Sri Adisankara’s travels – Part 2: Establishing as a Teacher

After being advised by his Guru to proceed to Varanasi and commence the work of teaching and writing commentaries on the Vedanta Sutras, Sankara took the blessings of his Guru and left Omkareshwar with a heavy heart.

Journey to Kashi

At this time he was all of just 11 years old. Some fellow disciples accompanied the Acharya with affection. The team passed through the kingdom of Haihaya, Chedi and Kausambi. Enroute many householder devotees of GovindaBhagavadpada greeted them and provided Biksha and other amenities. After continuously walking they reached Prayag and took a dip at the holy sangam.

Sankara then proceeded to Kasi and saw before him the majestic Ganga and the sight filled him with great joy and peace. Kasi was a bustlingcity as compared to the relative calmness of Omkareshwar and Sringeri. Yet despite his anxiety that dwelling in the city may disturb his inner peace, he found an effortless and unconditional inner joy emanating within.Sankara felt the presence of the divine motherliness in the flowing form of that ancient river. Attributing it to the glory of Kasi , Lord Siva, Mother Annapurneshwari and the Ganga, Sankara settled down in Varanasi to commence his work.

His daily routine included Ganga Snana, VishwanathaDarshan, Annapurna Darshan and occasional darshan of other temples in the area. Sankara ever remained in inner Samadhi. His presence attracted a number of seekers who wanted to get their doubts clarified. It also attracted men of divergent views who wanted to have a debate with him. Sankara would lovingly and patiently explain the intricacies of the texts. Without even knowing it, Sankara had become a teacher. AcharyaSankara was spending a lot of his time giving discourses and guiding seekers.

First Disciple:

Amongst the regulars who attended the discourse was a young bramhachari by the name of Sanandana from the south of India. One day with extreme devotion and love, he prostrated to the Acharya and besieged him to save him from the ocean of samsara and shower his grace on him. Moved by his sincerity and purity of heart, the Acharya accepted him as his disciple and initiated him into Sanyasa and established a formal Guru-Shishya relationship.

Acharya would teach the essence of the Upanishads in the traditional manner, just as he had received it from his own Guru. Days were spent in teaching and the evenings in quiet contemplation. With the Acharya’s grace and guidance Sanandana made immense progress. He would spend long hours in meditation and self absorption. After the evening rituals the Guru and the Shishya would spend time discussing on the Shastras and the Mahavakyas. Sanandana had a keen intellect and raised several questions which were lovingly answered by his Guru. Soon his mind became established directly in the Self that glows within. He shone brightly like a flame in a windless pot.

Encounter with a Chandala

Figure: Actual notice board at Kalady Krishna Temple.

Acharya spent several days at Kasi, teaching and writing down critical commentaries on various texts. He would also spend long hours in silent meditation, established in Samadhi.

Once while walking in the narrow streets of Kasi, the Acharya and his disciples saw an hunter, an outcaste accompanied by four dogs approach them in the opposite direction on the same narrow path. The party and other Brahmins using the street were upset with the outcaste coming in their way and were fearful of getting polluted. Acharya keenly observed the hunter, who appeared very huge and had penetrating eyes. Meanwhile on of the Brahmins shouted “move away, move away” to the hunter. To the surprise and shock of everyone, the hunter looked at the Acharya and calmly said “ O Brahmin, To whom do you say “move away”? Is it the body made of inert five elements? It is neither Chandala nor Brahmana. The Self is eternal, pure consciousness that cannot be divided. Everyday you teach that the non-dual Brahman is the only reality that is immutable and unpollutable. How then does this difference of Brahmin and Chandala rise? How can you indulge in false sentiments like “being a Brahmin I am pure and you being a chandala are impure and hence must give way to me” , while the truth is that the one universal and unblemished spirit is shining alike in all bodies. Forgetting one’s own true nature, how have you come to identify with the body which is unsteady like the ears of an elephant? If you say your conduct is for the guidance of the world, even then how can you explain such conduct in the light of the non-dualistic doctrine?

When the Acharya heard these words, he was struck with astonishment. Being himself pure of heart and noted for his truthfulness, he spoke to the outcaste with full cordiality and respect. He said

“All that you have said is true. You are indeed one of the noblest of men. Many in the world hear the words of Vedanta, many contemplate and many meditate on the Atman, but very few indeed abide in it and are free from all divisions and differences. He who is ever established in that Atman and sees this entire universe as Atman only, is worthy of respect and is indeed a Guru irrespective of his caste by birth. A man established in such pure consciousness is indeed a Guru to me”

Soon after the Acharya had spoken these words, the outcaste disappeared from sight and in his place appeared Lord Shiva and the four dogs transformed into the four Vedas. AcharyaSankara began to glorify the Lord and instantaneously composed five stanzas as a reply to the questions raised earlier by the Chandala. These are known as ManishaPanchakam and brings out the essence of Advaita Vedanta.

