Śrutismr̥tipurāṇānām ālayaṁ karuṇālayam ।
Namāmi bhagavatpādaṁśaṅkaraṁ lōkaśaṅkaram ॥
When it was extremely difficult to hold the whole Bhāratavarṣa together in terms of spirituality, a 17 year old monk was travelling around the country and teaching people the ultimate knowledge to be free from sorrows! The knowledge is Advaita Vēdānta and the monk was none other than Ādi Śaṅkarācārya!
Ādi Śaṅkarācārya was believed to be an incarnation of Śiva. He was five years old when his father Śrīśivaguru left this world. For two years he studied and mastered every śāstra in the gurukula.
At the age of eight he decided to become a monk and went to find the spiritual mentor for himself. On the banks of Narmadā River he found his mentor Śrīgurugōvindabhagavatpāda who taught him Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtra, Bhagavadgītā and other scriptures. Śrīśaṅkaracārya left for Kāśī where Śrīkāśīviśvēśvara appeared in front of him and gave him the key to Advaita Vēdānta. After this, Ādi Śaṅkarācārya went to Badrikāśrama and wrote the commentaries of Prasthānatrayī (the major Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtra andBhagavadgītā). In Badrikāśrama, Maharṣi Vēdavyāsa debated with him on Brahmasūtra and asked him to spread Vaidika Dharma.
With these divine blessings, Ādi Śaṅkarācārya started his journey to teach and establish Advaita Vēdānta. He first rested in Prayāgakṣētra to debate with Śrīkumārilabhaṭṭa – one of the foremost upholders of Purvamimamsa (the ritual part of the Vedas). Śrīkumārilabhaṭṭa was about to enter the fire to atone the sin of gurudrōha (being disloyal to the mentor) when Ādi Śaṅkarācārya met him. Śrīkumārilabhaṭṭa asked Ādi Śaṅkarācārya to debate with his student Maṇḍana Miśra.
Ādi Śaṅkarācārya reached Māhiṣmatī city (in modern day Madhya Pradesh) with his disciples to win Maṇḍana Miśra in debate. He debated for 11 days with Maṇḍana Miśra and for 17 days with Miśra’s wife, Ubhayabhāratī. Ubhayabhāratī asked the young monk a question regarding Kāmaśāstra. As Ādi Śaṅkarācārya had taken sannyasa as a child he was not familiar with Kāmaśāstra. He asked for a month’s time during which time he entered the body of King Amaruka of Amarāvatī city and obtained the knowledge of Kāmaśāstra. Maṇḍana Miśra was thus eventually defeated and he became a renunciate and a disciple of Ādi Śaṅkarācārya with a new name Sureshvara.
Soon after Ādi Śaṅkarācārya went to Śrīśaila, Andhra Pradesh where he refuted the Kāpālikas (a Shaivite sect). During this stay, Ādi Śaṅkarācārya also faced death threats as the leader of the Kāpālikas tried to kill him. However, Ādi Śaṅkarācārya was saved by his disciple Padmapādācārya. After establishing Advaita Vēdānta there, Ādi Śaṅkarācārya went to Gōkarṇakṣētra. He stayed there for three days and preached the Advaita Vēdānta. Then he travelled to Harikṣētra and to Mūkāmbikākṣētra in modern day Karnataka afterwards. After preaching Advaita Tattvat here, he travelled to Śrīvali Agrahāra and then to Śr̥ṅgērī in Karnataka. In Śr̥ṅgērī he established the Dakṣiṇa-Āmnāyapīṭha or Śr̥ṅgērīśrīśāradāmaṭha. It is the Yajurvēdapīṭha where he appointed his disciple Śrīsurēśvarācārya as the head. The motto of the maṭha is the māhāvākyaʻAhaṁ Brahmāsmi’. Then he decided to go to Kālaḍī village in modern day Kerala as his mother was about to pass away. After her passing away, he returned to Śr̥ṅgērī.
