History & Culture

Philosopher and guide

Prof. G. Balakrishnan Nair was an intellectual giant who plumbed the depths of Advaita philosophy.

For those who knew G. Balakrishnan Nair, as a teacher, philosopher and friend, he was a blessed soul who touched one's heart and spirit with the warmth and light of his deep insight and intuitive knowledge of truth. Those who gravitated to listen to his discourses on the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas or the Upanishads, acknowledged him as a preceptor nonpareil; one who had the extraordinary talent to expound, ever so simply, the esoteric knowledge embedded in them, as well explain the enlightened words of seers such as Sri Narayana Guru.

Born on February 5, 1923 to Govinda Pillai and Gourikutty Amma, Professor Balakrishnan grew up in humble and simple circumstances in Peroorkada in Thiruvananthapuram. Reading of scriptures such as the ‘Adhyathma Ramayana' by his father, and the rendering of litanies such as Hari Nama Keerthana by his mother, was almost a daily ritual at home. So much so that they left an indelible imprint on his psyche.

He was only five when he lost his father. Financial constraints prevented him from pursuing an English education and instead, he chose to study Sanskrit. After class four he had to continue his studies at the Sanskrit school at Palkulangara. Such was his thirst for knowledge that the long walk to school and back did not discourage him. After his schooling, he joined the Government Sanskrit College and acquired the Mahopadhyay degree, which earned him a job as tutor in Sanskrit at the Mahatma Gandhi College. But his yen for knowledge prompted him to take post-graduate degrees in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Hindi. In 1955, he entered Government service as a lecturer in Malayalam at the University College. Meanwhile, he married Saraswathi Amma on July 10, 1946, his classmate at Sanskrit College.

Those were also the days when he was attracted to the philosophy of socialism propounded in ‘The Communist Manifesto' and ‘Das Kapital.' He also made an unsuccessful attempt to contest the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation election as a candidate of the Communist Party. He was a much sought after rhetorician, but Prof. Balakrishnan bid goodbye to politics when he sensed his growing inner conflict between reality and conviction.

Turning point

The year 1962 was a turning point in his life and outlook. The sudden demise of his seven-and-a-half year old son, Aravindan, who succumbed to tetanus on July 1, 1962, was a tragic shock that altered his life. As Aravindan lay battling for his life, he kept chanting ‘Shiva Shiva' to the amazement of all around him. Later Prof. Balakrishnan, himself, has reiterated on many an occasion how he felt at that moment. It was as if his son was trying to convey a clairvoyant message to him, to leave his discourses and embark upon the path of understanding Shiva. This was both a great moment of pain and transcendental awareness.

His transfer to Government Victoria College, Palakkad, soon afterwards, turned to be conducive to his new mindset. He was drawn to the peace and quiet of Vignjana Ramaneeyam, the ashram set up in the name of Ramana Maharshi.

Towards spiritualism

His free time was spent either at the ashram or at the college library to study in detail classical, spiritual and religious works such as ‘Maandukaya Kaarika,' ‘Yoga Vasishta,' the Gita and the Upanishads.

Palakkad also became the springboard for his philosophical and religious writing and speeches. His gentle demeanour, his lucid and simple style of discourse and interpretation, and the depth and vastness of his scholarship astonished and attracted all those who came to listen to him.

In Palakkad he shared accommodation with S. Gupthan Nair, a senior colleague and friend who remembered him in his memoir ‘Manasa Smarami.' Prof. Guptan Nair had desribed Prof. Balakrishnan Nair as one to whom intellectual Kerala should be indebted to for revealing the bedrock of Advaita philosophy, which was the real basis of the teachings and writings of Sri Narayana Guru, who is remembered as a social reformer and champion of the renaissance in Kerala. Prof. Balakrishnan Nair has published exhaustive commentaries of Sri Narayana Guru's collected works. His other works include ‘Jeevan Mukhti Vivekam,' ‘Vasistha Sudha,' ‘Vedanta Tattva Nirnayam,' ‘Bhagavatha hridayam' and ‘Gauda paada darshanam.'

To many disciples in Palakkad and elsewhere Prof. Balakrishnan Nair was the living Ramana Maharshi. To many others he was a great Acharya who could guide and lead them in their spiritual quest. And what he has left behind on his death this February 4 are not mere printed words, recorded speeches or unforgettable memories. They are an eternal testimony of his journey into his self and the bliss of knowledge that he experienced.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 3:37:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Philosopher-and-guide/article14674083.ece

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