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Sree Sankaraachaaryar


There may hardly be anyone in India who would not have at least heard of the great spiritual leader and genius, Sree Sankaraachaarya Swaamikal (Aadi-Sankaran), who was a Namboothiri born in Central Kerala, and lived during the 8th - 9th century (AD).


Debates have continued for over a century regarding Sree Sankaraachaaryar's period, with no authentic conclusions as yet. Prof: Theele in his "Outlines of the History of Ancient Religions" (1877) had mentioned the period as 788 - 820 AD. He had surmised this from a statement in "Aarya Vidyaa Sudhaakaram" of Yajneswara Saasthri, a work based on "Sankara Mandaara Sourabham" of Bhatta Neelakandhan, son of Thrivikraman and Parvathy Amba. Neelakandhan had another Kaavyam (poetic composition) "Sankaraabhyudayam", in which it was mentioned that he was born in 788 AD and died on Vaisaakha Poornima day. His period is attributed with certainty to be after scholars such as Bharthruhari, Dingnaagan, Gaudapaadar, Dharmakeerthi and Kumaarilabhattan. Thus 788 - 820 period is believable.

He is said to have mastered the Vedams and Saasthrams before he was eight years old, and authored all the famous Bhaashyams (commentaries) and other works before age 16, and prior to his Samaadhi (demise) at age 32, performed the astounding task of spreading the message of Advaitha Vedaantham in the whole country through teaching, debates and conquest (Dig-Vijayam), established the four famous spiritual learning centres (Matthams), and ascended the Sarvajna Peettham (throne for All-knowing).

(M E - Malayalam Era)

It was in 825 AD that the Malayalam Era, called "Kollavarsham" was started. One legend tells us that this new calendar was started to honour the great Sree Sankaraachaarya Swaamikal, and refers to the popular Kali Dina Samkhya "Aachaarya Vaagabhedyaa", which translates to the number 1434160 according to "Paralper" or "Katapayaadi" [Click here]. The number of years corresponding to these number of days elapsed since the beginning of the present Kaliyugam, would be 3927, from which when one subtracts 3102, the beginning of the Christian Era, one gets 825 AD. It is believed that this represents the year of demise (Samaadhi) of this venerable person, and the beginning of the new Era. There is yet another version that the Era started from the year the Aachaaryar implemented the 64 Anaachaarams [Click here] in Kerala.


Aadi Sankaran is said to have been born into the Kaippilly Illam in Kalady, not far from the powerful Swayambhoo Siva temple, Vrishabhaadri, on the banks of the sacred Poorna river (also called Choorni, Periyar, or Aluva Puzha). His grandfather, Vidyadhirajan, and father, Sivaguru, were both highly learned in the Vedams and Saasthrams. His mother, Arya (also known as Sathi) was the daughter of the learned Maakha-Pandithan of Myaalpaazhoor Mana near Muvattupuzha.


In addition to the established Kerala roots of Sree Sankaraachaarya Bhagavath Paadar, there are legends and popular believes that bring forth his zeal and concern for the improvement and progress of the people of Kerala. Some of these are briefly mentioned here.
  • The "Kollavarsham", the Malayalam Era is said to have been established in his honour. (see box).
  • The 64 Anaachaarams [Click here] was established by him specially for Kerala.
  • Four Samnyaasi Matthams were established in Thrissivaperoor by Sankaraachaaryar. He kept his disciple Padmapaadar in charge of Thekke (south) Mattham, Sureswaran, that of Naduvil (middle) Mattham, Hasthaamalakan in Itayil (in-between) Mattham, and Thodakan in Vadakke (north) Mattham. Itayil Mattham later merged with Thekke Mattham; Vadakke Mattham later became a school for Rigvedam studies, and came to be called "Brahmaswam Mattham".
  • Contrary to an opinion in some quarters that the Aachaaryar did not have any disciples from Kerala, it is believed that Padmapaadar and Chithsukhan were Namboothiris from Kerala. A Granthham, "Padmapaada Charitham" identifies him as a Namboothiri from Vemanna Amsom of Alathur. He is credited by some to have himself established Thekke Mattham of Thrissur, where later, Vilwamangalam, the author of "Krishna Karnaamritham", was a Swaamiyaar. Apparently there was to be another Padmapaadaachaaryar in Thekke Mattham much later during the 13th century, who earlier was one Neelakandhan, son of Keera Sarman of Kondayur, on the banks of the Nila river. There is also a belief that it was Padmapaadar who established the temple and consecrated the deity at Badari and who set the norm that only a Namboothiri from Kerala, should be the priest there.

It is said that, earlier, the parents, worrying about not getting a male child, prayed to Lord Sivan, who appeared before them and asked them to choose between one virtuous, all-knowledgeable and world famous son, and any number of dull ones who would live long. They did, indeed choose the former option, and the Boy-wonder, who would later become Aadi-Sankaraachaaryar, was born in Medam on the Punartham star and Panchamy (Thitthi) of Vaisaakha-Sukla-Paksham, in Karkitaka Lagnam. (Some say he was born on the Thiruvaathira star). His father, Sivaguru, performed the prescribed Jaathakarmam and named him Sankaran, believing that he was indeed a gift from the Lord. When the boy was three, Choulam was performed, but soon his father died. Thereafter, his mother, whom he adored, brought him up. The fact that, even after Samnyaasam, when his mother was sick and dying, he returned to be with her, and upon her death, he even performed the last rites, shows how deep his love and respect was for his mother.

