Sri Sankaracharya: Adi Jagadguru of Kaliyuga

April 22, 2007

Design: RK 

by Sri Swami Sivananda

Chaos pervaded all through India in the matter of religion and philosophy. Sect after sect, such as Charvakas, Lokayathikas, Kapalikas, Shaktas, Sankhyas, Buddhas and Madhyamikas sprang up. The number of religions rose as high as seventy-two. There was fight amongst sects. There was no peace anywhere. Chaos and confusion reigned supreme. There was superstition and bigotry. Darkness prevailed over the once happy land of Rishis, sages and Yogins. The once glorious land of the Aryans was in a miserable state. Such was the state of the country at the time which just preceded the Avatara (incarnation) of Sankaracharya.

The existence of Vedic Dharma in India today is due to Sankara. The forces opposed to Vedic religion were more numerous and powerful at the time of Sankara than they are today. Still, single-handed, within a very short time, Sankara overpowered them all and restored the Vedic Dharrna and Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity in the land. The weapon he used was pure knowledge and spirituality. The previous Avataras, like Rama and Krishna, used physical forces because the obstacles to Dharma in those days arose from the physical obstructions and molestations of the Asuras (demons). The menace to Dharma in the Kali age (age of destruction) arose from obstacles that were more internal than external, more mental than physical. The seeds of Adharma (unrighteousness) were then working in the minds of almost everyone. Hence the evil had to be combated purely by the weapon of knowledge and self-purification. It was in order to forge this weapon and wield it with efficacy that Sankara took birth in the Brahmin Varna (caste) and entered the Sannyasa (renunciate) order early in life. The previous Avataras like Rama and Krishna took birth in the Kshatriya Varna (warrior caste), because in their days they had to wield military weapons in the restoration of Dharma.

All are no doubt aware of the very important position assigned to Sankaracharya in the history of Indian philosophy. It can be affirmed, without any fear of contradiction, that Bharata Varsha would have ceased to be Bharata Varsha several centuries ago and would never have survived the murderous sword, the devastating fire and the religious intolerance of the successive invaders, if Sankara had not lived the life he lived and taught the lessons he taught. And those lessons are still pulsating in every cell and in every protoplasm of the true aspirant and the true Hindu.

Sankara was born in a very poor family in the year 788 A.D. in a village named Kaladi, six miles to the east of Alwaye, Kerala. Kaladi is a railway station, on the Kochi-Shoranur rail link. Sankara was a Nambudiri Brahmin. Rajasekhara, a Zamindar (a rich landlord), built a Siva temple in Kaladi and formed an Agrahara for Brahmins who were in the service of the temple. Vidyadhiraja was doing Puja (worship) in the temple. He had only a son named Sivaguru. Sivaguru studied the Shastras and married at the proper age. He had no child. He and his wife Aryamba prayed to Lord Siva to bless them with a son. A son was born to them in the Vasanta Ritu or the spring season at noon, in the auspicious Abhijit Muhurta and under the constellation Ardhra. This son was Sankara.

Sivaguru died when Sankara was seven years old. Sankara had none to look after his education. His mother was an extraordinary woman. She took special care to educate her son in all the Shastras. Sankara’s Upanayana or thread ceremony was performed in his seventh year, after the death of his father. Sankara exhibited extraordinary intelligence in his boyhood. When he was only sixteen, he became a master of all the philosophies and theologies. He began to write commentaries on the Gita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras when he was only sixteen years old. What a great marvel!

Sankara’s mother was consulting astrologers about horoscopes of suitable girls for her son’s marriage. But Sankara had a firm resolve to renounce the world and become a Sannyasin. Sankara’s mother was very much grieved that there would be no one to perform her funeral rites after her death. Sankara gave full assurance to his mother that he would always be ready to serve her at the death-bed and perform the usual funeral rites. Even then his mother was not satisfied.

One day, Sankara and his mother went to take bath in the river. Sankara plunged into the water and felt that a crocodile was dragging him by the foot. He shouted out to his mother at the top of his voice: “O dear mother! A crocodile is dragging me down. I am lost. Let me die peacefully as a Sannyasin. Let me have the satisfaction of dying as a Sannyasin. Give me your permission now. Let me take Apath-sannyasa”.

The mother immediately allowed him to take Sannyasa. Sankara took Apath-sannyasa (the adoption of Sannyasa when death is near) at once. The crocodile let him go unharmed. Sankara came out of the water as a nominal Sannyasin. He again repeated his promise to his mother. He left her under the care of his relatives and gave away his little property to them. He then proceeded to find out a Guru with a view to get himself formally initiated into the sacred order of Sannyasa.

In Search of a Guru
Sankara met Swami Govindapada Acharya in a hermitage in Badrikashram (Badrinath) in the Himalayas and he prostrated at the teacher’s feet. Govinda asked Sankara who he was. Sankara replied: “O revered Guru! I am neither fire nor air nor earth nor water-none of these, but the Immortal Atma (Self) that is hidden in all names and forms”. He also said in the end: “I am the son of Sivaguru, a Brahmin of Kerala. My father died in my childhood. I was brought up by my mother. I have studied the Vedas and the Shastras under a teacher. I took Apath-sannyasa when a crocodile caught my foot while I was taking bath in the river. Kindly initiate me formally into the holy order of Sannyasa”.

