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Historical and Religious Scenario of Bhārata as Revealed through ŚañkaraDigvijayam

Adi Shankaracharya

Ādi Śañkarachārya is probably the greatest colossus that strode the land of Bharata spreading the Advaita-tattva. Most popular consensus on the date of the Āchārya is the 8th century CE though some opine it to be around 5th century BC. Since this is not the focus of this paper, the author assumes 8th century CE as the time of the Āchārya. Śañkara-digvijayam or the triumphant tour of Ādi Śañkarachārya offers one of the most exhaustive view of the regions and faiths of the land of Bharat as existed during the 8th century. There are very few people who have travelled the country as extensively as the Āchārya.

However, as with many other personalities in India, we find scarce information on these details as they were hardly recorded. Also, the available information many a time contradicts in terms of the chronology, the places where the events took place etc. Among the different biographies of the Āchārya, Mādhavīya Śañkaravijayam of Vidyaranya is considered the most authentic source. However even that offers lesser insight into his travels as well as the social and religious conditions of the land then.

Hence, the author has referred to multiple sources of information primarily considering the Mādhavīya Śañkaravijayam of Vidyaranya and Ātmatīrtham of Nochur Venkatraman. Since there is no clear consensus on the chronology as well as the places related to different events, the author presents here an overview of the different regions visited by the Āchārya along with related insights on social and religious situations in these areas corroborated with other sources wherever feasible. The sequences, wherever presented, have been reconstructed based on the details of events as well as historical & local folklore available.

The key information we infer from the travelogues of Āchārya are primarily the following:

– How people travelled across regions in those days especially on foot

– What different religious faiths and philosophies existed in different parts of the country

– Impact of invasions from external people

– How religious centers are to be approached/ viewed

The first geographical reference is of the hill of Vṛṣādri situated near the river Pūrṇa in the Kerala region[1]. Kerala belonged to the ancient Tamil Nadu region and was called Mala-nadu (hilly regions of Tamil Nadu). Hence Tamil and Sanskrit were languages used profusely in Kerala. In fact, Malayalam (language in Kerala) is an admixture of the Sanskrit and Tamil languages.

Thus, Vṛṣādri meaning the mountain of the holy bull came to be translated ‘Viḍavakunru’ (Viḍavam meaning bull and kunru meaning hill in Tamil) & the Lord Siva in this temple as ‘Viḍava-kunru-nathan’ in Tamil. This later got corrupted to the present day ‘Vadakkunnathan’ which stands in the center of the city of Trichur. This temple is related to the birth of the Āchārya and hence we can see, even today, a temple dedicated in the outer perambulatory path to the Āchārya. Closer to this place is the village of Kālaḍi where Āchārya was born.

(Temple dedicated to Āchārya in Vadakunnathan temple (Trichur) with pictures from his life depicted on the walls)


Until the age of eight, Āchārya stayed in Kālaḍi itself. Then a group of peripatetic sages meet him at Kālaḍi and instruct him to take renunciation from the great teacher of Advaita, Govinda Bhagavatpada who stays on the banks of the river Narmadā in Omkāreśvar. We still find the cave where Govinda Bhagavatpada and Āchārya stayed.

(Cave where Govinda Bhagavatpada and Āchārya lived in Omkāreśvara)

One account says that the Āchārya went via Ṛṣya-śṛñga-giri (modern day Śṛñgeri) on the banks of the Tuñgā. How could a boy having stayed from birth in his hometown of Kālaḍi travel so long as Omkāreśvar which is nearly 1600 km away? How could the sages have given him directions? The directions would have been given with references mainly to rivers.

(Story of Āchārya containing the fury of Narmadā in his kamandalu while in Omkāreśvara)

In line with this, he must have reached banks of the Narmadā crossing the rivers of Pūṛṇā, Bhadra, Tuñgā, Kṛṣṇā, Bhīmā, Tāpi and Godāvarī as well as the Brahmagiri hills (starting from the Wayanad district of Kerala until the Sahyadri ranges) on the way. This probably was the way the travelers kept direction in ancient days. Travelling along the rivers was the best route for them to keep direction as well as perform their daily rituals and ablutions. The travel route was mostly a straight northern route from Kālaḍi to Omkāreśvara.

There, after meeting his guru Govinda Bhagavatpāda and taking renunciation, he is said to have stayed for a few years learning the advaita śāstras from the guru. Then, on the command of this guru, Āchārya along with a group of sannyasis started towards Kāśi [2]. This was important as Kāśi was the seat of learning where scholars from across the world assembled. Hence it was essential to win over the scholars of Kāśi for one’s doctrine to be accepted by the world. In an era, when there weren’t technological advancements in communication, this was the best way to propagate one’s philosophy.

