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Sri Adi Sankara Bhagavatpadacharya’s (509–477) advent marks a defining moment in the annals of our heritage and samskruthi. To appreciate this a brief knowledge about the situation that then prevailed has to be understood. Sanatana Dharma was facing a variety of challenges from within and without. Faiths and beliefs which did not accept the Vedas sprang up and were spreading. They had taken from the Vedic system some valuable principles to be followed for the daily life and started preaching to the neglect of other carefully drawn values enshrined in Vedic practices. These faiths either did not believe in the existence of a godhead or carefully evaded any questions about it. They also did not believe in the concept of rebirth. However, their emphasis on day-to-day good conduct, compassion, etc. attracted some of the petty chieftains and kings and hence their royal patronage too. Added to this, there were some sects which advocated non-Vedic practices and rituals to propitiate some of the Vedic divinities like Lord Shiva. To cite an example, the Kapalikas were one such sect. Their influence was also spreading. There arose another situation where a growing number of people believing in one or other Vedic divinities and scrupulously following Vedic procedures started fighting among themselves. A telling example of these internal quarrels were pitched battles between Shaivites and Vaishnavites. As though these challenges were not enough to weaken a time-honoured system, a group of learning pundits with their large following wrongly interpreted the Karma Yoga. They did not believe that performance of prescribed Vedic rituals was a stepping stone to purification of mind and thence to final liberation. Instead they believed that prescribed Vedic karmas (rites) when scrupulously followed, observing the required procedure and protocol would automatically grant the fruits of their action. In fine, they never bothered about an ultimate force which would grant the result of their action. Their main aim was to achieve their worldly and other worldly desires. The spirit behind the performance of the prescribed Vedic rituals, mainly to attain purification of mind, was totally neglected by these people.

On seeing this great threat coming from several directions due to undesirable attitudinal change, the great seers and saints of the time who firmly stood behind Vedic values and practices might have thought that without a divine intervention Sanatana Dharma would not be restored to its original glory and purity. They strongly believed in the word of the Lord in the Bhagavad Gita that whenever there is a rise in adharma and decline of dharma, He will appear to put everything back in order.

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In the earlier ages, when the Supreme Lord in His aspect as Vishnu descended on earth in many forms, including as Rama and Krishna, at that time to re-establish the dharmic order, He had to slay a couple of demons to achieve his purpose. But the situation had now changed: no asuras or demons challenged Sanatana Dharma in physical form but demonic thoughts had entered the minds of different people and created a massive attitudinal change. Hence, any divine intervention to restore and re-establish Sanatana Dharma had to bring about a correction to the buddhi (mind) of several human beings.

To grant the desire of the mahaans and mahatmas who invoked the Lord, the Supreme Being had decided to intervene. The supreme Lord in his aspect as Parameshwara, who is the giver of supreme knowledge, decided to have his earthly sojourn. Lord Shiva (Sri Parameshwara) was the Adi Guru in his form of Sri Dakshinamuruthy. He sat under the shade of huge banyan tree. He was very young and had a bright countenance. Venerable elders sat on the floor looking at him for knowledge and wisdom. The South-facing Lord strangely clarified all the doubts of his disciples by his eloquent silence. This immobile and static Adi Guru decided to born on earth as Jagathguru and perhaps decided to walk the entire length and breadth of the nation and talk, discuss and converse so that Sanatana Dharma would be totally restored and put back on its original pedestal. A biographer of Adi Sankara says that the Lord Shambu (Shiva) is walking on the earth as Shankaracharya:

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A brief biography of Sri Adi Shankaracharya

A pious and childless Brahmin couple of Kalady village (Kerala, South India prayed to Sri Parameshwara, the presiding deity of Trissur. The Lord was pleased with their prayers and decided to enter the world as their child. What ensued was the birth of male child to the pious couple, and the parents named him as Shankara. At a very young age, Shankara was invested with the sacred thread and initiated into the study of shastras and other Vedic disciplines. The blazing brilliance of young Shankara was seen by everyone. As it happened, he lost his father and was taken care of solely by his mother. One of the biographers of Shankara has said that by the age of eight, Shankara had learnt all the Vedas; by 12 he had mastered the entire gamut of shastras; and by 16 completed his profound commentaries on Brahma Sutra, Bhagavad Gita, the major Upanishads and Vishnu Sahasranama.