Swami Govinda was very much pleased with the truthful narration given by Sankara. Having initiated him and invested him with the robe of a Sannyasin, Swami Govinda taught him the philosophy of Advaita which he himself had learnt from his Guru-Gaudapada Acharya. Sankara learnt all the philosophical tenets from his Guru Govindapada. Govinda asked Sankara to go to Kashi. Sankara proceeded to Kashi where he wrote all his famous commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Gita and successfully met all the criticisms levelled against them. He then began to propagate his philosophy. Sankara had the greatest esteem for his Guru Govindapada and his Parama Guru or the teacher’s teacher, Gaudapada.

Sankara’s Digvijaya
Sankara’s philosophical conquests are unique in the world. He had his triumphant tour all over India. He met the leaders of different schools of thought. He convinced them by arguments and established the supremacy and truth of the religion that he expounded in his commentaries. He went to all the celebrated seats of learning. He challenged the learned men to discussion, argued with them and converted them to his opinions and views. He defeated Bhatta Bhaskara and condemned his Bhashya (commentary) on the Vedanta Sutras. He then met Dandi and Mayura and taught them his philosophy. He then defeated in argument Harsha, author of Khandana Khanda Kadya, Abhinavagupta, Murari Misra, Udayanacharya, Dharmagupta, Kumarila and Prabhakara.

Sankara then proceeded to Mahishmati. Mandana Misra was the chief Pundit of the court of Mahishmati. Mandana was brought up in the Karma Mimamsa faith and so he had intense hatred for the Sannyasins. He was performing a Sraaddha ceremony when Sankara somehow dropped down there. Immediately Mandana Misra became very furious. An ugly conversation was started when the Brahmins, who were present there for dinner, interposed and pacified Mandana Misra. Then Sankara challenged Mandana to a religious controversy. Mandana agreed. Bharati who was the wife of Mandana Misra and who possessed scholarly erudition was appointed as the umpire. It was agreed beforehand that Sankara, if defeated, would become a householder and marry; and that Mandana, if defeated, would become a Sannyasin and receive the robe of a Sannyasin from the hands of his own wife. The controversy began in right earnest and continued for days without any interruption. Bharati did not sit and listen to their controversy. She threw two garlands, one each over the shoulders of each of the disputants, and said: “He whose garland begins to fade first should consider himself defeated”. She left the place and began attending to her household duties. The controversy went on for seventeen days. The garland of Mandana Misra began to fade first. Mandana Misra accepted his defeat and offered to become a Sannyasin and follow Sankara.

Bharati was an Avatara of Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning. Once the sage Durvasa chanted the Vedas before Brahma and his wife in a big assembly. Durvasa committed a small mistake. Sarasvati laughed at it. Durvasa became enraged and gave a curse that she would take birth in the world. Hence Sarasvati had to take birth as Bharati.

Bharati now interposed and said to Sankara: “I am the other half of Mandana. You have defeated only one half of Mandana. Let us have a controversy”. Sankara objected to have controversy with a woman. Bharati quoted instances wherein there had been controversies with women. Sankara then agreed and this controversy also went on uninterruptedly for seventeen days. Bharati passed from one Shastra to another. At last she found out that she could not defeat Sankara. She decided to defeat him by means of the science of Kama Shastra.

Sankara asked Bharati to give him an interval of one month for his preparation to hold controversy with her in the science of Kama Shastra. She agreed. Sankara went to Kashi. He separated his astral body from his physical body by means of his Yogic powers and left his physical body in the hole of a big tree and asked his disciples to take care of that physical body. He then entered into the dead body of Raja Amaruka which was about to be cremated. The Raja rose up and all the people rejoiced at the astounding incident.

The ministers and queens soon found out that the revived Raja was a different person, with different qualities and thought. They realised that the soul of a great Mahatma had entered the body of their Raja. Therefore, messengers were sent out to search for a human body hidden somewhere in lonely forests and caves and to burn it when found. They thought that if they did so, the new Raja might remain with them for a long time.

Sankara was acquiring all the experience of love with his queens. Maya is very powerful. In the midst, of those queens, Sankara entirely forgot all about his promises to his disciples about his going back to them. The disciples began to search for him. They heard about the miraculous resurrection of Raja Amaruka. They immediately proceeded to the city and had an interview with the Raja. They sang a few philosophical songs which at once revived the memory of Sankara. The disciples immediately repaired to the place where the physical body of Sankara was kept hidden. By that time the messengers of the queen had found out the physical body and had just begun to set fire to it. The soul of Sankara just then entered his own body. Sankara prayed to Lord Hari to help him. There was a shower of rain immediately and that extinguished the flames.

Then Sankara returned to the residence of Mandana Misra. He resumed the old controversy and answered all the questions raised by Bharati satisfactorily. Mandana Misra gave all his property as a gift to Sri Sankara and Mandana was made to distribute it to the poor and the deserving. He then became a disciple of Sankara. Sankara initiated him into the holy order of Sannyasa and gave him the name of ‘Sureswara Acharya’. Sureswara Acharya was the first Sannyasin who took charge of the Sringeri Mutt. Bharati also accompanied Sankara to Sringeri and there she is worshipped even today.

Sankara ascended the seat of omniscience after inviting Vedic scholars from all parts of India and answering their numerous questions. Sankara, by vanquishing all the religious opponents of his day-and they belonged to no less than seventy-two different schools-and establishing the superiority of the Vedic Dharma, had become the Jagadguru of all.