Now Ādi Śaṅkarācārya travelled with his disciples for the Vijayayātrā all around Bhāratavarṣa. He first went to Rāmēśvaram and established the Sphaṭikaliṅga (Liṅgam made with crystal). Then he went to Anantaśayana. In both the places Ādi Śaṅkarācārya refuted the dualist philosophies of Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism. He next went to Kāñcī and named the place as Viṣṇukāñcī and Śivakāñcī respectively as per the residence of Varadarājasvāmī and Ēkāmranāthasōmēśvara. In Kāñcī, he visited the Kāmākṣīmandira and calmed Kālīdēvī by establishing the Vaidika form of worship. He also established the Śrīcakra there. Then he came to the Śrīśācala i.e. Tirupati where he established the Dhanākarṣaṇayaṁtra or the Yantra to attract wealth. Afterwards Ādi Śaṅkarācārya came to Gōkarṇa defeating Krakaca the Bhairavōpāsaka. Then he went to Ujjainī via Paṇḍavāpura worshiping Pāṇḍuraṅga there. Then he came to the Jagannāthapurī and established the Pūrva-Āmnāyapīṭha also called Jagannāthagōvardhanamaṭha. His disciple Śrīpadmapādācārya was appointed the head of the maṭha. The motto of this R̥gvēdapīṭha is ʻPrajñānaṁ Brahma’.From here, he went to the eastern part of India and preached the Vaidika form of worship.
Then Ādi Śaṅkarācārya traveled west to Dvārakā in Gujarat where he established the Paścima-Āmnāyapīṭha which is named as Dvārakākālikāmaṭha. The Sāmavēdapīṭha was headed by his disciple Śrīhastāmalakācārya. The motto of the maṭha is ʻTattvamasi’. Ādi Śaṅkarācārya then went to Badrīnātha via Haridvāra and established the Uttara-Āmnāyapīṭha, also called Badrikāśramajyōtirmaṭha. In the Atharvavēdapīṭha he appointed his disciple Śrītōṭakācārya. The motto there is ʻAyamātmā Brahma’. In this way, he established Vaidika worship and Advaita Vedanta in the whole of ancient Bhāratavarṣa.
The time had come to go Sarvajñapīṭhārōhaṇa in Kāśmīra. There, in the temple of Śāradā there were four huge doors, of which three were opened by the wisest people from East, West and North India. But no one had come from South to open the Southern door. Ādi Śaṅkarācārya proved his wisdom through debates with followers of Vaiśēṣika, Naiyāyika, the four branches of Buddhism- Vijñānavādī, Sautrāntika, Vibhāṣika and Mādhyamika, Jaiminīya, Mīmāṁsaka, Jaina and lastly with Śāradādēvī. Finally the southern door opened.
After the Sarvajñapīṭhārōhaṇa Ādi Śaṅkarācārya came to Badrikāśrama. He was 32 years old then. From there he went to Kēdārakṣētra and ended his incarnation on Vaiśākha-Śuddha-Pūrṇimā.
Ādi Śaṅkarācārya was the monk who not just preached Advaita Vēdānta but united Hindus by establishing Vaidika forms of worship. He acted as a mentor and the bridge between the six upasana sampradayas namely, Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava, Śākta, Saura,Gāṇapatya, and Skanda (and hence called ṣaṇmatasthāpanācārya) and introduced the Pañcāyatana method of worshiping. He travelled for 24 years constantly and built the foundation of spirituality in Bhāratavarṣa.
He was indeed an incarnation of Śiva who brought a new dawn upon Bhāratavarṣa and spread the light of knowledge everywhere.
(Editor’s Note: In this series, we are publishing the essays of the winners – in no particular order – of ‘Jagadaguru Adi Shankaracharya Essay Competition’ organized by Indica Moksha as part of the Global Festival of Oneness 2022. Today’s Essay is by Mukta Laghate, Age 18)
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