History of Adi shankaraachraya

Shankaracharya is considered to be one of the most prominent spiritual leaders of India, who dislodged the ‘Anatmavad’ (non-existence of soul) of Buddhism and propagated the theory of all-pervading soul of the Hindu philosophy. He was not a thinker alone but also a Dharmacharya (religious head) and a builder of the nation. His main disciple Padmpad had written a book titled ‘Vijaydindim’ in which he had described the character of Acharya Shankar but that book is now not available. Whatever information about him is available is based on the works titled ‘Shankar Digvijay’ by Anandgiri; ‘Shankar Vijay’ by Chidvilasyati; ‘Sankshep Shankar Vijay’ and ‘Laghu Shankar Vijay’ by Madhvacharya; Shankaramyudya’ by Tirumalla Dixit and ‘Shankar Vijay’ by Purushottam Bharati.

There is a lot of controversy about the period of the birth of Acharya Shankar or Shankaracharya. Some scholars maintain that he was born about four hundred years before Christ drawing support from the sequence of establishment of various Muths (monasteries) by him. It, however, appears that Acharya Shankar was born on the fifth day of the moonlit night of Baishakh in Kerala in a village named Kalti-Kalandi or Kaldi situated at the bank of the river Poorna. His father was a renowned scholar named Shri Shivguru, a Brahmin and his mother was Shrimati Subhadra (also named as Vishishtha), both of whom were in advanced age and childless. They prayed and worshiped Lord Shankar with great reverence, as a result of which Acharya Shankar was born to them in about 845 Vikramiya Samvat, who was named after Lord Shankar, as Shankar.

Acharya Shankar was extraordinarily brilliant. At the age of three years he had learnt his mother-tongue Malayalam and soon at a very young age he memorized many episodes of Puranas and other scriptures. He lost his father at the age of three years. At the age of five years after Yagyopavit Samsakara (the Brahaminical sacred thread ceremony) he was sent to his teacher’s house for learning and acquiring knowledge. By the time he was seven, he had learnt the Vedas, Vedant and other scriptures and thereafter he returned home. His extraordinary brilliance had astonished his teacher. A strange incidence when he was studying is related to him. A poor Brahman once put an Amla (myrobalan) on his palm as a token of his poverty. Shankar’s was moved and he prayed to the goddess Laxmi. Next day the poor Brahman spotted a lot of Amlas of gold in his house.

Having completed his studies, Shankar returned home. His mother used to go to the river Poorna to bathe. Once she fainted due to exertion and, therefore, did not return home for long. Shankar went in search for her and noticing that she had to travel far off to take her bath, he prayed to the Almighty to make the river Poorna flow close to their house. Soon thereafter the river changed its course and started flowing close to their house. Shankar thereafter desired to take Sanyas (renounce the world) and sought his mother’s permission to do so but she did not agree. Shankar was a great devotee of his mother and, therefore, did not want to do anything that may upset her. One day he had gone to take a bath with his mother at the river. While he was taking a dip in the river acrocodile caught hold of his foot. His mother was shocked and started crying for help. Shankar consoled her saying that if she permitted him to take Sanyas, the crocodile would leave him. The worried mother immediately gave her consent and the crocodile left Shankar. Thus at the age of eight, Shankar left his home and while leaving he promised his mother that he would be present at the time she breaths her last. Having left the home Shankar arrived at the bank of the river Narmada and there he was initiated by Swami Govind Bhagvatpad. He was given a new name by his Guru ‘Bhagvatpujyapadachrya’. He started his sadhana as directed by the Guru and in a short duration he became a Yogasiddha Mahatma (a Mahatma who has attained the desired state in yoga). Pleased with his achievement, his Guru asked him to go to Kashi and write a commentary on Vedantasutra. In Kashi he started gaining popularity and many people became his disciple. His first disciple was Sanandan, who later became famous as Padmacharya. In Kashi along with teaching his students, Shankar also used to write the commentary. It is said that once Lord Vishvanath appeared before him in the attires of a Chandal (a low caste man), who was surrounded by four dogs. He obstructed Shankar’s path. Shankar asked him to move away. He politely replied, ‘You are a preacher of ‘Advait’ (non-duality), and you say that the entire world is pervaded by the Lord. It is, therefore, surprising that a person like you believes in untouchability.’ Shankar appreciated the argument and stated that the Chandal, who perceived the presence of same Soul in all the creatures, is also my Guru. Shankar was then surprised to see Lord Vishvanath himself standing in place of the Chandal. Lord Vishvanath then showed him his divine appearance, asked him to write a commentary on the Brahmasutra and to proclaim ‘Advait Brahmatatva’ (non-duality of all beings) in it and also asked him to preach the religion.