The travel route from Omkāreśvara to Kāśi was a move towards the north-eastern direction. Here, Āchārya should have passed through the ancient kingdoms of Avanti (having its capital Māhiśmati on the banks of Narmadā), Chedi (modern day region of Bundelkhand) and Vatsa kingdom.

They should have crossed through the Narmadā, Sonar, Ken, Tamasa and   then finally crossing the Yamunā river, travelled into Prayāgraj where the Ganges meets the Yamunā. Then travelling along the Ganges, the group reached Kāśi. This was the probably first experience Āchārya had of living in a city. And that too, Kāśi was among the biggest & wealthiest cities of ancient India with a span of ~30 km between the rivers Varuṇā and Asi. It is hence called Vārāṇasi[3].

Staying in Vārāṇasi for quite some time, Āchārya moved northwards to Hardvār walking along the river Ganges itself passing through the kingdoms of Vatsa, Pāñchāla and Kuru. From Hardvār, Āchārya moved to Ṛṣikesh. There, he installed the idol of Ṛṣikeśa Narayana which was immersed in the Ganges fearing vandalism of foreign invaders.

This is famous today as the Bharat Mandir which is the oldest temple in Ṛṣikesh. Even today, they celebrate Basant Panchami as the day when Āchārya installed this idol and as if to re-enact the event, take the idol (made of Salagrama) to the Ganges for a dip and re-install the idol back.

(Sālagrama idol of Bharat and the Bharat yatra)

After this, they reached passed through the various confluences of river Ganges and the towns along the way (e.g. Deva Prayāg, Vilva-Kedār known as Bilkedār, city of Śrinagar in modern day Uttarakhand also called Śri -kśetra etc.)  Śri-kśetra was a center of Śāktism and had many people practicing tantric practices. We still have many temples like the Dhari- mātā (guardian deity of Deva-bhūmi), Rājarājeśvarī temple (family deity of the Garhwal kings who ruled this region), Gaura-mātā temple, etc. Āchārya later established the Jyotirdhāma as the northern monastic center near Viṣṇu Prayāg with Nārāyaṇa as the primary deity and Goddess Pūrṇagiri as the Śakti.

Then, Āchārya moved to Badarināth where the original idol was missing, and the worship was only of Sālagrāma. Then Āchārya understood from the local people, that the idol was immersed into the Ganges fearing the atrocities of the invaders. Then, through his meditative power, Āchārya is said to have retrieved the idol of Badari-Nārāyaṇa seated in padmāsana from the Nāradakuṇḍa.

He is also said to have commissioned the worship of Badari-Nārāyaṇa by the Brahmins of Kerala (called Nambūthiris) who are selected, till today, with consent of the Garhwal and Travancore royal families. Then, Āchārya moved into the cave of Vyasa on the banks of river Sarasvati and composed commentaries on the Upaniṣads, Brahma-sutra, and Bhagavad Gita famously called the Prasthānatraya bhāṣya.

It is evident from the description of Āchārya’s life at Omkāreśvar as well as at Badarināth, that caves were the most preferred accommodations for the travelers. These were naturally formed places and hence no additional effort was needed. These caves were natural protections from external weather conditions of excessive heat, cold or rains. Also, proximity of rivers, lakes, springs etc. ensured water supply for all activities. Also, these places were chosen for solitude as they were quite inaccessible for normal people.

Similarly traveling along the river Mandākini, they reach Kedārnāth and from Kedar, they move towards Gomukh, the source of the Ganges. Local legends still believe that Āchārya installed image of Goddess Ganga at Gangotri. Then at Uttarakāśi, Āchārya had the vision and discussion with Sage Veda Vyāsa. Āchārya was nearing 16 years of age then, when Sage Veda Vyāsa blesses him and extends his life by another 16 years.


Based on the command of the sage, Āchārya moves to Prayāg to meet the Purva-mīmāmsaka Kumārila Bhatta in order to debate with him and spread the message of the Advaita Vedānta. This was the way of establishing one’s viewpoint. The travel back was mostly along the banks of the Yamunā. As he realized that Kumarila Bhatta is self-immolating himself and is at end of his life, on his behest, Āchārya moves to meet Bhatta’s disciple Maṇḍana Miśra in Māhiśmati on the banks of the Narmadā. As per the chronology mentioned, Āchārya is now returning to the banks of Narmadā nearly 8 years after he left the place at the behest of his guru.

