Introduction to Adhi Shankara
Our humble offerings to the Lotus feet of Adhi Shankara, one of the greatest philosophers ever to grace this planet. Shankara's glory cannot be described in mere words. He is the embodiment of Jyana and His writings, clarity in his philosophy and the devotion he expresses cannot be questioned.
Adhi Shankaracharaya was born during the time when Hinduism was divided into various sects and the ritualistic practice had taken predominance over actual philosophical practice. Shankara, in his indisputable style, set out on a difficult mission and changed the outlook of the country and its people by revamping the vast Hindu literature into simple easy to understand language.
The Life of Shankara
Vidyaadhiraaja lived in the small village of Kaladi in Kerala, South India. His only son, Shivaguru, was inclined to asceticism and spirituality. However on Vidyaadhiraaja's insistence, Shivaguru married Shivataarakaa (also known as Aryamba) from a nearby village. In spite of a virtuous life, they were not blessed with a child for a long time. However the prayers at the Vrishabhachaleswara temple in Trichur borne fruit. Lord Shiva appeared as an old man in a dream to Shivaguru and gave him a choice of hundred sons who would be happy or a single son who would become a great sage but condemned to a short life and severe life. Shivaguru choose the latter. The couple was then blessed with a wonderful son and they named him Shankara. According to historians, Shankara was born in the year Nandana (26th year of the sixty-
Shivaguru did not live long thereafter and died when Shankara was five, and Shankara was raised under the loving care of his mother. He started studying arts and sciences based on the Vedas. He was a prodigy and completed his Vedic studies at the young age of eight. At this age, he exhibited ascetic tendencies. Shankara requested his mother's permission to become a Sanyasa. His mother, Shivataarakaa gave Shankara her consent. He proceeded north and reached the banks of Narmada. He saw a group of Sanyasins surrounding an imposing old man, who was deeply engrossed in meditation. Shankara folded his arms respectfully and prostrated before the old man and exclaimed, "I bow down before my guru, Govinda". Govinda Bhagavatpada greeted him fervently as a long promised disciple (Legend has it that Govinda was promised this disciple by his guru, GauDapaada). During this time, Shankara became acquainted with the foundations of Advaita and wrote several Shiva hymns, some philosophical treatises, and the commentary on Brhadaara Nyakaopanishad.
At the age of fifteen, Shankara reached Kashi and started to spread the Advaita philosophy, and started writing the commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita. During his stay in Kashi, he wrote Bhaja Govindam. In a very short time, he had established himself as an authority on Vedanta philosophy. Shankara then proceeded to tour the vast country of India. And established his philosophy. This is often referred to his Dig-
In Kashi, Shankara resided with his disciples in one of the most famous ghat, Manikarnika (the earring of Shiva). This ghat is probably one of the most visited ghats and occupies a honourable place in the neighbouring temple of Visvanatha. During his regular visits to the temple, an untouchable man with a dog blocked him. Shankara requested him to go away. The untouchable man then said "Oh, Shankara! By saying go away, go away; do you mean a body made of food is asking another body made of food to go away or is it a request from one consciousness to another consciousness? Oh, Expounder of Advaita! How can you preach the Truth, when you yourself are so blinded by the outward appearances and by Maya?
Shankara immediately realised his folly and offered his pranaams at the feet of the untouchable and composed a poem called “Manishhaa Panchakam” that explemlfies that the atman shines forth equally in a Brahman and an untouchable. The "untouchable" was none other than Lord Shiva himself who wanted to remove the last traces of ego in Shankara.
Among his disciples, the above four disciples are considered the primary disciples. Tradition says that Sureswaracharaya is the same person as Mandana Misra and he is the most prolific of writers. Several works have been attributed to him. Totaka, whose original name was Giri, was a simple person among the disciples of Shankara. The disciples of Shankara thought that Totaka was slow-
Shankara also composed Atma-
Shankaras next journey was to Kashmir where he again held his philosophical acumen and triumphed in various debates. This was followed by a visit to Nepal, where he had a vision of Sri Dattatreya, (the author of Tripura Rahasya, Avadhuta Gita) guru of Patanjali (of the yoga sutras). At least three versions exist on his Maha-