Adi Shankaracharya, a great exponent of Hinduism in 8th century was a top philosopher and theologian whose works have a strong impact on the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta and infused new spirit and strength in Hinduism all across the world. In the short span of 32-years life, he founded four Mathas (Monasteries), high seats of worships, which are believed to have helped in the historical development, revival and preservation as also propagation of Hinduism.
His colossol contribution is a corpus consisting of commentaries on the Vedanta Sutras, the Gita and twelve Upanishads about thirty independent tracts, nearly 250 hymns, a Tantric work and a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras bears the name of Sankaracharya as the author. Starting his religious mission and journey from Kasi , which was a Dharma-Yatra, Shankaracharya never looked back and brought cultural renaissance in India. He visualized the country as a nation of integrity in all respects. After accomplishing all this in a short span of thirty-two years, Shankaracharya passed away in the Himalayas.
Adi-Shankracharya, has once again came to eminence when during November this year, 12-feet black-marble statue made up of Chlorite Schist Stone, known to withstand rain, sunshine, harsh climate was installed at Kedarnath Math by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. It may be recalled that Shankracharya was born in Kerala in a poor Brahmin family. At the tender age of 12 he left his hearth and home to seek the ultimate truth and knowledge. He travelled across India and met the high priests of Hinduism and gained more and more knowledge. Samadhi but left behind a very rich legacy and tradition on our scriptures.
Spread of Hinduism
According to many accounts, he travelled extensively all across the Indian subcontinent to propagate Hindu philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers, from both orthodox traditions and heterodox non-Hindu-traditions, defeating his opponents in theological debates. His commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi Vedic canon (Brahma Sutras, Principal Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) argue for the unity of Atman and Nirguna Brahman. Attributes, defending the liberating knowledge of the Self and the Upanishads as an independent means of knowledge against the ritually-oriented Mimimsa school of Hinduism. Shankara himself stated that Hinduism asserts Atman (soul-self) exists, whilst Buddhism asserts that there is “no Soul, no Self”.
Adi Shakara’s father Shivaguru passed away when he was merely a child. The mother Aryamba brought him up and performed his Upanayana. Once Shankara’s aging mother fell unconscious while returning from a bath at the river. Then Shankara invoked the river and prayed that river changed her course. And started flowing near their home so as to facilitate his mother. The following morning, the people of Kalady (Birthplace in Kerala) were struck with awe when they found that the river indeed had changed its course, giving-in to the young Brahmachari’s earnest appeal.
According to a common belief, it is well known that one day when Shankara was bathing in the Poorna river, a crocodile caught his leg and started dragging him in. He appealed to his mother to give him permission to take Sanyasa conferring on him a Punarjanma (a new birth). Aryamba knew that she would have the satisfaction of at least having her son alive even if it were in the robes of a Sanyasin. Ultimately, Aryamba consented to Shankara’s request and crocodile released its hold on him as a result Shankara was now free to embrace Sanyasa and entrusted his mother into the care of his relatives. Aryamba, still grieving over Shankara’s decision, said that her consent in accordance with Shankara’s request was only to take Sanyasa but not to allow the relations to perform her obsequies. So, in order to pacify his mother, Shankara made the following statement, as described in the Madhaviya Shankara Vijayam.
Pledge “I will give up all my work and come to you, whether you think of me at day, night or in between them Sandhya time, that occurs at sunrise and sunset, whether you are conscious, unconscious or burdened with sorrow. If you die, I will myself perform your last rites. You can believe me”.
At long last while he was on Victorious tours in South India, Shankara came to know by intuition that time has come of his mother’s departure towards heaven. He remembered the promise he had made to her before embaracing sanyasa and immediately proceeded towards Kalidi. On seeing Shankara, his mother felt happy. In Shankara’s hand she breathed her last peacefully. Now it was time to perform her antyeshti but according to Dharmashastras, a Sanyasi is not eligible to perform it. Shankara was bent upon fulfilling the promise he made to his mother but he was opposed by his relatives vehemently. Shankara made a pyre in the garden of his house and set fire with his Yogic power. Thus the cremation was completed. After that the great sage then travelled to various places from his birth place Kaladi to Kashi, Badri to Sringeri, Gokarna and so on.
