> Saints / Devotees
> 8th - 9th century
Adi Shankaracharya (788 CE - 820 CE)
Sri Adi Shankaracharya
Shankara was born as a result of austerities and prayers of his parents to Lord Shiva. Considered as an incarnation of Lord Shiva:
was born at Kaladi in Kerala
as a result of austerities and earnest prayers of his childless parents to Lord Shiva. Shankara's father Shivaguru
and mother Aryambal
were Namboodiri brahmin couples who led a holy life performing vedic rituals ordained for a houeholder. However they were childless. Therefore to get a son they went to Vrishachala (Vadakkunathan)
temple in Trichur
to perform austerities and pray to Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva appeared in dream to Shivaguru and granted his prayer for a son giving two options: An all-knowing but short-lived son or an ordinary son who will live long:
Pleased with the austerities and prayers of the childless couple, Lord Shiva appeared in the dream of Shivaguru and grants his prayers for a son. However Lord Shiva gives two options: An all-knowing son who will be short-lived or an ordinary son who will live long. Shivaguru opted for the all-knowing son. Shankara was born as a result of this boon of Lord Shiva and is considered as an incarnation of Shiva. Shivaguru named the child as Shankara
, meaning the bestower (kara) of happiness (sam). This also means the one born out of Shiva's (Shankara's) grace.
Shankara's father passed away when Shankara was a child. Shankara's Mother performed the Upanayana ceremony. Shankara was sent to Gurukula:
Shivaguru passed away when Shankara was only three years old
. One year was spent in the observance of vows and ceremonies connected with funeral obsequies. When Shankara was five years old
, his mother performed the Upanayana ceremony of Shankara. Shankara was sent to Gurukula.
As a child Shankara showed prodigious intelligence and ability to master different subjects but his real interest was in Advaita:
As a child Shankara showed prodigious intelligence and ability to master different subjects. He learned the four Vedas
and six Sastras
from his Guru very quickly. He learned Yoga philosophy
philosophy of Kapila and doctrine of Mimansa
as expounded by Bhatta. But his real interest was the non-dualistic doctrine of the Upanishads, the philosophy of the Advaita
Shankara bestowed grace on a poor brahmin lady during Bhiksha. Composed Kanakadhara Stotra. Goddess Lakshmi showered gold:
While residing in gurukula, one day Shankara went for bhiksha (alms) to the house of a poor brahmin. The lady unable to find anything to offer to the brahmacharin, bemoaned her fate piteously and gave away an amalaki fruit (gooseberry), the only thing she had. Shankara moved by her selflessness, instantaneously composed the great hymn on Mother Lakshmi, the Kanakadhara Stotra
, and prayed for the relief (from poverty) of the poor lady. Highly pleased with the stotra, Goddess Lakshmi appeared before Shankara but said that She could not find any meritorious deeds of the poor brahmin couple for which She can bestow Her grace on them. Shankara said that if She was pleased with their selfless gift of the amalaki fruit, let Her bestow Her grace on them. Highly pleased with the boy's reply, Goddess Lakshmi showered gold coins resembling gooseberry on the house of the poor brahmin.
Shankara returned home from Gurukula. Spent time in studying the Vedas, serving mother and performing ordained rituals:
At the age of seven
, Shankara returned home from Gurukula after mastering the Vedas and many other subjects. At home, he spent his time in studying the Vedas, serving his mother and performing the ordained rituals.
Shankara changed the course of river Purna to bring it closer to his house for his aged mother:
One day Shankara's aged mother who was weak due to fasts and other ascetic observances, fell down exhausted when she went to take her bath in the Purna river
, which was at some distance from the house. Shankara worried by his mother's condition invoked the river deity to turn her course nearer his home. The river deity, pleased with the invocation of Shankara turned the course of the river through the neighbourhood of Shankara's home.
