Birth and childhood :- Vagbhatananda was born on 27th April, 1885 in Patyam village that lies between Kuthuparamba and Thalassery, in Kannur District. The village looked rich with inner vibrations of Kerala’s cultural tradition as well as with natural beauty.
Gurudeva was the eldest son of Vayaleri Cheeru Amma and Thenankandi Koran Gurukkal. The baby looked brilliant and was aptly named Kunhikannan. Kunhikannan had his childhood education under his own father who was a scholar in Sanskrit and in Medicine. He was progressive in thinking and was against wrong customs. Besides learning from his father Sanskrit poems and plays, the clever boy gained from him, his unique vision in spiritual matters. Kunhikannan who showed keen intelligence and extra ordinary remembering power from childhood itself, started helping his father in Sanskrit teaching when he was aged twelve. Several disciples of Kunhikannan were older than himself. This boy who reminded the saying “Vriddho Sishya: Guroryuva” became famous as V.K. Gurukkal. There were in those days a good number of Sanskrit scholars in North Malabar. Meloott Kannan Gurukkal, Parambath Rairu Nair, Katathanatt Krishna Varyar, Kannan Gurukkal (also known as Vayatha Swami) and M.K Gurukkal were some of them. Kunhikannan developed by his own effort, his skill in composing poems as well as other literary tendencies that had passed into him from his own father. Parambath Rairu Nair, Malayalam Professor at Victoria College, Palghat was his Guru. Impressed by the boy’s rare intelligence Rairu Nair once exclaimed, ‘Kunhikannan has nothing new to learn, he simply has to remember’. Sreenarayana Guru too made the same remark about Kunhikannan in later days. Neither of them had any doubt about the boy’s fruitful future. Kunhikannan was dissatisfied with his insufficient knowledge in Logic. So he approached Marakkatteri Koran Gurukkal (also known as M.K. Gurukkal), then language teacher in Thalassery Brennen High School and gained deep knowledge in the subject from him. For Gurukkal Sanskrit education was not merely a linguistic exercise, but a golden means for mastering valuable philosophies along with Vedas and Itihasas. Gurudeva had already learned from his father who was a monotheist, by the time he was fifteen years old, the basic principles of epics, ie Ramayana and Mahabharata, and those of Puranas. His deep knowledge in Sanskrit made entry into Vedas and Upanishads easier. He considered Sanskrit the tongue of Hindu Philosophy.
It was at the age of sixteen that he started questioning anything that was not in conformity with reason. He also challenged all wrong customs that were rooted both in human mind and in society. He aimed at social change and fought against baseless traditions built by the conservative. All great men in history who fought against injustice for bringing about healthy social order were considered ‘impudent’ by the orthodox. Some of those who come in the list are Sreebuddha, Adisankara, Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, Socrates and Karl Marx. Hence it is not surprising that Gurudeva had to face strong opposition from the enemies of enlightenment.
Even during the early years of stay in his native place he had irresistible thirst for wider and deeper knowledge. If he happened to get a book his mind would absorb the whole content of it in the same way as a thirsty person would drink all the water in the pot that he fortunately received. For him one reading in full was sufficient to learn by heart everything in the book. He read Vedas, Ithihasas and Upanishads with all seriousness. He travelled a lot to collect books as well as ensured receipt of books from distant places. During his travels for books he could come into contact with many persons from different walks of life. At this time he conducted classes in Sanskrit at neighbouring places of Panoor like Pathayakkunnu and Mokeri. Inspired by this Gurukkal established a Sanskrit School at Karaparamba, Kozhikode which bore the name “Tatwaprakasika”. Several activities along with talks against superstitions, baseless conventions and liquour made Gurukkal very famous throughout North Malabar.
Later in 1906 Gurukkal shifted to Karaparamba and made it the centre of his work. It so happened that some visitors who came from Kozhikode to Patyam were highly impressed by the scholarship as well as oratory of Gurudeva. They invited him to Kozhikode and this incident became a turning point in the cultural history of Kerala. On reaching Kozhikode Gurudeva started interpreting one of the meditation slokas in the Bhagavad Gita namely ‘Parthaya pratibodhitam’. It was the loving compulsion of his hosts in Karaparamba that led him to the founding of TATWAPRAKASIKA the foresaid Sanskrit school. The enthusiastic propagation of Arshadharma was thus begun and the school later became Sanskrit education centre of Thiru- Kochi areas too.
By the time Gurudeva started his services in Karaparamba the social reform activities of Brahmasamajam founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy had begun in Kozhikode. It was at Kozhikode that the first Brahma Samajam in Kerala was formed. It was initiated by Dr. Ayyathan Gopalan, a great man as well as the paternal uncle of late Sujanapal, the former MLA. It was Karat Govinda Menon, a famous Sanskrit scholar and a yogi who composed prayers based on monotheism, gave them to Gopalan and encouraged him in other ways too. Govinda Menon, attracted by the ideals of Brahma Samajam made talks opposing evils like casteism and idolatry. It was Dr. Gopalan who gave Govinda Menon, the name ‘Brahmananda Swamikal’. The unity among the three great men ie Dr. Gopalan, Brahmananda Swamikal and V.K. Gurukkal became a moving force for bringing about the great renaissance in Kerala. It was at Calicut Town Hall in 1910 that Gurukkal happened to hear Brahmananda Swami’s talk on Yogavidya. He was inspired and soon started a wide campaign for propagating Rajayoga siddhantha. The leadership of Brahmananda Swamikal was ensured throughout the campaign.
In 1911 the speeches done by Gurukkal at Kallayi after founding Raja Yogananda Kaumudi Yogasala there, attracted a large number of people who heard it. Following this a Jnanayajna based on Bhagavad Gita was conducted at Yogasala at Natakkavu and it lasted for three months. It was the first yajna in the history of talks on Meta Physics in Kerala. When Bagavad Gita was introduced as the essence of all Upanishads and was interpreted accordingly the conservative pandits came forward with counter arguments. Such pandits came from far away places too. But all of them were spell bound by Gurudeva’s oratory and by his unquestionable reasoning. They admitted their failure and returned. The talk series of Gurudeva about Ramayana and Mahabharata at West Hill and Cheruvannur in Calicut too gave people a new vision. In 1912 he made a series of speeches about Kottiyoor superstitions too. He spoke everywhere in Malabar, like Chavakkad, Ponnani, Vatakara and Kannur. It was so popular and was a coveted daily incident. In 1914, Brahmananda Swami, pleased with the victorious oratory of Gurukkal admired him giving him the name ‘Vagbhatananda’. The sloka of tribute that came from swamiji is as follows.
‘Saraswatee sadbhatanayi Vakkinal
Suvagbhatananda Visesha samjnaye
Sukhena Kaikolka jayikka mangalam’
Meaning: Being Saraswati’s good warrior you arouse joy in all those who assemble to hear you. Hence receive happily the special good name ‘Vagbhatananda’.