Shankara’s contribution to Indian philosophy and thought is priceless and matchless. He has authored magnificent works which comprise commentaries, original treatises in prose and poetries. His style of writing is lucid and has depth explaining even highly complicated issues in simple language. He was a free thinker not bound by any prejudices. This is well testified by his commentaries in which we find him giving due recognition to the merit of whatever system he was dealing with. His criticism is always dignified and language is restrained but highly forceful. His writes are in marvellous and illuminating style which provided much needed stimuli for an intellectual revolution and cultural renaissance.
According to authorities sources, Shankara went to Mahishmati (Assam) accompanied by his disciples. He knocked at the door of his house, Mandanamisra who was performing Sraddha ceremony. Shankara finding that the door was bolted from inside, entered the house by yogic power. Enraged by the presence of Sanyasin while the Sraddhakarma was going on, Mandanamisra showered abuses on Shankara. Meanwhile Mandanamisra realised his folly and accepted Sankara’s invitation for a disputation.
The debated was scheduled next day with the conditions that if Shankara is defeated, he should wear white robes and accept the ritualistic schools’ validity, and if Mandanamisra is defeated he should become a sanyasin and will follow Vedantic thought. Ubbhayabharti, wife of Mandanamisra, herself a great scholar, became umpire.
Unity Vs Disruption
Accordingly, the disputation began when disputants wore a garland each, on the understanding that once grossland would garland get withered, it will be considered defeated. Both being great scholars, Shankara and Mandanamisra, debated in support of their respective schools of thought for several days. Finally, the garland withering while that of Shankar continued to be as a fresh as it was on the first day of disputations. With humility and respect towards Shankara Mandanamisra conceded his defeat and accepted the irrefutable nature of the truth of Advaita. The couples accepted Sanyaasa and Shankara named them as Suresvarea who became famous as Vartikakara. The victory of Shankara over Mandanamisra had far-reaching effects as several people joined Shankara as his disciples, to propagate the Adavita philosophy and restore the true Vedic Culture. Still Shankara had to make a long journey to achieve his goal as a result, he started towards South where he met people of different faiths who worship gods of their choice but he did not dispute with their faith and preached devotion. He pointed out the fact that it is the same goal what is being sought by different faiths and that the god’s power is all pervading. He said in fact that worshipping the same Almighty who is omnipotent and all pervading. This helped forgiving unity in diversity Greatness of Shankara lies in this. Shankara’s mission was not to destroy but to build.
Shankara’s visited to Kanchi, one of the seven holy cities of India. Shankara realised the necessity and importance of setting up permanent institutions to transmit the knowledge of Advaita philosophy to the future generations. These institutions are called “Mathas” which were set up by him in Kanchi, Tamil Nadu and Sringeri, Karnataka. These Mathas advocates spirit of unity and wholeness at a time when the society was rife with meaningless disputes over outdated thoughts. After completing his tour of South India, Shankara headed North. Shankara, through his positive arguments and constructive thoughts preached the philosophy that “Reality is one” which is explained and interpreted in different ways. He explained the real import of the Karma theory. Shankara also established a Matha in Puri Jagannath, Odhisha and also at Dwaraka, Maharashtra. Shankara set up his mathas in all four directions of the country. Thus he gave expression to his thought of the unity of India. The influence of these Mathas pervaded all over the entire country.
Shankara also visited Kashmir which was one of the greatest centres of learning the Kashmir was the seat of Saivaism and Sakta culture. Shankara visited the temple of Sarada in Kashmir and later had an encounter with a Sakta called Abhinavagupta. Enraged by his defeat in Sankara’s hands Bhinavagupta by a black magic caused in Sankara’s body a malignant disease which Shankara could overcome the disease. According to another tradition Shankara had a disputation with a Brahmana’s daughter-in-law on Saktha culture. Having been impressed by her scholarship he granted a head-dress called Taranga to them. In memory of this event even today the Brahmanas of Kashmir wear this Taranga. To commemorate Shankara’s visit to Kashmir, a temple was built on a hill near Srinagar and both the hill and the temple are called after Shankaracharya who has left indelible imprints on Indian philosophy and rejuvenation of Hinduism for all times to come.