Shankara attracted the reverence of a king. Gave boon to the king for his literary works:
A king coming to know of the great knowledge and reputation of Shankara came to Shankara's house. The king prostrated before Shankara and read out three of his dramas. Shankara was pleased with the literary talents of the king and asked him to choose a boon. The king asked for a male issue equal to himself in prowess. Shankara granted the boon to the king.
Shankara's mother did not want his son to become a Sannyasin. By Divine Providence for the good of the world, Shankara got the opportunity to become a Sannyasin:
Shankara was born for the good of the world and was not meant to live the life of a householder. But Shankara's mother wanted her son to be her support at old age and did not want to give him permission to become a Sannyasin. But by Divine Providence, Shankara got the opportunity to become a Sannyasin. One day, when Shankara went for a bath in the river, a crocodile
caught his leg and began to pull him inside the river. Shankara cried out to his mother that the last moment of his life has come, but if she gave her permission for Sannyasa, the crocodile might release him. Shankara's mother out of distress gave her permission. Shankara took Apata Sannyasa
(Sannyasa during emergency) and mentally renounced the world. The crocodile at once released him.
Shankara promised his mother that he would come to her at the moment of her death. Shankara renounced home:
After mentally renouncing the world, Shankara prepared to leave home. He promised his mother that he will come to her side at the moment of her death and perform her funeral rites. Thus comforting his mother, Shankara renounced his home.
Travelling a long distance Shankara came to Govindapada to become his disciple. Govindapada accepted him, initiated him into Sannyasa, and imparted the knowledge of Brahman to Shankara:
Wearing the kasaya dress with a staff in hand, Shankara travelled a long distance and came to the ashrama (hermitage) of sage Govindapada
. Approaching the sage, Shankara chanted a hymn in praise of the sage with full devotion. Govindapada came out of his meditation and asked Shankara "Who are you?". Shankara replied: "I am neither the earth, nor the water, neither the fire, nor the air, neither the sky, nor the properties of the five elements. I am neither the senses, nor the mind. I am Shiva, the divisionless essence of Consciousness". Govindapada was highly pleased with the depth of Shankara. He initiated
him into Sannyasa
and imparted the Knowledge of Brahman to Shankara through the four Mahavakyas (Prajnanam Brahma, Aham Brahmasmi, Tat-Tvam-Asi and Ayamatma Brahma). Thereafter Govindapada taught the Vedanta Sutras of Vyasa to Shankara.
Shankara gathered the water of river Narmada in his kamandelu to save his Guru absorbed in samadhi from getting drowned in the flooding river:
Once in the monsoon season, it rained heavily and continuously for five days which flooded the river Narmada
close to the ashrama of Govindapada. Shankara saw that his Guru was absorbed in samadhi while the flooding river was fast approaching to drown everything on its way. Uttering a powerful mantra, Shankara gathered the flood waters in his kamandelu (water-pot), thus protecting his Guru during samadhi.
Govindapada commissioned Shankara to write commentaries on Vedanta Sutras. Asked him to go to Varanasi to get the blessings of Lord Shiva and Divine Mother. Shankara left for Kasi:
By divine revealation, Govindapada knew that Shankara was a unique personage born to revive the spiritual greatness of the Vedanta. He commissioned Shankara
to go to Kasi, take the blessings of Lord Shiva and Divine Mother and expound the philosophy of Vedanta by writing commentaries on the principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Shankara left for Kasi.
