Bharata the holy land of the Vedas
The Vedas guided this land of Bharata ie Bhaarata (India) since the age old centuries. Bhaarata is the Karma Bhumi, the land where we perform our duty, land of all virtues and also the land of spirituality. People of India lived happily under the light of the Vedas performing their duty as prescribed by the Vedas. But this serene life of Indians was spoiled by some opponents of the Vedas 2000 years ago.
Entry of Buddhism and Jainism to India
The Buddists and Jains who entered India some 2000 years ago denied the Vedas and vaidika system. Meanwhile different religious orders like Shakta,Kapalika,and Pashupata also supported Buddists and Jains. They did not accept the existence of soul (Atma) and thus forgot the ultimate goal of human being. The disappearance of Vaidika heritage was imminent. There was an urgent need for a competent person who could ward off all these disbeliefs about the Vedas. The Avatara(incarnation) of Sri Shankaracharya filled up this void
The birth of Sri Shankaracharya
This noble soul called Shankaracharya was born in Kalati, Kerala. His parents Shivaguru and Aryamba, had no children for many years. The couple worshipped Lord chandramouleshwara with utmost dedication. A boy child was born to them whom they named Shankara. The boy shankara was handsome ,intelligent with all noble virtues. Unfortunately Shankara’s father Shivaguru passed away. His mother Aryamba looked after him with utmost care giving him education. At the age of five he was given ‘Upanayana samskara’ (initiation of a boy into spiritual life by teaching him Gayatri Mantra) He was sent to Gurukula. At the age of five the boy Shankara by hearted all the four Vedas. He was said to be ‘’Eka sandi grahi’’ (One who understands and remembers everything on hearing it only once’’)
The ‘’Swarnathillam’’ of “Ponnarathodatha”
Once Shankara a celibate Brahmin boy set out for begging alms .It was compulsory for students of Gurukula and they were supposed share it with their Guru. When he was begging in front of a poor house, the house holding woman in the absence of her husband gave a dried Gooseberry fruit soaked with her tears. Shankara realised her poverty and she was not in a position to give him anything more. So he composed Sthotra (hymn) praying Goddess Laxmi. Pleased with the worship, Goddess Laxmi showered Golden Gooseberry fruits on her house. That house is very popular even today in the name Swarnathillam in the village Ponnarathodatha.
Shankara becomes well versed in Vedas and Upanishads
Shankara at the age of 12 by hearted and internalised the two parts ( Poorvakanda and Uttarakanda) of the Vedas. The Poorvakanda contains six topics like Shiksha, Nirukta, Kalpa which deal with performing of Yajna. Shankara had a deep understanding of all these topics.He also studied shastras like Meemamsa and Vedanta written by Jaimini and Badarayana, Darshanas like Sankya, Nyaya and Vaisheshika composed by Kapila, Goutama and Patanjali. He had the knowledge of all Vaidika and Avaidika religions. Shankara decided to disseminate Vaidika religion all over Bharata Khanda as it is the Kalpavriksha (granting all wishes) leading to salvation.
Shankara’s dedication to serve mankind
Shankara knew that the ultimate goal of life is bliss. To attain this blissful state the Veda prescribed Shravana, (listening) Manana,(reflection) and Nidhidyasana (internalization). Only Upanishads can relieve human beings from the mundane miseries. Shankara wanted to relieve himself from all bindings and to become a renunciant. He wanted to attain the blissful state by following the path of the Vedas and Upanishads under the guidance of Maharshis. He wanted to share the fruit of his findings to the people around him.
Determined to become a sanyasi, Shankara sought his mothers permission, which she rejected. But Shankara patiently waited for proper time. Once Shankara was taking bath in river Poorna. His mother was washing clothes by his side. A crocodile caught hold of his leg and tried to drag him down. Shankara told his mother that his death was sure and requested her to permit him to die as a sanyasi. His mother said “Tathastu” (Be it so). Immediately Shankara chanted ‘Samnyastam mama’ (I have become Samnyasi) in the midst of water. At the same time frightened by the shouting of people the crocodile released his leg. His mother was overjoyed but at the same time she felt sorry for he was an ascetic. Shankara gave all his property to his relatives and requested them to look after his mother well. Shankara assured his mother that he would perform her funeral at the time of her death. Thus the mother and the son parted.
