Sri Kamakoti Mandali  
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3. Turiyashrama Svikara


One day it so chanced that a few astrologers arrived at Shankara's home. Aryamba and her son Shankara accorded them a proper reception. After discussing the contents of the scriptures in various ways, the astrologers expressed a desire to look into the horoscope of Shankara. On examining the horoscope they said that the time of Shankara's birth bore the indication of the descent of an incarnation and they foresaid too that he would become a wandering monk. But an examination of the astrological position in regard to the longetivity of his life revealed to them that Shankara would be short lived. They saw that death might overtake him in his eight or sixteenth or thirty- second year. On coming to know this, Aryamba was deeply distressed. But she was told that through penance and austerity the possibility of death at the eighth year could be averted and an extension of life by another eight years could be obtained. But death at the sixteenth year could not, the Brahmins asserted, be escaped except through divine will. When the Brahmin astrologers took their leave, their foretelling of coming events had its reaction on Shankara's mind, but the reaction in his case was of a different kind from that of his mother's case. He resolved to embrace monasticism. He knew that there was no possibility of attaining the knowledge of Truth without resorting to monk hood. And in the absence of knowledge of Truth there was no possibility achieving liberation from the bondage of relative existence. Shankara had just then entered on his eighth year, and that was exactly the time when death might come to him. Therefore Shankara's only thought now was about how he could manage to take to monasticism.

As day succeeded day, the desire to embrace monasticism became stronger and stronger in Shankara. He was quite determined on taking to Sanyasa. One day he found a suitable opportunity to speak to his mother about it and told her of his intention of becoming a monk. Hardly did he mention to her his idea when Aryamba started weeping and wailing. Embracing him and kissing him she said, " Hush child, is it right for you to speak such a thing. You are such a tender stripling now. Let me pass out of life first, and then you may turn out to be a monk. Whom but you I have for a hold. If you turn out a monk and walk out of home, who is there to look after me, my child? Who will take me to places of pilgrimage? Who will perform my funeral rites when I die? No, no, my dear, as long as life pulsated in my body I shall not let you become a Sanyasin." Shankara remained quiet. Here was a command from the mother not to embrace Sanyasa. There seemed to be no way out of the situation, and Shankara prayed with an earnest heart to the Lord beseeching him to make it possible for him to take Sanyasa. He knew that he had been born with the mission of preaching the super-knowledge of Advaita and he knew that for the carrying on of that mission it was imperative that he took to Sanyasa. He was however confidant that the petty desires of men and women cannot stand against the divine will.

One day, early in the morning, Shankara accompanied by his mother went for a bath in the Alwai River. Many others were bathing there. Aryamba finished her bath and came up to the bank. Shankara was still in the river bathing, when a crocodile caught hold of him. He shouted out, "Mother, save me, save me! I am seized by a crocodile." Instantly did Aryamba plunge into the river to try to save her son. Others on the spot also caught hold of Shankara's hands and tried to pull him up to the bank. But the crocodile continued to pull him down to deeper waters. Between the pull-up and pull-down, Shankara said, "Mother I am definitely being taken down by the crocodile. I am in my last moments. You did not permit me to take Sanyasa. If at least now you give condescend to grant me permission for Sanyasa, I shall, contemplating on God, mentally take to the dying hour Sanyasa and give up life. Even this will give me liberation."