Mandana Misra himself was a scholar who was a Gowda Brahmin born in Kashmir as his father Himamitra was the royal preceptor to the king of Kashmir. He was married to Ubhaya Bharati who belonged to the land of the river Son (most probably modern-day Madhya Pradesh). Though after marriage they lived in Kashmir for some time, they later travelled back to land of Māhiśmati and settled there. It was probably this connection of Mandana Misra with Kashmir, the land of Goddess Śāradā, that he became the pontiff of the Śṛñgeri Pīṭham with Śāradā as the presiding deity.

Having won Mandana Miśra and his wife at the end of  along debate, Āchārya along with the disciples moved to modern day Maharashtra[4] or erstwhile Chalukya deśa. There he visited many temples including Tryambakeśvar Jyotirlinga (where he is believed to have done renovations & re-instilled the traditional worship; also evident from his dvādaśa jyotirlinga stotra), Pandharpur (evident from the Pāṇḍurañgāṣṭakam). From the history of Āchārya, many of the places of his travel can only be ascertained by his compositions at the different temples he visited. Hence these are valuable information to judge his travelogues.

Then he moved on eastwards to the holy town of Śri Śailam[5] on the confluence of the Kṛṣṇa and Tuñgabhadrā. Here Āchārya stayed for quite some time in the serene idyllic surroundings of the place. This was one of the very few places that was very dear to the Āchārya and he directly refers to in his stotras like Śivānandalahari[6] and Yogatārāvali[7]. Śri Śailam was a center for Śāktism (considered as one of the 51 Śakti Pīṭhams of India) as well as Śaivism (one of the 12 Jyotirliñgas) including terrible forms of worship such as Kāpālikas, Vīrāchāras, Pāśupatas etc.

(Bhairavasela with a reddish quartzite sculpture of Bhairava in tribhanga posture with Kāpālika seen standing beside his feet on the left)

This is testified by many Bhairava temples around the Śri Śailam region one being Bhairavasela where we can also see a Kāpālika at the feet of the Bhairava. The Cheñchus (local tribes) worshipped Bhairava as Bayanna. Āchārya played a pivotal role is cleansing many of these anti-social forms of worship which created lot of backlash & revenge from those communities. It is hence that the Kāpālikas decided to behead the Āchārya at this place. Few sculptures/ monuments to this effect remain in the precincts of the Śri Śailam temple.

(The Kāpālika episode depicted in the premises of the Śri Śailam temple)

From there on, Āchārya moved to Gokaṛṇa[8] on the western coast. There he encountered the Pāśupatas to whom he instructed on the tenets of Advaita. The fact that the Pāśupata cult (founded by Lakulīśa) prevailed in the Karnataka region during this period is testified by the Lakulīśa sculptures in the Sañgameśvara temple and Badami caves of the 6th – 7th century.

(Lakulisha among his four disciples Kusika, Garga, Mitra, and Kaurushya, rock-cut stone relief, Cave Temple No. 2 at Badami, Karnataka, Early Chalukya dynasty, second half of the 6th century CE)

(Lakulisha holding an axe, sandstone, Sangameshvara Temple at Mahakuta, Karnataka, Early Chalukya dynasty, 7th century CE)

Leaving Gokarna, he went to Hariharapuram[9] (modern day Harihar near Shimoga) where the presiding deity is Śañkaranārāyaṇa i.e. Śiva and Viṣṇu combined into one. You can observe the chakra on one hand and trident on the other of the idol here. From here on, Āchārya travelled to Kutakāchala, the great center of Śaktism amidst the nestling beauty of the dense forests and the river Sauparnikā.

(Śañkaranārāyaṇa idol in Hariharapuram temple with chakra in one hand and trident on the other)

It is said that the Āchārya had the vision of the divine mother here and installed her in the form he saw her. This is the form of Mūkāmbikā, the vanquisher of demon Mūkāsura. In fact, even today you see a designated room within the temple premises which is believed to be the place where Āchārya sat in meditation.

There is another place atop the Kutakāchala ranges which is called a ‘Sarvajñapītha’ by the locals, i.e. a place where all learned people were tested for their knowledge and if found convincing, could ascend the same. Āchārya is said to have convinced the scholars here and ascended this pītha. To ensure the inputs were incorporated, Āchārya trained local priests in these methods and had them manage the temple accordingly. Thus, he went ahead refining and reforming every place he visited!

