Jagat Guru Sri Bhagavatpada Adi Shankaracharya, was not only a great thinker and the noblest of Advaitic philosophers but he was essentially an inspired champion of Hinduism and one of the most rigorous missionary leaders in our country.
One of the greatest philosophers and savants of Bharat. Though he lived for only thirty-two years, his achievement was unparalleled. He propounded the vedantic tenet that Brahman the Supreme and man are of one essence and that all people should strive to cultivate this vision of oneness. He established four spiritual centres in the four corners of the country, thus’ upholding the underlying unity of the holy land of Bharat
Shri Adi Shankara (Malayalam:ആദി ശങ്കരന് , Devanāgarī: आदि शङ्कर, Ādi Śankara, pronounced [aadi shankara]); (788 CE – 820 CE), also known as Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, was an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta. His teachings are based on the unity of the soul and Brahman, in which Brahman is viewed as without attributes. He hailed from a beautiful village Kalady of present day Kerala.
Shankara travelled across India and other parts of South Asia to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He founded four mathas (“monasteries”), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organizer of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmata tradition of worship.
His works in Sanskrit, all of which are extant today, concern themselves with establishing the doctrine of Advaita (Nondualism). He also established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. Shankara relied entirely on the Upanishads for reference concerning Brahman and wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic Canon (Brahma Sutra, Principal Upanishads and Bhagavadgita) in support of his thesis. The main opponent in his work is the Mimamsa school of thought, though he also offers some arguments against the views of some other schools like Samkhya and certain schools of Buddhism that he was familiar with.
Birth and childhood
Adi Shankara was born to Kaippilly Sivaguru Namboodiri and Aryamba Antharjanam in the region of , Kalady in central Kerala. According to lore, it was after his parents, who had been childless for many years, prayed at the Vadakkunnathan Shiva temple,Thrissur that followed by vision of Lord Shiva to the blessed Siva guru & Aryaamba to become the parents of his incarnation . Sankara was born on Vaishakh Shukla Panchami under the star Thiruvathira ,the same star of Lord Shiva.
His father died while Shankara was very young. Shankara was a divine child,an incrnation of Knowledge Shiva himself . Baby Shankara mastered the Malayalam Language at the little age of 3 years.
Shankara’s upanayanaṃ, the initiation into student-life, was performed at the age of five. As a child, Shankara showed remarkable scholarship, mastering the four Vedas by the age of eight.
From a young age, Shankara was inclined towardssannyasa, but it was only after much persuasion that his mother finally gave her consent. Shankara then left Kerala and travelled towards North India in search of a guru.
On the banks of the Narmada River, he metGovinda Bhagavatpada, the disciple of Gaudapada. When Govinda Bhagavatpada asked Shankara’s identity, he replied with an extempore verse that brought out the Advaita Vedantaphilosophy. Govinda Bhagavatapada was impressed and took Shankara as his disciple.
The guru instructed Shankara to write a commentary on the Brahma Sutras and propagate the Advaita philosophy.
Acharya’s boundless mercy
Though gifted with miraculous yogic powers, the Acharyas of old, never found leisure in their life time to write their autobiography. Self effacement was the very spirit that governed their life and activities. And yet Sri Adi Shankara was not averse to using his yogic powers for temporal uplift of the unfortunate, as for instance, in his permanently enriching a poor woman by instant composition of the Kanakadhara Stotram, a hymn in praise of Goddess Mahalakshmi, which made Goddess shower her bounty in the form of golden amalakas into the house. Such instances of Shankara’s innate, boundless mercy abound in his short but effective life spans. The mysterious phenomenon of lotuses blossoming forth underneath Sri Sanandana’s feet, as he strode across the swollen Ganga on hearing his Master’s call out, even on others in the group scrambled towards the boatman, is well known. The leadership here, really would be demonstrative, yet remarkably silent and effective use of his yogic powers to emphasize the qualities of Sri Sanandana, who certainly deserved his Guru’s grace
Shankara travelled to Kashi, where a young man named Sanandana, hailing from Chola territory in South India, became his first disciple. According to legend, while on his way to the Vishwanath Temple, Sankara came upon an untouchable accompanied by four dogs. When asked to move aside by Shankara’s disciples, the untouchable replied: “Do you wish that I move my ever lasting Ātman(“the Self”), or this body made of flesh?” Realizing that the untouchable was none other than god Shiva himself, and his dogs the four Vedas, Shankara prostrated himself before him, composing five shlokas known as Manisha Panchakam.
At Badari he wrote his famous Bhashyas (“commentaries”) and Prakarana granthas(“philosophical treatises”). 