The Lakshmeedhara Vyaakhyaanam "Sowbhaagya-Vardhini" of Sankaran's "Soundarya-Lahari" is said to recall a childhood incident: Sankaran's pious father used to perform daily offering of milk (as Nivedyam), and upon returning home, used to give it to his son. One day when he had to leave home, he entrusted this duty to his wife, Arya. During her monthly periods, she entrusted it in turn to her son. Dutifully, he kept the milk in front of the Devi's idol and requested her to accept it; but seeing that she was not drinking it, he started to cry. Thereupon, Devi is said to have appeared, took the boy on her lap and breast-fed him. The story goes that it was as a result that Sankaran became a poet-laureate and great scholar. He is then said to have created and recited his "Devee-Bhujangam".

Once, when he, along with other students of the Gurukulam, was on the usual rounds for alms, the lady of an extremely poor Illam received them very graciously, and gave them a gooseberry, which she said was all she could give. Touched by this act, Sankaran made up and recited a Sthothram in praise of Mahaalakshmi (goddess of wealth), which became the famous "Kanaka-Dhaaraasthavam". Suddenly, gold nuggets started falling from the heavens, the poverty of the Illam disappeared, and the Illam prospered. That was Punnorkkottu Mana at Pazhamthottam near Kalady, which later came to be commonly called Swarnath Mana.

After completing his formal education at the amazingly young age of seven, he returned home to his ageing and ailing mother, and still learning the Vedams and Vedaantham. There is a legend that, during the period when his mother had become too ill to even walk to the river for ablutions, he had got the Choorni river to change its course right next to their house, using his extra-ordinary spiritual and mental powers. From then on, the river came to be called "Amba" (mother) river.

His name and fame began to spread far and wide, and visitors started pouring in. Among them was also the famous then King of Kerala, Rajasekharan, who read to the boy-wonder the three plays he had written. Sankaran, however, did not comment on them, nor accept the money offered by the king, but gave him some tips before the king returned.


Sankaran was the least bit interested in the ordinary worldly matters, though he had not yet completely left such a life. His mother was thinking in terms of his marriage and a normal family life, but he was contemplating to lead a life of an ascetic after accepting Samnyaasam, to which mother was opposed. Then one day, when he was bathing in Poorna river, a crocodile caught hold of him, he cried aloud, and mother became very vexed. He said that only if he was permitted to take to Samnyaasam, the crocodile would leave him. Mother finally gave in to his entreaties, and consented to Aaptha-Samnyaasam (taking the vows from sages and seers), whereupon it left him. Some interpret that the crocodile was symbolic of all that was worldly, which left him upon taking up Samnyaasam. Another interpretation is that a Gandharvan by name Pushparathhan had turned into a crocodile due to a curse by Lord Brahmaavu, and got the Saapamoksham (reversal of the curse) upon touching the feet of Sankaran.

He then told his mother that he would not delay his Samnyaasam, and would depart immediately, leaving mother to the care of his friends, but would return to her when she really wanted him. He promised that he himself would do the last rites (Samskaaram) upon her death. It was with his mother's full concurrence and blessings that he left the place for entering into Samnyaasam.


Sankaran started his travel to the north on foot after taking leave of his mother, friends and relatives. He intended to meet the learned and saintly Govindanaathan on the banks of the Narmada river where he had his Aasram (hermitage), and to seek his blessings, discipleship and Samnyaasam advice. Upon reaching the place, he circum-ambulated the Aasram thrice, lay prostrate at the entrance and started paying obeisance to the future Guru. "Who are you?" asked Govindaachaaryar, and in reply Sankaran recited the instantly composed "Dasa-Sloki", the famous 10-verse poem. Greatly pleased, Govindanaathan told him that he was the real Sankaran (Lord Sivan); yet, following the worldly conventions, he would be taken in as a disciple. The Guru condensed his advice into the four famous words - "Prajnaanam Brahma", "Aham Brahmaasmi", "Thathwamasi", and "Ayamaathmaa Brahma".

During the next four months, Sankaraachaaryar learnt from his Master many secrets of spiritual philosophy. The lineology of the great Masters of Vedaantham is said to be from Vyaasan through Sreesukan, Goudapaadan and Govindaachaaryar to Sankaraachaaryar. Now, during the rainy season, when Lord Vishnu reclines under the hood of Sesha serpant, all Samnyaasis observe Chaathurmaasyam, but during other times, they are not supposed to stay in one place. That year had a particularly heavy monsoon, with the rains lasting for five days. When the flood-waters began to engulf the Aasramam, people were scared, but the Guru was unaware of it as he was under deep meditation. Sankaraachaaryar then energised a pot through Manthrams, kept it against the river flow, and the entire flood-waters were contained in that little pot! The Guru came to know of it only when he came out of his meditation.


Thus, after Chaathurmaasyam, he was advised to go to Kaasi (Vaaraanasi, Banares), choose deserving disciples and give them proper advice. After getting the Guru's blessings, he left for Kaasi, while Govindaachaaryar himself started off to be with his own Guru, Govindapaadar at his Badari Aasramam. Upon reaching Kaasi, Sankaraachaaryar prayed to Ganga, Kaasi Viswanaathan with Panchaaksharam, Annapoornaadevi with Annapoornaashtakam, and Kaala-Bhairavan through Kaalabhairavaashtakam.

