The 19th-century Kerala saint instigated reform, inspired his disciple Narayana Guru and directly influenced Swamis Vivekananda and Chinmayananda. The 19th-century teacher broke down caste inequality while reestablishing the traditional Saiva philosophy of Kerala. He argued for rights of women, equal access to education and removal of any restrictions on temple entry. It is a quirk of history that he is less well known even inside Kerala than his disciple Narayana Guru, whose influence remains strong to this day. Vidhyadhiraja Parama Bhattaraka Chattampi Swami, as he is formally called, was born Kunjan Pillai on August 25, , in Thiruvananthapuram, then the seat of power of the Travancore Kingdom and today the capital of Kerala.
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His religious quest and discovery, his austere simplicity and great self-denial, his humble sharing with others the light with which he himself was illumined, his loving tenderness for all living creatures are all inspiring and instructive for all time. He strictly adhered to the characteristic virtues of an ideal sage practising Ahimsa Non-violence , Sathya Truthfulness , Asteya Non-stealing , Brahmacharya Celibacy and Aparigraha Non-Acquisition as an exemplar of this mode of life.
His influence widened the vision of many and imparted self-confidence to innumerable people, leaving a mark in the religious attitude of a large section of people. Material deprivation failed to dampen his spirit and penury could not hamper Swamikal from becoming a mastermind by his own latent genius and prodigious intellectual industry.
In spite of the narrow and restrictive conventions that existed in his times, he mastered many branches of art and learning. His painstaking study of Tamil and Sanskrit from competent scholars outside Kerala gave him remarkable command over Vedanta.
His gifted mind found no rest till his proficiency in Yoga measured up to ostensible results. He travelled miles and miles on foot in search of knowledge, and when he acquired it, he wandered again as the inspirer of people. Chattampi Swamikal strove to educate people in egalitarian doctrines and to liberalize traditional religious ritual practices by his writings and example. He was the precursor of many liberal trends, but he was not an avowed social reformer.
While exposing the sacerdotal pretensions of the high priests of society and demolishing the arrogant claims of the top rungs in the ladder of caste hierarchy, in his polemical writings, he never precipitated inter-communal envy or bickerings.
He was urged by a sense of historical justice rather than personal pride. He always extended his hands to those below him to raise them up. His vision of unity Samadarsana was the outcome of his vedantic conviction that Atman is Brahman, that each man is potentially divine and that all existence is one: the essence of Vedantic Wisdom.
Saints are the common property of humanity. The Spheres of their activities are, by and large, confined to particular regions. It is for us to make available knowledge of their life and ideas prevalent in one region to others also, across the barrier of language and time.
By doing so we aid the emotional integration of mankind. But after him the caste system and the resultant untouchability wrought havoc among the Hindus.
Many of them were compelled to convert themselves into Christianity and Islam to escape the humiliation that the caste system meted out to them. The onslaught of these religions shook the fundamental unity of Hinduism. It was at such a time that Paramabhattara Sree Chattampi Swamikal incarnated as the saviour of Hinduism. Childhood and Education Swamikal was born in at Kollur, Thiruvananthapuram. His parents were Vasudeva Sharma and Nangamma Pillai.
Though christened Ayyappan, he was known by his pet name Kunjan. Among his ancestors were reputed scholars, reversed saints and respected siddhas. Kunjan was a child prodigy.
He learnt Tamil and Sanskrit from the books he borrowed from school boys. He used to overhear the Sanskrit classes conducted for brahmin boys by a Sastrikal. Impressed by the high standard of Kunjan the teacher admitted him to his class and soon Kunjan attained remarkable proficiency in Sanskrit. Pettayil Raman Pillai Asan, a great scholar, made him the Chattampi Monitor of his school, and this appellation stuck to him and he is known by it.
Kunjan had to discontinue his studies with Pettayil Asan. A starving mother had to be given victuals rather than knowledge for sustenance. He had to support his family. He worked as a casual labourer and carried headloads of bricks and mortar for the construction of the Secretariat building in Thiruvananthapuram.
Later he became a licensed scribe in Kerala and Tamilnadu. He got the job of an Accountant in Government service. Finally, leaving this all, he joined an organisation where religious topics were discussed and music lessons were imparted. Subbajadapatikal, an eminent saintly scholar, took Kunjan to Tamilnadu and taught him everything he knew.
His Attainment of Sainthood Even from his childhood Swamikal used to immerse himself in japa and meditation. He was a regular visitor to many temples. Once an aged Sannyasi, who appeared near an Ayyappa temple where Kunjan used to do odd jobs, initiated him into Bala Subramaniya Mantra and assured him that it would give him every thing he wished for. Kunjan attained divine powers by reciting the Mantra lakhs of times and was known as Shanmukhadasan at that time.
Later he himself revealed that he had initiated his sannyasi disciples into this potential mantra and found it effective. He learnt different languages. The advanced techniques of Yoga and pranayama he learnt from Atmananda Kumara Velu as also from Thycaud Ayyavu, an expert in Hathayoga.