At Varanasi, Shankara got his first disciple Sanandana, also known as Padmapada:
At Varanasi (Kasi)
, Shankara got his first disciple Sanandana
who was a Brahmana and learned in Vedas. He was free from the bondages of home and spouse and pleaded Shankara to initiate him and accept him as his disciple. Shankara initiated Sanandana into Sannyasa. Sanandana was later known as Padmapada
because of his mysterious feat of crossing the river Ganga on foot at his Guru's behest; and wherever his foot steps (Pada) fell on the water, sprung a lotus (Padma) to support him. (This happened after Shankara left Badari after completing his commentaries)
At Varanasi, Lord Shiva approached Shankara in the guise of an outcaste. When asked to move away, Lord Shiva told Shankara that the same Divine Spirit shines alike in all bodies:
At Varanasi, one day when Shankara and his disciples were going towards the river Ganges, Lord Shiva in the guise of a Chandala
(outcaste) approached Shankara with a pack of four dogs
. When ordered to move away and give them the way, the Chandala asked, "Who is to move away, the body made up of the five elements which is the same for a brahmana and a chandala, or the Atman, the witnessing Consciousness, reflected in all the bodies, which again is the same for both brahmana and chandala?". Shankara was humbled and understood that the chandala was no ordinary person and said "A man established in such an awareness is indeed a Guru to me". Highly pleased, Lord Shiva
appeared before Shankara in his divine form along with Divine Mother
, and the four dogs became the four Vedas
. With joy, awe and devotion, Shankara glorified Lord Shiva with his famous composition, the Manisha Panchakam
, five verses containing the essence of Advaita Vedanta.
Lord Shiva commissioned Shankara to write commentaries (Bhasyas) on Brahma Sutras:
Lord Shiva then commissioned Shankara
to write commentaries (Bhasyas) on Brahma Sutras which will bring out the true essence of Advaita Vedanta and dispel ignorance.
Shankara went to Badari and wrote commentary on the Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana. Also wrote commentaries on Bhagavad Gita, Sanat Sujatiya, Nrisimhatapani and Vishnu Sahasranama. Composed Upadesasahasri. Leaves Badari:
Getting the commission of Lord Shiva, Shankara went to Badari
walking long distances through difficult tracks. At Badari, Shankara held discussions with many pundits of the orthodox system of philosophies. Then he wrote in his twelfth year
the profound commentary on the Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana
. He also wrote commentaries on the principal Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Sanatsujatiya, Nrisimhatapani and Vishnu Sahasranama
. He also composed many treatises such as Upadesasahasri
. Thus completing his commentaries, Shankara left Badari.
Sage Vyasa came to Shankara in disguise and held debate to test Shankara. Then extended the life of Shankara for sixteen years to hold debate with scholars and propagate the ideas of Advaita
One day, when Acarya Shankara (in his 16th year
) was expounding his commentaries to his disciples, Sage Vyasa
in the guise of an old Brahmin came to him and started arguing on his commentaries on the Brahma Sutras. Soon the argument became profound, turned into a learned disputation which continued for several days. Shankara eventually understood that the Brahmin was none other than Sage Vyasa himself. He apologised to the sage for arguing with him, prostated to him and praised him. The sage was highly pleased and said that he fully agreed with the commentaries and it needs to be propagated for the good of the world. The sage extended the lifespan
of Shankara for another 16 years so that he can hold debate with scholars and spread the message of Vedanta in its true spirit. Blessing Shankara, the sage departed.
Shankara started his Digvijaya. Went to Kumarila Bhatta, a proponent of Purva Mimamsa (Vedic cult of sacrifice) for a debate. Kumarila was on his death-bed and directed Shankara to Mandana Misra (also known as Visvarupa), his disciple:
Getting the extended lease of life from sage Vyasa, Shankara started his Digvijaya. He first went to Kumarila Bhatta
(at Prayaga), the famous scholar of Purva Mimamsa for a debate. However Kumarila Bhatta was on his death-bed and redirected Shankara to his disciple Mandana Misra (also known as Viswarupa).
Shankara went to Mahismati to have a debate with Mandana Misra. A long debate ensued. Ubhaya-Bharati, the wife of Mandana acted as the referee. Shankara defeated Mandana:
Being directed by Kumarila Bhatta, Shankara went to Mahismati
to have a debate with Mandana Misra
. Their initial encounter was a war of words and wits where Mandana was proud and angry and Shankara was calm and humorous. However later they decided to hold a learned debate. Ubhaya-Bharati
, an incarnation of Goddess Saraswati and wife of Mandana acted as the referee of the debate. The condition of the debate was that the defeated should become the disciple of the victor. The great debate continued for five or six days. Mandana Misra interpreted the Vedas from the viewpoint of the cult of sacrifice whereas Shankara from the viewpoint of Advaita. Finally Ubhaya Bharati declared that Shankara was the winner of the debate.