One day, while at Kaasi, a young Braahmanan, with a spiritual aura about him, came to Sankaraachaaryar and paid obeisance to him. When enquired, he said he came from the Chola land on the banks of the Cauvery river, and that he was dejected with this worldly life and wanted to become his disciple. (This version is according to "Maadhaveeya-Sankara-Vijayam", whereas, according to Govindanaathan's Sankara-Charitham, he was a Keralite). The Aachaaryan was happy to accept him as his disciple, and gave him Samnyaasam advice. His first disciple was given the name Sanandanan.

Another day, on his way to the Ganga along with his disciples, he met a Chandaalan (of very low caste, untouchable) coming towards them, and asked him to keep away at a distance, lest they get polluted. The Chandaalan replied saying that it was not becoming of a learned Samnyaasi to feel such distinctions, where upon Sankaraachaaryar became subdued and sought the Chandaalaan's discipleship, and recited the then composed "Maneesha-Panchakam". The Chandaalan disappeared, and in his place were Lord Sivan and Parvathy, who were pleased, blessed the Aachaaryar asking him to spread the message of Advaitham (see below), and also to rise above the feelings of such distinctions. So saying, they disappeared. The Aachaaryar then started off from Kaasi and finally reached Badari Aasramam.


While at Kaasi, the Lord himself had asked him to compose a Bhaashyam (commentary) on Baadaraayanan's "Brahma-Soothram" from an Advaitham angle. This was the first work he did after coming to Badari, and at age 12 at that! Thereafter, he started writing Bhaashyams to the Upanishads such as "Nrisimhathaapaneeyam" and "Sanathsujaatheeyam" (some doubt the authorship), as well as to the Bhagavad-Geetha". Then he composed "Upadesa-Saahasri" and other works. He taught all his works to his disciples.

One day he accidentally met his Guru Govindaachaaryar who was surrounded by disciples and many other scholars. The Guru apprised Sankaran about the greatness of his Guru Goudapaadar, that he was in deep meditation (Thapas) in the cave, usually came out twice a year to see and advise disciples like himself, had gone in only a couple of days previously, and that if Sankaraachaaryar could stay there for five or six months, he could meet him when he came out next. This he did. When Goudapaadar came out, Govindaachaaryar introduced Sankaran to him. It is said that Sankaran composed the Bhaashyams for the Prasthhaana-Thrayam (Vedams - Braahmanams - Upanishads) as told by Goudapaadar, which was as had been desired by Vyaasan.


It is indeed preposterous and futile to discuss the philosophy of Advaitham here, and more so to paraphrase it. Yet a very humble and superficial effort is made here.

"Advaitham" literally means Non-dualism or Monism, as opposed to Dwaitham or Dualism. Aadi Sankaran was the greatest exponent of this system of philosophy. He affirmed that there is only one true Reality, which is all-pervasive, eternal spiritual principle, called the "Brahman", the source of all things. The soul, called the Aathman, is identical with this ultimate reality, the Brahman, and Moksham or release is the experience of that identity. Sankaran demonstrated and held that pure self, as pure being, pure intelligence, and pure bliss, is itself the ultimate truth. All things in this world that we see, feel or experience, all differentiations, plurality and change, are only "Maaya", a much lower order of reality. This Maaya is the mysterious power of God, while remaining changeless himself, gives rise to this changing phenomenal universe. It is the result of "Avidya", or lack of "Jnaanam" or spiritual knowledge, and is the natural disability of the soul which prevents it from apprehending God as he really is.

According to Sankaran, to attain this true state, to separate the contingent from the eternal, to realise oneness with Brahman, it is spiritual knowledge or Jnaanam, and not action or worship, that pierces the veil of ignorance that hides the truth. One who is able to spiritually able to ascend to the state of Ultimate Reality attains Moksham, and his soul is released from the cycles of rebirth, and is absolutely Free.

Sources :  (1)  Encyclopaedia Britannica - Vols. 8 and 16
(2)  Sarma D S - "What is Hinduism?". Madras Law Journal Press, Mylapore, Madras, 1945

Before the age of 16, he had completed all the Bhaashyams, all of which he taught his disciples. Sanandanan became the main disciple.


Thereafter, one day, he had a divine vision that his mother back home was yearning to see him, and he went back. After paying due respects to his dying mother, he explained the Saiva-Vaishnava Swaroopams, which to an extent, rid her of the fear of death. Then, when he started explaining about Parabrahmam, she asked him to talk in simple layman's terms. This is believed to have prompted him to compose "Siva-Bhujanga-Sthothram" and "Vishnu-Bhujanga-Sthothram", both in Bhujanga-Prayaatha metre (Vritham).

Mother was now completely devoid of any fear of death, and asked Sankaran to sing the "Govindaashtakam", which used to be sung during their temple visits when he was yet a child. He sang it for her. Then he composed the "Krishnaashtaka-Sthothram", and recited it to her. Lord Vishnu, who was greatly pleased with this Ashtakam, presented himself in full regalia in front of her, and she died watching the Lord.

The Namboothiris in the neighbourhood refused to help him with the funeral rites (Samskaaram) for the reason that he had come back from "foreign" lands (Paradesam) and had defiled the dead body, and that, after accepting Samnyaasam, he had no right to cremate his mother. They even refused to offer him fire for the cremation. He then made a small pyre with twigs, cut the dead body into small pieces, made fire by friction (Dakshinaagni by Mathhanam), and thus performed the cremation.