Lord Siva commissions Sankara

Lord Siva was very pleased with the devotion and surrender of Acharya. Addressing him the Lord said “You have realized my true being. My blessings rest on you and Vyasa alike. Vyasa has edited the Vedas, composed the brahma sutras and there in refuted the doctrines of those who opposed Adwaita Vedanta. However now there some who take only a few passages from the Vedas and produce commentaries that are ill-founded and delude the seekers. Intelligent people find no worth in their writings” The Lord then advised Sankara to write commentaries on the Brahma Sutras and by using logic and scriptures, refute the false theories propagated by others. He then blessed the Acharya that his works will receive praise from even the Gods. He further instructed the Acharya that he should engage the people with opposing views on debate and establish the Truth. Saying thus and blessing the Acharya and his disciples the Lord disappeared from sight.

Departure to Badri and writing the Bhashya

The Acharya now reflected on the advice given by the Lord and started to mentally prepare for the task. He called his disciples together and said that “The Lord has ordained us to write the commentaries on the Upanishads, Gita and the Brahmasutras. A bustling city like Kasi may not be the right place to write the subtle topics. There is an inner calling to proceed to Badrikasrama which is sanctified by the presence of VedVyasa who had himself composed several important texts.”

Finalising his plans to move into the higher planes of Himalayas, he requested the older Sanyasins to stay back at Kashi and himself planned to proceed to the holy abode of Badrinath. His younger disciples accompanied him and so were other travelers who were desirous of making the journey along with the Acharya.

They proceeded along the Ganga and crossed several crooked paths and treacherous terrains. They proceeded like ordinary pilgrims on foot depending on the Lord alone for their safety and survival. Their route included Haridwar, Rishikesh, Devprayag, ,Srikeshtra, Rudraprayagetc. At places they accompanied merchants and other local people travelling along the route and at other places they trudged along alone.

All along the way the Acharya reveled at the beauty of nature and the wonder of the Lord’s creation. Even though deeply rooted in knowledge he was no dull and dry scholar. He reveled in the splendor of Brahman seeing it everywhere in stones, rivers and even pebbles. Once looking at the Ganga as she came down from the mountains her waters bouncing up and down in pure joy, he spontaneously composed the Ganga Ashtakam (or Ganga stotram).

After travelling long distances through difficult tracks the Acharya finally reached Badrikasrama. At this time the Acharya had completed 11 years of age and was into his twelfth year.

Reinstallation of the Original Badri Narayan Idol

Acharya and his disciples visited the most sacred and holy temple of Sri Narayana at Badrikasram. To his surprise he found that the idol being worshiped was not the original one that he had read about. He found that the priests were worshipping an idol made ofSaligram stone instead of the original Chaturbhuj Sri Narayana. On enquiry he was informed that some years ago their ancestors kept the original divine idol safely under the Ganga to safeguard it from Chinese plunderers who had invaded the area. But later they could not find the idol in spite of a thorough search.

Sri Acharya sat still and meditated upon the idol for a long time and after a while walked swiftly towards Naradakunda. As he was about to enter the river, he was cautioned that there are other streams that join the Alaknanda here and there could be a strong under current that could pull him away. Though a boy of just eleven or twelve years, Acharya ignored the warning and jumped into the river and after a short while came up with an idol of Narayana. But on scrutiny, it was found that the image was damaged and hence he cast it away back into the river and plunged in again to seek the right idol.But yet again he came back up with the same broken Narayana idol he had first picked up earlier. Throwing it again into the river, he plunged for the third time but only to come back up with the same idol. When the same thing occurred three times, he declared that it is the Lord’s wish that in the age of Kali, this idol is sufficient for worship. So saying he brought it out of the river carrying it on his shoulders with full reverence and devotion. A grand ceremony to re-install the ancient idol was performed. The installation of the idol by the holy hands of the Acharya meant a great blessing for all devotees for all times to come. Sri Sankara appointed a priest from Kerala and provided detailed information on the method of worship. This is being followed till date.

Composition of the Bhasyams.