Sankara’s success over the other religious sects was so complete that none of them have since been able to raise their head in the land. Most of them have disappeared altogether. After Sankara’s time, although a few Acharyas have appeared, none of them have been able to vanquish those who differed from them as Sankara did and establish unquestioned supremacy.

Mother’s Funeral Rites
Sankara received news that his mother was seriously ailing. He left his disciples and proceeded to Kaladi alone. His mother was then bedridden. Sankara touched her feet in reverence. He praised Lord Hari. Hari’s messengers came. Sankara’s mother gave up her physical body and went along with those messengers to the abode of Hari.

Sankara encountered serious difficulties in performing the funeral rites of his mother. Usually, Sannyasins do not perform any of the rites or ceremonies which are enjoined on the householders. The Nambudiri Brahmins were all against Sankara. Sankara’s relatives also did not help him. They did not come forward to assist him even in carrying the dead body to the place of cremation and refused to give fire for igniting the funeral pyre. At last Sankara determined to perform the funeral rites all alone. As he could not carry the entire dead body, he cut it into pieces and removed the pieces one by one to the backyard of the house. He then made a pyre there of stems of plantain trees and set fire to it by his Yogic power. Sankara wanted to teach the Nambudiris a lesson. He then made the local chief issue an edict that a corner should be set apart in each Illam or house of the Nambudiri Brahmins to burn the dead of the family and that they should cut the dead body into parts and then burn the same. This practice continues even today amongst Nambudiri Brahmins.

Sankara then returned to Sringeri. From there he went out on a tour through the eastern coast with a large number of followers. He preached his Advaita philosphy wherever he went. He established the Govardhana Mutt at Puri. He went to Kancheepuram and attacked the Shaktas. He purified the temples. He won over to his side the rulers of the Chola and the Pandya kingdoms. He went to Ujjain and put down the atrocities of the Bhairavas who were shedding human blood. He then proceeded to Dwaraka and established a Mutt there. He then travelled along the course of the Ganges and held religious controversies with great personages.

Sankara’s End
Sankara proceeded to Kamarup-the present Guwahati-in Assam and held a controversy with Abhinava Gupta, the Shakta commentator, and won victory over him. Abhinava felt his defeat very keenly. He made Sankara suffer from a severe form of piles through black magic. Padmapada removed the evil effects of the black magic. Sankara became quite alright. He went to the Himalayas, built a Mutt at Joshi and a temple at Badri. He then proceeded to Kedarnath higher up in the Himalayas. He became one with the Linga in 820 A.D. in his thirty-second year.

Sringeri Mutt
In the north-west of the State of Mysore, nestling in the beautiful foot-hills of the Western Ghats, surrounded by virgin forests, lies the village of Sringeri and here Sankara established his first Mutt. The river Tunga-a branch of the river Tungabhadra-runs through the valley closely touching the walls of the temple; and its pure and limpid waters are as famous for drinking purposes as the waters of the Ganges are for bath (Ganga Snanam, Tunga Panam). Sringeri is a place of great sanctity and its beauty has to be seen to be appreciated. The Mutt is ‘still going strong’ as the phrase goes. The homage paid to the Mutt by countless aspirants and devotees is as much due to the greatness of illustrious men like Vidyaranya who have been at its head ever since its foundation as to the renown of the founder himself.

It may not be out of place to mention here that it took thirty years for the well-known Sanskrit professor Max Muller to translate the commentary on the Rig Veda, written by Vidyaranya, also known as Sayana. The learned professor, in his preface, says that not a single day passed in the thirty years without his devoting at least ten minutes on the translation. There is also a little interesting incident that when the manuscript was found to be illegible in some places, he got an authorised transcription from the first original still preserved in the Sringeri Mutt, through the influence of the then Maharaja of Mysore.

The famous holy shrine of Sri Sarada is an equal source of attraction to the devotees. Many are the Mutts and monasteries in India where holy men or their successors sit, and where Hindus from all parts of India gather, but none so great or so famous as Sringeri, the original seat of Adi Sankaracharya. The Sringeri Peetha is one of the oldest monasteries of the world flourishing for over twelve centuries now. It is the first of the four seats of learning established by Sankaracharya, the other three being Puri, Dwaraka and Joshi Mutt, each one of them representing one of the four Vedas of the Hindus.

Sankara placed his four eminent disciples (Sureswara Acharya, Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Trotakacharya) in charge of the Sringeri Mutt, Jagannath Mutt, Dwaraka Mutt and Joshi Mutt respectively. The most famous Sannyasin in the succession of Gurus of the Sringeri Mutt was, of course, Vidyaranya, the great commentator on the Vedas and the father of the dynasty of Vijayanagar. He was the Dewan of Vijayanagaram. He became a Sannyasin about 1331 A.D. The eleven Sannyasins before Vidyaranya were Sankaracharya, Viswarupa, Nityabodhaghana, Jnanaghana, Jnanottama, Jnana Giri, Simha Girisvara, Isvara Tirtha, Narasimha Tirtha, Vidya Sankara Tirtha and Bharati Krishna Tirtha.

The historic and sacred pontifical throne of the Sringeri Mutt is known as Vyakhyana Simhasana or seat of learning. Tradition has it that this seat was given to the great Sankara by Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning, in appreciation of the philosopher’s vast scholarly erudition. Thirty-five Acharyas had sat on the pontifical throne before his present holiness in regular and uninterrupted succession.

