The initial persuasion and continued partnership for Swamiji in leading the Socio-religious movements came from Swami Purushottama Tirthaji, who was Swamiji’s poorvāshrama brother (15 years older than him), and also a brother disciple and Sannyāsin.
Soon after Swamiji and his elder brother Poornānanda Swamiji took Brahmavidyā deekshā from Baba in Kolkata, they became wholesomely dedicated to the spiritual pursuit. Their life having been transformed by the initiation, they brought Baba to their farmhouse in Kerala, to expose the relatives to Baba’s association. All the family members, including Swamiji’s parents and the eldest brother Purushottama Swamiji, took initiation from Baba.
When Swamiji and Poornananda Swamiji took up Sannyāsa, their fervour kindled the family members with the spirit of renunciation, and the entire family property including the farmhouse was converted into a public charitable trust “Jñāna Ashram”, dedicated to the propagation of Brahmavidyā. Swamiji did not stay in Jñāna Ashram too long. In 1963, he established Narayanashrama Tapovanam, 25 km away from Jñāna Ashram.
Later on, Purushottama Swamiji also, reluctant to manage such huge landed property, moved from Jñāna Ashram to an adjacent small plot and set up his Ashram “Vyasa Tapovanam”. Eventually, because of the affectionate and service oriented nature of Purushottama Swamiji, Vyasa Tapovanam grew into a large establishment consisting of Sannyāsa Nilayam (refuge for sanny¡sins), Vānaprastha Nilayam (old age home), Dakshinamoorti Temple and Vedavyasa Bhavan. The fatherly love, care, and sacrifice with which Purushottama Swamiji looked after everybody in the Ashram and many others coming to him for various purposes till he left his body in 2007, has become a legend. Of course, Swamiji also played an important role in supporting whatever Purushottama Swamiji wished to do.
A new dimension in Loka-saṇgraha
After Sannyāsa, when Swamiji took to parivrajana life, Brahmavidyā discourses started naturally at the request of people. Initially it was in Malayalam, and from 1966, when he was invited to hold the first annual Jñāna Yajña in Jamshedpur, it was mainly in English.
From 1963 to 1983, his time was devoted solely to propagation of Brahmavidyā. He was writing books, publishing journals, giving lectures, and guiding seekers and devotees through Brahmavidyā initiation, direct association, and correspondence. The days were engaged in peaceful dissemination of the highest knowledge to a select few, as is usual for Sannyāsins and Knowers. Although he has always been intensely patriotic and vocal about India’s spiritual heritage and identity, he had never thought of leading any mass movement to safeguard dharmic causes or to purify Hindu religious practices.
But in March 1983, implored by a few religious thinkers and persuaded by Purushottama Swamiji, Swamiji joined Marga Darshaka Mandal, the Sannyāsins’ team leading the “Dharma Ratha Yātrā”, organized by Vishva Hindu Parishad. The Yātrā was aimed at integrating and strengthening the Hindu society, particularly by embracing the harijans and girijans (adivasis), and awakening them to the real greatness of Hindu Dharma. To mitigate the alienation created by caste, creed or socio-economic disparities, the Rathas (chariots) traversed through remote villages of Kerala, where the Saints talked to the local villagers with love and affection and partook the food prepared and served by them.
The dire state of religio-political nexus prevailing in Kerala and the lurking danger to the Hindu society as well as the country were already a matter of deep concern for Swamiji. The Yātrā exposed him directly to the ground realities and the exigency. And finally, by a rare coincidence or perhaps divine dispensation, the situation came to a climax on 24 March 1983. At the end of the Yātrā, when Swamiji and other Sannyāsins of Marga Darshaka Mandal were addressing a large gathering of Hindus at Durbar Hall grounds in Ernakulam, awakening them to the need for unifying and strengthening themselves, news came about the land encroachment to build a church in the precincts of Nilakkal Mahadeva Temple. The land being in the sacred garden of the famous Ayyappa shrine of Sabarimala, one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimage sites visited by crores of devotees every year, the situation became explosive.
The Sanny¡sins immediately proceeded towards Nilakkal. The developments led to lathi-charge and arrests. That was the beginning of the famous Nilakkal movement that lasted for six months, culminating in the abandonment of the attempt to establish the church there.
The lesson from this movement was two-fold: On one hand, it confirmed the dire need for extending the loka-saṅgraha mission from spiritual enlightenment of a select few to dhaarmic awakening of Hindu society at large. On the other hand, it laid bare the grievous differences and disharmony between the ways and vision of wise Sannyāsins and those of the Hindu protagonists working for the protection of Hindu dharma.
It became essential to launch a Sannyāsins’ organization to fight for the protection and reinforcement of India’s eternal cultural heritage, the Hindu Dharma, which is wrongly understood as a religion. And so, Hind Navotthana Pratishtan (HNP) was registered in December 1985 with Swamiji as the President, Purushottama Swamiji the Secretary, and Vyasa Tapovanam its headquarters. Since then, under the leadership of Swamiji and Purushottama Swamiji, HNP has done pioneering work in protection of dhaarmic rights of citizens, reformation and refinement of Hindu religious practices, removal of caste discrimination and alienation by introducing mass programmes and ceremonies. All these, in addition to its service to the poor and aged irrespective of their caste or religious identity.
Congregational Yajña for social integration
One powerful tool introduced by Swamiji to integrate the fragmented society was to organize congregational programmes andceremonies involving people from all caste groups. For this purpose, he devised the Viṣṇu-sahasranāma Samooha Archana and Yajña, where men and women from all classes and communities sit side by side offering flower petals at the same lamp or oblations in the same homa-kuṇḍa, chanting in chorus the thousand attributes of the Lord and contemplating on the One All-pervading Reality (Vishnu). The series of shining lamps, floral decoration of the pandal, and the reverberating sound of chanting create a sublime atmosphere touching the heart of everybody.
