One of the most revered Hindu philosophers and proponents of Advaita Vedanta, Adi Shankaracharya is credited with the revival of Hinduism
Adi Shankaracharya, also known as Shankara Bhagavatpada, lived during early 8th century AD. According to legend, although Shankara wanted to take sanyasa at the tender age of eight, his mother would not give her consent. One day, while he bathed in the river Poorna, a crocodile caught his leg and Shankara requested his mother for permission during these last moments of his life. Once his mother gave consent, the crocodile let go of Shankara and he became a monk. He travelled north in search of a guru where he met Govinda Bhagavatpada, a disciple of Gaudapada, at Omkareshwar on the banks of the Narmada River.
When Bhagavatpada asked for Shankara’s identity, he replied with an extempore verse that brought out the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Adi Shankaracharaya consolidated Advaita Vedanta with its philosophy of oneness – that there is no difference between the Brahman (Supreme) and the Atman (individual self). According to Advaita, Brahman alone is real, the rest being illusion. Bhagavatapada was impressed and took Shankara as his disciple. He then travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers.
He strengthened Hinduism and established the four ‘mathas’ (monasteries). These are at Sringeri in Karnataka in the south, Dwaraka in Gujarat in the west, Puri in Orissa in the east, and Jyotirmath (Joshimath) in Uttarakhand in the north. These monastic centres were assigned one Veda each – Govardhana Pitham in the east with Rig Veda, Sringeri Sarada Pitham in the south with Yajur Veda, Dwarka Pitham in the west with Sama Veda and Jyotirmath Pitham in the north with Atharva Veda.
In Thrissur, four mathas – Naduvil Madhom, Thekke Madhom, Idayil Madhom and Vadakke Madhom – were founded by the disciples of Adi Shankaracharya after his samadhi at Vadakkunnathan Temple. He had composed many treatises and hymns, explaining Advaita Vedanta based on the truths in the Upanishads, the Brahamasutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
He is also believed to be the organiser of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmata tradition of worship. He composed five shlokas known as Manisha Panchakam. He also gained expertise in different forms of yoga – Hatha, Raja and Janana. Even though he passed away at the young age of 32, his impact on Hinduism and as a saint was impeccable.
Bhaja govindam bhaja govindam
Govindam bhaja mooda mathe,
Samprápthe sannihite kale
Nahi nahi rakshati dukrunj karane
Adore the Lord, adore the Lord,
Adore the Lord, O fool!
When the appointed time (for departure) comes,
The repetition of grammatical rules will not save you.
Aadhou vijithya vishayan mada moha raga
-dweshadhi shathru ganamahrutha yoga rajya,
Jnathwamrutham samanu bhootha parathma vidhya,
Kanthasukha bhatha gruhe vicharanthi dhanya.
He is blessed, who wins over the enemies within
Of passion, desire, hatred and excess of emotions
And gets in to the kingdom of yoga and reaches
The deathless state, and lives happily with
The wife called knowledge in the house of reasoning.