Dasanami Sannyasins
Sankara organized ten definite orders of Sannyasins under the name ‘Dasanamis’ who add, at the end of their names, any one of the following ten suffixes: Sarasvati, Bharati, Puri (Sringeri Mutt); Tirtha, Asrama (Dwaraka Mutt); Giri, Parvata and Sagar (Joshi Mutt); Vana and Aranya (Govardhana Mutt).

The Paramahamsa represents the highest of these grades. It is possible to become a Paramahamsa by a long course of Vedantic study, meditation and Self- realisation. The Ativarnashramis are beyond caste and order of life. They dine with all classes of people. Sankara’s Sannyasins are to be found all over India.

Some Anecdotes
Sankara was going along the street one day with his pupils to take bath in the Ganges when he met a Chandala who was also passing along the street with his dogs by his side. The disciples of Sankara shouted and asked the Chandala to clear off the road. The Chandala asked Sankara: “O, venerable Guru! You are a preacher of Advaita Vedanta and yet you make a great difference between man and man. How can this be consistent with your teaching of Advaitism? Is Advaita only a theory?”. Sankara was very much struck by the intelligent query of the Chandala. He thought within himself, “Lord Siva has assumed this form just to teach me a lesson”. He composed then and there five Slokas called the ‘Manisha Panchaka’. Every Sloka ends thus: “He who learnt to look on the phenomena in the light of Advaita is my true Guru, be he a Chandala or be he a Brahmin”.


In Kashi, a student was cramming the Sutras in Sanskrit grammar. He was repeating again and again “Dukrin karane, Dukrin karane….”. Sankara heard it and was struck by the perseverance of the boy. He immediately sang a small poem, the famous Bhaja Govindam song, in order to teach the uselessness of such studies in the matter of the liberation of the soul. The meaning of the song is: “Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, O fool! When you are about to die, the repetition of these Sanskrit Sutras will not save you”.


Once some mischief-mongers offered meat and liquor to Sankara. Sankara touched those items with his right hand. The meat turned into apples and the liquor into milk.


A Kapalika came to Sankara and begged for his head as a gift. Sankara consented and asked the Kapalika to take his head when he was alone and absorbed in meditation. The Kapalika was just aiming with a big sword to sever the head of Sankara. Padmapada, the devoted disciple of Sankara came, caught hold of the arm of the Kapalika and killed him with his knife. Padmapada was a worshipper of Lord Narasimha. Lord Narasimha entered the body of Padmapada and killed the Kapalika.

Sankara’s Philosophy
Sankara wrote Bhashyas or commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Gita. The Bhashya on the Brahma Sutras is called Sareerik Bhasya. Sankara wrote commentaries on Sanat Sujatiya and Sahasranama Adhyaya. It is usually said, “For learning logic and metaphysics, go to Sankara’s commentaries; for gaining practical knowledge, which unfolds and strengthens devotion, go to his works such as Viveka Chudamani, Atma Bodha, Aparoksha Anubhuti, Ananda Lahari, Atma-Anatma Viveka, Drik-Drishya Viveka and Upadesa Sahasri”. Sankara wrote innumerable original works in verses which are matchless in sweetness, melody and thought.

Sankara’s supreme Brahman is Nirguna (without the Gunas), Nirakara (formless), Nirvisesha (without attributes) and Akarta (non-agent). He is above all needs and desires. Sankara says, “This Atman is self-evident. This Atman or Self is not established by proofs of the existence of the Self. It is not possible to deny this Atman, for it is the very essence of he who denies it. The Atman is the basis of all kinds of knowledge. The Self is within, the Self is without, the Self is before and the Self is behind. The Self is on the right hand, the Self is on the left, the Self is above and the Self is below”.

Satyam-Jnanam-Anantam-Anandam are not separate attributes. They form the very essence of Brahman. Brahman cannot be described, because description implies distinction. Brahman cannot be distinguished from any other than He.

The objective world-the world of names and forms-has no independent existence. The Atman alone has real existence. The world is only Vyavaharika or phenomenal.

Sankara was the exponent of the Kevala Advaita philosophy. His teachings can be summed up in the following words:

Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya,
Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Aparah

Brahman alone is real, this world is unreal; the Jiva is identical with Brahman.

Sankara preached Vivarta Vada. Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope, this world and this body are superimposed on Brahman or the Supreme Self. If you get a knowledge of the rope, the illusion of the snake will vanish. Even so, if you get a knowledge of Brahman, the illusion of the body and the world will vanish.

Sankara is the foremost among the master-minds and the giant souls which Mother India has produced. He was the expounder of the Advaita philosophy. Sankara was a giant metaphysician, a practical philosopher, an infallible logician, a dynamic personality and a stupendous moral and spiritual force. His grasping and elucidating powers knew no bounds. He was a fully developed Yogi, Jnani and Bhakta. He was a Karma Yogin of no mean order. He was a powerful magnet.

There is not one branch of knowledge which Sankara has left unexplored and which has not received the touch, polish and finish of his superhuman intellect. For Sankara and his works, we have a very high reverence. The loftiness, calmness and firmness of his mind, the impartiality with which he deals with various questions, his clearness of expression-all these make us revere the philosopher more and more. His teachings will continue to live as long as the sun shines.

Sankara’s scholarly erudition and his masterly way of exposition of intricate philosophical problems have won the admiration of all the philosophical schools of the world at the present moment. Sankara was an intellectual genius, a profound philosopher, an able propagandist, a matchless preacher, a gifted poet and a great religious reformer. Perhaps, never in the history of any literature, a stupendous writer like him has been found. Even the Western scholars of the present day pay their homage and respects to him. Of all the ancient systems, that of Sankaracharya will be found to be the most congenial and the most easy of acceptance to the modern mind.

