Biography of Sri Sankaracharya: Part 1

Sri Sankaracharya (also called as Adi Sankara or Shankara) was born in a small village, Kaladi, in Kerala. His father Shivaguru was a learned Brahmin. His mother Aryaamba was a remarkable woman. Shivaguru and Aryaamba were well educated and devoted to God. But they did not have any children. At the suggestion of a close friend they went to Trichur and offered prayers to Lord Shiva at the Vrishaachaleshwara temple. Lord Shiva appeared as an old man in a dream to Shivaguru and asked him if he wanted a hundred sons with long lives and dull wits or a single son who would become a great sage but condemned to a short life. Shivaguru choose the latter. At the same time Lord Shiva also appears in a dream to Aryaamba and tells her that her son would be a great sage. Shortly after this a son was born to them and they named him Shankara. It is believed that Shankara was born in the year 805 AD.

Shivaguru died when Shankara was only five years old. Therefore Shankara was raised under the loving care of his mother. From his childhood Shankara turned out to be a prodigy in every respect. It is said that when he was only one year old he learnt Sanskrit. When he was five years old he was sent to nearby Gurukula (school). By the time he was twelve years old he had mastered all the branches of knowledge. At the age of sixteen he started writing commentaries on the Vedanta, which are considered his major works. According to the rules of the Gurukula pupils should get their food by begging. Accordingly Shankara went round to beg. When he stopped at a house to beg, the lady of the house was so poor that she did not have any thing to offer him except a few gooseberries. Seeing her poor and miserable condition Shankara prayed to the Goddess of wealth to bless the family. It is said that soon the family became rich and prosperous.

After completing his education at the Gurukula, Sankara returned home. Here he was serving his mother who was ill and also teaching some pupils. Sankara wanted to take up sanyasa. His mother was unwilling to let her only son take up sanyasa. Since the purpose of Shankara’s life was much greater than taking care of his mother, a miracle happened. When Shankara was taking bath in the Purna river, a crocodile caught hold of his leg and started to drag him into the river. Shankara felt that his life would soon come to an end. He loudly called out to his mother. Aryaamba rushed to the scene. Since every Hindu is supposed to enter the phase of Sanyasa before his or her death, Shankara requested the permission of his mother to become a Sannyasin. Seeing her son’s plight, Aryaamba gave her consent. The crocodile let go of his leg and swam away.

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