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Sri Sankara – Son and Sannyasi

By Dr. A. Ramaswamy Iyengar,
Former Director of Chinmaya International Foundation

According to the patriarch of the family, Adi Sankara was born at Veliyanad. Sivaguru his father hailed from Kalady, which is just 50 miles from Veliyanad. After a brief stay at Kalady, Sankara was brought back to Veliyanad for his Upanayana ceremony (thread ceremony ritual for boys signifying their entry into the brahmacharya ashram and denoting their eligibility to read and study the sacred books) and his early studies. Due to his father’s ill health, he went back to be with him in Kalady; soon after, his father Sivaguru died.

One day while bathing in the river, a crocodile got hold of Sankara's legs and started pulling him deeper into the river. The young Sankara cried out for help, but his mother, Aryamba could not help him. As the crocodile dragged him further into the river, Sankara, it is said, begged his mother to permit him to accept Sannyasa so that his soul could be saved. Although on a number of earlier occasions his mother had refused him permission, seeing the tragedy in front of her, Aryamba sadly relented. It is said that with Sankara's prayer to the Lord that he had renounced everything, the crocodile left its hold on him mysteriously. He then left Kalady, in search of a teacher.

Legend has it that Sri Sankara was in residence in his mother's ancestral house, Melpazhur Mana (in Veliyanad), for a short time even after he had become a world teacher and that his Hymn on Uma- Maheswara was composed there. It was also during this time that his immortal commentaries on Prasthana Traya (Upanishads, Bhagavad Geeta and Brahma Sutras) came to be reduced to ashes in a fire which gutted the entire padippura (gate house which forms an entrance to the main house), where the Acharya's maternal uncle had kept those precious scrolls. Fortunately for humanity, the commentaries in their entirety were miraculously preserved in the marvellous memory of Padmapadacharya, the Jagadguru's foremost disciple.

After his father's death, Adi Sankara's mother, Aryamba remained in poverty, neglect and dishonour. She fell ill and longed to see her son. It is said that Adi Sankara kept the promise he gave his mother, when he left home, that he would come back, to serve her, in her last days. When Aryamba died, the local community did not help Sankara in cremating her mortal remains. So, Sankara himself had to cut the dead body into three pieces, carry it to the cremation grounds and invoke the fire upon the green banana trees which were used instead of dried wood!

The stories about Adi Sankara, who is variously referred to as Jagadguru (world teacher), and Acharya (Teacher), and the legends surrounding his life, are of great interest to every scholar. The search and research into his life, his dwelling place and village continue to this day, in the hope of finding articles and personal effects that could speak more about his greatness. Various palm leaf manuscripts carrying commentaries on different subjects as well as information about this ancient mana were with his family up to some 50 years ago. It is said that on the request of some people who offered to have them printed, the family parted with them, but these were not returned. Likewise, it is also said that one anklet of Adi Sankara was with the family for very many generations but with the passage of time, it was also lost.

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