Meeting with Mandana Mishra
One of the most famous debates of Adi Shankara was with the ritualist Maṇḍana Miśra. Maṇḍana Miśra’s guru was the famous Mimamsa philosopher, Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa. Shankara sought a debate with Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa and met him in Prayag where he had buried himself in a slow burning pyre to repent for sins committed against his guru: Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa had learned Buddhist philosophy from his Buddhist guru under false pretenses, in order to be able to refute it. Learning anything without the knowledge of one’s guru while still under his authority constitutes a sin according to the Vedas. Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa thus asked Adi Shankara to proceed to Mahiṣmati(known today as Mahishi Bangaon, Saharsa in Bihar) to meet Maṇḍana Miśra and debate with him instead.
After debating for over fifteen days, with Maṇḍana Miśra’s wife Ubhaya Bhāratīacting as referee, Maṇḍana Miśra accepted defeat. Ubhaya Bhāratī then challenged Adi Shankara to have a debate with her in order to ‘complete’ the victory. Later,Ubhaya Bhāratī conceded defeat in the debate and allowed Maṇḍana Miśra to acceptsannyasa with the monastic name Sureśvarācārya, as per the agreed rules of the debate.
Sharada temple at Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri
Adi Shankara then travelled with his disciples toMaharashtra and Srisailam. In Srisailam, he composed Shivanandalahari, a devotional hymn in praise of Shiva. The Madhaviya Shankaravijayamsays that when Shankara was about to be sacrificed by a Kapalika, the god Narasimha appeared to save Shankara in response to Padmapada’s prayer to him. As a result, Adi Shankara composed the Laksmi-Narasimha stotra.
He then travelled to Gokarṇa, the temple of Hari-Shankara and the Mūkambika temple at Kollur. At Kollur, he accepted as his disciple a boy believed to be dumb by his parents. He gave him the name, Hastāmalakācārya (“one with the amalaka fruit on his palm”, i.e., one who has clearly realised the Self). Next, he visited Śṛngeri to establish the Śārada Pīṭham and made Toṭakācārya his disciple.
After this, Adi Shankara began a Dig-vijaya (tour of conquest) for the propagation of the Advaita philosophy by controverting all philosophies opposed to it. He travelled throughout India, from South India to Kashmir and Nepal, preaching to the local populace and debating philosophy with Hindu, Buddhist and other scholars and monks along the way.
With the Malayali King Sudhanva as companion, Shankara passed through Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha. He then started towards Karnataka where he encountered a band of armed Kapalikas. King Sudhanva, with his army, resisted and defeated the Kapalikas. They safely reached Gokarna where Shankara defeated in debate the Shaiva scholar, Neelakanta.
Proceeding to Saurashtra (the ancient Kambhoja) and having visited the shrines of Girnar, Somnath and Prabhasa and explaining the superiority of Vedanta in all these places, he arrived at Dwarka. Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara of Ujjayini, the proponent of Bhedābeda philosophy, was humbled. All the scholars of Ujjayini (also known as Avanti) accepted Adi Shankara’s philosophy.
He then defeated the Jainas in philosophical debates at a place called Bahlika. Thereafter, the Acharya established his victory over several philosophers and ascetics inKamboja (region of North Kashmir)India, Darada and many regions situated in the desert and crossing mighty peaks, entered KashmirIndia. Later, he had an encounter with a tantrik, Navagupta at Kamarupa.
]Accession to Sarvajnapitha
Adi Shankara visited Sarvajñapīṭha (Sharada Peeth) in KashmirIndia .TheMadhaviya Shankaravijayam states this temple had four doors for scholars from the four cardinal directions. The southern door (representing South India) had never been opened, indicating that no scholar from South India had entered the Sarvajna Pitha. Adi Shankara opened the southern door by defeating in debate all the scholars there in all the various scholastic disciplines such as Mimamsa, Vedanta and other branches ofHindu philosophy; he ascended the throne of Transcendent wisdom of that temple.
Towards the end of his life, Adi Shankara travelled to the Himalayan area of Kedarnath-Badrinath and attained videha mukti (“freedom from embodiment”). There is a samadhi mandir dedicated to Bhagvan Jagat Guru ShriAdi Shankara behind the Kedarnath temple. However, there are variant traditions on the location of his last days. One tradition, expounded by Keraliya Shankaravijaya, places his place of Samadhi as Vadakkunnathan temple in Thrissur, Kerala.
Adi Shankara founded four Maṭhas(Sanskrit: मठ) to guide the Hindu religion. These are at Sringeri in Karnataka in the south, Dwaraka in Gujarat in the west, Puriin Orissa in the east, and Jyotirmath(Joshimath) in Uttarakhand in the north. Hindu tradition states that he put in charge of these mathas his four main disciples:Sureshwaracharya, Hastamalakacharya,Padmapadacharya, and Totakacharyarespectively. The heads of the mathas trace their authority back to these figures. Each of the heads of these four mathas takes the title of Shankaracharya (“the learned Shankara”) after the first Shankaracharya. The table below gives an overview of the four Amnaya Mathas founded by Adi Shankara and their details.