Another interesting episode relating to his early period of student life at Kalady has to be narrated.One day young Shankara found a poor but pious household lade unable to offer any alms to him other than a dried amla fruit. Moved by compassion, a great poem gushed forth from Shankara wherein he sought blessings of Goddess Lakshmi on the poor lady. It is stated that instantly there was a shower of golden amlas in the courtyard of the house of the lady. What came out is the famous Sri Kanakadhara Stothram.

Sri Shankara thought he has to commence his avatara karyam quickly. And hence, the situations so developed that he could wrest the approval of his mother to enter sanyasaashrama. Walking his way from Kalady, Shankara reached the banks of Narmada where another great acharya – Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada-was waiting for his arrival. Shankara became his disciple and was initiated through proper traditional procedures to sanyasaashrama.

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The Guru wanted his young disciple to go to Kashi and start the dharma precharam by restating advaita siddhaanta. At Kashi, Shankara’s teaching skills, unparalleled of shastras and debating power won him many disciples. There he wrote his commentary for Brahma Sutra of Sri Veda Vyasa. (As per Shankara’s commentary, there are 554 suturas while according to Sri Ramanuja it is 546, and according to Sri Madhwa it is 564.) Sri Shankara had the darshan of Sri Veda Vyasa and the latter was only too happy to give his approval to Shankara’s commerntary. There is a traditional saying:

By this time the number disciple of Shankara has swelled. At Prayag Shankara had a meeting Kumarila Bhatta, a great scholar and leader of Karama Mimanasa. Shankara won him over to his side after convincing him about the truth of advaita Vedanta. On Kumarila Bhatta’s request, Sri Shankara met another great authority on Karma Mimanase, namely, Mandana Mishra. The discussion between Shankara and Mandana Mishra continued proving finally that Shankara and his adivaita siddaanta (monism) is far superior to Karma Mimansa. As a matter of fact, Sri Mandana Mishra became Sri Shankara’s close disciple––Sri Sureshwaracharya. During his further travels, Shankara visited Badrinath where he re-established the temple of Lord Badrinath and prescribed the pattern of day-to-day worship. Sri Shankara’s visit covered Kedarnath, Kashmir and Neelakanta Kshetra (Nepal). It is said that by yogic powers he reached Kailash and offered prayers to Mother Parvati and Lord Shiva and got sphatika lingas––five in number. According to tradition, he kept one in Kedarnath, one in Nepal, one in Sringeri (Sri Sharada Peetham), one in Chidambaram (Sri Natraja Temple) and the last one for worship for himself and his successors at Sri Kamakoti Peetham, Kanchipuram, South India. Sri Shankara ascended the Sarvagnya Peetham, at Kanchipuram and stayed there till his nirvana.

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The advaita sidhaanta which was emphatically restated by Sri Adi Shankara considered the jagat as a mithya (relative truth). This made some scholars to name Sri Shankara as prachanna Buddha (hidden Buddha). This observation is fallacious as Buddha’s philosophy is based on Shoonyavaadam (nihilism) while Adi Shankara firmly believed in the existence of single, indivisible and secondless Brahman as the very basis. He totally rejected the nirishwara or Shoonyavaadam of the Buddhists. Adi Shankara by no stretch of imagination is a mayavadin; he is a brahamavadin par excellence. The oft-repeated example by Sri Shankara is worth recalling. In the twilight of the evening sun, one mistakes a rope for snake and that mistaken knowledge creates all the natural response in that person. But once he gains the right knowledge that what he had seen was really a rope, he cools down. The impression of a snake came not out of nothingness but out of a real rope. Similarly when true wisdom dawns, the relative truth (jagath) disappears and absolute truth (Brahman) is realized.