Figure: VyasGufa – The cave where sage Vyasa was supposed to have written Mahabharatha, near Badrinath. Modern day picture, not how it was during the time of Sri Sankara

The news of the search and re-installation of the idol spread like wildfire and a number of people flocked to have a darshan of the Lord as well as the Acharya. Realisingthat his work of writing the Bhasyas will be hindered he moved to Vyasatirtha, which is a large cave located to the north of BadriNaryana. It is said that VedVyasa himself composed a number of Puranas in the same place.

AcharyaSankara then commenced his work on writing Bhasyas and commentaries on the Brahma Sutras.

For almost three years he continued this work in solitude in the same place. Just a handful of disciples and local villagers came to serve. The king of Jyotirdhama made arrangements for food and protection from cold during the winter.

In this time he wrote commentaries on the Upanishads beginning with Isa. Next he wrote the commentary on BhagvadGeeta. He also wrote commentaries on Sri Vishnusahasranama, Sanatsujatiya, Nrsimhatapaniya and other texts. He also composed a number of treatises like Upadesasahasri etc. that are so sublime that they can instill strong renunciation in the hearts of the people studying them and help remove ignorance about the spiritual true nature of the Self. His own experience and the knowledge he had gained about the other doctrines helped in clearly bringing out the finer subtleties and import of the texts.

Working thus round the year for three years he completed commentaries on all the major texts. Acharya was now in his fifteenth year. He had successfully completed the Bhasyas that brought about the true import of the scriptural statements without an iota of compromise or deviation. The work would be a source of blessings for all times to come and would be an essential scheme of study for all keen students of Vedanta. The world would refer to him as BhagwanBhashyakar for all times to come.

Sanandana becomes Padmapada

Acharya then started teaching the commentaries to his disciples. Sanandana his disciple was leading a very austere life and was fully devoted to study and contemplation. He could grasp the subtleties of philosophical thought and hence the Acharya would pay special attention to him to teach him the commentaries. This made the other disciples jealous and in order to reveal the greatness of Sanandana, Acharya one day called the disciple who was then standing on the opposite side of the bank of the Ganga to come to him immediately. Thereupon without hesitating a second, Sanandana started walking straight across the flowing river. He had full conviction that the feet of the Guru was sufficient to cross the ocean of samsara so he did not hesitate to cross the river. To everyone’s surprise they found that wherever his feet fell, the river surfaced a lotuses to support him at every step. At last he reached the other end. Touched by the surrender and Guru Bhakti, Sankara named him Padmapada.

Journey to Kedar

After completing the Bhasyas, Acharya returned to Badrikasrama. A number of people came to see him. Acharya instructed laymen on right conduct, devotion to the Lord and on performing action without expectation of fruit. Atmavidya was explained to advanced and eligible seekers. His disciples expressed a desire to visit Kedarnath and the Acharya agreed to it. They started on the journey and took the route that crossed Nandaprayag, Tunganath, Guptakasi, Gaurikund and finally reached Kedar. Acharya along with the disciples offered their prayers to Mahadeva.

The Acharya saw that place was very cold and the devotees were suffering. The compassionate Acharya sat in yoga and searched for a hot spring. Intuitively locating one nearby he pointed out the spot and necessary arrangements were made to clean up the place. A hot spring in the middle of the snow clad mountain was indeed a great blessing.

The Acharya saw that place was very cold and the devotees were suffering. The compassionate Acharya sat in yoga and searched for a hot spring. Intuitively locating one nearby he pointed out the spot and necessary arrangements were made to clean up the place. A hot spring in the middle of the snow clad mountain was indeed a great blessing.

After a few days they started their journey towards Gomukh and Gangotri. After an arduous and difficult journey they reached Gomukh and returned back to Gangotri. Proceeding further they reached Uttarkasi where Ganga takes a northward turn. The Acharya’s pilgrimage revived all the tirthas. The King of Jyotirdham who was accompanying the Acharya took leave and proceeded back to his kingdom and established the Vedic way of living once again.

Vyasa commissions Sankara

Acharya was at this time 16 years old. Temporarily they stopped travelling and stayed on in Uttarkasi. He would spend time in meditation and Samadhi and teaching his disciples.

Once an old ascetic arrived where they were staying. He confronted the Acharya on what he was teaching. He further challenged the Acharya to expound any one sutra of Vyasa. With all humility Acharya bowed down to the ascetic and said that he did not claim himself to be a master of the Sutras but still would try to answer any question the ascetic may have.

Once an old ascetic arrived where they were staying. He confronted the Acharya on what he was teaching. He further challenged the Acharya to expound any one sutra of Vyasa. With all humility Acharya bowed down to the ascetic and said that he did not claim himself to be a master of the Sutras but still would try to answer any question the ascetic may have.