Prajñānam brahma (Brahman is Knowledge)
Aham brahmāsmi (I am Brahman)
Tattvamasi (That thou art)
Ayamātmā brahma (This Atman is Brahman)
Advaita (“non-dualism”) is often called a monisticsystem of thought. The word “Advaita” essentially refers to the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman). Advaita Vedanta says the one unchanging entity(Brahman) alone is existing- Changing entities do not have absolute existence like the waves have no existence other than the ocean.The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta are thePrasthanatrayi– the canonical texts consisting of theUpanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras.
Adi Shankara was the first in its tradition to consolidate the siddhānta (“doctrine”) of Advaita Vedanta. He wrote commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi. A famous quote from Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, one of his prakarana granthas that succinctly summarises his philosophy is:
Brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā, jīvo brahmaiva nāparah
Brahman is the only truth, the spatio-temporal world is an illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self.
Advaita Vedanta is based on śāstra (“scriptures”), yukti (“reason”) and anubhava(“experience”), and aided by karmas (“spiritual practices”). This philosophy provides a clear-cut way of life to be followed. Starting from childhood, when learning has to start, the philosophy has to be realised in practice throughout one’s life even up to death. This is the reason why this philosophy is called an experiential philosophy, the underlying tenet being “That thou art”, meaning that ultimately there is no difference between the experiencer and the experienced (the world) as well as the universal spirit (Brahman). Among the followers of Advaita, as well those of other doctrines, there are believed to have appeared Jivanmuktas, ones liberated while alive. These individuals (commonly called Mahatmas, great souls, among Hindus) are those who realised the oneness of their self and the universal spirit called Brahman.
Adi Shankara’s Bhashyas (commentaries) on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and theBrahma Sutras are his principal works. Although he mostly adhered to traditional means of commenting on the Brahma Sutra, there are a number of original ideas and arguments to establish that the essence of Upanishads is Advaita. He taught that it was only through direct knowledge that one could realize the Brahman.
Adi Shankara’s opponents accused him of teaching Buddhism in the garb of Hinduism, because his non-dualistic ideals seemed rather radical to contemporary Hindu philosophy. However, although Advaita proposes the theory of Maya, explaining the universe as a “trick of a magician”, Adi Shankara and his followers see this as a consequence of their basic premise that Brahman alone is real. Their idea of Maya emerges from their belief in the reality of Brahman, as opposed to Buddhist doctrines ofemptiness, which emerge from the empirical Buddhist approach of observing the nature of reality.
At the time of Adi Shankara’s life, Hinduism was increasing in influence in India at the expense of Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism was divided into innumerable sects, each quarreling with the others. The followers of Mimamsa and Sankhya philosophy were atheists, insomuch that they did not believe in God as a unified being. Besides these atheists, there were numerous theistic sects. There were also those who rejected the Vedas, like the Charvakas.
Adi Shankara held discourses and debates with the leading scholars of all these sects and schools of philosophy to controvert their doctrines. He unified the theistic sects into a common framework of Shanmata system. In his works, Adi Shankara stressed the importance of the Vedas, and his efforts helped Hinduism regain strength and popularity. Many trace the present worldwide domination of Vedanta to his works. He travelled on foot to various parts of India to restore the study of the Vedas.
Even though he lived for only thirty-two years, his impact on Bharata or Ancient India and on Hinduism was striking. He reintroduced a purer form of Vedic thought. His teachings and tradition form the basis of Smartism and have influenced Sant Mat lineages. He is the main figure in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta. He was the founder of the Daśanāmi Sampradāya of Hindu monasticism and Ṣaṇmata of Smarta tradition. He introduced the Pañcāyatana form of worship.
Adi Shankara, a Hindu philosopher of the Advaita Vedanta school, wrote many works in his life-time of thirty two years; however, many works thought to be of his authorship are debated and questioned as to their authorship today. His works deal with logically establishing the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta as he saw it in the Upanishads. He formulates the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta by validating his arguments on the basis of quotations from the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures. He gives a high priority to svānubhava (personal experience) of the student. Also, a large portion of his works is polemical in nature. He directs his polemics mostly against the Sankhya, Bauddha, Jaina, Vaisheshika and other non-vedantic Hindu philosophies.
Traditionally, his works are classified under Bhāṣya (commentary), Prakaraṇa grantha (philosophical treatise) and Stotra (devotional hymn). The commentaries serve to provide a consistent interpretation of the scriptural texts from the perspective of Advaita Vedanta. The philosophical treatises provide various methodologies to the student to understand the doctrine. The devotional hymns are rich in poetry and piety, serving to highlight the helplessness of the devotee and the glory of the deity. A partial list of his works is given below.
