Hastamalaka was born in a village called Sri Bali (current day Karnataka). The entire village was home to a set of Brahmins who had abandoned all prohibited actions and spent all their time in the study of the Veda, in the. performance of Swadharma and Yajnas, no untimely death ever took place. Among the inhabitants of that village was one named Prabhakara who was noted for his learning, his adherence to Vedic rites, and his life of holiness and beneficence. Though he had plenty of cattle, wealth and relatives, he was not happy because his only son was dumb and behaved like an idiot. Though the boy was handsome in appearance and very gentle and patient in demeanour, his behavior in other respects was like that of an idiot-hearing nothing, talking nothing, and sitting in some comer alone in reverie. Prabhakara was spending anxious days and awaiting an opportunity to approach some wise man to know the cause of his son's strange behaviour-whether it was due to possession, the result of past actions, or merely his nature.
Once, Sri Sankara after worshipping the Devi a Mookambika was passing through the region. He now heard that a great personage accompanied by many disciples had come to the village, and he decided to approach him with his son. His son, who was shining in appearance like a fire-brand covered with ashes, was also made to prostrate before him. But the boy continued to be in the prostrate position and refused to get up. The sage, however, lifted him up in his infinite mercy, and as the boy was standing there, with face looking down, his father asked Sankara to enlighten him on the cause of the strange behaviour of his son. He said: "He is now seven years old, and his mind seems to be undeveloped. He has not even learnt the alphabets, not to speak of the Vedas. The early period of his life has thus gone "in vain. Boys of his age come and call him to play, but he does not join them. Seeing him sitting silent, boys beat him; still he will not show any sign of annoyance. Sometimes he comes for food, sometimes he abstains from all food. He does not heed any instruction. I never try to rectify him by punishment, but have left it to his fate to direct his future."
When the Brahmana thus finished his submission, the Acharya addressed the boy thus: "Who are you?Why are youthus behaving like an inert being?" To this, the boy replied, "O great teacher! Certainly I am not an inert thing. Even an inertthing becomes conscious in association ,with me. I am one withundivided Bliss, free from the six states of grief, namely, infatuation,hunger, thirst, old age and death, as also from the six conditionsof beginning, continuance,' growth, change, decay anddestruction. This consciousness of the Atman is common to allliberated ones." In this way, in twelve verses, he expounded thedoctrine of the spiritual Self. As the knowledge of the Self was natural to him like an Amalaka fruit in one's hand, he becamefamous under the name of Hastamalaka. The Acharya was surprisedto see that this boy had the knowledge of the Atman even without the instruction of a teacher, and he blessed him, placinghis hands on his head. Then the Acharya said to the boy's father:"It is not befitting that this boy should stay with you, And sincehis behaviour. is like that of an idiot, what good can you derive byhis stay with you? This apparently dumb son of yours knows the truth of the Atman by virtue of his practices in his past life. Otherwise, how could this boy, without the knowledge of the 'R's', thusexpatiate on the nature of the Self? He must be having inbornintuitive knowledge. He has not the least attachment to house andproperty. Nor has he any sense of 'J-ness' with regard to the body.How can one who knows all these objects, induding the body, asexternal and unconnected with oneself, have any identificationwith them?" Saying so, the Acharya took that boy also into his fold.
The stotram narrated by Hastamalaka to the Acharya is now famous as the Hastamalaka Stotram.
Hastamalakacharya went on to become the first head of the Dwarka Shankar mutt.