The Guru and the Disciple
The Vedas say only an enlightened Guru can guide the spiritual path of a disciple. When Shankara was in search of a proper Guru, he heard about Govinda Bhagavthpada Walking for many days Shankara reached the bank of river Narmada where Govinda Bhagavathpada lived in a cave. When Shankara prostrated before him, he asked who he was. Shankara replied, he did not know who he was and he had come to find out who he was. This befitting reply pleased Govinda Bhagavathpada very much and to thought himself that the boy was a sun concealed by dark cloud. Happily he received Shankara as his disciple. Govinda Bhagavathpada tested the commitment of Shankara to the monastic life for two three days. He was convinced that Shankara was a true renunciant. So he gave him ascetic deeksha traditionally. Thus Shankara became Shankarayathi
Shankarayathi exhibits his spiritual powers
Once the terrible flood in river Narmada made the villagers to take refuge in Govinda Bhagavadpada’s cave. As Govinda Bhagavathpada was deeply immersed in meditation, Shankarayathi using his spiritual powers stopped the flood and flood water entered his Kamandalo (water pot). The guru was elated to see his disciple a perfect sanyasi who had proper spiritual knowledge, power and strong inclination towards public service. Govinda Bhagavathpada blessed his disciple Shankarayathi he should guide the society in the same way as he had protected Agrahara from flood.
Shankarayathi becomes Shankaracharaya
Having good command over Upanishads, Vedanta and science Shankarayathi reached Kashi. The city of Kashi was famous for knowledge as it was filled with many scholars. Those scholars were attracted by erudition of Shankarayathi. His command over Vedas and Upanishads surprised them. Shankarayathi convinced the people that all Upanishads advocated Advaithathma (non dualistic soul). So many scholars became his disciples. Many seekers of knowledge young and old became his followers. Sadananda from Chola Province was one among them, who became the famous disciple of Shankarayathi in the name of Padma Padacharya. Thus Shankarayathi came to be known as Shankaracharya.
Lord Shankara appears before Shankaracharya as Chandaala
Once when Shankaracharya was returning after bath from river Ganga he met a Chandala (an untouchable) accompanied by four dogs. Shankaracharya told not to pollute him and ordered him to move aside to let him pass. Immediately Chandala questioned him who should move whether his inert body or soul because the body of each and everyone contains flesh and excreta but the soul is omnipresent. Soon Shankaracharya realised that the Chandala was an omniscient (Brahmajnani) and composed poems on him. Shankaracharya accepted Chandala as his guru immediately Chandala took the form of Lord Shankara and the four dogs became four Vedas. Lord Shankara blessed Shankaracharya and told him to record all his knowledge in scriptures for the benefit of mankind. So saying he disappeared.
This incident of Chandala made Shankaracharya to reflect over the transient nature of body and permanence of soul. He decided that his knowledge should pass to the future generations through the lineage of his disciples. He decided to record his findings about the human existence through treatises. The body shall pass away but the work remains forever guiding posterity.
The composition of the famous “Prasthana Traiya Bhashya”
Shankarachrya began torecord all his knowledge in the form of books in the peaceful environment of Badarikashram. The commentary on ten Upanishads, 555 Brahmasutra and Bhagavat gita are his famous works . Brahmasutra is such a marvellous work that it throws light on life, universe and Ishwara. Only Shankaracharya could explain Brahmasutra satisfactorily removing all the misgivings. This famous commentary on Upanishad, Bhagavatgita and Brahmasutra is called “Prasthna Traiya Bhashya”. Shankaracharya was only sixteen when he wrote this treatise.
Badarayana tests Shankaracharya
One day from among the disciples an old man put many questions to Shankaracharya. The old man wanted to intrigue Acharya through his series of questions. Finally through intuition shankaracharya learnt that it was Badarayana who had come to test him as an old man. Acharya prostrated before him. Badarayana blessed Acharya heartily praising him for his understanding of Bhagavatgita. He also told that works Shankaracharya would be widely followed in the universe in future and he disappeared.