2 Prakaraṇa grantha
4.1 Collections of Works
4.2 Brahmasutra Bhashya
4.3 Bhagavadgita Bhashya
Adi Shankara wrote Bhāṣya (commentaries) on
Aitareya Upaniṣad (Rigveda)
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (Śukla Yajurveda)
Īśa Upaniṣad (Śukla Yajurveda)
Taittirīya Upaniṣad (Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda)
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda)
Chāndogya Upaniṣad (samaveda)
Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad (Atharvaveda) and Gauḍapāda Kārika
Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (Atharvaveda)
Praśna Upaniṣad (Atharvaveda)
Vishnu Sahasranama (Mahabhārata)
Adi Shankara wrote the following treatises
Vivekacūḍāmaṇi (Crest-Jewel of Wisdom)
Upadeśasāhasri (A thousand teachings)
Siddhānta Tattva Vindu
Nirguṇa Mānasa Pūja
Adi Shankara composed many hymns on Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha and Subrahmanya
Adi Sankara’s Stotras
Anathma Vigarhana Prakaranam
Bhagawan Manasa Pooja
Brahma Jnanavali Mala
Ganesha Pancha Ratnam
Guru Paduka Panchakam
Hanumath Pancha Ratnam
Jyotir Linga Stotram
Kala Bhairava Ashtakam
Kalpa Shaki Stavam
Kanaka Dhara Stotra
Lakshmi Nrsimha Karavalamba Stotra
Lalita Pancha Ratnam
Mantra Matruka Pushpa Mala Stavam
Nirguna Manasa Puja
Prashnottara Ratna Malika
Prata Smarana Stotram
Shakti Peetha Stotram
Sharada Bhujanga Prayathashtaka
Shiva Manasa Pooja
Siddhanta Tattva Vindu
Siva Manasa Puja
Uma Maheswara Stotra
Vishnu Bhujanga Stotram
Vedasaara Shiva Stuti
& Many More…
They have been the most important figures in the recent history of Hindu philosophy. In their writings and debates, they provided polemics against the non-Vedantic schools of Sankhya, Vaisheshika etc. Thus they paved the way for Vedanta to be the dominant and most widely followed tradition among the schools of Hindu philosophy. The Vedanta school stresses most on the Upanishads (which are themselves called Vedanta, End or culmination of the Vedas), unlike the other schools that gave importance to the ritualistic Brahmanas, or to texts authored by their founders. The Vedanta schools hold that the Vedas, which include the Upanishads, are unauthored, forming a continuous tradition of wisdom transmitted orally. Thus the concept of apaurusheyatva (“being unauthored”) came to be the guiding force behind the Vedanta schools. However, along with stressing the importance of Vedic tradition, Adi Shankara gave equal importance to the personal experience of the student. Logic, grammar, Mimamsa and allied subjects form main areas of study in all the Vedanta schools. Regarding meditation, Shankara refuted the system of Yoga and its disciplines as a direct means to attain moksha, rebutting the argument that it can be obtained through concentration of the mind. His position is that the mental states discovered through the practices of Yoga can be indirect aids to the gain of knowledge, but cannot themselves give rise to it. According to his philosophy, knowledge of brahman springs from inquiry into the words of the Upanishads, and the knowledge of brahman that shruti provides cannot be obtained in any other way.
It has to be noted that it is generally considered that for Shankara the Absolute Reality is attributeless and impersonal since Shankara himself is attributed to composing the popular 8th century Hindu devotional composition Bhaja Govindam (literal meaning, “Worship Govinda”). This work of Adi Shankara is considered as a good summary of Advaita Vedanta and underscores the view that devotion to God, Govinda, is not only an important part of general spirituality, but the concluding verse drives through the message of Shankara: “Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool! Other than chanting the Lord’s names, there is no other way to cross the life’s ocean”. Bhaja Govindam invokes the almighty in the aspect of Vishnu; it is therefore very popular not only with Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s immediate followers, the Smarthas, but also with Vaishnavas and others.
A well known verse, recited in the Smarta tradition, in praise of Adi Shankara is:
श्रुति स्मृति पुराणानामालयं करुणालयं|
नमामि भगवत्पादशंकरं लॊकशंकरं ||
Śruti smṛti purāṇānāṃālayaṃ karuṇālayaṃ|
Namāmi Bhagavatpādaśaṅkaraṃ lokaśaṅkaraṃ||
I salute the compassionate abode of the Vedas, Smritis and Puranas known as Shankara Bhagavatpada, who makes the world auspicious.