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1. The Birth of the Saviour


Jaya Jaya Shankara
Namo Chandramoulishwaraya
Namo Naarasimhaaya

This is an offering of tribute at the feet of Sri Shankaracharya, the incarnation of Shiva. So great was and so majestic was his life that it is not possible for ordinary mortals to speak about his divine Charita completely. This is just a selection of some episodes from his inspiring Life. The influence of Advaita Vedanta preached by Sri Shankaracharya has pervaded the whole of world. It was this message of Vedanta that Swami Vivekananda, the messenger of Sri Ramakrishna, the harmonizer of all religions, propagated in the east and the West.

The realization of Advaita is the final stage of religious experience. But Shankara never disdained the steps that have to be traversed to attain this stage. It is for this reason that Shankara appears to us an enthusiastic organizer of worship, devotion and rites. He was not merely a monist traversing the path of knowledge. A rare and supreme devotion tempers his entire life and all his writings. The whole of Hinduism is brilliantly and uniquely reflected in the ideals of his life. The effulgent form that he gave to the Sanatana Vedic Dharma may have been dimmed by the passage of time, but it has not been obliterated. The Hindus owe an eternal debt to this teacher whose life span extended over only thirty-two years. He opened up a new and radiant horizon for the spiritual life of India and brought about a revolutionary transformation in her social life.

To call Srimadacharya a mere monist would be to denigrate his personality and his impact. His life in fact appears to be a meeting ground of Advaita, Dvaita and he has gone beyond all these stages to stand effulgent in the radiant light of the self. Rarely among the great does one encounter such harmonization.

Swami Vivekananda has said: "The modern civilized world marvels at the writings of this sixteen year old boy." The modern civilized world is a world of science and reason. Shankara was able to establish the religion of the Vedanta on the firm foundation of science and reason.

Shankara's life offers interpretation of his philosophy. Hence it would be of immense inspiration to know about the life of this great incarnation of Sri Dakshinamurthy. This is a presentation of his life based on Anandagiri's Shankara Vijaya, Maadhaveeya Shankara Vijaya and works by Swami Apoorvananda.

Dedicated to the holy feet of Mahatripurasundari, Chandramouleshwara and Lakshmi Nrisimha, who have filled my being with their limitless grace, assuming the form of my gurus Shankaranandanatha and Chidanandanatha, is this humble piece of literature that tries to present before you a small picture of the divine life of our Acharya.

Acharya Shankara is one of those god-men who have appeared in the world in historical times in order to establish religion firmly. Shankara's advent took place at a very critical period in the national and in the religious life of India. At that time the Buddhist faith in the Indian sub-continent has passed through many stages of rise and fall for over a thousand years. It had sunk to a condition in which it was not only of absolutely no use for Indian religion and culture, but was positively ruinous. Subjected to the influence of degenerate Buddhism, the eternal Hindu faith had become enfeebled, devastated and disintegrated.

Within two centuries of Acharya's lifetime, India had to encounter the powerful incursion of the Islamic faith. Degenerate Buddhism would not have possessed the vigor to resist the onrush. It was only the immense strength of the Vedic faith, which is eternal and man-made, and is the repository of universal truth, that could stand and did effectively resist the inroad of Islam. The advent, the career, the life work and the teaching of Acharya endowed the Hindu faith with the energy needed for the task ahead of self-defense and survival and ensured the everlasting stability of the Vedic religion by firmly establishing it on very sure foundations. Such a claim for Shankara is amply supported by historical evidence. Has Shankara not come on the scene, it would have been quite within the bounds of possibility that Hinduism got transformed into a veritable Islamistan.

If the Hindus of today can legitimately be proud of their great Vedic religion, it is in no small measure due to the services of this thirty-two year old monk. This needs to be adequately realized by all especially those belonging to man-made cults and sects who dismiss Acharya as a Mayavadi. It is unfortunate that some people indeed have succumbed to falsehood despite of Acharya's efforts. Shankara strengthened the foundations of the eternal Vedic faith to such an extent that the vigor imparted by him was an unfailing support in later years to the work and mission of people like Madhwa, Ramanuja, Nimbaraka etc. This is an undeniable historical fact. In Shankara's life and teaching and propagation lies embedded the immense vitality, which is responsible for the safe preservation and sure sustenance of the eternal Vedic faith.

To designate Shankaracharya as just an upholder of Monism, just like any other sectist Acharya's is a tone down to his gigantic personality and to dilute his contribution. Not in any of his writings does any evidence exist of one-sided outlook, the narrow vision, the vigorlessness, and the incompleteness, which are the characteristics of most of the later preachers and teachers. Indeed Shankara was the greatest, the noblest and the most luminous representative of expansive, universal and all embracing Sanatana Vedic Dharma. All that is sublime, strengthening, glorious in the Vedanta faith as it obtains today is the handiwork of this distinguished monk, and this is true not only in respect of the philosophical aspect of that faith, but also in respect of its practical side. The resplendent story of Sri Acharya's life is a veritable lighthouse illumining the path of the universal Vedic faith.