When the two were thus engaged in this prolonged debate, Padmapada got an inkling of who the visitor was. He recognized him to be none other than VedVyasa himself. He turned to the master and remarked that when Vyasa who was none other than incarnation of Mahavishnu and Sankara who was an incarnation Lord Siva clashed in a debate what would humble servants like him to do?

On hearing the revelation Sankara bowed down to the Maharshi and sang his praise by composing a hymn on the spot. The ascetic then revealed his original form and stood in front of them as Vyasa Maharishi. Acharya and his disciples prostrated themselves at his feet. AcharyaSankara sang praises of Vyasa and said that he had only done an arti of the divine sutras written by Vyasa which was like the divine Sun that threw light on all aspects of Vedanta.

Vyasa was very pleased and taking copy of the bhasya went through it and lovingly approved of it noting it’s clarity and profundity. He appreciated the method of writing the Bhasyas , first by elucidating the meaning of the Sutras in simple words synonymous with them, then refuting the opposite view in an original way with the help of sound reasoning and next giving a positive exposition of the doctrine in words that are in agreement with the scriptures.

VedVyasa gave his loving approval of the bhasyas and commended him on the work undertaken. He appreciated Sankara for correctly understanding the sutras that were terse in language, yet vast in its meanings and subtle in implications. He further went on to say that the person capable of interpreting them correctly and writing a bhasya on it was equal in stature to the person composing it.

At this Sankara confided to the sage that he had completed his task of writing the Bhasyas and further his allotted age of 16 years was coming to an end. Hearing this Vyasa thought about it for a moment and said that the time for Sankara to leave the body had not come. He instructed Sankara to stay on and engage with men having hostile and opposite views and defeat them in debate. Otherwise the bhasyas will be like infants left orphaned and the benefits will not reach the true aspirants and seekers. VedVyasa blessed him with another 16 years of age and instructed him to proceed to Prayag and meet Kumarilabhatta.

Thus Acharya reached a point in his life where his task was to spread the message and defeat opposing doctrines and bring them into the authentic Vedantic thought and doctrine. In the coming years He would tour his mother land teaching and spreading the message of Vedanta, debating with people where needed and setting up Mutts and temples for benefit of future generations

Inspired by Vyasa’s words and meditating upon him in his heart, Sankara soon started on a spiritual conquest of the whole land of Bharat. As directed by Vyasa he proceeded to Prayag to meet KumarilaBhatta. Acharya commenced his journey and visiting Kurukshetra, Indraprastha, Mathura, Vrindavan. They travelled mostly along the banks of the Yamuna. Seeing the beauty of Yamuna, ecstatic with joy and devotion, he composed the Yamunashtakam. Visiting other places along the way, he reached Prayag.

Meeting with KumarilaBhatta

As adviced by MaharshiVyasa, Acharya made plans to meet KumarilaBhatta. Kumarila was an exponent of Purva-mimamsa. He expounded the Vedic philosophy of ritualism had re-established the respect and acceptance of vedic rituals that were ridiculed by the Buddhist. He debated and disproved many a Buddhist scholars who were bent on proving Vedas as a false scripture.

By the time the Acharya reached the place he came to know that Kumarila had taken a vow to leave his body by burning himself to slow death in tushagni (paddy husk set on fire). The severe decision was taken by him as a way of self imposed repentance and penance because of deeds he had done in the past. In order to win over the Buddhist in debate, he had to learn their philosophy and hence he pretended to be a Buddhist student and learnt their philosophy from a Buddhist master. However in course of time he was found out and they decided to get rid of him and threw him from a cliff. In order to save himself, Kumarila used the expression “if the vedas are true, no harm should come to me.” Since he had used the term “If” – meaning as if there was a doubt that the Vedas were true, he felt that he had committed a sin for which he had to repent. Secondly he recognized that he had cheated on his Buddhist masters while learning from them and used that knowledge to debate and refute and destroy their tribe. He considered it as Guru-droha. Being a follower of PurvaMimamsa he had also refuted the idea of Isvara as cause of the world. On account of these factors he had decided on this harsh step.

Acharya hastened his steps to meet Kumarila, but when he reached there he found that Kumarila was already sitting in the furnace made of husk. Large part of his body had already got burnt up. In the sever heat Bhattapada was shining like a yogi in trance.

After a few days they started their journey towards Gomukh and Gangotri. After an arduous and difficult journey they reached Gomukh and returned back to Gangotri. Proceeding further they reached Uttarkasi where Ganga takes a northward turn. The Acharya’s pilgrimage revived all the tirthas. The King of Jyotirdham who was accompanying the Acharya took leave and proceeded back to his kingdom and established the Vedic way of living once again.