Shankar then traveled to various places including Kanchi, Ujjaiyani and Badrikashram and defeated many exponents of different schools of thought and wrote many books. He then reached Prayag and met Kumarilbhatt at the time when he was preparing for self-emollition and on his advice Shankar went to Mahishmati to hold a debate with Mandan Mishra. Bharti Mishra, the wife of Mandan Mishra acted as the mediator for the debate. Mandan Mishra lost the debate and became a disciple of Acharya Shankar. Bharti, the wife of Mandan Mishra was highly learned. She challenged Shankaracharya to defeat her in debate on Kamshashtra (in the knowledge of cohabitation). Shankaracharya was a Bal-Brahmachari (observing chastity right from the childhood) and had no knowledge of family-life. He, therefore, sought some time and transmigrated his soul in to the body of a dead person, king Amru, to acquire the requisite knowledge. Mandan Mishra changed his name to Sureshvaracharya after becoming a disciple of Shankaracharya.

Once a Kapalik (one engaged in Tantra Vidya) requested him to give his head for his Tantrik Kriyas, as he was in the look out of a realized person, who could offer his head. Shankaracharya agreed to offer his head and sat in Samadhi. Padmapad, the disciple of Shankaracharya on getting an inspiration appeared just when the Kapalik was about to severe Shankaracharya’s head and killed him (Kapalik), thus saving Shankaracharya’s life.Shankaracharya then started spreading the message of Upanishads. He proclaimed that Brahm is Truth and the world is false. This was known as “Kevaladvaitavad” (the theory of absolute non-duality). He proclaimed the theory of non-differentiation of the creature and the Creator. He proclaimed that in spite of manifestation, the Brahm is ‘Purna’ (full, complete, whole), Truth and Gyanandswaroop (treasure of all Knowledge and Bliss), Eternal and all-Pervasive. According to him Brahm has no attributes or qualities and is inert. He, however, did not disapprove of Sagun Brahm (Brahm with all attributes and qualities), but stated that Sagun Brahm is Mayik (of Maya-illusion), and accepted the Sagun Brahm as the treasure of all attributes and qualities. He proclaimed that the Soul is infinite and full of knowledge but Jeev (an embodied soul or creature) does not possess this knowledge, as its knowledge is restricted to the body and that because of his Karma (actions-deeds) he moves up or down and feels pleasure or pain and undergoes the cycle of death and birth. On acquiring the knowledge of ‘Tatvamasi’ (on cessation of the sense of a different identity) alone one acquires the state of liberation. He laid lot of stress on inner purity through which alone one acquires the real knowledge. He considered devotion to be a means for acquiring the real knowledge and acquisition of real knowledge as the ultimate goal. He himself, however, was a devotee and had special inclination towards the Leelas of Lord Shri Krishna. He has described various Leelas of Lord Krishna at the banks of the river Yamuna in his work ‘Prabodhsagar’. Shankaracharya brought many scriptures again into prominence and he himself wrote many treatises. He wrote all this during the period of four years between the age of 12 to 16 years. He defeated the Shaivites and Kapaliks of Maharashtra and also the Pundits of Kashmir. From Kashmir to Rameshwaram, scholars recognized his brilliance. He established various Jyotirmuths (Schools for philosophical learning), viz. Shungeri in South, Govardhan in Jaggannathpuri, Sharda in Dwarka and in Badrikashram. These Jyotirmuths became centers for promulgating Shankaracharya’s principles right from the beginning. With a view to spread the message of religion Shankaracharya started holding of Kumbha Mela (the famous Kumbha festivals) at the interval of every twelve years at Nasik, Ujjain, Prayag and Haridwar, which are continuing and gaining strength year after year. This is a great contribution of Shankaracharya to the Indian culture. Having established various Muths, conquering various scholars and having completed his work of spreading the message of religion Shankaracharya visited his ailing mother in Kerala. She breathed her last in the presence of Shankaracharya. Seeing Shankaracharya a Sanyasi, coming forward to perform the last rights of his mother Pundits discarded him but Shankaracharya performed her last rights. He remained alive only for thirty-two years. While proceeding towards Kedar, he left this mortal world near Kailash in Vikram Samvat 877.