Next Ubhaya Bharati challenged Shankara as the other half of Mandana (being his wife) and in course of debate raised the subject of Kamasutra on which Shankara did not have any knowledge:
However Ubhaya Bharati declared that the defeat of Mandana is only half-defeat since she being the wife of Mandana is the other half of him. So Shankara needed to defeat her also. So a second debate started which continued for seventeen days. Finding Shankara invincible, Ubhaya Bharati devised a ploy. She raised the subject of kamasutra
thinking that a Sannyasa will not have any knowledge on this subject.
Shankara asked for a months time, entered the body of a dead king and learned about kamasutra. Came back to Ubhaya Bharati and answered all her questions satisfactorily. Mandana Misra became a Sannyasa disciple (the famous disciple Sureswara) of Shankara as per the condition of the debate:
Being confronted by Ubhaya Bharati on the subject of kamasutra, Shankara asked for a months time to answer her questions. During that time, Shankara entered the body of a dead king
and learned kamasutra. Returning to Ubhaya Bharati he answered all her questions satisfactorily. Mandana became the Sannyasa disciple of Shankara (as per the conditions of the debate), the famous disciple Sureswara
A Kapalika asked for Shankara's head to perform his rituals. Shankara agreed. But Padmapada invoked Nrisimha. Nrisimha killed the Kapalika. Shankara sang a hymn in praise of Nrisimha:
required the head of a king or an all-knowing person to perform his rituals. He approached Shankara and asked him to give his head. He said that Shankara being an all-knowing person living for the good of others should not have any attachment to the body and both of them will be mutually benefited by this. Shankara agreed and asked the Kapalika to severe his head when he is in meditation in a solitary place. However Padmapada came to know of the intentions of the Kapalika. Padmapada invoked Lord Nrisimha
through mantras. Lord Nrisimha came and destroyed the Kapalika. Shankara overflowing with devotion sang hymns in praise of Lord Nrisimha.
Shankara went to Gokarna and then Mookambika. At Mookambika, Shankara got his disciple Hastamlaka whose knowledge of Self was as natural as an Amalaka fruit in one's hand:
During the course of his pilgrimage Shankara went to Gokarna
and sang hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. Thereafter Shankara went to Mookambika
, the place of Devi and sang praises to the Divine Mother. At Mookambika, a brahmana named Prabhakara approached Shankara with his seven year old son who appeared to be under-developed and behaved like an idiot, prefering to spend time alone without talking with anyone. When Shankara asked the boy who he was, the boy replied that he was one with the undivided Bliss free from the six states of grief, namely infatuation, hunger, thirst, old age and death; and also from the six conditions of beginning, continuance, growth, change, decay and destruction. In twelve verses the boy explained the doctrine of the Atman. Shankara found that the knowledge of the Atman was natural to the boy. Taking the permission of the father, Shankara took the boy with him as his disciple. The boy became the famous disciple of Shankara, Hastamlaka
, whose knowledge of Self was as natural as an Amalaka fruit in one's hand.
Shankara went to Sringeri. Established the first Mutt known as Sharada Peetham or the Seat of Sharada. Got his disciple Totaka:
Thereafter Shankara went to Sringeri
at the bank of the Tungabhadra river. There he established the famous temple of the Divine Mother Sharada which is popularly known as the Sringeri Sharada Peetham or the Seat of Sharada. This is the first Mutt
established by Shankara. At Sringeri Shankara got his disciple Totaka
who was very obedient and industrious. However he was not learned. Once a situation arose when the other disciples did not want to wait for Totaka for Shantipatha. To dispel the pride of the other disciples. Shankara awakened in Totaka the knowledge of the fourteen subjects. With this knowledge, Totaka appeared on the scene and uttered a great hymn in the metre of Totaka. Therefore he came to be known as Totaka.
