Author of this research thesis work Dr. Dharmananda Swamikal (M.A., M.Phil, Ph.D.) is a well known young ascetic person in the tradional order of Indian asceticism.
He was born in the year 1969 in a beautiful highrange forest village of Kattappana, Idukki District, Kerala State of South India. His father was Gopalan Neelakanthan and mother was Nandini Gopalan. He had his school education from a Christian Missionary School Kattappana. He joined an ascetic Asrama as a Brahmacari inmate and continued his further studies. He obtained his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Sanskrit, Vedanta and Indian Philosophies respectively from Sri Ramakrishna Sanskrit College Palai in first class under Gurukula system of education. During his intensive educational period he had occassion to be direct discple of many great scholarly masters in Vedanta, Tantra, Sanskrit, Temple Science and Technique etc.
He was awarded M.Phil. degree in Sanksrit by the University of Kerala in the year 2002. For his research thesis "Living Traditions of Advaita Vedanta in Kerala - a study" he was honoured Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in the year 2008.
From his early youth-hood onwards he was keenly interested in literary persuites and spirituality. He is the author of many books published in Malayalam, Sanskrit and English. Stories from Upanisads, Concepts of Nature, Re-birth in Brahmasutra - A comparitive study based on the commentary of Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva,Leghu nadakani, Anusmrithi, Tripura Rahasyam, Moolasthambam etc. are included in the list of his published works. He has authored more than 80 short stories, 6 novels, 5 commentaries and translations, 12 Sanskrit dramas and 'a number of articles so far.
He is also a popular preacher in sprirituality and philosophy. Dr. Swami Dharmananda at present, is a propagator of Vedanta, Sanskrit and Spirituality. He is also engaged in the promotion of Social Welfare and Public Education in Rural areas.
India has been the main source of the most ancient, superior and still lively philosophical concepts of the world. Kerala indeed has been the most prominent functional arena in the philosophical history of India. Among all other philosophical concepts of India, the Advaita Vedanta and its tradition have played major role in the spiritual, cultural, religious, social and the overall history of Kerala. It is quite evident that the Advaita Vedanta philosophy has been exerting great influence in the social, cultural and intellectual fields of the peoples of this state.
The contribution from Kerala to Advaita Vedanta cannot be over looked. Activities pertaining to Advaita Vedanta are taking place in all the fourteen districts of Kerala. All the Advaita Vedanta activities are centred around the different Asrarnas functioning in Kerala. These Asrarnas are functioning under about thirty six traditions and there are 365 such Asrarna institutions. These 365 Asramas belong to spiritual activities following Advaita, Siddha and afew newly developed traditions. It is pertinent to mention here, that it was during the last 75 years.the Advaita Vedanta gained its importance and popularity in the state of Kerala. In spite of the activities of Advaita Vedanta traditions and Asrarnas, no basic informative records have so far been collected and made available. This research work aims at the collection of informative data, classification, analyzing, comparative study and presentation of the different Advaita Vedanta traditions and their activities and also at an assessment of their contribution to Kerala. This research also unfolds the details of each tradition of Advaita Vedanta and its existence, different systems of living tradition, social and religious activities, contributions to Advaita Vedanta, their published works etc.
It may be noted in this conection that, Kerala's philosophical traditions, in the wider sense, constitute part of Advaita Vedanta philosophical traditions of India. The Advaita Vedanta traditions of Kerala have been examined in their totality. It is quite certain that the cultural, political and the social history of Kerala has undergone tremendous changes in close relation with the history of Advaita Vedanta.
It is an important fact that, even during the very ancient period of the local kings of the segmented Kerala; trained activities have been in progress in the philosophical, religious, social and cultural fields. However, there were ups and downs in this state of affairs. The people of Kerala were forced to function and proceed distancing themselves from the traditional concepts due to various factors like the British rule, foreign invasions, religious conversions, growth of left wing political parties, and the struggle for survival commensurating with the fast changing way of life. The present trend in the society is again moving towards spirituality and religious consciousness.
