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Shankara Digvijayam Part 4

The coming of Hastamalaka

The Acharya continued his travels and visited holy places like Gokarna, Hari-Shankara (present-day Harihar where he sang eleven verses in praise of the combined form of Shiva and Vishnu), as well as Mookambika, the temple of great spiritual power where he stayed for several days adoring the Devi. One day he went to a village by name Sri Bali that was full of observers of Dharma. There, a Brahmin by name Prabhakara came to the Acharya with a young son. Prostrating before the Acharya he submitted how his young son seven years old was behaving like an idiot, as though his mind is undeveloped. He does not play with other boys, even if others beat him he does not get annoyed, he cares not for food sometimes. He has not even learnt the alphabets. The early period of his life has gone in vain ‘ he lamented.

The Brahmana made the boy who was shining in appearance like a firebrand covered with ashes, to prostrate before Shankara but the boy continued to be in the prostrate position. The Acharya lifted him up and addressed the boy thus, ‘Who are you? Why are you thus behaving like an inert being’? To this the boy replied in twelve verses expounding the doctrine of the spiritual self. These verses comprise what is famous as Hastamalakiyam, the truth having become as natural to him as an amla fruit (gooseberry) in the palm of one’s palm. Shankara told the Brahmin that the boy knows the truth of the Atman by virtue of his practices in his past life, has no attachment to material objects, has no sense of ‘I’ ness with regard to the body, and it is best he does not stay with the Brahmana but follow him as his disciple. Shankara took him along as Hastamalaka, the third important disciple.

Sri Shankara at Sringagiri (Sringeri)

The great sage traveled to Sringagiri (Sringeri) where the sage Rishyasringa had for a long time meditated on the Supreme self. The place was inhabited by a large number of virtuous people who were hospitable and regular in performing Vedic Yagas. There, the Acharya expounded to the learned and receptive scholars his commentaries, the doctrine of unity of the self with Brahman and rid the people of their superstitions. At Sringeri he had a temple built as graceful as Indraloka, and installed therein an image of the Divine mother and instituted her forms of worship. Recalling Her assurance in Mandana’s mansion the Acharya invoked the Divine mother to reside in Sringeri as Sharada. There she resides even to this day granting devotees their prayers.

या शारदाम्बेत्यभिधां वहन्ती कृतां प्रतिज्ञा प्रतिपालयन्ती ।
अद्यापि श्रृङ्गेरिपुरे वसन्ती प्रद्योततेऽभीष्टवरान् दिशन्ती ॥

At Sringeri a new disciple, Giri joined the Acharya. He was noted for his obedience, industry, righteousness, devotion to the service of the teacher whose requirements he anticipated and fulfilled; he could never do anything smacking of disrespect; will not sit listlessly before him, talk too much in his presence, walked always behind the Acharya never showing his back. The others took him to be a dull uninformed person and were indifferent to him. The Acharya knew his heart and waited to bring forth his greatness to others. One day, Giri was late in coming to the morning class. Others were restless and urged the Acharya to commence the class even without Giri. The Acharya out of his love for Giri awakened in him the knowledge of the Supreme. Giri came to the class dancing and uttering a great hymn in the metre known as Totaka. The devotion to the Guru is an aid in the ladder that helps a man in ascending to that high state of spiritual absorption. It was the grace of the Acharya that enabled Giri, one thought to be a fool, to compose a hymn full of wisdom and poetic skill. As this poem is in the Totaka metre, the Acharya called him Totakacharya. This poem brief but superbly beautiful and well reasoned is an introduction to the study of Vedanta and is known as Totakashtakam.

The Acharya continued his work at Sringeri, asked his four principal disciples to write treatises on Vedanta. Sureshwara wrote Naishkarmya Siddhi, an exegesis on two of Acharya’s commentaries on Brihadaranyaka and Taittiriya Upanishads (Vartika). Padmapada composed his famous work on the Brahma sutra bhashyas of the Acharya while Ananda Giri (Totaka) and other disciples produced works full of spiritual fervour.