There is a story that he cursed the Braahmanans of Kalady that they will be unable to learn the Vedams, and would not have enough food to give the Bhikshus seeking alms, and that their own cremation ground (Chudukaadu) would be near their homes.

This is according to "Vyaasaachaleeyam"; "Maadhaveeya-Sankara-Vijayam" places his mother's death after he defeated Mandanamisran (discussed later). The greatness of Sankaran's mother is described in verse (Padyam) in Govindaachaaryar's "Sankara-Charitham". Contrary to the legend about the curse, there had been learned men in the Kalady area in later times.


Sankaraachaaryar had a desire that the great and renowned Meemaamsa (Vedic exegetics - critical exposition or interpretation of the scriptures) scholar, Kumaarila Bhattan should write a Vaarthikam (grammar-based interpretation) for his own Bhaashyam of "Brahma-Soothram". With that in mind, he proceeded south from Badari and came to the Thriveni, Prayaaga, the confluence of the three sacred rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and the sub-terranean Saraswathi. He bathed and offered instantly composed prayers to the three rivers.

He heard from the local people that Kumaarila Bhattan had decided to immolate himself in grain-husk fire (Umithee) to atone for the sin of getting angry at his own Guru. Sankaraachaaryar immediately proceeded to meet him anyway. He found him in the middle of the fire, surrounded by the weeping Prabhakaran and other disciples. After accepting Bhiksha, Aachaaryar showed him the Bhaashyam, which he read and said that he would indeed have written a detailed Vaarthikam, had he not decided on the self-immolation that was already in irretrievable progress. He requested Sankaraachaaryar to teach him "Thaarakaa-Manthram". Also that he should defeat in debate his main disciple, Mandanamisran, whose wife Ubhayabhaarathi, an incarnation of goddess Saraswathi, would act as the moderator and judge. She is said to have been born on earth as a result of a curse from the sage Durvaasaavu. He said that defeating Mandanamisran would actually mean conquering the whole world, after which his desire for spreading Advaitha philosophy in the entire land could be fulfilled. The defeated Mandanamisran would become his disciple and would be the ideal person to write the "Vaarthikam".

Sankaraachaaryar advised Thaarakaa-Manthram to Bhattapaadar, who then embraced Samaadhi.


As instructed, Sankaraachaaryar left Prayaag for Maahishmathi to meet Mandanamisran. At that time he was washing the feet of the seers Jaimini and Baadaraayanan, whom he had brought from the nether-world for a Sraadham (death anniversary rites), through the strength of his spiritual powers. The Samnyaasi's presence during the sacred ceremony irritated him and the first confrontation was unpleasant. But Jaimini only smiled; Vyaasan (Baadaraayanan) said that the Samnyaasi was a great one and should be received properly.

Though Mandanamisran offered him Bhiksha, the Aachaaryar told him that he had come for a debate-Bhiksha, in which if he himself was defeated, he would become Mandanamisran's disciple, and vice-versa, which was agreed to. When Mandanamisran requested Jaimini and Baadaryaayanan to be the judges, they too suggested his wife Ubhayabhaarathi; so saying, they disappeared. Ubhayabhaarathi gave flower garlands to both, and said that wilting of the flowers would mean defeat. Thus the debate started; many learned men came to listen. After four or five days, when the Aachaaryar noticed his opponent weakening to support his own theory, he asked him to put forward all the arguments against the Advaitham philosophy. Gradually Mandanamisran's garland started withering. Sankaraachaaryar was declared the victor, and Mandanamisran became his disciple, as was agreed.

Ubhayabhaarathi told Sankaraachaaryar that since she now had obtained Saapamoksham (retribution), she would go back to her world. But he stopped her through the chant of Vanadurga Manthram, and requested her to wait until he permitted her to leave; she agreed. Mandanamisran, not at all unhappy at losing, requested the Aachaaryar to clarify "Jaimineeya Matham". He did understand that the Meemaamsa Soothrams were composed for upholding the virtues of Vedic rituals with the objective of betterment of the world. He replied that though Jaimini believed in Parabrahmam, his Soothrams were meant to raise laymen to higher spiritual levels to enable them to attain Parabrahmam. The explanation pleased both Mandanamisran and Ubhayabhaarathi. Mandanamisran's deep meditation brought back Jaimini, who told him that it was none but Lord Sivan who came to earth in the human form of Sankaran to save the common man from ignorance and sorrow; that Sivapuraanam predicted this to happen in Kali Yugam, just as Kapilan did in Kritha Yugam, Dathaathreyan in Threthaayugam, and Baadaryaayanan in Dwaapara Yugam, with the sole purpose of imparting spiritual knowledge to the ordinary men; so saying, Jaimini disappeared.


Ubhayabhaarathi who had been temporarily detained by Sankaraachaaryar, then told him that a person's wife made up half of him, he had to defeat her to be considered to have completely defeated her husband, and that she wished to debate with him. He countered by saying that the learned do not debate with women. But, she said, if he really had to establish his theory, he had to defeat anyone who opposed, even if it was a woman. As examples, she quoted the debates between Yaajnavalkyan and Gaargi, and between Janakan and Sulabha.