(Sarvajñapīṭha atop Kuṭakāchala hills housing the idol of Āchārya)

From Mūkāmbikā, Āchārya moved to village of Śribali[10] (modern day Śivalli) where he is said to have met with his disciple who was named Hastāmalaka and then moved to Kukke Subrahmaṇya temple where Lord Skanda is worshipped in the form of a snake. Here, local legends state that the Āchārya stayed at this temple for some time along the Kumāradhāra driver.

From there, Āchārya moved to Śṛñga-giri (Śṛñgeri)[11] with his disciples. Now, Acharya was around his 23rd-24th year and nearly 15-16 years had passed by when he visited Śṛñgeri last on his way from Kālaḍi to Omkāreśvar. It is then that Āchārya is said to have established the Śāradā Pīṭham at Śṛñgeri by consecrating Goddess Śāradā, the source of ultimate knowledge.

After staying for quite some time here, Acharya moved to Kālaḍi back as he sensed his mother’s end nearing. He stayed there for nearly a month when his mother left her mortal body. Legend states that Āchārya was not allowed to perform the final rites in accordance with the sannyasa dharma by the local Brahmins.

However, he did perform her final rites in line with the promise he had given to his mother and cremated her in the backyard of their house. This is said to have started the custom in Kerala of cremating the family members in their own backyard[12] as opposed to the Vedic system of going to the smaśāna or cremation ground. It was then that Chera king Rājaśekhara (identified by many as Cheramān Perumāl) came to visit Āchārya and exchange their old memories.

Knowing the various sectarian hatred that existed in the country then, Āchārya on the request of kings like Rājaśekhara and Sudhanva decided to undertake a ‘dig-vijaya-yatra’ across the nation. By now, Āchārya had toured across the country, understood the different faiths and understood the geographic, social and religious fabric of different regions of the country. We need to bear in mind that it was now nearly 16 years since he had left Kālaḍi. All these coupled with him immense personality & inner strength helped Āchārya undertake dig-vijaya-yatra to propagate the Advaita Vedanta further into nook and corner of the country.



From Kālaḍi, Āchārya visited temple of Guruvāyur and prescribed the rites and rituals to be performed there which is testified by the chief priests of the temple even today[13]. He then moved along the coast to the shore temple of Tiruchendur or Sindhūrapuram (passing through lot of temples like Anantaśayanam and Kanyakumāri) which has Lord Muruga standing in a yogic posture.

This is the place where he composed the famous Subrahmaṇya stotra in Bhujañga prayāta meter. The stotra offers enough information about the place itself along with details on the forms of worship at the temple. He then visited Rāmeśvaram travelling along the seashore and then moving on to Madurai on the banks of river Kritamālā (modern day Vaigai).

The proximity of Āchārya towards Goddess Mīnākṣī of Madurai is evident in the two stotras he composed here namely the Mīnākṣī pañcharatnam and Mīnākṣī stotram. Here again, Madurai being a center of Śāktism, Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism, many sectarian people belonging to Vīraśaiva, Prāchīna śaiva, Vaiṣṇava etc. come to debate and argue with Āchārya.

After instructing them suitably, Āchārya comes to holy city of Tiru-chira-palli (called Triśiragiri or the hilltop with three peaks which houses the Mātrubhūteśvara temple). Here he visits the Jambukeśvara and Akhilāṇdeśvari temple. Local legend say that the Goddess here was in a very fierce form. Hence Āchārya created a Śri-chakra in the form of earrings called ‘tāṭañka’ and adorned the Goddess with the same.

Also, he established the shrine of Gaṇeśa in front of the Goddess so that when the sanctum is opened in the morning, the Goddess sees her son in front, and this abates her fury! Even till today, the temple has a tradition of repairing and re-installing the earrings only by a Śañkarāchārya!

Then he moved on to the great Vaiṣṇavite shrine of Śri Rañgam considered the foremost of the 108 divya-deśams of the Śri Vaiṣṇava. Here Āchārya encountered many sects such as Vaikhānasa, Pāñcharātra, prāchīnabhāgavata, karmahīna vaiśṇavas etc. The karmahīna vaiśṇavas argued that they were against doing any karma and that surrender to Lord alone was enough. Āchārya critically argued putting forth the arguments that without performing obligatory duties and attaining purity of mind, knowledge was not possible.