The first of its kind was held in February 1984 at Irinjalakuda for seven days, with five sessions each day. The attendance rose from a few hundreds in the beginning to a few thousands during the last few days. Those who attended this programme could directly feel the impact, both spiritual and social. Over the past three decades, the sublimity and divinity of Viṣṇu-sahasranāma Samooha Archana and Yajña has enchanted many devotees in India and abroad.
Thus, from 1983 onward, Swamiji’s life and mission got adorned with a new societal dimension. It was not a sudden development. Lot of deep thinking and discussion preceded this step. Swamiji writes in “Loka-saṅgraha and the Sannyāsin” and other articles published in Vicharasethu during 1983 - 1985:
“Usually, Sannyāsins have nothing to do with politics. We were serving the cause of spiritual seekers irrespective of their caste, creed, or ethnic identity, trying to cultivate viveka and vairāgya in them. But when the Hindu interests stand threatened, the Hindu religious life interfered with unjustly, especially by using political strength and governmental authority, Sannyāsins cannot keep quiet.”…
“The purpose of religion is to purify the mind through religious practices and unite it with the Creator. But, the moment religion becomes a tool for organizing people for selfish political purposes, the very object of religion gets vitiated. … In Kerala, we have the unique trouble of being confronted by two very strong religious groups having their powerful political front. This is where religion interferes with the smooth flow of general welfare and spreads its irreligious venom to disturb social cohesion and harmony. The matter has become so serious that even Sannyāsins like us have been forced to come out in the open to defend the cause of religion and spirituality.”…
“The Hindu dhaarmic thinkers approached the Sannyāsins, to ensure that the distress of the Hindus is removed, the intimidation from the other religious denominations using their political powers, is resisted. I thought over the matter seriously, discussed with other Sannyāsins, and my disciples and devotees. Finally, I came to the conclusion that we have to face the present distress taking to ‘āpad-dharma’ (behavioural code in times of crisis).”
A step backward or forward ?
In fact, even in 1986, when I visited the Ashram for the first time, frequent discussions used to take place about Swamiji getting involved in the mass-movements: whether it is a step backward or forward in his life of Brahmavidyā dissemination. Especially because, Mataji Sulabha Devi and most of the devotees were against their Gurudev’s hectic life of “non-spiritual interactions” with the “non-spiritual” people.
But, Swamiji was clear that it was neither a step forward nor a step backward – it was a ‘natural’ blossoming of his Brahma-niṣṭhā. The code for a Knower is “sarva-bhoota-hite-ratāḥ” (to remain engaged in the welfare of all beings). Why should a knower of Brahman, who has transcended the bondage of the three guṇas, avoid any action essential for the welfare of the society, just because it may not be peaceful or religious or spiritual in the usual sense? Will a Knower, for whom the whole world is Brahman, particularly look for Brahman in meditation?
Moreover, Swamiji always says that he has become what he is only because he was born an Indian, a Hindu. When the Sanātana Dharma that has made him what he is today, is in danger, can he sit restful? Even the peaceful dissemination of Brahmavidyā is possible only when the country is under good administration. Will Brahmavidyā flourish well or even survive if the country is left in the hands of greedy, weak, selfish people given to stealth and deceit?
When a Vedantic seeker grows deeper and deeper in his knowledge and dedication to the ultimate Truth, he realizes the supreme value of India’s spiritual culture in the sustained welfare and evolution of entire mankind. The loftiness and auspiciousness of the thoughts enshrined in the unparalleled scriptural literature overwhelm him. As the mind becomes purer and vaster, it resonates with the lofty thoughts and utterances of the ancient Rishis. His heart melts in gratitude for the country’s culture and heritage, which enabled him to grow into what he is.
Thus, although the fundamental note in the life of a true Vedantic seeker is all-embracing love and compassion from the very core of his heart, his loyalty to the Dharma itself compels him to take to “āpad-dharma” when the Dharma is in danger. This note of loyalty and sincerity we notice in many great knowers who had the societal dimension.
In fact, Swami Madhusūdana Saraswati (the author of “Advaita-siddhiḥ”, which is one of the three supreme Vedantic texts called “Mahā-prasthāna-traya”) in 16th century AD, organized a militant sannyāsins’ group called “nāgās” to protect Hindu ascetics from the onslaught of Muslim Fakirs who carried arms. It is said that being deeply concerned about the fate of Hindu sannyāsins, he consulted the famous Birbal who, with the permission of Emperor Akbar, advised him to form a group of militant Sannyāsins to protect Hindu ascetics.
Even Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, and later Swami Praṇavānanda Maharaj (founder of Bharat Sevashram Sangha) had to organize mass movements for protection and strengthening of Hindu society without deviating the least from their fundamental note of universal love and service. They instituted courage, self-respect and patriotism in the Hindu community, awakening them to their own great heritage.
Inner integration leads to external harmony
And the most significant common note in all these movements has been to integrate the Hindu society by dissolving the caste discrimination, by embracing the neglected sections that had been left out of the mainstream Indian culture. The external attacks come when we are divided within. When each community is well integrated and harmonious within, inter-community harmony also prevails.
So, as the Hindu community gets unified and strengthened, it also results in inter-religious harmony and wellbeing. That is what happened in Kerala after the Nilakkal movement and the subsequent mass awakening programmes. In fact, the following decades saw many from the other religious groups coming to Swamiji and inviting him to speak from their platforms. Swamiji has always held that whatever be the religious faith, all Indians have the same great Upanishadic heritage. The day they appreciate this wholeheartedly, they will become the world leaders in their respective religions. For, spirituality is the source and the goal of all religions.