Shankara’s boon to Aryamba

During this time the Acharya had an intuition that his mother was passing through her last days and informed his disciples. The great Siddha that Sri Shankara was, he transported himself to Kaladi in no time. On seeing the worn out condition of his mother he prostrated before her. Aryamba was freed from all distress on seeing him. In spite of his being a Sanyasin, known for non-attachment, he became tender in his heart on seeing his mother. On Aryamba’s request about the knowledge of the Supreme, Sri Shankara began to instruct her on the Impersonal Brahman which however she could not absorb. Then he recited a hymn on Shiva, which brought in the emissaries of Shiva with tridents and the rest. The mother appeared frightened. Then he recited a hymn on Vishnu on hearing which she saw the radiant form of Pure Consciousness within. Aryamba left her mortal coil with her mind absorbed in the Lord. When the Acharya called his neighbours and former relatives for help in cremation, they scorned at him thus, ‘O Sanyasin, what rights do you have to perform such rites?’ They stood adamant and refused even to give fire to cremate the body. Unperturbed by their stand, the Acharya himself generated fire out of his own right hand and completed the cremation. Then he cursed the people of the place, ‘May you become incompetent to study the Vedas! May no Sanyasin visit your place for bhiksha! May you cremate your dead bodies in your own house compounds!’

After the Acharya had conferred the eternal state of Vaikunta on his mother he traveled through several places spreading his doctrine of oneness.

Padmapada’s Panchapadika and his devotion

Padmapada who had completed the exegesis as commanded by the Acharya went on a long pilgrimage in the North and the South. At Srirangam, he left his manuscripts with his uncle. Returning from Rameshwaram, he was shocked to be told by his uncle that his manuscripts were lost in a fire. Downhearted, he headed towards the Acharya who was in Kerala and narrated his tale of woe. The Acharya comforted his disciple with sweet and enlightening words, ‘None can overcome the effects of Karma. I had foreseen these things and spoken to Sureshwara. While we were in Sringeri you had read out to me five chapters of your work. I remember it and I shall now dictate it and you may take it down.’ Padmapada took down the whole book as dictated and on completing it danced in joy. Thus Padmapada’s work on the Brahma Sutra Bhashyas of Sri Shankara came to be known as Panchapadika.

The Acharya continued his travels winning in argument over various scholars including Jains, Madhyamikas, Lingayats and followers of Bhatta Bhaskara. Some of them took to violent physical means, to put down which King Sudhanva with his army fought them. In his further triumphant tours he went to Karmapura where he won victories over Navagupta, a leading thinker of the Shakta School. But cunningly he followed Sri Shankara pretending to be a disciple and then used black magic to cause injury to the Acharya. The Acharya suffered physically but warded off all medical remedies insisted upon by his disciples. At last, by the grace of Lord Shiva, the Ashwini devas appeared and declared that the disease has been caused by black magic and will not respond to treatment. Padmapada was terribly angry on knowing this and by his mantra Shakti transferred the disease to Navagupta himself, thus displaying his devotion yet again.

The four Amnaya Mutts

Shankara consolidated his work by establishing in the four directions, four Mutts called Amnaya Mutts to sustain and foster the sacred tradition of Sanatana Dharma. Keeping in mind that the Mutts should serve as places of spiritual wisdom and peace for all seekers of the Truth, Sri Shankara chose spots bountiful with natural splendour and serenity. Sri Shankara chose Puri in the East and Dwaraka in the West, both being located on the shores of the sea. The Acharya also chose Badrinath in the North and Sringeri in the South for the natural aura that these places had, owing to the towering scenic mountains and at both places.

Sri Shankara assigned one Veda for each of the Mutts, signifying that each Mutt would play a significant role in taking efforts to sustain and propagate that particular Veda. Thus Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana Veda were assigned to Puri, Sringeri, Dwaraka and Badrinath Mutts respectively. Sri Shankara also nominated his four chief disciples, one to each of these Mutts. He assigned Sureshwara to Sringeri, Padmapada to Dwaraka, Hastamalaka to Puri and Totaka to Badri. That all these Mutts function to this day shows the vigour of the movement started by Shankara for the propagation of Advaita Vedanta and Sanatana Dharma as a whole.

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