Aryamba saw that there was no hope of saving Shankara from death. She said weeping, "My son, so be it. I grant you the permission to be a monk." Saying this she fell down in a swoon. Having thus obtained his mother's permission Shankara with a concentrated mind surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord and took Sanyasa. All his being was filled with an indescribable feeling of bliss. All of a sudden, the crocodile vanished from that place, leaving Shankara free. The crocodile indeed was Lord Sri Narayana, who had answered Shankara's prayers. As a result of this taking to Atura Sanyasa the death at the eighth year to which Shankara was destined was obviated. Shankara and his mother were brought to the bank. Regaining conscience after a while, Aryamba hugged Shankara in a warm motherly embrace. She led Shankara back towards home. Shankara then told his mother, " It is not for mw to stay at home here after. I am a monk. The scriptures have prohibited a Sanyasin's residing in his own old house. I shall therefore stay under a tree." Aryamba felt as if the weight of the sky had descended on her head. Weeping and sobbing she said, "what is this that you say my boy! You are but a child, how indeed can you renounce home now? How long am I going to live? You may indeed leave home after I die."Shankara did not however loosen his resolve. He said, " It was with your permission, mother, that I took to Sanyasa at the last moment, with all my heart. I am one born of your womb, and I shall not render false an utterance of yours. I shall carry out my renouncing home." He consoled the wailing Aryamba with these words, "Who do you think saved me from becoming a prey to the crocodile? That very God will look after everything. Whether it be day or night, if in your last moment you but think of me, I shall wherever I may then be, know of it, and I shall reach your abode. Before life ebbs out of you I shall help you have a vision of your chosen deity. That indeed is the essence of all pilgrimages."

The circumstances which attended Shankara's birth now came to Aryamba's memory and she saw that all these happenings were but inevitable and in a voice choked with emotion said, " So be it my son, I bless you by heart and soul that you attain your desired goal." It was now clear that Shankara's earnest prayers had reached the Lord. By the grace of the Lord, Aryamba's entire being was filled with an ineffable joy. She would no longer hinder her son's ascending to the absolute Brahman. Shankara then prostrated at the feet of his mother, and receiving her blessings on his head walked out to have a view of the family deity Sri Keshava Bhagavan. And the sun just rose to view on the eastern horizon.

Aryamba, very like a mad woman followed behind Shankara. Hundreds of villagers, both men and women, also followed the boy monk. On every lip was the question, where is Shankara going? With slow and gentle steps and downcast looks, Shankara arrived at the temple of Keshava. An ocean of love Supreme was surging within his being then. He leaped out from Symbol to Reality, from Form to Formless, from worldly bondages to Universal boundlessness, from microcosm to macrocosm. Shankara knelt down before the image of Keshava. The eternal anguish that lies hidden in the great silence of creation welled out from within his heart. Tears of deep love flowed down his cheeks. With eyes closed, he saluted the deity in a charming hymn of mellifluous rhythm composed by himself, and adored and worshipped it. After holding Keshava in an ardent embrace, he came out of the temple, when the priests drew his attention to the dilapidated condition of the temple. The Alwai had been changing its course for some years past, and this had weakened the temple structure, which was about to collapse. Shankara saw that unless the image was removed to a safer place, it would soon be lost in the riverbed. So, after getting the approval of all the people, Shankara, with the image of Keshava leaning on his chest carried it to a secure place and set it there and requested the assembled villagers to construct a temple at the spot.

There are other accounts of this incident. One is that when Shankara went in for sight of the holy image, there was a voice from heaven and Keshava told him, "please remove me from here to safer and secure place and fix me up there. This temple will fall down into the river the very next moment". And Shankara carried out the divinely given message, and transferred the image to a safer spot. Yet in another biography of Sri Acharya, it is said that Sri Krishna himself gave dream instructions to Shankara for the removal of the image to a new area.

While studying the great commentary (the Mahabhashya) of Patanjali for his lessons on grammar, Shankara had learnt from his Guru that the master-yogi Patanjali himself had been staying in a cave by the river Narmada for a thousand years in deep Samadhi. He was now known as Govinda Bhagavatpada. He was the chief of the incomparable Sri Gaudapaadaachaarya. Govindapada was no ordinary saint, but a great yogi who had realized the ultimate Truth and had his mind firmly established in the knowledge of Advaita Brahman. On hearing from his teacher of Govindapada, Shankara had mentally selected him as his Guru and had been waiting impatiently for the blessed moment when he could sit at his feet and attain the knowledge of Advaita. That auspicious time had now come for the realization of Shankara's ardent desire of discipleship under Govindapada.