Shankara divined that mother was in death-bed. Went to Kaladi:
Just before the death of his mother, Shankara came to know through his yogic insight that his mother
is in death-bed. As was promised that he would be there during her death and perform the funeral rites, Shankara came to Kaladi
to his mother. With death approaching, the mother asked Shankara to reveal the Divine Person to her. Shankara invoked Mahavishnu through hymns. The mother saw the radiant from of pure consciousness within and died with her mind absorbed in Him. Thereafter Shankara cremated his mother inspite of the protests and non-cooperation from neighbours and relatives who said that a Sannyasa does not have the right to cremate his mother.
Kapalikas in Karnataka tried to destroy Shankara. Shankara subdued them:
intolerant of the doctrine propagated by Shankara tried to destroy Shankara by means of physical attack as well as black magic. Shankara subdued them by his spiritual power.
At Gokarna, Shankara engaged in a debate with Neelakanta, an upholder of Saivism. Neelakanta was defeated and became the follower of Shankara along with his disciples:
, Shankara had a debate with Neelakanta
, an upholder of Saivism
. Neelakanta raised several objections on the Advaita interpretation of "Tat Tvam Asi". Shankara replied to all his objections and clarified the meaning of the mahavakya from the standpoint of Advaita. Neelakanta was defeated by the logical arguments of Shankara. He abandoned his commentary and became a disciple of Shankara with all his followers.
Shankara came to Dwarka and defeated the Vaishnavas in debate:
, Shankara had controversy with many Vaishnavas
who upholded the difference between God and Jiva. Shankara and his disciples defeated them in arguments.
Shankara came to Ujjayini and engaged in debate with the famous scholar Bhatta Bhaskara. Shankara defeated Bhatta Bhaskara:
Shankara next proceeded to the city of Ujjayani
where stayed the famous scholar Bhatta Bhaskara
who defeated many other scholars in debate. Shankara had a debate with him and this debate was unique for the subtlety of logical arguments. Bhatta who raised many objections to the Advaitic concept of the relationship between Brahman and Prakriti was finally silenced by Shankara.
Shankara defeated the Jains in debate at Bahlika:
When Shankara was propagating his commentaries at Bahlika
, a group of Jains
went to challenge him for a debate. In the debate, the arguments of the Jainas could not stand before the logical arguments of Shankara based on the doctrine of Advaita.
Shankara defeated Navagupta, follower of Sakta school in Kamarupa. Navagupta inflicted disease on Shankara by black magic. Padmapada countered the magic with mantra and healed Shankara:
During his Digvijaya, passing through many places and propagating his philosophy, Shankara came to Kamarupa
. There he defeated Navagupta
, a follower of the Shakta
school who wrote a commentary on the Vyasa Sutras. Being defeated, Navagupta resorted to black magic
and inflicted a disease (rectal fistula) on Shankara. The disease was incurable and the attempts of the disciples to get it treated by physicians were of no avail. Incidentally Padmapada came to know that the desease was inflicted by black magic. He countered the magic with mantra which transferred the disease to Navagupta thus curing Shankara.
Shankara went to Kashmir, confronted the scholars and ascended the Throne of Omniscience (Sarvajnapeetha):
Shankara came to know about the temple of Mother Sarada in Kashmir
which had within it the Throne of Omniscience (Sarvajnapeetha)
. The temple had four gates in the four directions, East, West, North and South. Only the best scholars who can prove their omniscience can occupy the throne. Till then no learned man from South was qualified enough to open the Southern gate of the temple. Shankara went to Kashmir and approached the Southern entrance. He was challenged by many scholars from different schools each posing various questions on varied subjects. Shankara gave satisfactory replies to all of them, after which they respectfully opened the Southern entrance of the temple for the Acarya to enter. When Shankara was about to ascend the throne of the temple, Mother Saraswati in a disembodied voice tested Shankara with questions. Giving satisfactory replies to Her questions, Shankara ascended the Throne of Omniscience with full honour and glory.