Thus they began their debate, which enthralled the learned audience. It went on and on for seventeen days, covering the Vedams, Vedaangams, all the Saasthrams, and finally she started asking questions from Kaama Saasthram, which put him in a dilemma; if he did not answer, he will be vanquished, yet, if he did, then his virtues will be questioned. He asked for, and got a month's time. While walking through a forest with his disciples, he found a handsome king who had just died, and was surrounded by his many mourning wives. He told Padmapaadar and others that the king was Amarukan, husband to more than a hundred beautiful wives, and that he wished to enter into his body, go to the palace and then crown his son as king, learn all that is needed to know in Kaama Saasthram, and return within a month. On being questioned by Padmapaadar if it would not be contrary to his oath of celibacy, he said that any act performed without desire (Aasakthi) would not affect his oath. They were asked to keep his own body in the nearby cave and to protect it till he returned.

Thus Sankaraachaaryar entered the body (Parakaaya-Pravesam) of the dead king Amarukan, went to the palace with the wives and the ministers. During the next few weeks, he acquired knowledge on all aspects of Kaama Saasthram, returned into his original body, and went back to Mandanamisran's house to continue the debate. Ubhayabhaarathi, who was extremely pleased with the answers, said that he was indeed Lord Parameswaran's incarnation, and that now she should be permitted to leave. The Aachaaryar requested her to make her divine presence in the form of Saarada in the temples proposed to be built by him, to remain in those temples as deity, and bless the devotees. She gladly agreed and disappeared. Mandanamisran, also quite happy at the proceedings, accepted Samnyaasam from the Aachaaryan, and became quite renowned in the name of Sureswaran.


Then he proceeded south with the single-minded purpose of spreading and establishing his own Advaitha philosophy, and in that process, annihilating the other prevalent schools of thought. He reached and camped on the banks of the Narmada river. There, the Veera Saiva scholars, who had been denouncing his Advaitha philosophy, were defeated in debate by Sureswaran and other disciples, and consequently became the Aachaaryar's followers. As the Advaitham concept began to be accepted and be popular, the Saankhyans, Paasupathans, Saivans, and the followers of other schools of thought could not exist any more.

One day, a Kaapaalikan (a fearsome clan who wear and worship human skulls, smear their body with the ashes from the cremation ground and use intoxicating drinks), disguised as an ascetic (Saadhu) came and told him that Lord Sivan, whom he had prayed had appeared and told him that in order to attain his desire to go to Kailaasam and travel with the Lord, he would have to sacrifice (Homam) the head of a scholar, or that of a king; would he be willing to offer his head and bless him? He obliged and went on meditation. When the Kaapaalikan was about to strike with his sword, Padmapaadar appeared in the form of Narasimha Moorthy (half-man-half-lion) and killed him. The Aachaaryar came out of his meditation, pacified his disciple and said that the Kaapaalikan would get Moksham (deliverance), having been killed by divine hands.

When asked how Narasimham could enter Padmapaadar, he narrated an earlier incident that took place while on a long deep meditation to Narasimha Moorthy in a forest near Ahobalam hill. One day a hunter asked him the purpose of his being there alone. When the purpose was revealed, the hunter brought the man-lion, all tied up with vines. When Narasimham was asked how he could be seen by an ordinary hunter, he replied that no one else had meditated on him so single-mindedly as the hunter had done; thus saying, had blessed him and left. After the narration, Padmapaadar continued to take care of his master with much more devotion.


During his travels with the disciples, he reached "Gokarnam", bathed in the sea, prayed to Mahaabaleswaran, and camped there for three more days. He then proceeded to a holy place called Harisankaram, composed short Sthothrams in praise of Sivan and Vishnu there and offered prayers. Then he went to Mookaambika and stayed for a few days offering prayers to the goddess Parameswari, there.

Along with his disciples, he then went to an Agrahaaram, by name "Sreevali". The Braahmanans of that locality were known to be strict observers of all the prescribed Vedic rituals such as Agnihothram. One of them was Prabhakaran, who had performed several Yaagams, and was well known there. His only son was 13 years old but unusually quiet, and would not even respond to queries at all, but all the same, he appeared to have an aura about his face. Prabhakaran took his son to Aachaaryar and requested him to bless him. When the Aachaaryar asked the boy why he was so, he spontaneously recited twelve verses which explained clearly the secrets of Vedaantham. Because of their clarity, these verses came to be known as "Hasthaamalakam", and the boy, Hasthaamalakan, who became a disciple of the Aachaaryar.


His next destination was Sringeri (Sringa Giri) on the banks of Thungabhadra river, where long ago, sage Rishyasringan had lived. The scenic beauty and serenity of the place was enthralling, and attracted the Aachaaryar very much. He stayed there for a while, teaching his Bhaashyam to the local scholars. He built a large temple there and consecrated goddess Saarada in it. He also established a Vidyaapeettham (school for spiritual studies), and put Sureswaran in charge of it. Even today, Saarada Devi continues to bless her devotees there.


Sankaraachaaryar had a disciple by name Aanandagiri, who was very dedicated to his Guru, although he appeared to be dull-headed. One day when Aanandagiri was away in the river to wash the Guru's clothes, Swamy told the other disciples that he will wait for Giri before discussing a Vyaakhyaanam. Realising that Padmapaadar and others were wondering in their minds why he should wait for the half-wit, Swamy, who was very fond of him, taught him through telepathy, 14 verses. Immediately on his return, Giri composed and recited a few verses in Thodaka Vritham (metre) explaining the Adhyaathma concept. The pride of Padmapaadar and others were deflated. Aanandagiri hence forth became famous as Thodakan, since the poem was composed in Thodaka, and continued as an important disciple of the Aachaaryar.


