History of Adhi Shankara

Adhi Shankara : Incarnation of Guru Dakshinamoorthy

About 2500 years ago, when the spirituality of people was in decline, all the Gods and Rishis went to Kailash and pleaded with Lord Shiva to revive the world. Lord Shiva agreed to their request and informed them that he would soon be born in this world. Lord Brahma, Indra and others also agreed to be born in this world to help Lord Shiva .

In Kaladi, Kerala, a learned brahmin, by the name of Sivaguru, and his wife, Aryambal, spent their life in pooja and in giving alms to poor and in other good deeds. This childless couple went to Trichur and performed puja for 48 days to Lord Vadakakkunathan (Lord Shiva) and prayed for a son. Lord Shiva melted in their devotion and appeared before them and told them “I am extremely happy with  your devotion and you will get what you want. But tell me whether you want a number of dull children or a son who is extremely intelligent, who will live for a short period only” The couple replied the decision could not be theirs as the Lord knows what is good for them.

Lord Daksinamurthy (Lord Shiva), pleased with the reply, was born to Aryambal under the star “Thiruvathirai”. As the Lord had already promised that he will be born to do good to this world, the child was named Sankara. “Sam” means prosperity and “Karothi” means to do. All the visitors stood in awe at the divinity of the child and said “This is not an ordinary child”.

Sankara’s “Kanagathara Stotram”, drives away Poverty

As Sankara grew up, he attracted everybody with his intelligence and kindness. At the age of four, he lost his father. At the age of five, he was initiated in Brahmacharyam and was sent to Gurukul for learning of scriptures. As per the practice of Brahmachari, Sankara happened to go to the house of a very poor lady asking for alms. The lady did not have even a single grain of rice in her house to give. However she unhesitatingly gave him the single Amla fruit she kept for herself on the Dwadasi day as she could send the Brahmachari empty handed. Sankara was moved by the selflessness and poverty of the lady and prayed to Goddess Lakshmi who appeared in person and showered a rain of golden coins on the poor lady’s house. The beautiful sloka came to be called “Kanaka Dhara Stotram”.

Initiation of Sanyasam

One day, the rishis came to him and reminded him of his duty to the land in spreading spirituality. Sankara agreed it was time to become Sanyasi and go all over the country to kindle religious fervour.

One day when Sankara was taking bath, a crocodile caught hold of his leg. Sankara called out to his mother. Aryambal came running and to her horror she found her son in the grip of a crocodile and she cried that she did not know how to help her son.

Sankara told his mother that his life was nearing an end, but if he could become a Sanyasi, he could start a new life as sanyasi. Thus Sri Sankara obtained permission from his mother to become a sanyasi.

Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada marveled at Sri Sankara and took him as Shishya

Sankara went in search of a Guru to be formally initiated as a Sanyasi. At the banks of river Narmada, he found the river gushing forth into floods. By using his powers, he encapsulated the river in his Kamandal (a vessel Sanyasis carry) and released it in the banks of the river. Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada, an ascetic who saw this, marvelled at Sri Sankara and took him as Shishya.

Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada taught vedas to Sri Sankara. He also taught about Advaita, the principle that everyone in this world is a manifestation of God and that God and Atman are one and the same. He advised Sri Sankara to go out in the world and spread this truth throughout the country

Sri Padmapada

Sri Sankara went to Kasi and by that time he had a lot of disciples. One of them, Sanandha, was drying the clothes of his Guru and suddenly Sri Sankara called him to the other bank of the river as he needed the clothes urgently. Sanandha, little realizing that he would drown, started walking into the river. However, the Grace of his Guru resulted in a lotus materializing wherever he kept his foot. Sri Sankara named him as Padmapada (lotus feet).

Lord Shiva presented himself along with Visalakshi and blessed Sri Sankara

Once, in Kasi, when Sri Sankara was going to the Viswanath Temple, his path was blocked by an “untouchable” who was accompanied by his wife and four dogs. Sri Sankara’s disciples shouted at him to make way, and to keep a distance. The untouchable smiled and said, “According to your principle of Advaita, which you practice, all the jivatma are same as God. How do you ask me to go? How am I different from your Acharya ? What you say is unreasonable. How can I go away from myself?”

Sri Sankara realised that he was not an ordinary person and understood that it was Lord Shiva Himself who had come along with His consort and the four Vedas. He prostrated before the Lord and sang five slokas called “Manisha Panchakam”. Lord Shiva presented himself along with Visalakshi and blessed Sri Sankara.