According to another account, Shankara ascended the Throne of Omniscience at Kanchi
, the Mokshapuri.
Shankara fulfilled his mission at the age of 32, went to Kedarnath, the holy seat of Sri Shiva and disappeared:
Thus completing his mission in this world at the age of 32
, Shankara who was an incarnation of Lord Shiva went to Kedarnath
, the holy place of Lord Shiva and disappeared.
Acording to another account, Shankara left his body at Kanchi Math
at the age of 32.
Mathas established by Shankara:
In the course of his short life of 32 years, Shankara established four Mathas in the four corners of India: East, West, North and South. The Mathas are:
1. Govardhan Math at Puri
in the East
2. Dwarka Math at Dwarka
in the West
3. Jyotir Math at Joshimath
in the North and
4. Sarada Peetham at Sringeri
in the South.
The four Mathas were placed in charge of his four disciples - Dwarka under Hastamalaka, Puri under Padmapada, Joshimath under Trotaka and Sringeri under Sureswara.
According to another account, in addition to the four Mathas, Shankara established the Kanchi Kamakshi Peetham at Kanchi
for which he himself was the first Acarya.
Compositions of Sri Adi Shankaracharya:
- A -
- Ananda Lahari
- Anathma Vigarhana Prakaranam
- Atma Bodha
- Atma Panchakam
- B -
- Bhagavad Gita Bhasya
- Bhagavan Manasa Pooja
- Bhaja Govindam
- Bhavani Ashtakam
- Bhavani Bhujangam
- Brahma Jnanavali Mala
- Brahma Sutra Bhasya
- D -
- Dakshinamurthy Ashtakam
- Dasa Sloka (Nirvana Dasakam)
- Devi Bhujangam
- G -
- Ganesha Pancha Ratnam
- Gauri Dasakam
- Guru Ashtakam
- Guru Paduka Panchakam
- H -
- Hanumath Pancha Ratnam
- J -
- Jyotirlinga Stotram
- K -
- Kala Bhairava Ashtakam
- Kalpa Shaki Stavam
- Kanaka Dhara Stotram
- Kasi Panchakam
- Kaupina Panchakam
- L -
- Lakshmi Nrisimha Karavalamba Stotra
- Lalita Pancha Ratnam
- M -
- Manisha Panchakam
- Mantra Matruka pushpa Mala Stavam
- Maya Panchakam
- N -
- Nava Ratna Mala Stotram
- Nirguna Manasa Puja
- Nirvana Dasakam (Dasa Sloka)
- Nirvana Manjari
- Nirvana Shatakam
- P -
- Prashnottara Ratna Malika
- R -
- Rama Bhujangam
- S -
- Sadhana Panchakam
- Sata Sloki
- Shakti Peetha Stotram
- Shanmuga Stotram
- Sarada Bhujanga Prayathashtaka
- Shat Padi
- Shiva Ashtakam
- Shiva Bhujanga
- Shiva Manasa Puja
- Shivananda Lahari
- Shiva Pratah Smaran Stotram
- Siddhanta Tattva Vindu
- Soundarya Lahari
- Subhramanya Bhujangam
- Svarupanu Sandhashtakam
- Swarna Mala Stuthi
- T -
- Tattva Bodha
- Tripura Sundari Ashtakam
- Tripura Sundari Sannidhya Sthavam
- U -
- Uma Maheswara Stotra
- Upadesha Sahasri
- V -
- Vakya Sudha
- Vakya Vritti
- Vijnana Nauka
- Vishnu Bhujanga Stotram
Shankara Vijayam and other sources
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