Source – kamakoti.org & esamskriti
About 2500 years ago, in Kaladi Kerala, India, a learned brahmin, by the name of Sivaguru, and his wife, Aryambal, spent their life in pooja and in giving alms to poor and in other good deeds. This childless couple went to Trichur and performed puja for 48 days to Lord Vadakkunathan (Lord Shiva) and prayed for a son.
Lord Shiva melted in their devotion and was bornto Aryambal. As the Lord had already promised that he will be born to do good to this world, the child was named Sankara. Sam means prosperity and Karathi means te giver. All the visitors stood in awe at the divinity of the child and said “This is not an ordinary child”.
As Shankara grew up, he attraced everybody with his intelligence and kindness. At the age of three, he was given “Aksharabyas”, i.e., the learning of writing and reading. At the age of four, he lost his father. At the age of five, he was initiated in Brahmacharyam i.e., self-imposed celibacy that is generally considered an essential prerequisite for spiritual practice. As per the practice the disciple had to go from house to house and take alms and submit this to his guru (teacher).
On a Dwadasi day Sankara happened to go to the house of a very poor lady and asked for the alms. The lady did not have a single grain of rice in her house to give. All she had kept a single berry fruit for herself. She unhesitatingly gave this fruit to Sankara as she could not send him empty handed. Sankara was moved by her selflessness and the poverty of the lady and prayed to Goddess Lakshmi in a beautiful sloka which is called “Kanaka Dhara Stotram”. On completion of this stotram, Goddess Lakshmi appeared in person and showered a rain of golden coins on the poor lady’s house.
One day, the rishis came to him and reminded him of his duty to the land in spreading spiritualism. Sankara agreed it was time to become a Sanyasi and go all over the country to kindle religious ferver. One day when Sankara was taking bath, a crocodile caught hold of his leg. Sankara called out to his mother. Aryambal came running and to her horror she found her son in the grip of the crocodile and she cried that se did not know how to help her son.
Sri Sankara informed his mother that his life was nearing to an end, but if he became a Sanyasi, he could start a new life as a sannyasi. Thus Sri Sankara obtained permission from his mother to become a sannyasi.
Sri Sankara went in the search of a Guru to be formally initiated as a Sannyasi. At the banks of the river Narmada, he found the river gushing forth into floods. By using his powers, he encapsulated the river in his Kamandal (a vessel sannyasi’s carry) and released it in the banks of the river. Sri Govinda Bagawathpathar, an ascetic who saw this, marvelled at Sri Sankara then took him on as a disciple.
Sri Govinda Bagawathpadar taught various vedas to Sri Sankara. He also taught about Advaita, the principle that every one in this world is the manifestation of God and that God and Atman are one and the same. He advises Sri Sankara to go out in the world and spread this truth throughout the country. One of Sri Sankara’s famous poetic composition is “Bhaja Govindam”.
Sankara and the Outcaste
One Summer noon at Varanasi Sri Sankara after taking a bath in the holy Ganga was proceeding towards the temple of Lord Viswanath along with his disciples. The Great Acharya saw an outcaste, a Chandala, coming along with his dogs in his way. He told the Chandala “get away, get away – move away, move away”.
These innocent looking remarks led to an unexpected questioning from the Chandala and caused Sankara to give out to the world an immortal poem entitled ‘Maneeshaa Panchakam’ which elaborated the Vedantic ideas and brought into focus that even a person belonging to a low caste could rekindle the light of wisdom in the greatest among the great teachers. Sri Sankara’s encounter and dialogue with the “outcaste” on the streets of Varanasi were of immense and eternal significance.
Issues raised by the “Chandala”
The Chandala asked Sankara:
1. By saying ‘Move away, Move away’ do you wish to move matter from matter or you mean to separate spirit from the Spirit? You have established that the Absolute is everywhere – in you and me and yet you want me to get away from you as if I were different. Is it this body, built up of food that you wish to keep at a distance from that body which is also built up of food? Or do you wish to separate Pure Awareness which is present here from the same Awareness present there?
2. Does it make any difference to the sun when it is reflected in the waters of Ganga or in the dirty waters of the cesspools in the streets of Chandalas? Is there any difference in the space as such, be it in a golden pot or in a mud pot? In the self-existing ocean of Blissful Consciousness, in the inner self, where there are no waves of agitating thoughts, how can there be this great delusory distinction – this is a Brahmin and this is an untouchable?
These words of the Chandala struck the Sadguru with astonishment. As a teacher of Advaita propagating the one Infinite Self in all, he immediately recognized that the Chandala taught him his own philosophy correctly.
HE THEN AND THERE COMPOSED THE FIVE VERSES ENTITLED ‘MANEESHAA PANCHAKAM’REITERATING THAT EVEN THOUGH A CHANDALA, HE HAVING EXHIBITED CLEAR PERCEPTION OF THE BRAHMAN, IS INDEED THE GURU OF THE JAGADGURU.
These five verses have been collectively given the name ‘Maneeshaapanchakam’, maneesha means deep conviction and panchakam means fivefold… The word ‘maneeshaa’, meaning ‘conviction’ appears in the last line in all the five verses.
In these verses which expound the wisdom of the Mahavakyas declared in the four Vedas, Sankara not only responded to his critique but also sent a timeless and universal message that distinctions based upon social, moral, ethical and other similar considerations have no relevance in the Upanishadic teachings.
Sri Sankara went to Kasi and by that time, he had a lot of disciples. One of disciple Sanandhyaya, was washes the clothes of his Guru and suddenly Sri Sankara called him to the other bank of the river. Sanandhyaya, little realising that he would drown, starts walking into the river. However, the Grace of his Guru resulted in a lotus materialising wherever he was keeping his foot. When asked as to how did he cross the river, he says that when his Guru called, he did not worry about anything. Sri Sankara named him as Padma Pada (lotus feet).
His mother, Aryambal was in her deathbed, and as per his promise while taking celibacy that he would be by her side while she breathes her last. He reached Kaladi and paid his last respects. Aryambal was happy that her son had come. Sri Sankara prayed to Lord Narayana who appeared in person and blessed Aryambal. Sri Sankara did the last rites for his mother and put her in the pyre himself and lit it using yog-agni.
Sri Sankara completed his travels and went to Badrinath. Lord Vishnu appeared before him and told that image of Badarinaraya in Alaknanda river should be taken out and a temple be built for it. This temple is called Badrinarayan temple and is one of the important religious places for Hindus.
Towards the end of his life, Adi Shankara travelled to the Himalayan area of Kedarnath-Badrinath and attained videha mukti (“freedom from embodiment”) at the age of 32. There is a samadhi mandir dedicated to Adi Shankara behind the Kedarnath temple.
“Shruti Smriti puranam alayam karunalayam
Namami Bhagavadpadam Shankaram Lokashankaram”
I salute the compassionate abode of the Vedas, Smritis and Puranas known as Shankara Bhagavatpada, who makes the world auspicious.