Here, Āchārya gave extensive lectures on the Gītā bhāṣya which attracted huge crowds. Then came the prāchīnabhāgavata who argued that wearing the different symbols on the body (e.g. tulsi beads, tilak on forehead etc.) were enough to lead one to liberation which again was critically refuted by the Āchārya and the true purport explained.

Staying at Śri Rañgam for a few days, Āchārya then moved to the famous Mahāliñgasvāmi temple in Madhyārjunam (modern day Tiruvidaimarudur). This place had a huge group of Brahmins who were strict followers of Vedic rituals and the karmakhāṇḍa portion of the Vedas. When a difference of opinion arose between them and the views of the Āchārya, they suggested that the Lord Śiva enshrined in the temple must Himself give the verdict on whether Advaita was the supreme truth (even higher than the karmakhāṇḍa).

This they insisted on because Śiva was a directly perceptible deity for them and had initiated them into various śāstras. At last, Lord Śiva in the form of a heavenly voice declared that ‘Advaita alone is the truth’. Here, Āchārya encountered some sects that were worshippers of Vaiṣṇavaśakti i.e. Mahalakṣmi. They believed that even Viṣṇu is situated within Lakṣmi. If she is worshipped wearing garlands of padmākṣa, with symbol of lotus imprinted on the body and wearing vermillion on the forehead, Vaikuṇṭha will be attained.

Many practitioners of Vāma-mārga of Śakti worship came and argued with the Āchārya that since without Śakti, the Lord is inert, hence Śakti alone must be worshipped. And she must be worshipped in Vāma-mārga i.e. using wine, woman and meat. They also quoted the mantras from the Lalitāsahasranāma as authority (Raktavarṇa māmsa niṣṭā; Madhu prītā). Āchārya had to explain the true purport of those verses and show them the right direction.

From here, Āchārya moved to Chidambaram, the temple of the great dancer Nataraja! Even here, there were feuds between the Śaivas and Vaiṣṇavas (since this is primary center for both sects with Nataraja temple and the Govindarāja Perumāl temple by the side) which Āchārya tried to harmonize.

Then, Āchārya moved to Aruṇāchalam (modern day Tiruvannamalai) where the Lord manifested as the pillar of fire unfathomable by both Brahma and Viṣṇu. Access to Aruṇāchalam is said to have been through dense forests inhabited by many wild animals. Āchārya and his disciples were guided by the tribal people who spoke a local Tamil dialect.

(Jyeṣṭeśvara temple in Śrinagara where Āchārya is believed to have stayed)

From here, Āchārya moved to the holy city of Kāñchipuram which is proved by several sculptures we find of Āchārya in the temples here. This was the Centre of many faiths – Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava, Śākta, Jaina, Bauddha etc. The Śaivite saints Sambandar and Appar had done their best to weed out Buddhism and Jainism from these regions and establish Śaivism. Also, the Ālwārs had done their best in spreading Vaiṣṇavism here. The Śākta worship here was primarily following the non-Vedic way of Vāmachāra kaula.

Āchārya advised the tāntriks against this and composed the Prapañchasāratantra which acts as a guide to all tantric practices to be done in the Vedic way. Here, Āchārya encountered not just theists but also atheists such as Buddhist sects (Saugatas, kṣaṇikavijñānavādins, vaināsikas), Jaina sects (Digambara, Śvetāmbara) as well as Chārvākas.


Then he moved north into the Karnataka and Vidarbha regions. These were inhabited by Jainas (who claimed their lineage to Ṛṣabha), Buddhists as well as kāpālikas who followed terrible malevolent practices such as the bhairava tantra using wine, women and meat which many people from the lower castes as well as some Brahmins blindly followed. Hence, Vedic practices were almost extinct.

Āchārya then proceeded to these regions and cleansed them off these non-Vedic ways. There a sect called Kṣapaṇaka came to meet the Āchārya. They believed that ‘Time’ is the supreme truth and that alone needs to be worshipped. They relied on śāstras such as astrology, nādi etc. that relied on time. Āchārya then moved to Andhra to a place called Mallapuram near Rajamundry. Here he beheld a strange tradition where people worshipped the ‘dog’, the vehicle of God Mallari. They disguised themselves as dogs, barked like them and believed this will make them attain liberation!

Āchārya then moved along the coast the city of Puri. As per local legends, here again, the idols of Jagannātha, Balabhadra and Subhadrā were missing in sanctum and instead worship was done to a Sālagrāma. Like Badrinath, the idols were hidden away in a huge jewel box fearing invasion and buried somewhere which couldn’t be retraced back.