Shankaracharya meets Kumarila Bhatta
Shankaracharya was in search of a qualified scholar who could help him to propagate his teachings. He heard of Kumarila Bhatta who was in Prayag. Kumarila Bhatta was a famous scholar who had written a formal exposition on the Vedas. He wanted protect Vaidika Dharma which was over shadowed by Buddist philosophy. Kumarila wanted to expose the shortcomings of Buddism by studying it thoroughly . So he became the disciple of a Buddhist Guru. After his keen study of Buddism,he was able to uphold the superiority of Vaidika Dharma. But at the same time he felt remorseful for cheating his Buddist Guru. He decided to sacrifice his body by entering ‘Tushanila’. (Tushanila was a method followed in ancient times where in the body would be buried in paddy husk up to neck. The fire lit on the husk would burn the body slowly inch by inch reducing it to ash).
Shankaracarya met Kumarila Bhatta who was ready to enter Tushanila. Kumarila pleaded his inability to guide Acharya. He told Acharya to meet his disciple Vishwaroopa or Mandana Mishra who was staying at Mahishmati.
The famous debate between shankaracharya and Mandana Mishra
Mandanamishra was famous scholar and disciple of Kumarila. Even his pet parrots could discuss about his teachings. Knowing monastic ability of Shankarachrya, Mandanamishra was quite happy for a spiritual debate with him. His wife UbhayaBharati was also a good scholar and well versed in different shastras. It was decided that Ubhaya Bharati should be the co ordinator in the debate between them. She prepared two garlands and asked them to wear it and that scholar whose garland fades away will be adjudged defeated during the course of their lengthy debate.
Both the scholars proposed their hypothesis and challenged to corroborate it. Shankaracharya putforth his theory that the whole Cosmos is filled with great sentient (Chetana) and that is Brahma. This physical earth is an illusion. Knowledge onlyredeems mankind from the ignorance of universe. Acharya swore that he would renounce his samnyasa if he fails to prove it.
On the other hand MandanaMishra putforth his theory the the real norms of life is the Varnas stipulated by the Vedas. Every individual should perform his duty according to his varna. One can not attain salvation by mere knowledge. He agreed to accept the discipleship of Acharya if he fails to prove his theory. The debate started. Mandanamishra upheld the importance of varna based performance of karma(duty). Any individual who has regard for his varna, age and Ashrama should perform his duty according to his Varna with out fail. He advocated the existence of many Atma rejecting Advaitavada. Shankarachrya argued, those people who believe in pure chaitanya (mental perception) don’t have any karma bhanda (bondage of duty). Those who are in blissful state have no duality (doubt) as explained in Upanishads. Thus the debate continued for eight days.
On the 9th day Ubhabharati came to the spot where the argument was held, to invite both the scholars for the alms (meals). Immediately she noticed the faded garland around the neck of her husband Mandanamishra. Mandana mishra realised that he was completely defeated by Acharya and surrendered to him. Even though he was completely taken away by the erudition of Acharya, he reflected about the ability of Jaimini Maharshi who strongly supported Vedas and upheld the Karma theory in his work “Dwadasha Adhyayia’’. So he concluded that his failure amounted to the failure of Jaimini Maharshi.
But shankaracharya consoled him explaining that the ultimate aim of Jaimini maharshi was also Parabrahma. The householders usually move away from the real goal owing to their bondage to their senses. The Vedas prescribe ‘Karmamarga’ for such worldly people to get them purified in order to get the eligibility for ‘Jnanamarga’ (liberation through knowledge). Jaimini maharshi was also a disciple of Badarayana and hence he will not go against the principles of his guru. On listening to this consoling words Mandana Mishra was greatly relieved.