In the Aachaaryar's birth place, Kalady, there used to be a boy by name Vishnusarman who had been his fellow-student and constant companion. The boy had also become totally disinterested in worldly affairs and spending the years assuming in his mind that the Aachaaryar was indeed his absentee-Guru. Once, when the Aachaaryar was in Badari Aasramam, Vishnusarman reached there and requested in all humility that he be taken in as his disciple. Realising his greatness and detachment from worldliness, Sankaraachaaryar offered him Samnyaasam, the name Chithsukhan, his discipleship, and advice on spiritual knowledge.


Sankaraachaaryar knew that his disciple Sureswaran wished to write a Vruthi (Vaarthikam) to his Brahmasoothra Bhaashyam. Though he consented to it, Chithsukhan and some other disciples who were closer to Padmapaadar, politely gave their opinion that Sureswaran's affinity to Karmakaandam might bias his Vaarthikam, and that Padmapaadar would do a better job. Later Sunandanan approached and said that Hasthaamalakan was also equally capable, whereupon the Aaachaaryar said that, though Hasthaamalakan was indeed a knowledgeable Vedaanthi, he was always in deep meditation, and was not interested in the external world. Sureswaran has all the necessary abilities, but then, if none of them wanted him to do it, he would not press for it. When they continued to argue for Padmapaadar's case, Aachaaryar said that he loves the world and its people (Lokapriyan); let him make a Nibandham (literary composition) to the Baashyam, and Sureswaran a Vaarthikam.

He then called Sureswaran and requested him to delay the Vaarthikam work since most other disciples were not favourable. He was requested to write some original work in the Aadhyaathmikam area. This saddened him only slightly owing to his great devotion to the master. Soon he came out with "Naishkarma Sidhhi", which was to become quite famous later, and presented it to his Guru, saying that he did not compose it for fame or wealth, but only to satisfy his master's desire. The master read it carefully and praised his work, and requested him to write Vaarthikams for his Thaithireeya Bhaashyam and Brihadaaranyakopanishad Bhaashyam (Kaanwa Saakha), which the disciple did.

Similarly, as was instructed by the Guru, Padmapaadar made a Vyaakhyaanam (interpretraion) for his Brahma Soothra Bhaashyam, of which the first part formed the Panchapaadika, which became famous later, and the rest formed the Teeka (glossary). The Aachaaryar once called Sureswaran and told him that, although Padmapaadan's Panchapaadika had become famous, and in it the Vyaakhyaanam for Chathussoothri Bhaashyam was particularly commendable, Sureswaran should, in his next birth as Vaachaspathi, prepare a detailed Vyaakhyaanam of the Bhaashyam. He advised Aanandagiri and other disciples to write on Advaitham concepts, popularise Advaitham, and become renowned themselves. They all respectfully obeyed the Guru.

One day, when they were staying at Sringeri, Padmapaadar approached the Guru and conveyed his desire to go on a pilgrimage, which was condescended to, and he was sent away with much blessing.


Sankaraachaaryar and his disciples, together with the renowned king Sudhanwaavu then undertook a Jaithra Yaathra for Digvijayam (mission to conquer the world) to establish the Advaitham school of thought. They first reached the southernmost Rameswaram, and defeated in debate the Saaktheyans who were in the habit of consuming liquor as devotees of Devi, purified them through Praayaschitham, and accepted as Advaitham followers. After offering prayers to Lord Sreeraaman and his consort Kaameswari in the temple there, they continued the journey, conquering the Paandians, Cholans and Draavidans and reached Kaancheepuram. There he built a befitting temple for Devi and made arrangements for the performance of the prescribed rituals, and meanwhile, the Thaanthric believers were sent away. It is believed that it was he who built Siva Kaanchi and Vishnu Kaanchi, as well as the temples for Varadaraajan and Kaamaakshi, and consecrated the Sree Chakram in the latter.

Led by the Swaamikal, they then went to the Karnaatakam area, in spite of warnings from some quarters that the area was full of Kaapaalikans and that they were sure to attack him. Krakachan, the Kaapaalikan chief, confronted him, but was sent right back by king Sudhanwaavu. When their gang returned fully armed, the king was also ready to face them in battle. But the Aachaaryar destroyed them with a "Hoomkaaram". The angered Krakachan, holding Kapaalam, offered prayers to Kapaali, who made his presence, beheaded Krakachan and disappeared, all this while the Aachaaryar was still in meditation.

The Yatheeswaran's group then reached Gokarnam, where, after bathing in the sea and offering prayers to Gokarneswaran, the Aachaaryar composed a Sthothram in the Bhujangaprayaagam metre (Vritham), and taught Advaitha Vedaantham to his followers. Haradathan, a Saiva scholar of that area approached his Guru Neelakandhan and told him that Sankaraachaaryar who had earlier defeated Kumaarila Bhattan and Mandanamisran, was in the temple and wished to have a debate with the Guru. In the debate that ensued, Neelakandhan's Saiva Sidhhaantham was convincingly fallible, whereupon, Neelakandhan, Haridathan and all their disciples became Aachaaryar's followers.

They then proceeded north to Sauraashtra, proclaiming Advaitham along the way, and reached Dwaaraka. Most of the people there were Oordhwa-pundran (upward Kuri / Naamam on the forehead) Vaishnavites, who used to burn their hands with red-hot metal Sankha-Chakrams. They were easily defeated and accepted as followers.