Acharya requested Kumarila to give up the painful death and offered to save him from the burns. Acharya also requested him to read his commentaries and write vartikas on it so that it may be examined critically and corrections if any can be made. However Kumarila was firm on his decision and did not want to do anything that would be interpreted wrongly later. With loving words he praised Sankara for his greatness and the work he had done. He requested Acharya to initiate him into Brahma Vidya and suggested that he seek out his disciple Vishwarupa , famous as Mandana Mishra for a debate. Mandana Mishra was his foremost disciple and was famous as the greatest exponent of ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas and defeating him would establish the doctrine of Adwaita Vedanta as the true doctrine. So saying he described the background of his disciple, his equally learned and scholarly wife UbhayaBharati who was said to be mother Saraswati herself. He urged Acharya to defeat him in debate and accept him as his disciple and bring his dear disciple to the right path. So saying he finally requested Acharya to initiate him into Brahmavidya in his last moments.

Acharya initiated him into the Vidya and remained with him till Bhattapada left his body listening to the resonant sound of Om issuing from the holy mouth of the Acharya.

Meeting with Mandan Mishra

Acharya and his disciples rapidly made their way to Mahismati, that lies in the northern bank of Narmada. (According to different theories, this place is now somewhere near Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh). Walking for over a month, they reached the place. Vishwarupa and his wife Bharati were pious souls well versed in the MimansaShastras and Karmakanda of the Vedas. Bharati was also well versed in Brahmavidya through shravana.

Acharya reached their home and requested for a vadbiksha (debate). Accordingly the arrangements were made for the debate and UbhayaBharati was made the umpire. A special place was chosen and stage erected for the debate. The debate would begin early in the morning after the daily obulations and continue till the evening. UbhayaBharti made arrangements for lunch and stay of the guests.

The debate commenced and went on for eight days. Both parties were keenly and truly representing their own doctrines. Outside of the debate the conduct of the Acharya and his disciples impressed the hosts. Similarly the conduct of the host impressed the challengers. This was the debate that was brought out the subtlest points on both sides, each side being represented by a highly refined and learned personality.

Details of the debate can be found here

As the debate raged, the Acharya was slowly able to make Mandan Mishra peep into the realm of clarity and made him see clearly that Naishkarmyashiti – the state of non-action is fullness and joy. Subtle principles of karma, akarma, vikarma began to unveil before him and lead him to the principle of Advaita (non-dual). The role of karma was very clear to him and he understood jnana as the only path to liberation.

The debate concluded and AcharyaSankara was declared the winner. Mandan Mishra reverentially accepted to become the disciple of Sankara.

UbhayaBharti’s challenge

However his wife UbhayaBharti now challenged the Acharya and asked him for a debate to which the Acharya accepted. UbhayaBharti was very well learned and had scholarship over many branches of knowledge. The debate between the two on various aspects went on for seventeen days and UbhayaBharti found that there was no way to win Acharya on any matters related to the Vedic lore, philosophies and the Shastras. Hence she now changed the topic and asked him questions on science of love between the sexes. Being a Sanyasin, the Acharya had no experience in this field though he had some theoretical knowledge. But since the challenge had been thrown and his claim to be the master of all knowledge stood to be compromised, he requested her for a months time after which he would present himself for the debate

Sankara enters the body of the dead king

As he was pondering over how to gain the knowledge, he and his disciples came to know about the death of a king called Amaruka who had several beautiful wives. In order to gain the first hand knowledge of the science of love, the Acharya used his yogic powers to enter into the body of the king. His disciples were told to guard the body of the Acharya till he returned. Thus getting access to the palace and inner chamber of the king, Acharya now in the kings body went through the experiences of sex and love. As a witness detached from all the pleasures of the body, he keenly observed the principles of sex love. He also took time to read the treatise of Vatsyayana and also produced a new work of great profundity on the theme called Amaruka.

After several days had passed, the Acharya had not returned and the disciples got anxious and decided to go in search of their Guru. They gained access to the palace of Amaruka and through the medium of music requested the Acharya to come back. Taking the cue, Acharya left the body of the king and returned to his own body.