Argument between Sankara and an Old Sage

When sankara was 16, a very old Brahmin of ill health started arguments with him about Brahmasutra Bhashyam which Sankara had written. Sankara was astounded by his intelligence and arguments but they continued their discussion. The arguments continued for days together and the more Sankara argued, his ideas crystallized more and more and he understood that the old man was none other than Vyasa Rishi, who was the author of Brahmasutra. Sri Sankara said that he has done a great disrespect to the sage by entering into an argument. Vyasa Rishi said ” I fully agree with your Bhashyarn and I wanted to establish that yours is correct. I bless that you should live another 16 years and you should spread this Advaita throughout the country

Sharada Peetham, First Mutt by Adi Sankara

Sri Sankara learnt that there was a great learned person by the name Mandana Mishra who lived in Mahishmati and who followed the Karma Mimaamsa method of devotion. Sri Sankara arrived at his house and found his house was closed and Mandana Mishra was carrying out some rituals inside his house. Sri Sankara entered the house by using his powers. Mandana Mishra became very angry and shouted at Sri Sankara, but Sri Sankara smiled and explained the uselessness of such mere rituals.

Mandana Mishra admired the intelligence of Sri Sankara and started discussions with him after completing the rituals. Sri Sankara said that there should be a judge to decide the winner and suggested that Sarasavani, the wife of Mandana Mishra, to be the judge. Sarasavani suggested that each of them should wear a garland of flowers and whichever garland fades first, he would be the loser. Naturally, Sri Sankara won. As per the original condition, Mandana Mishra became an ascetic and started to leave the house. Unable to bear the separation, Sarasavani stood transfixed and told Sri Sankara that according to our faith, the husband and wife, even though have two bodies, are spiritually one and she would be incomplete without her husband. Sri Sankara accepted this and started discussion with this lady. Sarasavani showered questions like rain and Sri Sankara gave very beautiful answers and Sarasavani acknowledged him, and followed Sri Sankara and her husband’s footsteps.

In their travel they reached Sringeri in Karnataka, which is on the banks of Tungabhadra. While Sri Sankara and Mandana Mishra were walking, Sarsavani did not move and stood in the sands of Tungabhadra. Sri Sankara turned back and realised by his divine powers that Sarasavani did not want to proceed any further and created a seat for her for spreading the Advaita. This seat is today called the Sharada Peetham or the Seat of Sharada. This was the first Mutt installed by Sri Sankara, with the direction that all the heads of the Mutts will be called Sankaracharyas and they will have a lineage of Shishyas and disciples.

``Thotaka Ashtakam`` by Thotakacharya:

Sri Sankara, with his three principal disciples, namely, Padmapada, Sureshwara  (Mandana Mishra) and Hastaamalaka, went from Place to place, and preached Advaita. One of the other disciples, Giri, while listening to the discourses, would not ask any question, and would be silent all the time. The other disciples thought that Giri was a dumb idiot. One day, when all the disciples were ready to listen to Sri Sankara’s discourses, Giri burst forth into eight slokas, in the meter of Thotaka, in praise of his Guru Sri Sankara. On hearing this, all the disciples felt ashamed and praised Giri. These slokas are called “Thotaka Ashtakam”. Giri was named Thotakacharya by Sri Sankara.

Adi Shankara's Pilgrimage 1

When Sri Sankara visited the temple at Thiruvidaimarudur in Thanjavur district of Tamilnadu, the learned Saivites did not agree with his philosophy of Advaita. As they reached the Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple, there was a thunderous statement “Advaitarn Satyam”. This was repeated thrice and it was also followed by a hand which came out of the Linga affirming the truth. All the learned persons acknowledged the principle of Advaita and accepted Sri Sankara as their Guru. Even today, there is a Sankara Mutt at Thiruvidaimarudur and there is a linga with a hand materialising out of it.


Sri Sankara visited Chidambaram renowned as the site where Lord Siva as Nataraja had performed the cosmic dance. He paid homage at the place where his glorious Guru, Gowdapada, had received instruction in Sanskrit from Patanjali. He established the Panchakshara and Annakarshana Yantras at the temple of Lord Nataraja.


Sri Sankara visited Thiruvanaikka, near Tirchy in Tamilnadu. In this temple, the Goddess Akhilandeswari was having a fierce power and people who went to have her darshan could not stand the fierceness of this Goddess. Sri Sankara created two sets of earrings which are called Tatankam and he presented these to the Goddess. The fierceness of the deity subsided. These Tatankam, the earrings have been maintained since then by the Acharyas of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam.