They continued on to Ujjaini, prayed to Lord Sivan in the famous Mahaakaala Kshethram (temple) and sent word to the well-known Bhatta Bhaaskaran through Padmapaadar. This famous scholar had made commentaries on the Vedams in many different ways. It was with vanity and pride that he went to meet the Swaamikal, but their long debates convinced him that his concepts were unacceptable to other scholars, and every argument he put forth against Advaitham concept was convincingly disproved by the Aachaaryar.

During his Advaitham campaign in the Baahleeka Desam, several Jain scholars met and argued with him; but he could counter them and support his concepts in very simple and clear language.

In Kaamaroopa Desam (Assam), he decided to confront Abhinava Gupthan, the author of Saaktha Bhaashyam. Knowing that he could not win in a direct confrontation, Abhinava Gupthan tried to discredit the Aachaaryar through Aabhichaara Karmam (witchcraft). But he too became a follower.

In Gouda Desam (the Bengal area), he defeated the learned Muraarimisran. Thus he could establish his Advaitha school of thought the length and breadth of the country. The Dvaitha and other theories were practically destroyed.


One day when Sankaraachaaryar was in deep meditation on the sand banks of the Ganga, he experienced the divine presence of sage Gaudapaadar. He got up, prostrated before the sage and stood there with folded hands. The Muni said he had come to see his Bhaashyam on Mandookyopanishad and on the Muni's own Gaudapaada Kaarika. After the Swaamikal's narration, the Muni felt quite satisfied, blessed him and then disappeared.

The very next morning when he was meditating after the daily ablutions and prayers, he "heard" about the Sarvajna Peettham in Saarada Devi's temple in Kashmir. Although the temple had four doorways, only a fully learned or all-knowing scholar (Sarvajnan) could approach the Devi. None had till then entered through the south door.

Intrigued and pleased at this news, he started off to Kashmir. Upon reaching the temple, he confidently opened the south door and was about to enter when the learned scholars stopped him and demanded that if he thought he was all-knowledgeable, he should first answer correctly all the questions put to him. To this he agreed.

He gave precise and correct answers to the questions from the Vaiseshikan, Naiyaayikan and Saankhyan scholars, the Boudha scholars like Southraanthikar, the Digambara Jainan and the Meemaamsakan. Thereupon he entered the temple and was about to step on the Sarvajna Peettham while holding the hand of Padmapaadar, when he heard the divine voice (Asareeri Vaakyam) of goddess Saraswathi: "Yatheeswaran, learning and scholarship alone are not enough for eligibility to ascend the throne; purity is also essential. After having accepted Samnyaasam, haven't you enjoyed the worldly pleasures with several women? How then can you ascend the throne?" He replied: "Mother, since I was born, I have not done anything impure. I acquired all the knowledge in Kaama Saasthram by accepting another body. Why should this body be punished for that?" Saraswathi Devi was pleased with the answer, and Sree Sankaraachaaryar thus ascended the Sarvajna Peettham. He shone like a lodestar spreading the fragrance of Advaitha Vedaantham in the entire land.

In the four corners of the country, he established Samnyaasi Matthams to continue to spread the Advaitham philosophy. He put Sureswaran in charge of Sringeri Mattham in the south, Hasthaamalakan at Dwaaraka in the west, Thodakan at Badari in the North and Padmapaadar at Puri in the east.

Legend has it that this venerable seer's demise (Samaadhi) occurred in the Vadakkunnaathha temple in Thrissur (Kerala) when he was composing the work, "Vishnu-Paadaadi Kesasthavam" written in Sragdhara metre. According to another version, his Samaadhi was at Kedaaranaatham in Himaalayas.


Sankaraachaaryar's style of writing is lucid and profound. Penetrating insight and analytical skill characterise his works. His approach to truth is psychological and religious, rather than logical. He was a prominent religious teacher rather than a philosopher.

More than 300 works - commentative, expository, and poetical - are attributed to him. Most of the works have been compiled and published in 20 volumes. It has been categorically stated that the Bhaashyams for the Prasthhaana-thrayam - the Vedams, Braahmanams and Upanishads - were indeed written by the Aadi Sankaran. There are quite a few other compositions, many of which, according to experts, are definitely his, and yet some other works that cannot be conclusively called so. Some of the important ones are listed below:

1. Brahma Soothra Bhaashyam. (his masterpiece) or Saareeraka Meemaamsaa Bhaashyam, for which Vaachaspathi Misran wrote Bhaamathi Vyaakhaanam and Padmapaadar, Panchapaadikaa Vivaranam. Incidentally, in Advaitha Vedaantham, these later even led to two schools of thought - Bhaamathi Prasthhaanam and Vivarana Prasthhaanam.