Mandana Mishra initiated into Sanyas

Acharya then returned to the Mandana Mishra’s house to continue with the debate with UbhayaBharti. She however declared that Acharya was none other than Lord Siva and was a master of all learnings. She acknowldged that the act of getting into another body was all just a play to conform to the ways of the world. So saying she accepted defeat and so saying requested permission to go back to her heavenly abode. Acharya spoke to her with respect and recognizing her as Saraswati informed her that he will be setting up temple in Sringeri and other places and beseeched her to manifest in all those temples and blessing the devotees. Agreeing to do so, she disappeared from sight.

Mandan Mishra distributed all his wealth and the rituals to initiate Mandana Mishra into Sanyasa were carried out and the Acharya gave him the name of Sureshwaracharya.

Journey to the south

With his new disciple joining him into his fold, the Acharya commenced his journey to spread the message through rest of the country.

Maharahstra:

Crossing the Narmada they entered the land of Chalukyas in the land of Maharashtra. Acharya visited the places of pilgrimage such as Panchavati, Tryambakeshwar, Phandarpur etc. At each place he gave discourses on Vedanta and slowly the number of people following him increased. Those opposing the doctrines of Vedanta did not have the courage to debate with him after they heard that the great Mandana Mishra had been defeated by the Acharya.

SriSailam:

Figure: A board found in current day Srisailam

From there the Acharya visited Srisailam which is a famous place of pilgrimage at the confluence of Krishna and Tungabhadra. The entire area was a dense forest that had wild and fearful beasts moving around freely. There is a temple called Mallikarjuna and houses one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. After worshipping Lord Shiva, the Acharya stayed on in the area for a considerable period of time making arrangements to stay under a Peepal tree. Acharya stayed in Samadhi for considerable amounts of time and it is here that he composed the famous Sivanandalahari , acclaimed as the greatest amongst his devotional works.

Acharya continued to teach Vedanta and the Vedic dharma depending upon the qualification of the listeners. He adviced people to walk the path of Karma yoga, respect for the Vedas, path of devotion, control of senses etc. to the people in general. Slowly his followers increased in the region.

Encounter with Kapalikas

Kapalikas particularly followed wicked practices and were intolerant of people outside their sects. They arrived to challenge the Acharya and have a debate with him. Sureswaracharya and Padmapadacharya debated with them and silenced their arguments. The growing popularity of the Acharyashook their influence and diminished their power in the region.

Unable to digest this, they plotted to kill the Acharya. According to the plan one of the Kapalikas by the name of Ugrabhairava approached Sri Acharya and prostrating to him asked him to accept him as his disciple to which the kind hearted Master agreed. One day finding a suitable opportunity, Ugrabhairava (UB) approached the teacher and told him that based on the years of practicing the rituals of bhairavas for many years, he had secured a boon that if he offered the head of an omniscient person, he could go to Kailas with his body. Praising the Acharya for his knowledge and compassion and reminding him that the Acharya did not live at the level of the body but at the highest state of Vednatic oneness, he made the plea that Acharya may please agree to part with his head to fulfill his wishes.

The Kind Acharyaagreed to this. The Bhairava planned the subsequent sequence of events and asked the Acharya to come alone to a isolated part of the forest. On the appointed evening, after his disciples retired to their hermitage to sleep, the Acharya picked up the staff and water pot and walked towards the isolated spot in the forest. Ugrabhairava was waiting for him there along with four other Kapalikas who had made elaborate arrangements for the rituals. Acharya sat down in deep meditation and go absorbed in Samadhi.

Meanwhile Padmapada who was also absorbed in Samadhi, suddenly got up by some intuition and went to check on the Acharya. Finding him missing from his quarters, he felt alarmed and impulsively started chanting the NarsimhaMantra as he had been an ardent worshipper of Narsimha before taking up Sanyasa. At that time the Lord Narsimha manifested with tremendous power in Padmapada. A terrifying roar arose from Padmapada which shook the entire neighbor hood. He jumped towards the forest with fiery eyes. Others who had seen this lit their torches and followed him. Inspired by the Lord Padmapada quickly reached the spot where Ugrabhairava had called the Acharya. When he reached there he found that the Bhairava had made the Acharya lie down on the sacrificial altar and had drawn his sword. It was then that he heard a terrifying roar and he saw Padmapada standing right in front of him with fiery eyes and with frightening expression of a terrible form. Ugrabhairava was killed and the other bhairavas ran and hid themselves in the forest. Padmapada continued to roar in anger and the entire forest was reverberating with waves of roars. This interrupted the Samadhi of the Acharya and he woke up and saw the situation – the Ugrabhairavalay dead and Padmapada standing in front of him with the vision of Lord Narsimha. Overcome with emotion He sang a stotram in praise of Lord Narsimha.