He had already learnt the basic tenets of Christianity and Islam from Christian and Muslim scholars. He was blessed with self-realization through the Brahmatatwopadesa of a mysterious Avadhuta saint.
Kunjan Pillai transformed himself into Vidhyadhiraja and he was acclaimed as the Supreme Rishi of Kerala. Then he was only 28 years old. A Crusader for Social Reforms Despite the fact that Sannyasins sacrifice everything for attaining Self-realization, many of them live among the people to fulfill their obligation to society. Swamikal travelled extensively in Kerala to eradicate the evil customs and practices rampant in society.
His vast Vedantic knowledge helped him much in dispelling the ignorance prevalent among the people. He questioned the legitimacy of the supposed supremacy of the upper caste Hindus and strove to cure them of their superstitious beliefs and customs.
He disliked casteism. He stayed and dined with untouchables inviting the wrath of his own orthodox community. Through his sannyasi disciples, household disciples and literary works, he put into practice what he preached. Swamikal is considered the foremost crusader who brought about incredible transformation in the religio-spiritual and socio-cultural atmosphere of Kerala. He was the guiding star to those who fought to bring about spiritual renaissance and social resurgence in this country.
His Meeting with Swami Vivekananda In while Swamikal was staying in the house of a devotee at Ernakulam, he came across Swami Vivekananda who was on his Parivrajaka wandering monk tour at the time.
They spoke in Sanskrit. Swami Vivekananda introduced the topic of Chinmudra and asked Swamikal to unfold its esoteric meaning and its role in achieving higher levels of consciousness. Swamikal quoting from an old commentary on the Brahadaranya Upanishad, still unpublished, explained that when the tips of the forefinger and index finger touch together a vibratory energy would be produced, and it would flow up to the Sahasrara Padma of the aspirant elevating him to a higher stage of consciousness.
Swami Vivekananda was very much impressed by this exposition and wished to have spiritual discussion with swamikal the next day also. Swami Vivekananda had at last seen a Kerala Prathibha genius. He possessed extraordinary memory power. He was a singer and composer. While his favourite art was music, his favourite instrument was Ganjira. His skill in playing on any instrument with originality was widely known and acclaimed.
He was interested in acting, particularly in Kathakali. He was equally good at painting. He was a wrestler par excellence. His poems and writings were the offsprings of necessity. His Yoga Siddhi had given him the power of prophecy. His Way of Life He lived a life of austere simplicity. A mundu a garment worn around the waist in kerala an iron ring, and old umbrella, a walking stick and a Ganjira were his only possessions.
He had no home and no intimate friends. This world was his family. He flitted from place to place like a carefree singing bird. He would not eat food cooked in a kitchen which prepared non-vegetarian dishes. He disliked alcohol and condemned the vice of drinking.
He shared his food with ants, cats and dogs. He slept on a simple cot or on the bare floor. He looked no different from a rustic. He had a lively sense of humour. He ignored all distinctions of caste. He was fond of children. He would organize impromptu programmes that would stimulate their intelligence and exercise their bodies.
His indifference to wealth was well known. He was considerate to all his associates. On his Shashtiabdapurthi 60th birthday in , at a simple meeting presided over by Swami Dayananda, the title of Vidhadhiraja Theerthapada Paramabhattara was conferred on him by distinguished scholars. But Swamikal, in his usual humility, said that he preferred to be known by the old name Chattampi.
A Man of Miracles The spiritual and mystical powers that Chattampi Swamikal had acquired were innumerable. But he was ever averse to showing off.
If on rare occasions he was unavoidably compelled to display them, his intention was not to win credit or impress others. His brahmacharya and intense tapas had conferred upon him all the Yogasiddhies. Swamikal possessed a commanding power over natural elements, animals and human beings alike. But he never misused these powers for selfish ends. He had the power to cure seemingly incurable diseases and make cobras and even tigers obey his behests.
Swamikal along with his contemporary Sree Narayana Guru strived to reform the heavily ritualistic and caste-ridden Hindu society of the late 19th century Kerala. Chattampi Swamikal denounced the Orthodox interpretation of Hindu texts citing sources from the Vedas. Swamikal also worked for the emancipation of women and encouraged them to come to the forefront of society. He said that the enslavement of women was a manifestation of male arrogance.
Chattambi Swamikal Mahasamadhi observance
Sri M writes about Chattambi Swami, an eminent yogi, a great scholar and social reformer from Kerala on his birth anniversary, 25 August , in the Malayala Manorama daily. Chattambi swami was born in when the caste system in Kerala was at its zenith. The social environment in Kerala was so deplorable that Swami Vivekananda condemned the state as a mental asylum. As the Nairs followed the matrilineal tradition, Swami was recognized in social circles as a Nair. He gained deep knowledge in Sanskrit and authored many Sanskrit books. It should be remembered that he accomplished all this at a time when studying Sanskrit was taboo for those who were not Brahmins by birth. He made revolutionary attempts to explain Vedic theories to ordinary people in a simple language and thereby to free them from the darkness of ignorance.