2. Bhagavad Geetha Bhaashyam. Some have argued about its authorship, while others have tried to prove it to be his.

3. Bhaashyams for Upanishads

  1. Brihadaaranyakopanishad Bhaashyam: Perhaps the most ancient and elaborate of the Upanishads. Belongs to Sukla Yajur Vedam and has two branches - Kaanwa Saakha and Maadhyandina Saakha. Sureswaran wrote a Vaarthikam (grammer- based interpretation) to this Bhaashyam.
  2. Chhaandogyopanishad Bhaashyam: Almost equally ancient and second largest; belongs to Saama Vedam.
  3. Thaithireeyopanishad Bhaashyam: Sureswaran wrote a Vaarthikam for this too.
  4. Aithareyopanishad Bhaashyam:Also called Baahvyacham or Aatmashtakam, it is from the second of the five Aaranyakams belonging to Aithareya Braahmanam of Rigvedam.
  5. Eesaanopanishad Bhaashyam:Also called Samhithopanishad, it has 18 Manthrams from Sukla Yajurveda Samhitha. According to Sankarabhaashyam, the two paths, Karmamaargam and Jnaanamaargam are mutually exclusive and can hardly be practiced simultaneously.
  6. Katthopanishad Bhaashyam: Ancient and popular Upanishad. Includes the meeting of Nachikethas with Yaman, seeking and receiving boon for attaining Moksham.
  7. Kenopanishad Bhaashyam: He wrote two Bhaashyams, Pada Bhaashyam and Vaakya Bhaashyam.
  8. Mundakopanishad Bhaashyam: Belongs to Attharva Vedam and is in verse form (as in Eesaavaasyopanishad Bhaashyam. It concerns primarily with Samnyaasam and Jnaana Maargam. Sounakan seeks advice from Aangirass as to what knowledge would lead to the highest knowledge (self-realisation).
  9. Prasnopanishad Bhaashyam: Part of Attharva Vedam. Set in question-answer format, it asserts that Jnaana Maargam is for Brahmachaaris (ascetics) and Samnyaasis and not for Grihastthans (Aasramis) who are immersed in worldly matters.
  10. Maandookyopanishad Bhaashyam: Some modern scholars have raised doubts as to whether or not the Bhaashyams for this and its Goudapaada Kaarika (memorial verse) are really Sankaraachaaryar's.
Nrisihathaapaneeyopanishad and Swethaaswatharopanishad are said to be Sankaraachaaryar's, but according to many scholars, these are of a much later period.

4. Upadesa Saahasri. A Prakarana Granthham (typical text) with 19 Prakaranams in the prose part and 3 in the verse part. Considered as his authentic non-commentative work.

5. Dakshinaamoorty Sthothram. With 10 verses written in Saardoola Vikreeditham Vritham. Sureswaran wrote a Bhaashyam, "Maanasollaasam". Advaithis respectfully remember this work.

6. Vishnu Sahasranaama Sthothram - Bhaashyam. A popular one. Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri in his "Naaraayaneeyam", affirms that the work is the Aachaaryar's.

7. Sanathsujaatheeyam. A Sankara Bhaashyam (defensive style); some doubt its authorship.

8. Dasa-Sloki. Unlikely to be anyone else's work.; Madhusoodana Saraswathi wrote a Vyaakhyaanam for this.

9. Satha-Sloki. Quite probably his work. Deals with Advaitha Thathwam.

10. Yogasoothra Bhaashya Vivaranam. Very probable that he is the author. An exposition on Vyaasan's commentary on Yog Soothram, a fundamental text of the Yoga School.

11. Soundarya Lahari

12. Sankara Smruthi. Believed to be his work on the Aachaarams (Anaachaarams) of Kerala.

13. Hasthaamalaka Bhaashyam or Vedantha Sidhhaantha Deepika. Claimed to be his work, on the poems written apparently by Hasthaamalakan.

There are a number of Sthothrams believed to be written by him. However, one may come across different names for the same Sthothram. There are some in which the number of verses may differ slightly, and called "Ashtakam" or "Navarathna Maala". "Dwaadasa Panjarika" and "Chathurdasa Panjarika" offer minor variations of the same work. There are two compositions in the same name, "Advaitha Pancharathnam".


Sankaraachaaryar had not only reached such spiritual heights, which hardly any human could attain, he also acted and breathed some fresh air into the society which was showing signs of degradation. Realising that, in Kerala, education and learning was somewhat stagnant and that the mindset of the society had to be made more progressive, he convened two one-month long conferences in the south Kollam and the north Panthalaayani Kollam, attended by many learned scholars. After detailed deliberations, they reached a consensus, and a new set of social codes (Keralaachaaram) was set forth. These decisions were quite revolutionary in those days.


Thus Sankaraachaaryar's revolutionary and progressive changes in societal norms and traditions were intensive and extensive. He was a Karmayogi who could effectively drive away the Budha-Jaina influence and re-establish Sanaathana Dharmam, a philosophical colossus who spread the Advaitham school of thought far and wide, a jewel of a scholar par excellence with creations such as "Soundarya Lahari", a great organiser who established the four Swaamiyaar Matthams thereby perpetuating the spiritual traditions. Most of these are well known; but how many know him also as a concerned and sincere revolutionary bent on social upliftment!

| Article No:2.3 | Last update of this article:29th November 2002 |
Article by : Dr K Kunchunni Raja, Kumarapuram Palace, Nadathara, Thrissur (Hon. Director, Adayar Library & Research Centre, Theosophical Society Campus, Chennai - 600 020)
With Inputs from : K P C Anujan Bhattathiripad, Padinjaredath Mana, Peruvanam, Cherpu - 680 561, Thrissur Dist. Phone : 0487-342800

Abridged by : Prof: V M N Nambudiripad
Translated by : K D Nambudripad

For more details, refer : "Sree Sankaraachaaryar" - by Dr K Kunchunni Raja
Second edition : January 1998
(Publishers : Department of Cultural Publications, Government of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram - 695 014)

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