Chattambi Swami: Leaders of Kerala Renaissance

Chattambi Swami (1853 – 1924)

Chattambi Swami was a prominent and outspoken Kerala renaissance leader who utilized spirituality to challenge the traditional ideals of a feudal society fraught with caste-ism, exploitation, and untouchability.

Let's have a bird's eye view of his life and the various activities he was involved in his lifetime.

Basic Facts

  • Birth – August 25, 1853 (ചതയം 1032 ചിങ്ങം 14) Kollur, Kannammoola (കൊല്ലൂർ, കണ്ണമ്മൂല) Thiruvananthapuram.
  • Family – Ullorkodu Veedu (ഉള്ളൂർക്കോട്ട് വീട്).
    • Parents – Vasudeva Sharma & Nangamma Pillai* (വാസുദേവ ശർമ്മ & നങ്ങേമ പിള്ള)
    • Wife – Kaliyamma (കാളിയമ്മ, 1882).
  • Original Name – Ayyappan (അയ്യപ്പൻ).
  • Childhood Name – Kunjan & Kunjan Pillai (കുഞ്ഞൻപിള്ള).
  • Death – May 5 , 1924, Panmana, Kollam (പന്മന, കൊല്ലം).
  • Epithets
    • Sadhguru (സദ്ഗുരു),
    • Sree Bhattakaran (ശ്രീ ഭട്ടാരകൻ),
    • Sree Balabhattakaran (ശ്രീ ബാലഭട്ടാകാരൻ),
    • Sarva Vidyadhirajan (സർവ്വ വിദ്യാധിരാജ, by Ettarayogam, [എട്ടരയോഗം]),
    • Shanmugadasan (ഷൺമുഖ ദാസൻ, by Thycaud Ayya),
    • Sarvajanaya Rishi (സർവ്വജ്ഞനായ ഋഷി),
    • Kaviyum, Kamandalavumillatha Sanyasi (കാവിയും കമണ്ഡലവും ഇല്ലാത്ത സന്യാസി),
    • Saint without Saffron (കാഷായം ധരിക്കാത്ത സന്യാസി, by Sree Narayana Guru).
    • പരിപൂർണ കലാനിധി (by Sree Narayana Guru).
    • ബാലാഹ്വന്‍,
    • അര്‍ഭാനാമകന്‍.
  • Founder of  – Theertha Pada Matham, Sree Vidhyadhiraja Theerthapada Paramabhattarakasram
  • Philosophy – Monism (അദ്വൈതവാദം, from "Advaitachintha Padhathi")
  • Famous Words
    • "The whole universe is one mind. Between mind and mind, there is no vacuum."
    • 'അനുകമ്പയാകുന്ന തേൻ കൊണ്ട് നിറഞ്ഞതാകണം മനുഷ്യമനസ്സ്.'
  • Teachers
    • Jatavallabhar,
    • Kollur Krishana Pillai,
    • Pettayil Raman Pilllai Asan (പേട്ടയിൽ രാമൻപിള്ള ആശാൻ, First Guru),
    • Thycaud Ayya – Hadayoga,
    • Atmananda Swamikal – Marma Vidhya,
    • Swaminatha Desithar – Tamil Vedanta shastra.
  • Enlightenment – Vadaveeswaram (വടിവീശ്വരം), Tamil Nadu.
  • Books
    • Adi Bhasha (ആദി ഭാഷ),
    • Pracheena Malayalam (പ്രാചീന മലയാളം)
    • Adwaittha Chintha Paddhathi (അദ്വൈതചിന്താപദ്ധതി),
    • Christhumatha Chethanam (ക്രിസ്തുമതഛേദനം) (under the pen name of Shanmukhadasan)
    • Christhumatha Niroopanam (ക്രിസ്തുമത നിരൂപണം)
    • Jeevakarunya Niroopanam (ജീവകാരുണ്യ നിരൂപണം)
    • Vedhadikara Niroopanam (വേദാധികാര നിരൂപണം)
    • Punarjanma Niroopanam (പുനര്‍ജന്മ നിരൂപണം)
    • Kshanamatha Niroopanam ( ക്ഷണമത നിരൂപണം)
    • Moksha Pradeepa Khandanam (മോക്ഷ പ്രദീപഖണ്ഡനം)
    • Sarvamatha Samarasyam (സര്‍വമത സമരസ്യം)
    • Vedantasaram (വേദാന്തസാരം)
    • Advaita Pancharam (അദ്വൈത പഞ്ചരം)
    • Bhashapadma Puranam (ഭാഷാപത്മ പുരാണം)
    • Tharkkarahasya Ratnam (തര്‍ക്ക രഹസ്യ രത്നം)
    • Brahma Tatva Nirbhasam (ബ്രഹ്മതത്വ നിര്‍ഭാസം)
    • Sree Chakra Pooja Kalpam (ശ്രീചക്രപൂജാ കല്പം)