April 22 is Sri Sankara Jayanthi.

(This biography is from the book “Lives of Saints”.)

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10 Responses to “Sri Sankaracharya: Adi Jagadguru of Kaliyuga”

  1. wow!!

    What a lot of information. Thanks Swami Shivananda ji and Bellur for this great post.

  2. Srevalsan Nambudiri Says:

    Aryadevi ( Aryamba )

    AD : 748
    Aryadevi Antherjanam Hailing from Pazhoor Mana , was married to Brahmasree Sivasarman Nambudiri Of Shasalam (later famous as Kalady )

    To them with the blessings of Lord Siva ( Vadkkumnathan temple Trissiva peroor – Vrish Mookaachalam ) a child was born and named SANKARA

    Later he became Sankara Acharya the famous ADVAITHA philosopher

    Sree Sankara is the epitome of our Hindu tradition and Philosophy. He is the ACHARYA who showed his teachings by Acharanam (Practicing).
    The exceptional love of that loving son to his beloved mother is Clearly , so touchingly visible in every corner of his childhood life to grown up intellectual .
    The aged couple had a long waiting to get blessed with the son . But then the mishap the cruel destiny left her widowed at an early age of little Sankara .
    She gained a son but husband departed .
    The caring mother inducted in due course her little one to Gurukulam where he excelled even his master too quickly .
    One day that poor mother had seen his only son in dream wearing saffron befitting a saint . The Gurukulam in the very next morning found that poor mother running in , carrying little Sankara in deep embrace Showering him in kisses amidst her pouring tears .
    Another day the mother took along little Sankara for her daily Bath In River Poorna (Periyar).
    She was particular to have her routine river dip bath and have Darshan of her Sree Krishna – The ancestral deity of the family just within home garden . The river was flowing 3 km to south . The widowed mother that day was too tired of the walk and she could not make it . She fell half the way . Little Sankara felt so helpless . He ran to the Lotus feet’s of his Aapath Bandhavan , His Kula deva Krishna – where else . The merciful lord cannot stand the tears of the little child out of the love for his fainted beloved mother . He blessed him “Unni – Kalady Varayunnidathu Nadi Gathy Aavum “(Means -my boy – the river will flow where through your little feet marks (in local language malayalam as well as in Tamil feet = KALADY) ) . Instantly the innocent child marked with his feet before the blessed Lord . The blessing worked , the mighty river Poorna took its new course through the home garden of Sankara . That day onwards Shasalam became Kalady and blessed Lord , Lord of Kalady ( Thri Kalady appan )
    Sankara made reinstallation of his beloved deity to the present holy shrine on that Thiruvonam star of month Tualm (*Libra ) . He marked the occasion with his famous “ÄTCHUTHAASHTAKAM” . As per Keralite Tanthric tradition Prathishta is allowed only in Utarayanam and not Dakshinayanam . But Sankara raised to the need of the hour and made the Puna Prathishta in Dakshinayanam itself .
    The Place where Kalady was thus born from Shasalam became the Kalady Kadvu (Ghat ) and Aarattu Kadavu of Thri Kalady appan .
    Thus of course the name KALADY signifies the love of an innocent little boy toward his beloved Mother and blessings of his Merciful Krishna .
    Now the old mother do not have to walk the 3 Km’s for her routine river bath .
    Days passed by But for little Sankara he had to grow up seek the truth and accomplish his missions . His destined platform was as a Sanyasin (saint) . But he had to get it consented from mother . Whenever he begins the topic he cannot continue seeing the worried looks of his very beloved mother . One day a dog happens to touch Sankara . As per his community custom he had to take a dip bath . He took his mother along and went into the Ghat just east of the Ghat wherein river was diverted and blessed Kalady was born . A crocodile all on a sudden caught hold of little Sankara . The mother was terrified shocked before the cries of drowning son in the mouth of the crocodile . Then scholarly Sankara suggested to his mother Sanyasam is a re birth , if you permit me for that I can get a new life . Mother happily agreed and that Sankara was released . The crocodile is believed to be Lord Shiva in disguise .
    The world gained a philosopher but that poor mother had to give away her only son .
    But the son agreed to his mother he will be back when his mother need her son the most .
    Then set out on his mission . The saga of his victorious philosophical mission took him to the thrown of Omni-Knowledge (Sarvagya Peetham) . He established four mutts in four distinct destinations of India to spread his ideals , and cleanseth the society like running river cleans its banks . He had done so many Sub Mutts established temples for worship , hymens , done Upanishad Brahmasutra and Bhagavd Gita Bhashyam . The fame ear through ear kept on reaching the happy ears of his beloved mother .
    As time passed the mother started to feel that its time for her to go , but before that she longed to see the face of her little Sankara .

    The mother found her intellectual scholar son beside her as her little Sankara , soothing her with his caring touch of her unattended hair and slowly massaging her forehead . Taking her feeble arms in hand his loving call “AMMMEEE” reached her ears . She did not want to loose that sight , the voice . She expressed to his son her worry , her dilemma . After these long , long waiting how could I leave everything and go . I want to live with you my son my dear one she demanded .