Now Ubhayabharathi insisted Shankaracharya to defeat her in the debate. Finally Ubhayabharathi also surrendered to Shankaracharya. As decided earlier Mandana mishra adopted sanyasa and became the disciple of Shankaracharya in the name Sureshwaracharya. Both the guru and disciple continued their journey towards Srishaila
Many followers to Shankaracharya
On the way to srishaila Shankaracharya met many followers belonging to different religious order like Jain, Buddha,Pashupatha,Pancharatra and Kapalika. Many followers of other religious sect accepted him as their Guru adopting Adwaita doctrine. But one Kapalika (follower of Shiva sect) challenged him and decided to kill him treacherously. He wanted to meet Shankaracharya in seclusion. That wicked Kapalika threatened Shankaracharya to offer his head to the sacred fire (homa) to become one with Lord Shiva. That is the final step towards attaining highest seat of God.. Shankaracharya readily agreed to offer his head telling that the body is transient and told him to come the next day when his disciples would be away for a bath.
The next day the Kaplika was stealthily walking towards Shankaracharya. Padmapadacharya observed his stealthy steps and understood his wicked intention, when he saw his sword hidden inside his upper garment. When Kapalika was about to kill Shankaracharya who was in deep meditation, Padmapadacharya became delirious and roared like a lion. When Kapalika saw his terrible frenzy he ran away terrified leaving behind his sword and fell down dead. Listening to the frenzy voice of Padmapadacharya all the disciples came running. Meanwhile Shankaracharya also woke up from meditation. Knowing what had happened all felt happy Shankaracharya continued his pilgrimage visiting places like Gokarna, Shankaranarayana and Kollur. He had the sacred darshan of Sri Mahabhaleshwara, Harihara and Mookambika Devi. He instituted Sri Chakra at Kollur which increased the glory of Mookambika Devi.
The new disciple Hastamalaka
Continuing his pilgrimage Shankaracharya entered an Agrahara called Sribali. There lived many Agnihitris in that Agrahara. Among them there was a Brahmin called Prabhakara who was well versed in many Shastras. He had a son, who even after having Upanayana samskara remained inert like a stone. He could not recite either Gayatri or Omkara. Prabhakara brought his son before Acharya and pleaded his inability to make his son follow religious rituals. Shankaracarya placed his palm on the boys head and asked him who he was and why he was inert? The boy immediately replied , he was not inert and he was Sachidananda who could inspire inert things. Listening to this all felt happy. Shankaracharya knew that the boy was cognisant and received him as his disciple naming him Hastamalaka. Leaving his parents Hastamalaka followed Shankaracharya.
Disciple Giri becomes Totakacharya
Acharya Shankara reached the sacred place Sringeri where sage Hrishyashringa had performed his penance. Teaching his disciples Acharya spent some days at Sringeri. He had a disciple called Giri who was rather dullard. Giri was quite satisfied with serving his Guru, doing nothing for his spiritual growth. One day Acharya was waiting for Giri who had gone for washing cloths to river Tunga to resume his lessons. Padmapadacharya though a coveted scholar made fun of Giri and compared him to the wall. Shankaracharya decided to lessen his egotism. Through his yogic power Shankarachrya blessed his disciple Giri to be endowed with all Shastras. Enlightened in this way Giri, on the way back to Ashrama composed Sanskrit verses praising Shankaracharya in Thotaka vritha.(vritha – meter). Thus Giri became Thotakacharya receiving the blessing of Goddess Sharada. To commemorate this event Shankaracharya installed the idol of Goddess Sharada at Sringeri.
Shankaracharya’s mother leaves her physical body
When Shankaracharya was in Sringeri, he came to know that his mother Aryamba was in her death bed. She was longing to see her son Shankara. So shankaracharya accompanied with some disciples reached Kalati. Aryamba’s health was so critical that she spoke some words with her son with great difficulty. With the satisfaction of talking to her son for the last time, leaving her physical body she passed away to the heavenly abode. It was a sad thing that all her kith and kin had deserted her taking away all her property. No one came to help Shankara to perform her funeral. So Acharya prepared a bier in the front yard of the house and performed her last rights. Shankaracharya cursed his kin for their ungratefulness. He scourged that,let their front yard be their grave yard, let no hermit visit their houses for alms and they should be divide of the knowledge of the Vedas. Finally Shankaracharya took holy bath in river Poorna and abdicated the last link of the world.