Guru Parampara
The advaita guru parampara otherwise known as Brahmavidya parampara starts from Lord Narayana and has illustrious masters in the lineage. The following shloka mentions the guru parampara:

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Sri Adi Shankara had innumerable disciples and four among them are mentioned in the above sloka. They are Sri Padmapaada, Sri Hastaamalaka, Sri Thotaka and Sri Varthikakara (Sri Sureshwaracharya wrote a vaartikam (or explanatory note) to Shankara’s Brahma Sutra that a swastivaachakka is a added as a prefix (Sri) and a respectable title (Acharya) as a suffix to Adi Shankara thereby clearly denoting his greatness and importance.

Sri Shankara’s impact
During a short span of 32 years of earthly sojourn, Sri Shankara effectively travelled the lengthand breadth of this country visiting some places more than once. His sharp intellect, unparalleled knowledge of shashtras and Vedic injunctions, his singular capacity to logical and cogent arguments and, more than anything else, his power of tapas made his digvijaya a resounding success. He brought great changes in the thinking Pattern and many, who for a variety of reasons strayed into non-Vedic faiths, started returning; and so the spread of the faiths alien to our tradition had been stemmed. His great capacity to convincingly stress the Vedic Origin made the warring groups of Shanatana Dharma stop their mutual quarrels. Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarswathi Mahaswamy, the 68thKanchi Kamakoti Peetham, beautifully describes the remarkable reconciliation Sri Adi Shankara brought about:

The Vedic tradition is like a great river flowing through the land, fertilizing and purifying everybody.There are different ghats through which people can step into the river and bathe. It is not necessary that all ghats should look alike. Some may have steps, some may have a pebbled way, some may be sandy and some full of stones. Each one reaches the river according to his preference. Finally what happens is a soul – satisfying dip in the placid waters. Likewise, Sanatana Dharma is a great river flowing for millennia. Each deity represents different ghats, and people according to their liking and swabhaava reach Sanatana Dharma through these deities.

Thus Sri Sankara established Shanmatha – namely, worship of Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganapathy, Soorya and Subrahmanya. This reconciliation was appealing to everybody and naturally the unwanted quarrels disappeared.

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In order to preserve and perpetuate the Vedic Values, Sankara established institutions (Matts) and hisdisciple lineage continue to head these organizations, even to this day. After establishing four such matts at Badari, Dwaraka, Puri and Sringeri and installed in each, as head, one of his disciple, Sri Adi Shankara, came to Kanchi in the South, and established one such Matt and he himself became its first head. This is the present Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. In all these Matts, the successive heads are called “Sri Shankaracharya”

The lifespan and works of Shankara unquestionably constitute recognizable watershed in the history of our country, when one looks with discerning eyes the pre-and post – Shankara social and cultural scenario. But for Sri Adi Shankara, Sri Kanchi Mahaswamy says, the Hindu community today may not be celebrating Sri Rama Navami and Sri Janmashtami, as the Vedic values and traditions in the immediate time preceding Shankara were totally clouded by non-Vedic faiths. It was Shankara’s single – handed, timely help and effort that rekindled the brillilance from the embers of traditional belief.

Sri Adi Shankara’s contributions are available to us today in the form of his writings. They include his commentaries on ten major Upanishads and Narasimha Dhaamni (another Upanishad) Brahma Sutra, Bhagavad Gita and Vishnu Sahasranama. He has written many other introductory works which would enable to understand advaita siddhanta, like Viveka Chudamani. Sankara has visited innumerable shrines and sacred theerthas. The outpourings of his mind in these places constitute a wonderfully unbelievable world of Sloka literature.

In all his literary works, whether commentaries or introductory treatises on Vedanta or Devotional Slokas, the Acharya’s language is lucid, clear and powerful. Under the heat of Shankara’s intellect, Samskrutham became so plastic that it allowed itself to be moulded in any form Shankara wanted. In fine, we may conclude that Shankara’s wisdom and way of presentation can be compared only to the Acharya’s depth and sweep of coverage of Vedantic System.

In this website and earnest endeavour has been made to bring out Shankara’s works. Verily, SriShankara lives in his eternal works. Indeed, it is Sri Shankara Bhagavadpada’s aayatanam.