    The learned son pulled all his intellect to convince mother , that time is something which do not leave us with many choices . “Sambhavamy Yuge Yuge “. But he assured her he can get her to her “Pazhoor Mahadevar Shiva” – the lord who blessed his birth and took her to Shaiva Lokam where the mother had darshan of Lord Visweswran Siva ” . The mother was very happy but told his son not there ofcource . Then Shakthi Lokam where the mother had darshan of Mother of the Universe , and was immensely happy . But again she told not there too my son not there too . I am comfortable with my own Vishnu – Krishna – where else than this Kalady Kannan . Reciting Vishnu Bhujangam the son gave his beloved mother the darshan of Vishnu – the Krishna – her beloved Kalady appan .

    The mother really was consoled happy , and contented . She had great appreciation for her son , a respect even for such miraculous blessing of Darshan of all the Moorthys . it , she knew had been a gain which is not available even to many Hrishis who do Tapasya the whole life .

    She clubbed her hands in prayer towards her son , when the son instantly took her trembling palms into his shivering hands . His deep sentiments towards the beloved mother poured out in reply in FIVE TOUCHING stanzas , later known as “Maathru Panchakam “.

    Oh my mother ! If I have done the very same feet for you again , again and again for THOUSAND more births , ANY son will not be able to redeem the debt

    the debt of the sufferings of dis_taste , vomiting ,anaemic feebling and the numerous troubles of carrying pregnancy leave apart the terrific pain and pangs of delivery the debt then of an year long trouble of suffering in getting along in the urinated , stool ridden bed of mine , till and the long sleepless nights caring the crying me the debt no son can redeem doing the same thing a thousand birth


    JUST TWO OUT OF TEN FAMILIES IN KALADY COOPERATED , THE NON COOPERATING FAMILIES ARE ALL EXTINCT . The body of mother was carried to the pyre by members of two families of KALADY . “Pookkad” carried head side of the body and Edamana the leg side . They got renamed as “Tala Ettum Pilly “( Head lifting Person ) and later as Kappilly ( Leg meaning Kal in malayalam ) . (Traditionally the Land documents of both the families contains both the names even today ) .

    HE DULY CREMATES HIS BELOVED MOTHERS BODY. THEN APARA KRIYAS DONE IN NEARBY GHAT IN POORNA.The Ghat just east of Muthala Kadvu . Thus there are 3 historical ghats in chronological order lying there from west to east .It has another beauty , first one where Kalady was born , the river was rerouted , is the blessing of Krishna – Vishnu ie Kalady Kadavu ( Aaraatu Kadvu of Thri Kalady Appan ) . The second one Crocodile Ghat wherein Lord Siva took disguise of Crocodile and the life of Sankara took another turn to Sanyasam – blessing of Shiva . The 3rd one (Now amidst two Sree Sringeri Mutt shrines wherein mother of Sankara Aryadevi antherjanam had her due apara Kriyas .

    THE MORTAL REMAINS WERE PLACED BELOW ‘UTHAMA VRIKSHAM (An ‘Asoka’ Tree) , AND KAPPILLY NAMBUDIRIS AS FAMILY MEMBERS CONTINUED DAILY ‘ DEEPAM ‘ (AS PER NAMBUDIRI TRADITION TILL YEAR END BALI WHICH NEVER HAPPENED) . THIS LAMP OF RESPECT CONTINUED UNSTINCTED FOR CENTURIES TOGATHER WHEN OUTSIDE WORLD HESITATED TO ACCEPT HOLY KALADY AS BIRTH PLACE OF JAGAD GURU ADI SHANKARA BHGAVAD PAADA AACHAARYA . THE ACTIVITY OF LAMP PLACING BY KAPPILLY ANTHERJANAM WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN IDENTIFYING THE SPOT A CENTURY BACK BY SPECIAL ENVOY OF SREE SREE SRINGERI MUTT (Sri.Nadukavery Srinivasa Shastrikal ) , WHICH WAS OTHERWISE IMPOSSIBLE , WHETHER THE HOLLY MUTT ACCEPTS THE FACT OR NOT . Wonderfully the marble plaque on the new Mandap built reads “the black stone lamp post which was there from the time of cremation helped in identifying the spot ” . !!! Thekkemadhom came to Kalady at least a decade after the incident and the post with clear encryption of “Thekkemadhom Vaka “( written in local language malayalam Meaning “by Thekkemadhom “and with its Official mudra engraved on it – For own properties of Thekkemadhom they mark “Narasimham Vaka ” ) was donated still centuries later”!!!

    Sree Sree Sringeri Mutt Continues to Maintain the spot with DUE respect and valour .

    With Entry of Sree Sree Sringeri Mutt accepting Kalady as birth place of Sankara into the holy soil of KALADY has given a new identity to KALADY before the out side world hesitant to accept the area as Birth place of the JAGADGURU . This marked a new turn in the modern day history of KALADY with very many developments bridges colleges University and what not .

    KALADY gained a new look . But the Helpless soul of ARYADEVI the mother of SANKARA had lost under the irrefutable King ship ruling of TRAVANCORE HIGHNESS , the lamp of respects from her family which she had it for CENTUIRIES together when outside world was not any where around to recognize and adore .


    As per Sri Sree Sringeri Mutt on H.H.Nrisimhabhivava Satchidananda swakial (as available in the web page) a century back when his holinesses visited Kalady for the very first time “Reaching Kaladi, the first place he visited was an ashoka tree which stands at the place where the blessed mother was cremated by Sri Shankara. ”

    The ASOKA tree is CUT AWAY and removed , and a Tulsi plant is Replaced by Sri Sringeri Mutt .