Shankarachaya’s victory pilgrimage and dissemination of ‘’Prastana Traiya’’
After the demise of his mother Shankaracharya decided to disseminate the Vedas and Vaidika heritage. His disciples joined him and agreed to travel nationwide to propagate ‘Prastana Traiya’ and also other treatises expounding the Vedas.
Shankaracharya’s victory pilgrimage began from Rameshwara. At Rameshwara his efforts made Shakthas(worshippers of Kali) to abandon Tamasa pooja (slothful worship). At Pandya Chola province his explanation of the Vedas made unorthodox people believe in Vedas. They slowly embraced Vaidika system. At Kanchi Kshetra he made the devotees to agree and to follow worship of Vaidika tradition. Acharya then proceeded to Saptagiri to have the Darshan of Venkateshwara. After visiting Vidharbha, Shankaracharya entered Karnataka. In Karnataka he faced strong opposition from Kapalikas who believed in Shaiva tradition. Krakacha a Kapalika put a strong opposition to Acharya, but faced the wrath of his own diety Bhairava and collapsed. All his followers deserted him. Shankaracharya then reached Gokarna and had the Darshan of Mahabaleshwara. Afterwards he visited places like Maharastra, Sourastra and Ujjayini.
Where ever Acharya went he taught the devotees the doctrine of Vaidika tradition based on the Vedas. He highlighted that to be born as a human being is the highest order of the soul. We should be grateful to God. A man should always reflect about his goal and his duties. He should select right religion to attain his goal. Acharya always stressed the point that the Vaidika system is the only system which redeems man from his delusion and helps him to attain salvation. Many people accepted Achrya’s Philosophy but some challenged him. Even such people later were convinced by his argument and surrendered to him.
Aharya shankara strongly opposed Sankhyas and Buddhists Sankhyas though believed in vaidika system had the belief of many souls. Acharya condemned it and considered them as dangerous. Buddhists though had faith in truth and nonviolence, never believed in the existence of soul. If there is no soul attaining God and salvation becomes meaningless. So Acharya condemned it and totally rejected the philosophy of Buddhism. In this way Shankaracharya revived spirituality based on the Vedas and spread it all over the nation.
The SarvajnaPeeta(omniscient seat) of Kashmir
Propagating vaidika Dharma, lighting the lamp of knowledge through his many disciples Shankaracharya entered Kashmir. Kashmir is known for its knowledge for the ages. That is why Goddess Saraswati is called Kashmirapuraasini. There is amagnificient Sharada Mandir in Kashmir with an attractive idol of Sharada Devi. By the side this idol there is an elevated seat called Sarvajna peeta. Only knowledgeable, learned and cognisant pundit, well versed in all Shastras can adore this seat. The temple had a Mandali(committee) of experts which tested the expertise of the scholar in different branches of knowledge, who is eligible to sit on this seat of knowledge.
The Sarvajna peeta had four doors on four sides. Eligible scholars from North, West and East had entered through their respective doors to sit on this peeta. But it was believed that no scholar from south is eligible to adore Sarvajna Peeta. Only Shankaracharya could do it by answering all the questions put by many cognisant pundits satisfactorily. The disciples of Shankaracharya felt happy and called him “Shankara Bhaghavathpada”. Shankaracharya visited many sacred places of Kashmir and returned to Kashi.
The Holy Saint disappears for ever
Shankaracharya’s fruitful effort made Sanatana Dharma to spread far and wide. He felt very happy for providing a firm basis to Sanatana Dharma. When he was thirty two he told his disciples to establish monasteries at different parts of India and to guide people on spirituality. Shankaracharya blessed his disciples and travelled towards Northen part of India. After instituting Lord Badarinarayana at Badari he travelled to Kedara. Acharya used to meditate deeply at Kedareshwara temple for many hours. One day he climbed up the misty mountains behind the temple and disappeared for ever.