After meditating, Āchārya asked the people to dig under a tree beside the lake Chilka wherein lie the jewel box (indicated by the line of Jagannāthāṣṭakam, ‘Jagannāthasvāmi nayanapathagāmi bhavatu me’ i.e. O Lord Jagannātha, show my eyes the right way). Thus, Lord Jagannātha along with Balabhadra and Subhadrā was reinstalled in the temple which led to great celebrations in the city! The local folklore says that the ‘Navakalebara’ or ‘Giving of new bodies to the deities’ happened during Āchārya’s visit.

Then moving through Magadha, Āchārya arrived at Yamaprasthānapura where vidhivādins or followers of destiny came to meet Āchārya. They believed that everything happens as per destiny and hence there is nothing we need to do. Then Āchārya proceeded to Prayag where a śunyavādin came to meet him who believed that the whole world has originated from void and will go back to void and that void is the fundamental truth. There were also worshippers of Varāha who wore tusks to show their devotion.


Then Āchārya moved to Saurāśṭradeśa passing through Ujjain. There he visited Dvāraka[14] where Pāñcharatras was the dominant sect. They bore the seal marks of Viṣṇu’s emblems and believed that salvation is achieved by recognition of the five kinds of differences (pañchabheda)[15].

Then moving north, Āchārya went to Gurjara deśa (modern day Rajasthan and northern Gujarat) where many worshipped the pitṛ or manes/ ancestors through shraddha and other rituals etc. This they believed would itself confer liberation. Though acknowledging the performance of these rituals for purification of the mind, Āchārya explained their inadequacy in conferring liberation.

Then Āchārya moved to Puṣkar where there were worshippers of Brahma, Savitri and Gayatri. Then moving westwards, Āchārya reached the confluence of river Sindhu with the ocean. He then moved north east wards along the river Sindhu looking at the confluences of different rivers such as Śutudri, Paruṣṇī etc. to river Sindhu. This was the kingdom called the Sauvīra deśa (having capital in the modern day Rohri in Pakistan) which was adjacent to the Sindhu deśa.

Then Āchārya moved northwards to the Gāndhāra deśa (which comprises part of modern-day north Pakistan as well as northern Afghanistan). Āchārya saw the predominance of Buddhism in these regions. Because these were part of the erstwhile Maurya empire which had become hugely Buddhist owing to emperor Aśoka converting to Buddhism. Places like Takṣaśila (also called Taxila which housed the biggest University in the world), Puruṣapura (modern day Peshwar) were cities in the Gāndhāra deśa.

Then he moved into the Kāmboja deśa (probably where we have modern day Kabul) and then to Bāhlika deśa (which comprised modern day Balkh in Afghanistan). Here, he encountered the Jains (referred to as Arhats)[16] who refuted Āchārya opinions in the beginning but were convinced of his tenets towards the end.


Then retracing back, he entered the Darada deśa[17] which was the neighboring kingdom to the Kāmboja deśa and hence comprised of the region. All these regions form what is called the Uttarapatha i.e. the northern roads. Definition of the Uttarapatha varies from text to text. Most of these Kṣatriya tribes, Manu Smriti says, omitted the sacred rites, stopped consulting the Brahmins and hence sunk to the lowest levels of Śūdras[18]. This probably is an indication of the widespread presence of Buddhism that had refuted all Vedic rituals.

Āchārya travelled through all these regions. Darada deśa is identified with part of modern-day north-western Kashmir (comprising modern day Gilgit). The Gilgit river flows through this region and joins river Sindhu in this region. Another legend says that in this region, Āchārya is said to have met king Amarukasimha or called as Amaruka who is generally identified as the author of the Amaru-śataka.

From here, he moves into the Kāśyapa kṣetra of Kāśmir. This was also known as Śāradā kṣetra where the temple of Śāradā as located along the banks of the river Kṛṣṇagañgā (now called Neelum river) which is a tributary of the Vitastā river (now called Jhelum) mentioned in the Nadī sūkta of the Ṛgveda.

The temple of Śāradā was a unique one in which it had not installation of an image. The temple was full of lakes/ ponds which were considered as the Divine mother herself. Drinking the waters of these ponds was believed to confer the greatest knowledge. Also, the temple housed the ‘Sarvajña pīṭha’ which was the highest recognition of a scholar from any part of Bhāratavarṣa.