    Thekkemadhom was the only Sankara Mutt which respected KALADY as the Holy land of Birth of Sree Sankara -their supreme guru . To facilitate the lamp of respects a Black lamp post was donated by the Mutt , centuries back . This Mutt was having King ship rights in KALADY even after independence till 1952 when their authority to have tax revenue from lands of KALADY as “Sankara Sanketham” was curbed by special enactment of state legislature .But the Legendry Thekke Mutt also got uprooted from Kalady , the Mutt premises now became RIG VEDA patasaala of Sree Sree Sringeri Mutt under a century long lease deed.



    But an important part of his life as projected seems scandalous to him – very untruthful . The Pathetic position pitiable is that acharyas of various Mutts instead of negating a cruel falsified scandal about their own Paramacharyaa they seems to support it.


    A quotation of scandal as available in various media books and now as abstracted from is below

    Thereafter, one day, he had a divine vision that his mother back home was yearning to see him, and he went back. After paying due respects to his dying mother, he explained the Saiva-Vaishnava Swaroopams, which to an extent, rid her of the fear of death. Then, when he started explaining about Parabrahmam, she asked him to talk in simple layman’s terms. This is believed to have prompted him to compose “Siva-Bhujanga-Sthothram” and “Vishnu-Bhujanga-Sthothram”, both in Bhujanga-Prayaatha metre (Vritham).
    Mother was now completely devoid of any fear of death, and asked Sankaran to sing the “Govindaashtakam”, which used to be sung during their temple visits when he was yet a child. He sang it for her. Then he composed the “Krishnaashtaka-Sthothram”, and recited it to her. Lord Vishnu, who was greatly pleased with this Ashtakam, presented himself in full regalia in front of her, and she died watching the Lord.
    The Namboothiris in the neighbourhood refused to help him with the funeral rites (Samskaaram) for the reason that he had come back from “foreign” lands (Paradesam) and had defiled the dead body, and that, after accepting Samnyaasam, he had no right to cremate his mother. They even refused to offer him fire for the cremation.
    He then made a small pyre with twigs,
    cut the dead body into small pieces,
    made fire by friction (Dakshinaagni by Mathhanam), and thus
    performed the cremation.There is a story that he cursed the Braahmanans of Kalady that they will be unable to learn the Vedams, and would not have enough food to give the Bhikshus seeking alms, and th at their own cremation ground (Chudukaadu) would be near their homes.

    This is according to “Vyaasaachaleeyam”; “Maadhaveeya-Sankara-Vijayam” places his mother’s death after he defeated Mandanamisran (discussed later). The greatness of Sankaran’s mother is described in verse (Padyam) in Govindaachaaryar’s “Sankara-Charitham”. Contrary to the legend about the curse, there had been learned men in the Kalady area in later times.
    Sankara Acharya a young boy who traveled the whole Indian landscape on his foot , being unable to carry a long sick old bed ridden mother is un acceptable even on physical terms .
    Being aware very well of these facts it FALLS the prime responsibilities of various Mutts to Clear Their Param Acharya of such a BLAME
    A Nair Family by the name “AMBATTU in Kalady are believed traditionally to have given fire for cremation , as well as arranged the firewood .
    The actual Facts of Kalady which any one can trace through ancient Land records and Facts on Ground

  3. rk Says:

    i am glad you liked it.

    srevalsan nambudiri,
    welcome to rambling with bellur.
    hats off to the fabulous amount of info you have shared with us. thanks a million sir.
    i remember going to kalady in 1984 with my parents when we were in ernakulam. we took bath in the river poorna (periyar) and had darshana of adi sankara. very calming atmosphere.

  4. Arun Murthi Says:


    I want to share some controversial thoughts regarding the life history of Shankara. These controversies have been brought forward in academic journals (some international ones too) and therefore the thoughts are restricted in its circulation only among the academic community. But I strongly feel that the general mass should be aware of these controversies regarding Shankara, the great philosopher, because they are too carried away by the so called mathas(monastic institutions supposed to be established by Shankara) and indulge themselves in only some meaningless rituals which these mathas also encourage to the total neglect of Shankara’s teachings. To be bit blunt, these mathas have done nothing to further the philosophy or teachings of Shankara. In fact Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati of Holenarsipur also has made similar comments in his writings (Shankara Bhagavatpada Vritaanta Saar Sarvasva in Kannada) about the mathas. There are so many controversies connected with the life history of Shankara. To mention a few they are

    a) the date of Shankara
    b) the mathas established by him. In fact the fierce controversy goes on between Kanchi and Sringeri on this issue.
    c) the works of Shankara
    d) and of course the so called source material called Shankara Vijayas

    I will not touch upon all these controversies as each deserves a separate essay by itself (which I plan to publish as a paper in future). I will only deal with b) and d). First let me take up the last one because the controversy surrounding the Shankara Vijayas leads to the other controversies mentioned. There are not less than twenty two Shankara Vijayas written by different persons at different points of time in history and each far removed from the time of Shankara. Baladeva Upadhyaya has mentioned this figure in his Hindi work of Shankaracharya. Swami Tapasyananda in his introduction of Madhaveeya Shankara Vijaya also lists about ten Shankaravijayas. Each Shankara Vijaya differs in details regarding the events in his life. There is also a very strong view that some of these (or may be most of the Vijayaas) have been concocted to put forward the interests of the mathas, particulatrly Sringeri and Kanchi. I feel strongly that this view is true to some extent, if one goes through these texts. There is no way one can privilege one of the Vijayas over the other. Some scholars have taken a more inclusive view of accommodating all the texts and then cull out a reasonable life history of Shankara. But even this seems to be an impossible thing to do because of the very contradictory accounts of certain events in Shankara’s life mentioned in these texts. Therefore there is utter confusion in arriving at any definite account of Shankara’s life except what Sw. Tapasyananda so aptly terms as ‘learned ignorance’. If anyone wants to privilege any Vijayas it is only because of his blind attachment to a particular matha tradition. Of course convoluted arguments and suppressed information are not lacking from so callled intellectuals of these matha traditions to defend their view points.

