru of his attitude towards temples. The Guru said that a clean temple situated in a hygienic place with good water and fresh air would inspire people to come and spend their time in prayer and meditation. An open place dedicated to God is free of parochial feelings. It can be a good stepping stone for a more serious search into the higher values of life. The editor asked him if it was good to propitiate stone images in reply the Guru said: "When a man goes to a temple, he is only thinking of God and not of stone images. They are confused only if people like you ask them to look for stone images. Nobody worships stone. Pointing to the newly built temple at Trichur, the Guru continued. "Make good gardens around temples, and plant trees around. In every temple there should be a good library and arrangements for teaching the fundamentals of living a virtuous life. A well-conceived temple will be of great help to the public. The Guru knew in his mind that 'the Sivalinga he installed was only a stone. In the tenth Verse of the 'AsatyaDarsana' of Darsana Mala the Guru writes:

One (alone) is real, not a second.
What is unreal indeed seems as being real.
The Sivalinga is stone itself
Not a second made by the mason
The Siva in the sivalinga is projected on it by the devotee. The image serves the purpose of the language of iconography.

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