The king of the land wished that Āchārya ascend this highest pedestal. Āchārya entered the temple through the southern gateway as if to indicate to which part of the country he belonged. There he had to counter different other sects, faiths and opinions. Only after successfully explaining and convincing these people, Āchārya went to the Sarasvati kuṇḍa and was performed abhiṣeka from this pond and conferred the title ‘Sarvajña’ by the scholars there.

After this, the Āchārya came down towards Śrinagara and was resting at a Śiva temple there which historical records identify as the Jyeṣṭeśvara temple (Image 11). From there, he went to Takṣaśila (modern day Taxila) which was under the administration of the Buddhists. He then visited Jvālāmukhi which is one of the prominent Śaktipīṭhams where the tongue of Sati is said to have fallen. From there, Āchārya came to Hardvār and then to Ayodhyā via Naimiṣāraṇya and then to Mithilā (in modern day Nepal). Mithilā was under the influence of tantra at that time.


Then he moved on to Gayā where Lord Buddha had attained enlightenment. At Gaya, Āchārya interacted with followers of Kapila and Dattatreya. He then moved into the land of Vañga deśa (modern day West Bengal and Bangladesh) first arriving at city of Tāmralipta (modern day Tamluk in West Bengal) on the banks of river Rupnarayan. Tāmralipta was a flourishing port on the eastern coast of Bharata. This was also used a gateway to spread Buddhism to the south east Asian countries.

Āchārya then met with King Ādisura who ruled parts of the Vañga deśa and convinced him of the importance of the Vedic religion. It was he who brought five Brahmins from Kanyakubja (modern day Kannauj). All Brahmins in Vañga deśa trace their ancestry to these Kanyakubja Brahmins. From there, Āchārya entered the region of Prāgjyotiṣa-Kāmarūpa[19] which can be identified with parts of modern-day Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Bhutan, Sikkim. Tantraśāstra was widespread across this region.

In fact, even till today, the Kāmākhyā temple in Guwahati is considered foremost of the seats of Śakti worship in tantra where the yoni of Sati fell. Many vāmāchāra practices were being followed in greater force. One of the major Śakta leaders Navagupta is said to have done ābhichāra (black magic) on the Āchārya which resulted in him contracting the fistula disease[20].

Then on recovering from the same, Āchārya moved to Paśupatinath temple in Nepal and reinstated the worship there. Even today, the chief priests of the temple called ‘Bhatta’ are selected and trained by the Śañkarāchārya of the Śṛñgeri pīṭham. From there on, Āchārya reached Badarinath where he continued to teach earnest disciples on the tenets of Advaita. He then visited Kedarnath again and is said to have disappeared into the icy peaks of the region.


From the above travelogue details, we can make the following observations:

– On undertaking travels:

1. Travelling along rivers was the most relied and definite method of reaching at the destination. Also, since most cities and temples were situated on riverbanks (India being an agrarian community), traveling along riverbanks mostly ensured connectivity with the masses.

2. Lodging was mostly in naturally created caves which ensured safeguard from extreme weathers as well as solitude for creativity.

– On the religious fabric of the country:

1. The country seems to have been fragmented between large number of faiths many of which were anti-social and extremely harmful to the society e.g. human sacrifice, unabashed animal sacrifices etc. It is astonishing to see what all faiths existed right from believing a deity as ultimate to believing a ‘dog’ as ultimate to believing ‘time’ as ultimate to believing ‘void’ as ultimate and so on.

2. In many cases, these communities seem to have been stronger than even the rulers

3. Āchārya also created a sort of national integration by having priests from the South perform worship in temples in north and so on.

– On the way of propagating philosophies:

1. Verbal discussions backed by logic and intellect seem to have been the order of the day during those times. Hence an intellectual with sound logic could convince most faiths into his.

2. Certain hubs of knowledge existed which when tackled could spread the message faster than otherwise. These were effectively used by the intellectuals of the past.

3. Literature served as an effective way to spread the philosophy as well as keep track of the places visited

Above all, it was the sheer brilliance of a personality like Āchārya that could pull through such an exhaustive travel across the nation not just once but nearly twice ceaselessly working to weed out the non-Vedic and socially harmful approaches & faiths.

