Sri Adi Sankara Bhagavadpada was a legendary Acharya, unrivalled in the India of the past and present, in terms of the impact he exercised on this theory and practice of Sanatana Dharma. He was born in Veliyanad, near Kaladi, Kerala, but traveled across India several times preaching his philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, and was immensely influential within the short span of 32 years that he spent on earth.
Sri Adi Sankara was born to Aryambal and Sivaguru Nambudiri, after they prayed to Siva in the Vadakkunathan Temple. Sankara lost his father while he was very young and continued to take care of his mother. Sincerely, Sankara learnt the Vedas and recited them thoroughly by the age of eight. He was also extremely inclined towards Sanyasa from such a young age. But his mother would never allow him to speak about it. One day, while taking a bath in the river, a crocodile got hold of Sankara, and he cried out to his mother for help. She came running to him, but was unable to free him from the clutches of the crocodile. Sankara then begged his mother to give him the permission to adopt Sanyasa, so that he atleast died as a Sanyasi, because it was obvious that he was going to die in the clutches of that crocodile. Very reluctantly, Aryambal agreed and Sankara recited the mantras and adopted Sanyasa. Suddenly, by the impact of the mantras, the crocodile let go of Sankara without hurting him. Alas, Aryambal’s sorrows knew no bound. Even though she was happy that her son escaped death, she was grieving because he was no longer her son, as he had adopted Sanyasa. Sankara consoled her by saying that he will come back when she breathes her last to perform her last rites. The place where the crocodile caught Sankara is still present at Kaladi and is called the Crocodile Ghat.
Sankara, traveling northward found his guru, Sri Govinda Bhagavadpada. When he was asked to identify himself, he extemporaneously composed the beautiful and profound Atma Shatakam, sometimes also referred to as the Nirvana Shatakam.
Later, he performed deep penance and realized the truth of Vedanta. He traveled across the ancient Indian subcontinent preaching the truth, and produced highly profound works in Sanskrit. A few of his famous works were Viveka Chudamani – the independent philosophical treatise, Bhaja Govindam, Kanaka Dhaara Stotram, Soundaryalahari, Sivanandalahari, Atma Shatakam and Bhavani Ashtakam, besides his Sanskrit commentaries on the ten major Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. He also established the great Sankara Mathas across India.
When his mother was dying, he knew it telepathically, and he returned to Kaladi to perform her last rites and support her when she died. But he was ostracized and condemned for coming back to his mother, by the Brahmins who were required to light the pyre for burning the body of Aryambal. Sankara explained that the idea of a Sanyasi renouncing his relations is to reinforce his strength in the path of Sanyasa and should not be blindly misinterpreted as abandonment of one’s relatives, in times of their need. When the Brahmins refused to light the pyre, he used his powers to light the pyre and cremated his mother’s body in the correct manner.
There are so many incidents worth mentioning from the life of Adi Sankara, and they will be covered in future posts. But, for those interested in getting glimpses of other stories in the life of Adi Sankara, please visit: http://www.kamakoti.org/miscl/adi.html