By Kanhaiah Bhelari – The Weekly – Great Journey – Adi Sankara – The debate continues(http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?contentId=10650455&programId=1073755753&tabId=13&BV_ID=@@@&categoryId=-169761)
Only memories remain: Mahishi’s residents say the debate lasted 22 days. Photo by Paras Nath
Mahishi, Bihar: Villagers even today believe their soil is sacred
While accepted tradition puts the location of the Shankara-Mandana Mishra debate in modern Bihar, some scholars believe it took place at a place called Maheshwar, around 40km from Omkareshwar. Some others say Mahismati was situated on the banks of the Narmada and has been identified with the modern town of Mahesvar near Ujjain. Some even say Mandana was from Vijilavindu, a small town in Kasmira (present day Kashmir), where his father Himamitra was the chief priest to the king.
In Mahishi, Bihar, residents appear unwilling to accept that their learned ancestor was defeated in a debate with Adi Shankara. This village is believed to be the birthplace of philosopher-scholar Mandana Mishra.
An ageing villager, Harishchandra Mishra narrates what his forefathers have passed on: “Mandana’s wife, Bharati, intervened and asked her husband to become a disciple of Shankara, to save Sanatana Dharma, which was being overwhelmed by Buddhism.” And that, the villagers believe, is how the debate ended.
In Mandana’s time, the village used to be called Maheshpati Nagari and his disciples stayed at the Acharya Van spreading over two square-kilometres. They were adept in Mimamsa philosophy and always read or discussed spirituality.
Entering the village, Shankara met a woman drawing water from a well. The woman seemed charmed by the young Shankara’s beauty. Shankara clarified that he was not the kind of man she may have thought he was. Pat came her reply that she was not the kind who he thought she was either.
Shankara asked her where Mandana Mishra lived. She told him to go west, and when he found parrots discussing Vedas and other spiritual texts, he realised that he had reached Mishra’s house.
Mahishi’s residents say the debate lasted 22 days. The place where the debate is believed to have taken place lies abandoned, except for a small temple constructed in 1970. The state government tried to construct a community hall there but could not, because of opposition from the villagers. “What we wanted is a Sanskrit University in the name of Adi Shankara and Mandana Mishra,” says Dayanand Jha, a retired teacher.
A grand religious function was held in 1970 in memory of Shankara and Mishra. Some 400 scholars from across the country took part. The participants in the three-day function were unanimous that it was the very place where the great debate between the two extraordinary souls occurred.
Successive Shankaracharyas of the Sringeri Mutt, of which Mandana Mishra was the first head, have been regularly visiting the village. Legend has it that Mishra never visited the village after he became Shankaracharya.
Although Mishra gave up on Mimamsa philosophy following his encounter with Shankara, the tradition of animal sacrifice before the Goddess Ugra Tara, a Mimamsa ritual, continues in this village. On Vijayadashami, during Dussehra, a buffalo is slaughtered to seek the goddess’s blessings, and round the year, many goats are sacrificed on the temple premises.
Villagers say that visiting religious personalities make it a point to touch a handful of soil to their forehead. It is believed that the dust is blessed by the presence of Shankara and Mandana, and by applying it, their intelligence will be shared.