Sree Narayana Guru was born in 1856 C.E. in the village of Chempazhanthi in Thiruvananthapuram. He is considered among the greatest social reformers and philosophers of Kerala and India. He led a reform movement in Kerala by rejecting the caste system and promoting new values of spiritual freedom, social equality and upliftment of the downtrodden.
When Narayana Guru was 5 years old, he was enrolled in a school which ran under the traditional Gurukula model. He was intensely drawn to worship at the local temples and composed several hymns. He had already begun expressed strong aversion toward the caste discrimination that existed in society and often criticised his own relatives for showing such tendencies.
At the age of 21 he came under the tutelage of the great Raman Pillai Asan, a renowned Sanskrit scholar of the Puthuppally Varanappally family in Central Travancore. He was taught Sanskrit, poetry, drama, literary criticism, and logical rhetoric. He also extensively studied the Vedas and the Upanishads. On his return in 1881, his father was on his death bed. His mother had already died when he was 15. He ran a village school for children and came to be known as "Nanu Asan".
Despite his marriage to a Kaliamma, NanuAsan changed his role as a teacher to that of a Parivrajaka (a spiritual wanderer). It was during this time period that he met Kunjan Pillai, who later came to be known as Chattampi Swamikal. Recognising Nanu Asan's immense passion for yoga and his philosophical genius Chattampi Swamikal introduced him to Thycattu Ayyaavu, a 'Hatha yogi'. Under him Nanu Asan mastered Hatha Yoga (a branch of Yoga, introduced by Yogi Swatmaramaas, that unites pairs of opposites referring to the positive (sun) and negative (moon) currents in the system). These teachings had a lasting impact on the life and philosophy of Sree Narayana Guru.
From here he moved to the wilderness of Maruthwamala were he established a hermitage and lived a secluded life immersed in meditative thought and yoga. This would last for eight long years. After an unpretentious life of over thirty years, this is when Narayana Guru is believed to have attained a state of Enlightenment.
A spiritual trip took him to Aruvippuram, a forest area known for its natural beauty. He settled there for a while and soon started attracting people for spiritual as well as physical rejuvenation. The Guru felt the necessity of constructing a temple there for the regular worship of Lord Shiva. A small canopy of coconut and mango leaves was raised over an altar on a rock jutting out in the water at a beautiful spot near the river. The Guru himself later installed a Shiva linga (idol) in the temple. When asked about his right to install an idol he replied that the idol he had installed was not that of a Brahmin Shiva.
In 1904 he decided to settle down in a place to continue his spiritual practices. He chose Sivagiri at Varkala, twenty miles north of Thiruvananthapuram. He started a Sanskrit school in Varkala and poor boys and orphans were given free education regardless of their caste. Temples were built at different places - Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Tellicherry, Calicut, and Mangalore. It was in the year 1912 that he built the Sharada Devi Temple at Sivagiri.
In 1913, he founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva. This was an important event in his spiritual quest. This Ashram was dedicated to a great principle - Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (all men are equal in the eyes of God).
In 1928 the Guru' s health conditions declined drastically and he remained bedridden for some months. The Guru's birthday was celebrated in many places in that year. On 20 September, 1928 the Guru finally left Earth, but his legacy and beliefs are still alive with us to this very day.