It is an interesting fact that people of Kerala show greater interest these days in religious philosophy. Many modern scholars, researchers and writers of foreign countries have written numerous books on Indian philosophies. So also, the spiritual leaders, scholars, and philosophers of India have been engaged in foreign countries with their missionary work on Indian philosophy during the last 100 years. The essence and the ultimate goal of Indian philosophies is the subtle spiritual experience. India indeed is the sum total of the Unity in Diversity in varied religious practices, diversified philosophical thoughts, way of life, and still maintain its purest cultural heritage.
In this research thesis an earnest effort is made to place all relevant information obtained and realized from the direct investigation and observation on the spiritual and philosophical establishments of Advaita Vedanta in Kerala.
The task of collecting data and other information on all the Asrarnas of Kerala became quite difficult than expected. In the initial stage, many Asrarnas were reluctant in co-operating with the investigation and providing the required details. In the early stages of the research, the attempt to obtain the addresses of all these Asrarnas have been a failure. When this could not be accomplished at the first stage, the renowned Asrarnas existing in Kerala were contacted. Different methodologies had to be employed at various stages of this research study. A data-collecting questionnaire was circulated to all the known Asrarnas through the postal service, friends, devotees etc. As the addresses became available, these establishments were contacted through direct visit, phone, letter, E-mail etc. Advertisements soliciting details were published in News papers and famous Spiritual Publications. But maximum details could be obtained only from personal visits and interviews.
Another major problem faced during this research study and visits to the Asrarnas was the fact that, while most of the Asramas follow many Vedanta traditions, there exist no record about their past history and neither the inmates nor the Administrators know much about their traditional backgrounds. Hence, in the initial stage much information were not forthcoming during the personal visits and interviews. This situation made it necessary to undertake a second stage visit seeking further clarifications and detai Is.
When this researcher reached the middle stage of this research study, it fully became evident that the journey was leading to the vast ocean of a deep subject. Each Asrarna and preceptor mentioned in this thesis has separate history, aim, philosophical view, style of functioning ete. Each aspect of this, consists of sufficient details for writing a history book. There exists a history behind every preceptor. Each Asrarna carries the history of many eminent preceptors of the past. The history of Kerala's Advaita Vedanta tradition consist of all these details.
Personal visit has been conducted to 186 Asrarnas spread out in the 14 districts of Kerala. The rest of the Asrarnas are either non- functioning for want of successors or being maintained as part of another major Asrarna, and hence they are not having any worthy history or function. In view of the fact that some great Ascetics of Kerala had been living outside this state, a journey to those places has been undertaken for collecting vital information. These places include, Kanyakumari, Nagarcoil, Thirunelveli, Thiruvannamala, Ambasamudram, Arunachalam etc of Tamilnadu, Mukambika of Karnataka and the Himalayan regions of Dehradoon, Rishikesh and Haridwar. Thus, this researcher had the occasion to meet a lot of spiritual personalities at all these places.
The researcher received the good co-operation and assistance of many individuals and organizations in his endeavors. Especially the heads of the Asrarns of Kerala and the inmates of the Asrarnas extended very cordial co-operation throughout his research. He pleasantly carrys the sweet memories of his visits, close to his heart and remember all of them with gratitude"
Kerala, is the Southernmost State of India which is renowned to be the Cod's own country. This state, from time immemorial, has a great historical and traditional background in the varied fields of spirituality, sociology and philosophy.' The landscape of Kerala is only 1.18% of the total area of India. However, it is a great granary of different religions, philosophical thoughts and traditional heritage. Kerala also has its own unique place in the world map of spiritual and philosophical centres.
The geographical features of Kerala have the semblance of an ideal hermitage, which provide the required serenity and beauty both for the seekers and philosophical thinkers. It is a well-acknowledged fact that there are a lot of devotees, believers, seekers and practitioners from foreign countries, dwelling close by the spiritual centres of Kerala.