The news of the incidence travelled all around the place. Kapalikas began to come in groups to see the Acharya and listen to him. They had abandoned their barbaric ways. The King also ordered the Kapalikas out of his kingdom and ordered his soldiers to destroy their hideouts and places of rituals.

Thus the river of Vedic Dharma which the Acharya brought along with him had cleansed the places he visited and continued it’s journey ahead.

Mookambika

Proceeding ahead of Srisailam, the Acharya travelled westwards and reached Gokarna where he worshipped Lord Siva in the form of Gokarneswara. All along the Acharya spread the message of the Vedas and the Vedantic philosophy. At Gokarna there was a scholar who followed the Saivamata tradition and engaged the Acharya in debate. The Acharya clarified the position of Advaita and they slowly realized the truth of Acharya’s teachings.

Leaving Gokarna the Acharya visited Hariharapura (known as Harihar today) with the disciples and finally reached Mookambika which is famous for the Devi temple there. The entire place has a strong presence of Sakti. The temple itself is located near the Kutakachalamountain by the river Sowparnika. The goddess has manifested Herself in all three forms ieDurga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

While Acharya was going towards the temple an extraordinary miracle took place. A couple stood before him in grief wailing that they had lost their son to snake bite and asked the Acharya to restore him back. The Acharyasprinkled some water from his pot and miraculously the boy got up. Attributing this to the kindness of the Mother goddess, the Acharyaadviced the couple and the boy to lead the life as an offering to the Mother. The news of this incidence travelled far and wide.

Reaching the temple, the Acharya worshipped the goddess. Recognising that the Mother had both Vidyashakthi and UgraBhava aspects pre-dominant at this place, the Acharya made arrangements for pacifying through appropriate rituals.

The news of the miracle meanwhile had spread all over the region. There was a temple to mother Saraswathi that had a SaraswathiPitha attached to it. Only those who could correctly answer all the questions of local scholars were allowed to sit on the Pitha. The scholars put forth a number of questions to which the Acharya adeptly answered all of them. The Acharya was thus qualified to sit on the Pitha, but the local scholars put forth another test relating to anYantra which too the Acharya passed successfully. Thus after successfully completing all the tests the Acharya was reverentially made to sit on the Pitha.

Meeting Hastamalaka

The Acharyaand his disciples continued in his journey towards Shringeri. At one point, Acharya sat by the side of the road as though waiting for someone. Very soon a Brahmin by the name of Prabhakara and his wife arrived along with their son and prostrated in front of the Acharya. Prabhakara spoke to the Acharya and said that his child appeared deaf and dumb and did not understand the ways of the world. Though he was quite grown up, yet he did not speak anything nor was his behavior according to his age. As parents they were very concerned for the boy’s future. The Acharya intently looked at the boy and found the boy truly lost deeply in his own inner silence and peace. He went close to the boy and holding both his hands, he asked “Dear child who are you? To whom do you belong? Where are you going? What is your name? From where are you coming? Dear boy respond to my questions and make me happy. I feel boundless joy on seeing you”

The voice of the Acharya stirred the boy and the questions went down deep into his heart. Now as though a secret vault of Self experience opened up within him and the child yogi spoke for the first time. Sitting in absolute peace and his heart kept still he answered the questions in thirteen slokas that illumine the nature of the Self.

On listening to this, the parents and on lookers were truly wonderstruck and overjoyed at the same time. The Acharya spoke to his parents and told that the boy was already established in Brahmavidya. To him the eternal truth appeared as clear as a berry (amalaka) were kept in his palm. Hence he named the boy-sage as Hastamalaka. He further informed the parents that the boy was extraordinary and that he wasn’t meant go lead an ordinary life in this world . Saying thus he asked his parents that Hastamalka may stay with him to which they agreed.

Sringeri

The group set off towards Shringeri and soon reached the holy place. The Acharya was reminded of his previous visit to this place while travelling to Omkareshwar in search of his Guru. Padmapada and other disciples had already heard about Acharya’s experiences and they too found this place conducive for spiritual practices.

The king of the region Adityavarma came to visit him and offered him arrangements to stay in the forest. Temporary arrangements were made and thatched huts built for the Acharya and his disciples. Acharya was immersed in teaching and guiding genuine seekers who now came in large numbers to see him.

Seeds of the Mutt& the Sharada Temple

The stay at Shringeri was spiritually satisfying for all those who came there. The Acharya and his disciples found the place very conducive to lead a meditative life and perform Tapas. With the king making arrangements for stay and with a steady and daily movement of visitors to the place, a thought arose in the minds of Padmapada and others to establish a mutt there. They gathered around the Acharya and mentioned the idea to him.