    Let me now come to the second controversy, the most serious one and where a serious and a fierce verbal battle is waged betweem Sringeri and Kanchi. There is a popular tradition that Shankara established four mathas in four directions called the amnaya mathas laying down details of rituals to be conducted in these mathas in what are called Mathamnayas and estblished the Dasanami tradition of Sanyasa. I do not know where this four Mutt theory comes from. There is no basis for Shankara having written any mathamnayas. Keeping in view his philosophy of Jnana and also the fact that he was such a strong critic of karma and ritualistic practices, these matha practices are simply antithetical to his thought. I strongly feel that Shankara has not established any mathas in the sense which these institutions operate today. We are so carried away by our blind respect to these institutions by the command which they wield over the general public that we fail to question their fundamentals. Of course these institutions have also become conduits of political power and they are no means for any spiritual purpose. In fact they are more materialistic and only cater to the materialistic and hedonistic tendencies of the normal people. As a result we never question their fundamentals. Both Karl Potter and Paul hacker are of the same opinion as mine regarding the establishment of mathas by Adi Shankara. Sw. Tapasyananda also makes a very passing reference to this point of whether he founded any mathas at all. I would like to end with an observation of Paul Hacker regarding the history of these mathas where he ascribes the origin of Sringeri matha to Sri Vidyayranya and this again is associated with political dominance of the Vijayanagara kingdom. That monastic institutions are mainly creations for showing a kind of dominance (political or otherwise) is clear in the history of religion and these mathas are no exceptions. There is nothing spiritual, esoteric or worthy philosophical qualities in these so called mathas.

    Arun Murthi

  5. […] 10, 2007 by latha vidyaranya Adi Sankara in his ‘Viveka Choodamani’ says that “the body should be shunned as one would a disgusting […]

  6. bhattathiry Says:

    Excellent article.One of the greatest contributions of India to the world is Holy Gita which is considered to be one of the first revelations from God. The management lessons in this holy book were brought in to light of the world by divine Maharshi Mahesh Yogi , Sri Sri RaviShankar and Swami Bodhanandji, and the spiritual philosophy by the great Adi Sankaracharya the greatest philosopher of India and proud son of Kerala, and Sri. Srila Prabhupada Swami and humanism by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi and Satya Sai Baba. Maharishi calls the Bhagavad-Gita the essence of Vedic Literature and a complete guide to practical life. It provides “all that is needed to raise the consciousness of man to the highest possible level.” Maharishi reveals the deep, universal truths of life that speak to the needs and aspirations of everyone. Swami Chinmayanandaji preached and educated the people and Swami Sandeep Chaitanyaji continuing the mission by keeping this lantern burning always knowing the wishes of the modern generations. Arjuna got mentally depressed when he saw his relatives with whom he has to fight.( Mental health has become a major international public health concern now). To motivate him the Bhagavad Gita is preached in the battle field Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna to Arjuna as a counseling to do his duty while multitudes of men stood by waiting. It has got all the management tactics to achieve the mental equilibrium and to overcome any crisis situation. The Bhagavad Gita can be experienced as a powerful catalyst for transformation. Bhagavad gita means song of the Spirit, song of the Lord. The Holy Gita has become a secret driving force behind the unfoldment of one’s life. In the days of doubt this divine book will support all spiritual searches. This divine book will contribute to self reflection, finer feeling and deepen one’s inner process. Then life in the world can become a real education—dynamic, full and joyful—no matter what the circumstance. May the wisdom of loving consciousness ever guide us on our journey? What makes the Holy Gita a practical psychology of transformation is that it offers us the tools to connect with our deepest intangible essence and we must learn to participate in the battle of life with right knowledge?. It shows us the path to handle the situation with equipoised mind irrespective of what comes our way and reminds us time and again, that what the right action is.

  7. kshama Says:

    sir i would like to adopt sanyasam.would u please suggest me the process?

  8. janamejayan Says:

    In order to seek and adopt Sanyasa Aashrama you should feel that you are burning in thaapathraya. This is the first requirement. The second requirement is that you do nishkaamakarmam instead of being a fatalist. This you have to do until a Guru appears before you and initiates you into Sanyaasa. At that point you will abandon all karmas and eke a living by begging and roaming.

    Sanyasa is not a child’s play. It is reserved only for the Brahmins for by nature they are not after money or fame but knowledge. Such is their Guna acquired by their poorva karma. Even among the Brahmins very few manifest this Guna. Other varnas do not have this Guna to manifest.

    Bhagavan Vyasa said:

    VEdhaanthakO BraahmaNasyaath
    kshathriyO vijayeebhavEth
    VaisyhO dhana samruddhasyaath
    Soodhras sukhamavaapnuyaath.

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