Sri Sankara visited Tirupathi and recited the Sloka “Vishnu Padadi Kesanta Stotra” which describes the Lord from his foot to the head. He wanted the people to visit the Lord in great numbers and get his blessings and he established the janakarshana Yantra for worship. Since then the number of devotees of the temple increased and is increasing day by day.

Arjuna tree is the tree of “Marutha” and the place where Lord Shiva appears as Linga under this “Marutha” tree is called Arjuna Kshetra. Thiruvidaimarudur which Sri Sankara visited is called Madhyaarjunam. Srisailam, in Andhra, is called Mallikarjunam as Lord Shiva resides under a Marutha Tree which is entwined by jasmine creepers. Sri Sankara visited this tree and became ecstatic on seeing the Linga at the foot of this tree. His happiness flowed like the waves of a flood and became a sloka called Sivanandalahari.

Near Srisailam, there is a forest called Hatakeshwaram, that no man enters. Sri Sankara entered this place and did penance for many days. During this time, a Kapalika, by name Kirakashan appeared before him. Kapalikas are a set of people who live in the burial grounds and pray to God by giving human and animal sacrifice. They were against Advaita which preaches love and affection and shuns violence. He asked Sri Sankara that he should give his body as a human sacrifice to Lord Shiva. Sri Sankara was happy to hear this request and agreed. Kirakashan was about to cut off Sri Sankara’s head when Lord Narasimha appeared in the form of a lion and killed Kirakashan.

Adi Shankara's Pilgrimage 2

Travelling across the Himalayas Sri Sankara reached Badrinath, where Sri Mahavishnu appeared before him and directed him to retrieve an idol from the Alakananda river bed and install it suitably in a temple. Sri Sankara carried out the direction and the idol of Lord Badrinarayan is being worshipped even to this day.

Sri Sankara reached Kedarnath, where he laid down his mortal body and using his yogic powers, travelled to Kailash with his Sukshma Sarira (spiritual body). He paid obeisance to Lord Shiva, who was holding court in Kailash with Devi Parvati by his side.

He sang in praise of Shiva’s form, from his head to foot and again from foot to the head. These verses have come to be known as “Shiva Padadi Kesanta Stotram” and “Shiva Kesadi Padanta Stotram”. Shiva was pleased and gave five Sphatika (crystal) Lingas to Sri Sankara.

Sri Sankara descended to earth and assumed his mortal body again. He visited the Pasupatinath temple in Nepal and establish. the worship rituals which are being followed even to this day. He also installed the Mukti Linga. one of the five Lingas he had been given by Lord Shiva himself.

Back in Kedarnath, Sri Sankara installed therein another Sphatika Linga that he had brought from Kailash. The “Dwadasa Jyotorlinga Stotram” celebrates the glory of Kedarnath.

Continuing his travel Sankara went to Chidambaram where he installed the Moksha Linga, one of the Panchalingas, and in Sringeri he installed another, the Bhogalinga.

Establishment of Kanchi matam at Kanchipuram

He finally reached Kanchipurarn where he installed the Sri Chakra in the temple of Sri Kamakshi. In Kanchi, he established the Kamakoti Matham and kept for his own worship the last of the Panchalingas, the Yogalinga. This is the same sphatika linga of Chandramouleeswara that is being worshipped at Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam everyday by successive Acharyas even now.

Kanchi  was a great intellectual centre attracting scholars and teachers of all faiths and denominations. As Sankara had conquered one and all by his debating powers and by the force of his Advaita Philosophy, he was hailed as the jagadguru (world teacher) and Kanchi Math came to be known as the “Sarvajna , Peetam” (the seat of Supreme Knowledge).

His worldly work now complete, Sri Sankara wanted to be united with The One. He worshipped Devi Kamakshi, reciting the “Tripurasundari Veda Padastavam”.  As the verses ended, Sri Sankara united with Devi Parasakthi.

There is an exclusive sannidhi (shrine) were there is an image of Sri Adhi Sankarar. This is behind Sri Kamakshi’s sannidhi and the divine presence of the great Acharya is still felt by one and all. As he continues to shower His grace upon all the world through the living presence of the Kanchi Acharyas who worship the same Tripurasundari-Chandramouliswara idols that were worshipped by Sri Adhi Sankarar.