Srinarayanadharmam: Raghavan Thirumulpad (Part 2)

The third chapter is about precepts applicable to all human beings;  the aacharyan speaks here on the panchadharmas and the panchashuddhi. The panchadharmas are : nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, the rejection of intoxicants,  and the avoidance of licentiousness. Dharmoyam Saarvavarnikah, say the earlier aachaaryas, mentioning nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, celibacy, and frugality as the five crucial dharmas. The Yogasastra mentions these five as the panchayamas.

Gurudevan has substituted celibacy and frugality with the rejection of intoxicants and avoidance of licentiousness. The idea of celibacy is taken up at length in his discussion of brahmacharya as an ashrama of life. Since the sexual matters arise from animal instincts, trying to suppress them with force is harmful to both mind and body and it may also lead to many other afflictions as well. By pointing towards the avoidance of licentiousness, it is suggested that such experiences should be a part of grhastashrama.  This is a good example of the way in which the Gurudevan’s teaching offers not just ideals but also practical means [of attaining them]. He also includes the rejection of intoxicants in the panchadharmas. The earlier aachaaryas also agree that the consumption of liquor is to be avoided, including it in the five great sins. But this was not a huge social danger then, unlike in Gurudevan’s times when it had reached alarming proportions. Besides liquor he also proscribes other intoxicants lie cannabis, opium, and tobacco.  Suraahiphenavijayaa dhumapatraadi vatsalaah/ chittavibhramavidhaayithvanmadyatvenevaganyathe. But one cannot speak without immense shock about the extent to which the problem has grown since Gurudevan’s times. I think this is a good instance to think of how much his advice is taken. Frugality – aparigraham – refers to the idea that one must not indulge in reckless consumption just because one possesses more wealth than one may need – it seems close to Gandhiji’s idea of trusteeship. But it is surely not proper to suggest aparigraham to the vast majority who struggle for their daily bread. Definitely, it was more appropriate to point towards the addiction to intoxicants, the chief reason for poverty and illness. Nonviolence (avoiding harm to any other, in any way), truth (speaking of only that which actually exists), non-covetousness [astheya] (avoiding desire for something owned by another or taking it without the owner’s permission) — these three dharmas are inevitable for the well-being, health, and peace of the individual and society. In a situation where a single person exists alone, no such rules have relevance. The Buddha too replaced aparigraha with the rejection of intoxicants.

The five shuddhis mentioned are of the body, the word, the mind, the senses, and the home. The shuddhi of the body refers  not just to cleanliness — a daily bath and clean clothes . The body consists of the rasas, blood, flesh, and organs such as the heart and lungs.  The rasas and the organs can be free of dirt only through light and healthy diet and lifestyles. Besides keeping the outer parts of the body clean through such practices as bathing, the shuddhi of elements, such as through healthful food, is also implied  [1].  Speaking only when necessary, ensuring that all that is spoken is the truth, and making the truth sound are, in short, the shuddhi of the word; also, whatever is said should be of use to the hearer. Candor (the absence of cunning and twistedness), compassion, friendliness, tenderness (the absence of cruelty), courage, shame (the reluctance to do wrong), the absence of hate and anger,  concentration — these are the signs of the shuddhi of the mind. Using the senses frugally, healthfully,  appropriately, and usefully, neither constricting nor overindulging them is the shuddhi of the senses.  It refers to using the senses to experience the outer world meaningfully instead of making them mere instruments of pleasure in seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling, which are the karma of the senses.  The shuddhi of the home includes ensuring plenty of clean light and air, the absence of dirt, the regular cleaning through sweeping, swabbing, and fumigation with the astagandha two times a day, and making sure that the house has spacious rooms and special arrangements for defecation. The shuddhi of the home also includes that of its environs.

The Gurudevan mentions the Panchamahayajnas when he describes the grhasthashrama. They are the braahmam, paithram, daivam, bhauthikam, and maanushyamBrahmayajnam refers to learning and teaching; brahma refers to knowledge. Pitrayajnam means ritual duties to ancestors but also the protection and care of seniors – parents, grandparents, teachers. Daivayajnam refers to sacrifices and prayer to God. Bhutayajnam refers to the care and protection of living creatures such as birds and animals; the care of plants and trees may also be included in it. In manushyayajna, the care offered to guests, the poor and needy, and those who serve, may be included. The panchashuddis indicate the kind of focused practice – the saadhanas – necessary for one’s own individual development. But the panchamahayajnas give an sense of how human beings must live and behave in this society and the world.  Through this description, the Gurudevan makes clear the duties human beings bear in the world.

When examining these descriptions as a vaidyan concerned about health,  that it, when considering them from the viewpoint of ayurvedam, they appear to be the rational systematization of the teachings of the aachaaryas of ayurveda regarding the attainment of bodily well-being. Ayurvedam regards good health to be the outcome of a life of integrity. The Gurudevan was born into a family of vaidyans and there is no doubt that he had mastered Ayurvedam carefully and systematically. This is a fact that must be calls for special attention in any study of Gurudevan and his works.

Having written this much, I put my pen down, sat up, and thought about the  crucial idea that the Gurudevan had counseled us, that would be the foundation of all other principles. It was his advice about the conduct of weddings that came to my mind, his suggestion that only ten people should be present — the bride and bridegroom, their parents, one relative each, a prominent citizen, a priest. This may be read as the practice of the habit of taking only what is absolutely necessary. Remember the present — the profligacy that marks not just weddings but every other occasion now. I feel that it is reason, in one way or the other, for all the adharma was see today, including violence and so on.  Like the unnecessary and excessive use of electricity is the reason for the power cuts.  It is necessary to realize that the habit of using what is necessary  as needed and only to the extent that it is necessary may be the solution to many different sorrows and the instrument for many kinds of positive states.

[1]  The Guru’s concept of shuddhi  thus rejects the brahmanical idea of shuddhi as the avoidance or removal of pollution, which is related to the inner and outer cleanliness of the body only in very marginal terms.

3 thoughts on “Srinarayanadharmam: Raghavan Thirumulpad (Part 2)”

  1. Devika, Many thanks for undertaking this translation and making Thirumalpad’s work about the Guru available in English. What a departure from standard Kafila posts full of sound and fury taking Hindutva apart bit by bit but ultimately amounting to little more than a string of ineffective denunciations!

    Even in its response to the current Coronavirus crisis, the difference between Kerala and other states’ treatment of migrant workers is glaringly obvious. As you rightly say, in such small mercies, we in Kerala live today in debt to the Guru. It has therefore always puzzled me why such little attention has been paid to him by our national-level scholars who have been frantically thrashing around for decades looking for “alternatives”. And all this time, the Guru has been hiding in plain sight.

    Perhaps we need to tear up the entire playbook that has been bequeathed to us by figures associated with the freedom struggle, and begin elsewhere — and why not the Guru? After all, the others have had a long run and don’t seem to have worked too well. I do have a question: in your insightful Introduction to Part-I, you foreground the “healing” metaphor to understand his transformative effect on Kerala. But isn’t one of the enigmas surrounding the Guru the fact that he set off a revolutionary transformation of Kerala society without ever evincing much (explicit) interest in “resisting oppression”, whether colonialism or Brahminism?


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