End Notes:

[1] ततो महेशः किल केरलेषु श्रिमद्वृषाद्रौ करुणासमुद्रः | पूर्णानदीपुण्यतटे स्वयम्भूलिङ्गात्मना अनङ्गधगाविरासीत् || (MSV 2.1)

[2] तद्भवान् व्रजतु वेदकदंबादुद्भवां भवदवाम्बुदमालाम् | तत्त्वपद्धतिमभिज्ञ विवेक्तुं सत्वरं हरपुरीमविमुक्ताम् || (MSV 5.152)

[3] द्वियोजनन्तु पूर्वं स्याद् योजनार्धं तदन्यथा | वरुणा च नदी चासी मध्ये वाराणसी तयोः || (Agni Purana 112. 6)

[4] तत्र महाराष्ट्रमुखे देशे ग्रन्थान् प्रचारयन् प्राज्ञतमः | (MSV 10.108)

[5] शमितमतान्तरमानः शनकैः सनकोपमो अगमच्छ्रीशैलम् | (MSV 10.108)

[6] सेवे श्रीगिरिमल्लिकर्जुनमहालिङ्गं शिवालिङ्गितम् | (SL 50)

[7] सिद्धिं तथाविधमनोविलयां समाधौ | श्री शैलशृङ्ग कुहरेषु कदोपलप्स्ये || (YT 28)

[8] घोरात् कलेर्गोपित धर्ममागाद्गोकर्णमभ्यर्ण चलार्णवौघम् | (MSV 12.1)

[9] वैकुण्ठकैलासविवर्तभूतं हरन्नताघं हरिशङ्कराख्यम् | (MSV 12.7)

[10] श्रयति स्म ततो अग्रहारकं श्रीबलिसंज्ञं स कदाचन स्वशिष्यैः | (MSV 12.39)

[11] पद्मान्घ्रिमुख्यैः सममाप्तकामक्षोणीपतिः शृङ्गगिरिं प्रतस्थे | (MSV 12.63)

[12] तदा प्रभृत्येव गृहोपकण्ठेष्वासीच्छ्मशानं किल हन्त तेषाम् | (MSV 14.51)

[13] Interview with Tantri Chennas Raman Namboodiripad in 2007 (

[14] विजयेषु वितत्य नैजभाष्याण्यथ सौराष्ट्रमुखेषु तत्र तत्र | बहुधा विबुधैः प्रश्यस्यमानो भगवान् द्वारवतीं पुरीं विवेश | (MSV 15.73)

[15] शतशः समवेत्य पाञ्चरात्रास्त्वमृतं पञ्चभिदाविदां वदन्तः | (MSV 15.75)

[16] प्रतिपद्य तु बाह्लिकान् महर्षौ विनयिभ्यः प्रविवृण्वति स्वभाष्यम् | अवदन्नसहिष्णवः प्रवीणाः समये केचिदथा अर्हताभिधाने|| (MSV 15.142)

[17] दरदान् भरतांश्च शूरसेनान् कुरुपाञ्चालामुखान् बहूनजैषीत् | (MSV 15.156)

[18] शनकैस्तु क्रियालोपादिमाः क्षत्रियजातयः | वृषलत्वं गता लोके ब्रह्मणादर्शनेन च || पौण्ड्रकाश्चौड्रद्रविडाः काम्बोजाः यवनाः शकाः | पारदाः पह्लवाश्चीनाः किराताः दरदाः खशाः || (Manu Smriti 10.43-44)

[19] तदन्तरमेष कामरूपानधिगत्य अभिनवोपशब्दगुप्तम् | (MSV 15.158)

[20] स ततो अभिचचार मूढ बुद्धिर्यति शार्दूलममुं प्ररूढरोषः | अचिकित्स्यतमो भिषग्भिरस्मादजनिष्टास्य भगन्दराख्यरोगः | (MSV 16.2)


1. Manusmriti in Sanskrit with English Translation. (2019, October 28). Retrieved from

2. Shankaracharya. (2014). Sri Shankara Stotrani Laghu prakarani cha. Sringeri: Sringeri Sharada Pitham.

3. Venkataraman, N. (2014). Atmatirtham: Life and teachings of Sri Sankaracharya. Chennai: Rishi Prakashana Sabha.

4. Vidyaranya, M. (2002). Shankara Digvijaya: The Traditional life of Sri Shankaracharya (English) – Translated by Swami Tapasyananda. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Matt.

5. Vidyaranya, M. (2012). Srimad Shankara Digvijayam (Moolam – Sanskrit). Sringeri: Sringeri Sharada Pitham.

6. Vyasa, V. (1957). Agni Puranam (Moolam – Sanskrit). Calcutta: Gopal printing works.

(The paper was presented at the Yatra Conference jointly organized by Indic Academy and Bharat Adhyayan Kendra, BHU, at BHU, Varanasi during 15th-17th November, 2019.)

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