However at that time the Acharya reminded them of their dharma as ascetics and not to get involved in establishment of mutts or residing permanently in a single place. He said that their constant companion was Brahman and the knowledge.

Hence he suggested that the disciples may instead set up a temple to mother Sharada who was the goddess of all knowledge and personification of the power of consciousness (Chitsaktirupini). By Her grace many ardent seekers will be benefitted and attain knowledge.

Following this instruction arrangements to build a temple dedicated to mother Sharada was initiated. On an auspicious day, the divine energy was invoked in the yantra and was consecrated there. As per Acharya’ssankalpa the divine mother who initiates the seeker into the royal path of knowledge (RajayogaJanani) – graciously manifested there. All rituals were conducted as per the vedic traditions. Acharya composed the SharadaBhujangaprayatashtakam.

UbhayaBharati who was none other than Mother Saraswati and who was accompanying the Acharya all along, remained permanently at Shringeri.

The place slowly started developing into a big centre. A number of devotees and wealthy merchants started building places of residences for themselves. King Sudhanva came visiting and he too built places to stay. Slowly Shringeri started to have a festive look. Many more joined the Acharya there. His own direct disciples had many disciples. The entourage became very large comprising of sanyasins, householders and vanaprasthas plus a number of visitors.

The Acharya however was quite detached and continued to lead a life of an asetic immersed in contemplation and teaching. Many days passed in this manner. Transformation of Anandagiri into Totakacharya is said to have taken place in this duration. During this time the Acharya also requested Sureshwaracharya to write a critical review (Vartika) on Sutra bhasya so that the readers may understand the bhashya fully. Sureshwaracharya also wrote an independent text called “Naishkarmya siddhi”. During this time Padmapada also decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram and other places to which the Acharya did not object. These incidences and those that occurred during Padmapada’s pilgrimage significant in themselves in that they triggered the Acharya’sDigvijayayatra.

Back to Kaladi: Mother’s Liberation

Once while Acharya was teaching his disciples, He suddenly got reminded of his mother and sensed that her end is approaching. In accordance with his promise that he would be with her whenever she thought of him during her last days. Acharya asked Chitsukha to travel with him and rushed towards Kaladi to see his mother.

Meanwhile his mother was in her deathbed and would tell her relatives that Shankara would come as promised. All the relatives had heard of Shankara’s fame and how he was now regarded as a Jagadguru. They suspected whether a Sanyasin who had renounced everything would come to see his mother. At that moment some children came running to inform that two Sadhus were coming. Mother’s heart leapt with joy. Soon the Acharya was sitting in front of his mother and she feasted her eyes on his being. Her little boy now looked radiant, majestic, sagely wearing saffron robes and rudraksha beads holding a staff and water pot. The world called him Jagadguru and was the most renowned master of his times. People called him an avatar of Siva and as equal to Vyasa. The mother’s heart was filled with joy and peace looking at her son.

Being a spiritually mature person, Aryamba told her son to be his Guru during her last moments. The Acharya remained in meditation for sometime and slowly a thought rose in him to grant her a vision of her ishtadevata. He composed the Shiva AparadhaKshamapanaStotram and as hymn after hymn rose, glorifying lord Siva, the mother’s mind stood one pointed in a trance and finally got the divine vision of Lord Shiva. She remained in Bhava Samadhi for a long time. After a long time this bhava subsided and was replaced with strong desire to see Lord Krishna. The Acharya recognized this as fulfillment of her Upasana and composed the Krishnashtaka invoking the Lord to grant His divine vision. Mother Aryamba entered into deep meditation and remained in ecstatic Krishna Bhava for a long while. Even as all of this was happening, the Acharya continued to guide her to move from the form to the formless. Eventually she got established in her own true Self. Slowly her Pranas got absorbed in her heart and she left her body.

As was promised to her the Acharya decided to perform her final rites. He faced opposition from his relatives and other people of the village as performance of such rituals is not permitted for sanyasins. However even the Vedas do not prescribe dos and don’ts to a liberated gyani. Acharya was firm in his decision and though the people of Kaladi did not cooperate, he performed her last rites in the courtyard of his house and used his yogic powers to kindle the fire.

Soon Sureshwaracharya and other disciples came to Kalady. Acharya continued to stay for some more time. King Rajashekara who had met the Acharya before he left came to see him and exchanged ideas. Padmapada also came after concluding his pilgrimages and narrated the incidences that occurred that caused concerns to all involved. Based on this a decision to undertake a Dig VijayaYatra was taken.