    Early Life & Education

    Despite being born to a Brahmin father, Vasudeva Sarma, a priest of a Devi temple, and mother Nangamma Pillai**a Nair servant of Kollur madom, ('sambhadham' a social evil of the time) his familial circumstances were exceedingly poor, and he was unable to obtain a formal education.

    However, that didn't deter him. In his childhood, he picked up Sanskrit by listening in on the classes at a nearby Brahmin house. 

    When his uncle found out, he took him to a traditional school run by Pettayil Raman Pillai Asan, who educated him for free. Later, he was appointed as the class monitor (Chattambi) there.

    Later he learned Tamil from Swaminatha Desikar,  philosophy from Professor Manonmaniyam Sundaram Pillai, Yoga from  Thycaud Ayya, and Balasubramanya Mantra from a wandering sage. 

    He took the name 'Shanmukhadasa' because of his deep devotion to Lord Subramanya.

    At the age of 14, to lessen his family's burden he started working first as a construction worker during the construction of the Government Secretariat building in Thiruvanathapuram, then as a document writer, and advocate's clerk, among other occupations. 

    He was appointed as an accountant in Government Secretariat by Dewan T. Madhava Rao.

    But later, he abandoned them as they became a barrier to his desire for knowledge and freedom.

    Chattambi Swami learned Tarka, Vyakarana, Mimasa, and Vedanta from Subba Jatapadikal, a renowned Tamilian scholar, when they met at the annual Philosophical Conferences organized by the Travancore kings.

    Through his extraordinary dedication, hard work, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, he rightly earned the title 'Sarva Vidyadhirajan.' 

    Chattambi Swami & Swami Vivekananda

    The historic meeting between Swami Vivekananda and Chattambi Swami took place in Ernakulam in 1892. Because they were both proficient Sanskrit pandits, their conversation was obviously in Sanskrit.

    According to Swami Vivekananda's wishes to know more about Chinmudra. Chattambi Swami used excerpts from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and explained it as -

    "When the fingers are folded together in a special way, the flow of life in the veins will cause reactions in a particular part of the brain and as a result, the blood circulation will increase the concentration of the mind faster."

    After the meeting, Swami Vivekananda wrote in his diary 'I have met a real man in Malabar (Kerala).'

    'If he’s an eagle, I’m a mosquito. That is the difference between 'us and them.' (അദ്ദേഹം ഒരു ഗരുഡനാണെങ്കില്‍ ഞാനൊരു കൊതുകാണ്. അതാണ് ഞങ്ങള്‍ തമ്മിലുള്ള വ്യത്യാസം That's what Chattambi Swami used to say about Vivekananda.

    Famous Meetings

    • 1882 – Met Sree Narayana Guru at Aniyoor Temple (The First Disciple).
    • 1892 – Met Swami Vivekananda at Ernakulam.
      • Chattambi Swamikal gave a detailed explanation of 'Chinmudra' to Swami Vivekanandan

    Works of Chattambi Swami

    Chattambi Swami was the first person to introduce spiritual education system in Kerala which became known as "Theerthapada Sampradayam" (തീർഥപാദ സമ്പ്രദായം). Thus reminding everyone spiritual knowledge is just as important as food.

    In his popular book 'Vedhadikara Niroopanam,' he refuted the assertion that the lower caste, Shudras and women were forbidden from studying the Vedas on the basis of the Vedic principles and Vedanta itself.  

    "തീ പോലുള്ള വാക്കുകള്‍ കത്തി പോകാത്തത്‌ ഭാഗ്യം" was what Swami Vivekananda remarked about Vedhadikara Niroopanam.

    Chattambi Swamikal also authored a book called 'Moksha Pradeepa Khandanam' to criticize Brahmananda Sivayogi's work 'Mokshapradeepam.'

    'Pracheena Malayalam' is the longest book written by Chattambi Swami. The six-part book covers Kerala's history, early inhabitants, culture, religion, and prejudiced historical texts, as well as caste discrimination.

