By Ajay Uprety – The Weekly – Great Journey – Adi Sankara – The Advaita juggernaut (http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?contentId=10650275&programId=1073755753&tabId=13&BV_ID=@@@&categoryId=-169761)
Prolific writing: The Adi Shankaracharya temple, outside the main temple at Badrinath. / Photo by Arvind Jain
Badri, Puri and Kashi: Shankara established the worship systems of great temples in these holy towns
To establish his doctrine of non-dualism, Adi Shankara is said to have visited the holy town of Badrinath when he was 14 years old. “Here he wrote his commentary to Veda Vyasa and re-established the Badrinath temple,” says P. Sankaran Namboodiri, secretary, Adi Shankara Advaita Foundation.
Though it has been more than 1,200 years, Narad Kund, from where Shankara is said to have retrieved Lord Vishnu’s idol and installed it on the top of the Bhairavi Chakra in the temple, remains mute witness to his visit. Other signs associated with Shankara at Badrinath, says Namboodiri, are Narad Shila, Garur Shila, Varah Shila, Narsimha Shila and Markandey Shila.
Badrinath temple is situated on the western bank of the Alaknanda river, between the Nar and Narayana peaks. Legend says the place was known as Badrikashram when Veda Vyasa lived here and compiled the Vedas and wrote Brahma Sutra and Mahabharata.
It is widely believed that it was Shankara who organised and established the current worship system at the Badrinath temple. He also appointed a Brahmin from Kerala to carry out the day-to-day rituals. The tradition continues with the chief priest known as Rawal.
During his extensive journey to the four corners of the country, one of the first places Shankara visited was Kashi. One story linked to the visit is: Once while Shankara was going to the Vishwanath temple, a Chandala (untouchable) with four dogs came across his way. Shankara’s disciples shouted at the untouchable and asked him to give way. The Chandala responded that according to Advaita, all living beings are akin to God. Shankara immediately realised that the untouchable was none other than Lord Shiva and recited five slokas, which became the Manisha Panchakam.
The eastern post: Shankara was allowed footwear, to carry an umbrella and use a mattress to sit inside the Puri temple, a practice still followed / Photo by Arvind Jain
“He stayed here and as per our religious treatise, visited the Manikarnika ghat, Vishwanath temple and areas around Gyanvapi,” says Swami Narendranand Saraswati of the Sumeru Peetham, Varanasi. Shankara is said to have had a fierce religious debate with Vyasa in the Gyanvapi area, which continued for 16 days. Disciples of both finally urged them to stop as Vyasa was an incarnation of Narayan and Shankara, Shiva’s.
According to Narendranand Saraswati, Shankara stayed in Sumeru Peetham for about four months and regulated the religious practices of the Vishwanath temple. “In Varanasi, he spent most of his time in organising shastartha (religious debates), conserving sacred Sanskrit texts and their recitation,” he said. It is here that he wrote his commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, the Gita and the Upanishads.
The eastern mutt: The Govardhan Mutt of Puri founded by Shankara is associated with the Rig Veda. “When Adi Shankara arrived here after taking a holy dip, he visited the present Jagannath temple, where he found no deity. He approached the king and urged him to instal an idol of God Jagannath. He also established the religious practices in the temple,” says Surendra Kumar Mishra, a research officer at Shri Jagannath Sanskrit University.
Shankara, it is said, also established a seat of scholars at Puri to regulate temple rituals. The king made him the head of this seat, called Mukti Mandap. Shankara was allowed to wear his khadaun (wooden footwear), carry an umbrella and use a mattress to sit inside the temple, a practice still followed by the Shankaracharyas. The statue of Ardhanareeshwar inside the mutt was also established by Shankara.
The kashi interlude: It is here that he wrote his commentaries on the brahma sutra, the gita and the upanishads / Photo by Arvind Jain
The last journey: It was after establishing four dhams (holy centres) in the four corners of India that Shankara decided to go on his final journey to Kedarnath in the Himalayas. Popular belief says he was accompanied by his four favourite disciples on the journey, but Shankara insisted on them returning midway.
“It is difficult to say where Adi Shankara left his body here, but it is widely believed that it is somewhere behind the temple, around the area of the samadhi,” says Rajshekar Ling, chief priest of the Kedarnath temple. Shankara’s samadhi is located a few yards behind the Kedarnath temple. The huge hall in which his idol is placed has a massive Shivling (popularly known as Saligram) on a podium on its left, and a statue of Hanuman in front of it.
Worship at Shankara’s samadhi takes place only once a year on the Guru Purnima day of the Savan month. Except the samadhi, there is no other evidence of Shankara’s visit to Kedarnath. “We do not have authentic information on how long he stayed here and what he did, except that he left his body here to attain moksha,” says Ling.
North, into the himalayas: Besides establishing Jyotirmath, Shankara established the Narsimha temple on the Joshimath-Badrinath highway. / Photo by Arvind Jain
About 40km from Kedarnath is the small town of Joshimath known as Jyotirmath, one of the four mutts established by Shankara. “There is concrete evidence of Adi Shankara visiting Joshimath, where he established the northern seat,” says the current Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand.
According to Induswaroop Brahmachari of Jyotirmath, the Narsimha temple on the Joshimath-Badrinath highway was established by Shankara.
Kedarnath, his last journey: Popular belief says shankara was accompanied by four principal disciples on the journey, but he insisted on them returning midway / Photo by Arvind Jain