Jagadguru Shri AdiSankaran is described as original one of all the spiritual gurus ever born in
It is believed that Kerala was created out of the deep blue sea by Parasurama- the axe wielding monk. After retrieving the land Parasurama, it is believed, divided it among people of Brahmin origin. He divided people in to different castes and ordered them to live as per the protocols he has set. But as centuries passed by the protocols were forgotten and people lived a life of disorder. The time was ripe for the birth of a reformer and the mantle fell upon sankaracharya.
As a propagator of caste system shri Sankaracharya can even be blamed for the evils associated with it. The caste system, originally intended to be of good to the society as a whole, later got corrupted to the extreme and turned out to be a curse of the Hindu religion.
Whatever the case be, think of a man when roads communications etc were non existent traveled throughout India brought a dispersed and virtually non existent religion in to a uniform set up, collected the Vedas written in different parts of the country in different times consolidated it and defined it and made all people obey the standards set by him.
There are no records to show when the saint was born or where exactly his birth place was. The most accepted opinion is that he was born at a village by name Kalady on the bank of River Periyar. The period is supposed to be between 8th and 9th century. His parents belonged to the Malayali Brahmin (Nampoothiri) community. Father was Sri Sivaguru and mother Smt Aryaamba.
The couple was not blessed with any children for a long period and they proceeded to Thrissur to pray before the deity for the fulfillment of their wish. While the couple was asleep in the temple compound they both had a dream. In the dream Lord Siva approached them and said he will full fill their wish and asked whether they wish to have a child of extreme brilliance of short life span or too many children of mediocre talents. The wise Brahmin opted for the first and they got it. The couple was blessed to be the parents of none other than Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya.
As per the assurance of Lord Siva a male child was born to them. His father he passed away while the boy was young. The young Sankaran was far different from other boys. At the age of five the child could study the Vedas and could understand the meanings in it. (Even now most of the experts who recite the Vedas are not following the meanings)
But young Sankaran was inviting big troubles, the obscurantist leaders of the community could not absorb the fact of a child defining and explaining the Vedas (which even they could not understand!). They struck back by excommunicating the widowed mother and her son. No one of the community was permitted visit or contact the family.
Sankaran began to nurture the idea of becoming a sanyasi (Hindu monk). As he was her only child his mother could hardly let him go. There was strong difference between mother and son in this regard. One day while bathing in the river a crocodile caught hold of the boy. Seeing this, his helpless mother was wailing loudly on the bank of the river for the life of her only son. The boy shouted to the mother “give me immediate permission for sanyas or I die”. Panic stricken mother immediately said yes and the crocodile vanished in no time.
At the age of sixteen Sankaran became a full fledged monk and left home for pilgrimage to Badrinath. There during his stay he wrote the “Sutrabhashya” (key to the Vedas”). There it is said that he had an encounter with Vyasa the great monk who originally compiled the Vedas and Sankaran got the Vyasa’s endorsement to his work “Sutrabhashya”
Sankaracharya while staying at Badrinath got some signals in his mind that his mother was in her deathbed and started to his original home. There the mother breathed her sight seeing the last glimpses of her son. As the family was still excommunicated neighbors were not present in the scene and the great monk had to carry the dead body of his mother to the pyre all by himself. That was the punishment Kerala offered to a mother who gave birth to the greatest saint ever born in this land!
Sankaracharya started with the tryst with destiny from there onwards, first he returned to Badrinath on the way he met several people and had discourses regarding the intricacies of the Vedas and Puranas. He could earn many disciples on these sessions. In the process of shedding new light upon the old Vedas, which were corrupted by people of people of power who did never have real knowledge Sankaracharya was gaining clout as a great scholar. Gradually Sankaracharya got accepted in the Indian spiritual field.
On his way he met Swami Bhagavalpada at the banks of river
His works include “Adyatmapatala” of Agasthamba sutras and bashyas to Patanjali’s Yoga sutra.
The really great work he done was to conduct assemblies for discourses and inviting the men of knowledge in the Vedas to get engaged in serious debates. In these courses the extraordinary talent of the young guru got noticed by the scholars and several of them joined him as disciples. His clout grew to such extend that, what he ordered became the. Ritual and he became the final authority to dictate procedures for religious performances.
The visit of Sankaracharya along with a group of disciples to holy places was such an event at that time people gathered in large numbers to see and hear the great guru who occupied the status of visible god. He during these travels and camping established four Maths(Ashrams which had authority over other spiritual bodies) in four different places and posted four of his disciples one each for every ashram as noted below.
1. Math at Shringeri in south
2. Math at Dwaraka in Gujarath west
3. Math at Puri in Orissa east part of
4. Math at Joshnath.(Jyotirmath) Uttaranchal north
There is one more interesting story associated with Sankaracharya which runs like this. While Sankaracharya was engaged in his “Degvijayam”(winning of the world) meaning converting old traditionalists in to new ideologists as per his dictum. Sankaracharya had a prolonged confrontation with king Viswarupa.
The condition was that who fail in the argument will have to join the winner as disciple. The wife of Viswarupa Smt. Saraswati was playing the role of referee. The debate lasted for weeks and at a point the king was about to lose, his stake was tremendous because joining Sankaracharya will make him lose his kingdom and his family which he could never think of. Finally Saraswati the wife of the king had to come for the rescue of her husband her question was about sex and married life of which Sankaracharya- a chronic brahmachari- had no practical experience! Sankaracharya had to admit that he is at present not in a position to answer this and asked some time to gain it.
The poor king and his family sighed a breath of relief as they could escape from an imminent danger. Saraswati is also said to be an incarnation of Goddess Saraswati (who is associated with knowledge and education) who came to eliminate the arrogance that was slowly building up in Sankaracharya. The story ends like this, Sankaracharya for gaining experience in married life lay like almost dead in his bed and his soul entered in the body of a king who was breathing his last. Such a process is known as “parakaya pravesam” as per Hindu mythology. The king arose as if from a sleep and lived a normal life for some more time. Later the soul returned to the original body. Nothing known about the argument with the king let the poor souls (king and queen live in their marital bliss for ever)
It is also believed that it is Sankarachaya who imparted most of the traditions those exist in the Malayali Brahmin community one of them known as “smarthavicharam”. (ex communication of women accused of adultery). The permission of the ruling king was necessary for imposing such harsh steps. These rituals were misused to a great extent that the Malayali Brahmins became notorious for their misdeeds towards members of their own community. And Sankaracharya was often made a scapegoat for all their misdeeds.
Like his birth, the place of his death also is a disputed thing. It is generally believed that his death occurred at Badari Ashram in Himalayan ranges. One thing was beyond dispute that it occurred at the young age of 32. It occurred as per the boon given to his parents by none other than Lord Siva himself.
It is interesting to note Sri Sankaracharya who already was a legend while he lived still continues so. A man whose life history is shrouded within mythologies is often quoted as responsible for all social evils those have crept in the society. One thing is for sure he is the most important personality Kerala has ever produced.