Acharya Shankara is not to be ranked with ordinary religious aspirants. To style him as a Siddha, a perfected master is also not saying the whole thing about him. To accomplish a mission of Providence was he born under divine auspices as Consciousness Awake. He took birth in a noble Brahmin family of the Nambudari caste in the province of Kerala at the southern end of India. In Malayalam, `Namp' means faith and `Puri' means being full. Accordingly, the Brahmin who is filled with faith in the scriptures is a Nampuri or Nambudari Brahmin. Shankara was born and lived at the village of Kaladi, beautiful with groves of coconut and betel, mango and plantain and with river Alwa (also known as Purna) flowing beside. His father was Shivaguru; a gem of a Brahmin community and mother was Vishista Devi (some biographers call her Aryamba), a woman who was goddess-like.

Shivaguru was the only son of Vidyadhara and a scholar versed in the scriptures. When he was at his studies in his preceptor's place, he at first had no idea of returning home at all. The earnest desire of his heart was that he should spend all his life learning and teaching the scriptures. But because of the importunities of his father, he returned home from his preceptor's place and rather late in life entered upon the life of the householder. In due course the father passed away and Sivaguru took on himself the responsibility of maintaining the small household, and along with it, in tune with his interest in the scriptures, he spent long hours in study and instruction. A small Devottara property (property donated to the Gods) helped him to supply all the wants of the small family.

Time passed and Shivaguru grew old, but he was childless. The Hindu idea is that one's getting wedded to a wife is only for the purpose of getting saved from the hell of "Put" by begetting a son. But such a consummation was not yet the let of Shivaguru. There was also no joy in the heart of the Childless Aryamba. The couple deliberated to take a vow. They decided to take refuge with Chandramouleshwara Shiva, the ever-awake god who had his abode on the Vrisha hill not far away their village. For a few days they lived only on roots, and then they subsisted only by drinking the holy water, which washed the feet of Shiva. Always praying with a full heart they kept on fulfilling their vow, offering worship and adoration and engaging themselves in penance, till their bodies became week and feeble. Even before a year had gone by Shivaguru had a dream one night. Sadashiva in a resplendent body white like camphor and with matted locks appeared before him. In a sweet voice the Lord said, " Child! I am well pleased with your devotion. Tell me what your longing is. I shall fulfill it. "Shivaguru fell flat at the feet of the God of the Gods and prayed, "Please grant me the boon of a son who will be long-lived and all-knowing".

With a smile on the lips Lord Ashutosha replied, "If you long for an all-knowing son, he will not be long-lived. If on the other hand, you desire to have a son who will have long life, he will not be all knowing. Do you ask for an all-knowing son or for one with a long life? Choice is yours!"

Deeply religious by nature that he was, Shivaguru prayed for an all-knowing son. Then Mahadeva, the great Lord, told him, "Your desire will be fulfilled. My dear son, you will indeed get an all-knowing son, In fact I myself will come down as your son. You need not continue your penance. You may return home with your devoted wife."

Overwhelmed by the joy of the occurrence and filled with ecstasy Shivaguru made obeisance to the Lord's feet. Being told of the details Of the dream vision, Aryamba felt herself exceptionally blessed. The pure-hearted couple then returned home and spent their time in worship and adoration of Shiva. It was the fifth day of the fortnight of the full moon in the month of Vaishakha. The time was the auspicious mid-day hour. At this divinely ordained hour in 686 AD, Aryamba was delivered of a son. The child was charmingly glorious like a very child-become God Shankara. On his looking at his son's face Shivaguru's delight knew no bounds. He resolved in his mind to make generous offerings of money and cows and lands to Brahmins, and in view of his having obtained the Son by the grace of Sri Shankara or Shiva, named the newborn one "Shankara". Every Avatar who has come down to earth as a Religious Teacher for the fulfillment of a divine mission has been born by the will of providence in a manner that is supernatural and mysterious. The few Supermen who were born in historical times for the resuscitation of religion all made their advent in ways which were extraordinary. Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Christ are well-known illustrations. That Acharya Shankara too was born partaking of the nature of God Shankara and that he came to earth especially for fulfilling a divine mission will become clear as we proceed with the story of his life.

Shivaguru duly performed the rites to be done after the birth of a child and had the horoscope of the newborn baby cast by the astrologers. He was delighted to find that the dream in which he had a boon from Shiva had indeed come true. He saw that his son was of a divine lineage and bore the marks of an incarnation.

Note: also in obedience to the commands of Mahadeva, the gods took birth as humans in order to be of help in Shankara's mission of firmly establishing Vedic Dharma. Padmapada was born of Vishnu's lineage; Hastamalaka came from Pavanadeva's lineage. In Brahma's line came Sureshwara and in Brihaspati's avatar came Anandagiri and Chitsukha in Varuna's lineage. There was a mark of wheel on the boy Shankara's head. The impress of the third eye on the forehead and the sign of the trident (Trishula) on the shoulders made wise men decide that he was an incarnation of Shiva.

Even from boyhood Shankara was distinguished for his quiet disposition and sharpness of intellect. The superior genius and the extraordinary intelligence, which were to fascinate humanity in his later years, were clearly sprouting in him even when he was a boy. This wonder of a child had even by his third year finished reading many books in his mother tongue Malayalam, and by only listening to the readings and chanting of the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas learnt them by heart. The most surprising thing about the boy was that he was a Sruthidhara (a person able to repeat in full all that he hears just once). Whatever he read or heard got indelibly impressed in his memory.