Compared to many other Indian states, Kerala does not experience either extreme summer or severe winter. Different parts of Kerala experience varied climatic conditions." It is seen that these diversity in the geographical features and climatic conditions as well as the socio-religious, cultural and economic upheavals have influenced immensely, the philosophical history of Kerala. Keralites have an uncanny skill to mingle themselves well with any adverse situation. They also have the will to work hard and reap success in any field of activities, maintaining a high standard of intellectual ability. The historical successions of the philosophical traditions in Kerala have always been imbibing all changes which take place from time to time. However, it has never been the practice of the philosophical history of Kerala to accept whole- heartedly any single culture and philosophical thoughts or to reject totally one. The common tendency of the Keralite to adjust his living according to the climate and topography and to experiment frequently his occupation, cultivation, industry and political affiliations in accordance with his changing socio-economic gains, is well known. This diversified and divergent situation and its features can be seen evidently reflected in the philosophical history also. Kerala is fast becoming the prominent Indian state to follow and accept the foreign way of life and culture.' This change has become vividly and expressively evident in the way of life, religious practices and philosophical thoughts of the people. Kerala maintains its own unique cultural and traditional identity, while generally thriving to co-exist with the culture and philosophy of India as a nation.
KERALA IN LEGENDARY LORE
There is a well-known legendary lore that the great Sage Parasurama has uplifted the landmass of Kerala from the sea. Parasurama was a Brahmin; leading an austere life and was also the incarnation of the Lord Mahavisnu, the sustainer of the universe. However, anger aroused in him when his father Saint Jamadagni was beheaded by the Ksatriya King Kartavirarjuna. Having annihilated the entire clan of Ksatriya Kings twenty one times to fulfill his vow of avenge, he came face to face with Sri Rama who was yet another incarnation of Lord Visnu. Parasurarna got defeated before the invisible prowess of Sri Rama and a mental transformation took root in him. Thus, he decided to lead a spiritual life leaving aside all wrong notions of worldly revenge. He took initiation and learned the secrets of Vedanta philosophy for God realization from great sages Samavartha and Dettatreya.
Parasurama started practising the applicational aspects of Vedanta philosophy. Having attained the fruits of the same, he decided to spend the rest of his life in total spirituality. Thus, he searched for a suitable landmass for undergoing penance and meditation. From Gokarna, the southern tip of Karnataka, he threw his personal weapon Parasu (the axe)
It is believed that, after performing the ceremony of temple consecrations in many parts of Kerala, Parasurama gave away this land to Brahmins as a measure of charity. Even though it has to be considered as a legendary lore, there are great latent principles of philosophy inherent in it.
It is quite pertinent that, Kerala has the unique qualification to be the most chosen, and created land by an Advaita Vedantic seeker saint to lead his spiritual life for God realization. Thus, the origin of Kerala is, as the chosen topography by a great soul who had realized the secret of Advaita Vedanta. His penance after his deliverance and becoming repentant of revenge, war - mongering, massacre, ego, anger and mercilessness; made him a pious seeker. In other words, this ideal land was like a calm hermitage and abode for peaceful meditation and philosophical quest. When the climatic conditions, geography and philosophical history are examined, it will be revealed that Kerala has the right setting of a hermitage. In all the existing abodes of saints in Kerala, which follow the Advaita Vedantic traditions, Parasurama is worshipped as one among the pioneers of Advaita preceptors. Even the famous doctrine namely Tripurarahasyam, which contains the details of discussion held between Parasurama and saint Dettatreya on the secrets of Advaita philosophy, is held in high esteem in all these hermitages.
Yet another legend that makes Kerala unique is that of King Mahabali. Kerala was once ruled by King Mahabali who was one among the men of greatness as mentioned in puranas. This asura King had defeated Devas, the born enemies of his clan, many times. As requested by Devas, Lord Varnana (the dwarf) an incarnation of Lord Visnu, appeared as a young Brahmacari and defeated Mahabali. Mahabali was transported from the earth to an yet another world called Psthiil» or the world beneath the earth. Pleased by the devotion of Mahabali, Lord Visnu gave him a boon to come and visit his people once in every year. It is in commemoration of this day, Keralites celebrate Onam as a national festival.
