Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chattampi Swami: The Forerunner of Reformation in Kerala

Chattampi Swami was a great guru and realized soul like Sree Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. In India religious and social reformers like them were those who initiated the revolution that had far-reaching effect. They acted independent of each other in various regions of the country. Chattampi Swami like others was committed to individual and collective freedom of opportunity like right to education, upward caste mobility like the advancement of low castes in Kerala, and also national progress which included matters like ending untouchablity.

Chattampi Swami was born in 1853 at a suburban village of Thiruvananthapuram. Severe poverty prevented his family from providing him with any formal education. But he learnt Tamil and Sanskrit from his school going friends and by overhearing the Sanskrit classes conducted at a Brahmin house were he with his mother did some odd jobs. The proficiency in Sanskrit he acquired by himself made a scholar Raman Pillai to admit him into his school where he was made the Chattampi which meant monitor in local language. The name stuck to him for ever. At the age of 14, a sannyasi taught him a mantra for meditation. Later on many nights he was found meditating in Siva temple in the village. Even after good education and status among the intelligentia of the rsate that he acquired by himself; to earn the food for the family he worked as an accountant, a casual laborer, a document writer, and as a clerk in Government Secretariat.

Swami participated in the group of progressive minded scholars named Jnanaprajagaram which periodically met and deliberated on various literary, artistic, social, philosophical and political matters. It brought him into contact with some great men of the time who are to mold his personality. He learned advanced techniques of Yoga from Thycaud Ayyavu and studied Vedas, Jyothisha, Tantra etc under a great scholar at Kalladaikkurichi in Tamil Nadu. After a journey that covered most of the sacred placeds he wandered South India for long and stayed at various temples and ancient families having manuscript collections doing research on Vedic authority and Kerala history with some specific purpose. He lived for two short peiods with a Christian priest and a Muslim saint. After his mothers’ death he left home forever. At the age of 28 receiving the initiation from an Avaduta he attained self-realization. In 1892 at the age of 39, he met Swami Vivekananda at Cochin. Impressed by his deep knowledge on the science behind Chinmudra Vivekananda suggested him for some of his disciples visiting South to learn advanced Yoga.

Swami lived a life of austere simplicity; He was a strict vegetarian and condemned the habit of drinking alcohol. He shared his food with animals he found near. He played with children as one among them. He ignored all distinctions of caste. He was indifferent to wealth. He had an extraordinary memory power and commendable mastery over diverse fields of knowledge like Veda, Jyothisha, Vyakarana, Yoga, Tarka, Tantra, Ayurveda, Siddha, Tamil, Malayalam, and Sanskrit. His favorite art was music, His skill in playing on any instrument with originality was well- known.

Chattampi Swami traveled extensively in Kerala. He fought against casteism and other evil customs and practices that were dominant in the Kerala society of his time. He was responsible for rejuvenating Hinduism weakened by caste inhibitions and the temptations for conversion provided by other religions which was considered to be a short cut for low castes to reach a respectable position in the society.

The contribution of Swami for the social and religious reformation in Kerala is unique. Through his well researched writings and lectures quoting authentic scriptures he played a leading role to spread the idea that the caste and religious differences followed by the society are meaningless and has no scriptural basis and that all are born into one caste and one religion and have equal social, religious and political rights. His teachings influenced the common people especially those from lower strata of society to fight and achieve a state in which they have religious and political rights equal to any other. He and his disciples helped the ordinary people to understand religion, the meaninglessness of caste inhibitions and their rights in society, and lead a life which gives due importance to the spiritual ideals also. Swami practiced what he taught. He stayed and dined at houses of people belonging to all castes including the untouchables. Swami entered into Maha Samadhi on 5th May 1924. His mortal body was laid to rest at Panmana. A Siva temple was constructed on the Samadhi Peedom.

Unless reformers like Chattampi Swami have realized the thrust of the environmental pressures in time and gave proper guidance; Hindu society would have lost is control to foreign powers or to competing religious cultures and the Indian society would have unpredictably or chaotically shaken by the external forces.

Extract from teh book: Chattampi Swami an Inellectural Biography to be published by Centre for south Indian Studies

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