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Greetings Amma! But where's Kerala's other guru?
September 25, 2003
This has been a very strange week for students of Kerala -- a display of elaborate tributes coupled with utter ignorance, of dissent in the ranks standing in stark contrast to universal synthesis. And most of it was in my native Kochi.
The day marked unusual scenes with K Karunakaran supporters going around with posters of Sebastian Paul, the independent candidate who is backed by the Left Democratic Front, along with banners of Indira Gandhi and their own veteran leader.
I am not sure how much more of such displays of disdain for normal party discipline the Congress (I) 'High Command' can tolerate without everyone losing respect...
More to the point, Karunakaran's rebellion marks the limit of the 'Shimla Doctrine' unveiled with such fanfare mere weeks ago. That was when the Congress (I) finally openly admitted the necessity of alliances with other 'secular' parties if the Bharatiya Janata Party is to be unseated.
The logic of numbers dictates that the Left Front must be one of the parties in this proposed grand alliance. But how does one square the needs of the high command with those of the men on the ground?
Today, it is just Karunakaran -- and you can lay part of the blame on his decades-old rivalry with A K Antony. But tomorrow it could just as well be Digvijay Singh speaking up against Mayawati even if the larger interests of the Congress (I) -- particularly in Uttar Pradesh -- demand an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party. Or, for that matter, a Ghani Khan Chowdhury fulminating against any hint of a tie-up with the Left Front in West Bengal.
These issues seemed rather far away in Kerala. Most people, both inside and outside the state, preferred to concentrate on another display altogether -- the jubilee of Mata Amritanandamayi, whose disciples chose to start the celebrations in Kochi on Wednesday, September 24. Visitors from all over the world, led by the President of India no less, flocked to pay tributes to this great and gracious lady.
I am no disciple of hers -- a distinction I probably share with many others who come to see her -- but you must certainly count me among her admirers. Nobody who has seen her efforts at providing education, primary health care, and even housing to the needy can be anything but a fan of hers.
Mata Amritanandamayi has often been compared to Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar, the two icons of upliftment for the 'depressed classes' in twentieth century India. I am sure that people making the comparison mean well enough, but it is not quite apt.
The Mahatma's approach was to reproach the upper castes for the ancestors' sins until the present generation made reparation. Dr Ambedkar preferred to put his trust in unimpeachable Constitutional guarantees rather than in fallible humans. There was, arguably, some element of confrontation in both approaches.
Mata Amritanandamayi, I would say, acts in the grand tradition of Kerala's own Sree Narayana Guru -- an older contemporary of the Mahatma who remains sadly ignored outside Kerala. He put his faith in education and called on the depressed castes to raise themselves by their own efforts rather than depend on anyone else -- well-meaning outsiders or the law itself.
True to his own principles, he became a master of Sanskrit and the ancient Vedic rituals. Thus when some Ezhavas complained that they could not enter a Shiva temple, Sree Narayana Guru simply proceeded to consecrate a temple on his own. After which he turned on the Ezhavas themselves asking them why they did not allow the so-called 'Untouchables' to sit with them!
To my mind, it is this message -- 'You are as good as anyone born in the upper castes, and don't you forget it!' -- that Mata Amritanandamayi is carrying forward. But the sad truth is that so few people outside Kerala have even heard of Sree Narayana Guru that the comparison falls flat. But can you truly appreciate all that Mata Amritanandamayi is doing without knowing something of the historical context?
I am delighted that somebody from Kerala is receiving accolades from across the globe for the marvellous work she is doing. But I am saddened to note that this same year of Mata Amritanandamayi's jubilee is also the 75th death anniversary of Sree Narayana Guru. And that has been almost completely ignored!
T V R Shenoy