Kerala has been mentioned in the great Epics and Puranas like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Markandeya purana. Kerala is mentioned in the Kiskinte kanda of Ramayana while Sugriva delivers information about South India to the Vanara Sena, who were detailed for the search of Sita." Further, Sri Rama points out to Slta of the enchanting natural beauty of Kerala, while they were returning to Ayodhya by Pushpaka vimans from Lanka, after defeating Ravana.7 Even in Mahabharata, the epic of all epics, there was ample mention of Kerala." It is described that warriors from Kerala had fought valiantly with Pandavas in the great Mahabharata war at Kuruksetra.
The great poet Kalidasa, while narrating the conquering voyage of King Reghu, in his masterpiece work Reghuvemse, gives detailed description of his reaching Kerala.
The South India was known as Thamizhagam in olden days. The most prominent kingdoms of South India were the Cheras, Cholas and the pal)dyas. Kerala was under the Chera Kingdom. Thus, Kerala also got the name Cheram or Seram. These Kingdoms were very famous even before B.C. 800.10 The Pal)dya Kingdom, which situated between that of Chera and Chola was very strong militarily and became famed through literary works. All these three Kingdoms were independent and many small princely states co-existed under their patronage. The rulers were Kings and they were called Perumakkans. The rule of Chera and Pandya Kings existed here for a long period. The period of A.D. 8th and 9th century, when these Kingdoms were very strong, was a notable era in Kerala's philosophical history. It was during this period, the downfall and decline of Buddhism and Jainism took place. The doctrine of MTmamsa expounded by Batta and Prabhakara as well as the propagation of Sri Sankaracarya's Advaita Vedanta philosophy became wide spread during this period. Evidence of the systematic rule of Chera, Chola and Pandya Kings, qualities and ancestral history of these rulers, their administrative style and the then social settings etc., exist in the records of history and are still available.
The philosophical history of Kerala got formulated in a distinct manner during the period from Christ to A.D. 500. This was also the period of the famous Senkhakala of Tamil literature. During this period, Kerala was divided into five States namely Venadu, Kuttnadu, Pusinadu, Kutanadu and Karkkanadu. As Kerala progressed further, through the inevitable influence of the historical incidents, this state became three civilized city-states namely Malabar, Kochi, and Thiruvitamcore (Travancore). This era witnessed many foreign invasions, changes in administration, mass social unrests and conflicts. During this period, many national leaders of renaissance came up with dedicated efforts, advocating social changes.
During the period of 17th, 18th, 19th centuries and the early part of 20th century, Kerala was badly affected by foreign rule, feudalism, un-touchability, caste system, social disparities, economic depressions etc. A major section of the people had to suffer the ill-effects of social discriminations and injustices. Many social reformers came forward to motivate people to be sensitive to their plight and to react against the anomalies. As a result of this, a tempest of protest was unleashed and wide spread resistance against social injustices took place. During this period of contempt, conflict and confrontation, most common men hoped mainly for material gains and well-being. By the time political parties and peoples' -movement came to the forefront; religious orthodoxy and philosophical traditions were faced with far greater challenges. Due to the social changes and shift in the State governance, the philosophical education system; which hitherto was the monopoly of scholarly families, priestly class and the upper class of the social order, got affected very badly. With the advent of modern scientific system of education, the society rejected the philosophical educational system hitherto existing. Sanskrit, as well as study of scriptures, got confined amongst scholars and priests. The main reason for this, is the fact, that philosophical studies could no longer cater to the needs of peoples, inevitable material requirements.
The patronage and promotion received under princely rule ceased to exist with the advent of democracy. The new generation, aiming for materialistic progression, gave no importance to the philosophical quest. As a result of this, the once strong philosophical studies and debates on treatises, in Kerala, got pushed back into textbooks and among scholars.
The western education system, materialistic progression, modern ways of life and the influence of Communism, weakened the advancement of traditional philosophical studies in Kerala.
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