Sivagiri: One Caste, One Religion, One God

A Hindu temple that is open to anybody is a bit unusual in Kerala. Finding one with a picture of Jesus, a picture of Buddha and an Islamic script is, well, unique.

But then Nanoo Swami’s philosophy of “One Caste, One Religion, One God” must have had Hindus throughout Kerala choking on their morning chai when he first expounded it at the end of the 19th Century.

(To put this in context: at the time, even the approach roads to Hindu temples were off-limits to the lower castes. Some of the lowest castes were not even permitted to travel on roads).

Born into the (low) Ezhava caste in 1854, Nanoo Swami left his family in his 20s to seek enlightenment. In 1888, he consecrated his first temple (presumably leaving the Brahmin priests swooning in horror). Many more followed: all were open to anybody and some had mirrors instead of shrines, to show that “God lay inside every person”.

Sivagiri Hill, where Nanoo Swami based himself for the last 20 years of his life, is 3km inland from Varkala. Open to anybody, there is a small display of the Swami’s few possessions, and pictures of him meeting with the great and good (notably Gandhi).

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