    It also refutes the myth that Parasurama bequeathed Kerala to Brahmins. This claim was also supported by "പൂമിയ്ക്ക് കാരാളര്‍ വെള്ളാളര്‍' in Tharisapalli Sasanam of 849 AD.

    A magazine called "Sadhguru" was launched under his supervision. Sister Mary John Thottam's well-known work "Ente Lokha Parithyagam" was originally published in this magazine in 1928.

    Through his teachings and writings, he promoted Vegetarianism and Ahimsa.

    It was the result of Chattambi Swami's endeavors, Sethulakshmi Bai issued a proclamation prohibiting animal sacrifice at Travancore Devaswom Department temples.

    Chattambi Swami was well-versed in all religions and was vehemently opposed to Christian missionaries' forced religious conversions and wrote the book 'Christhumatha Chethanam.'

    Regarding the caste system, he stated that "the way to eradicating the ills of the caste system is not to create temples, but to expel caste demons from temples."

    His linguistic experiments may be seen in his Tamil work 'Adi Bhasha.' In that book, Chattambi Swami believes that the first language of the human race was Dravidian (Tamil) and that life began on a landmass to the east of Ceylon before migrating.

    The Swamis' support for agitations against the joint family system, the Alohari system, and the Marumakkatayam sparked reforms in the Nair community.

    Famous Disciples

    • Sree Narayana Guru,
    • Bodheswaran
    • Pettayil Raman Pillai
    • Kumbalath Sanku Pillai
    • Neelakanta Theerthapada
    • Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar 
    • Theerthapada Parmahamsar
    • Perunnelli Krishnan Vaidyan

    Death

    On Monday, May 5, 1924, Chattambi swami attained samadhi in Panmana. Upon hearing the death of Chattambi Swami, the renowned poet Parameswara Iyer wrote the following famous hymn:

    പോയി നമുക്കൊരെതിരറ്റ ഗുരുപ്രവീരൻ
    പോയി ജഗത്തിനൊരു ജംഗമരത്നദീപം
    പോയി മുമുക്ഷജനതയ്ക്കൊരു മാർഗദർശി
    പോയി കലാലതികകൾക്കൊരുപാഘ്നശാഖീ

    പ്രത്യങ്മുഖർക്ക് പരിചിത്പര ചിത്സ്വരൂപം
    പ്രത്യക്ഷമാക്കിനവിഭോ! പരിപക്വഹൃത്തേ!
    പ്രത്യഗ്രശങ്കര! ഭവാന്റെ ചരിത്രമെന്നും
    പ്രത്യക്ഷരം പരിപാവനമായി വിളങ്ങും.

    Works on Chattambi Swami

    • Samadhi Sapthakam (സമാധി സപ്താഹം, Elegy) – Pandit Karuppan.
    • Navamanjari (നവമഞ്ജരി, Elegy) – Sree Narayana Guru. 
    •  Chattambi Swamikal Jeevithavum Krithikalum (​ചട്ടമ്പിസ്വാമികള്‍ ജീവിതവും കൃതികളും, Biography)  – Dr. K. Maheshwaran Nair.
    • Chattambi Swamikal: Jeevithavum Darsanavum (ചട്ടമ്പി സ്വാമികള്‍: ജീവിതവും ദര്‍ശനവും) – Tony Mathew.

    Institutions, Memorials & Temples

    • Bala Bhattaraka Temple  – built by the disciple, Kumbalath Sanku Pillai in the place of the Samadhi.
    • Indian Postal Department issued a postage stamp in honor of Chattambi Swami –  2014 April 30.
    * Some tines referred to as Nangadevi, Thirunanga.


    📝SideNotes:

    • Elegy – വിലാപ കാവ്യം.
    • Jeevakarunya dinam (Kerala) August 25.
    • Bodheswaran – 
      • Writer of Kerala Song, 
      • Pen name of Kesava Pilla.
      • Father of poet Sugathakumari.
    • Chattambi Swami addressed
      • Sree Narayana Guru – 'എന്റെ നാണന്‍.'
      • Kumaranasan – 'എന്റെ തങ്കക്കുടം കുമാരൻ.'
    • Tharisapalli Sasanam issued by  – King of Venadu Ayyan Adikal Thiruvadikal during the reign of Chera King, Sthanu Ravi.
    • First person to write a biography of Chattambi Swami – Paravur Gopala Pillai (പരമഭട്ടാരക ശ്രീ ചട്ടമ്പി സ്വാമി തിരുവടികള്‍ ജീവചരിത്രം, 1935).

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