As a child, I grew up with the awareness that our Guru is Sadguru Swami Nigamananda Saraswati. Morning and evening prayers were a ritual that we never skipped unless we were out. Along with singing bhajans, we got to read some books that spoke at length about his philosophy, his teachings and his assurance. His ideology and slogan was,’Shankarer Mata’ (the advaita or non-dualistic doctrines of the 8th century spiritual reformist, Adi Shankaracharya) and ‘Gauranger Patha’(the path of devotion adopted by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu); a harmonious blend of the highest enlightenment (Jnana) and universal love (bhakti). I had only read about Adi Shakaracharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in our history books. Since we used to perform Gaura leela, I knew about Mahaprabhu’s pastimes but hardly anything about Adi Shankaracharya.
In 1983, we got to watch the movie Adi Shankaracharya by G.V.Iyer. Adi Shankaracharya was a Sanskrit movie with English subtitles and had bagged 4 National awards. Ever since the first time I watched the movie, the scenes were imprinted in my mind. I watched it quite a few times and I wouldn’t miss it whenever it was telecast in the Doordarshan channels. The movie narrated the life and deeds of Adi Shankaracharya, the champion of Advaita philosophy, according to which there is no duality in the universe, everything is made up the source - Brahman.
During my recent visit to Puri, as we were walking down the bylanes of the spiritual city, we arrived at the gate of Govardhan Matha on the Swargadwara road. We went in and were in awe at the sight of the beautifully built Maa Vimala Temple. The deities in Govardhan Matha are Lord Jagannath (Bhairava) and Maa Vimala (Bhairavi), the presiding deity of Puri. The deities of Govardhananath Krishna and Ardhanariswara Shiva installed by Adi Shankaracharya are also worshipped here. We went by the huge pond beside Vimala temple and came across a vedic education centre, a yoga school, a vyayam shala to train athletes, a dispensary and a goshala. There was a board which pointed out the uniqueness of the four Mathas established by Adi Shankaracharya in the four cardinal directions.
Adi Shankara was an 8th century Indian Hindu philosopher whose teachings had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism. Born into a family in Kalady, Kerala in southern India, Adi Shankara was inclined towards spirituality from a very young age. At the tender age of eight, burning with the desire for liberation, he left home in search of his Guru, walked all the way to the plains of Narmada and found his Guru, Sri Govindapada. By the age of sixteen, he mastered all the Vedas and the six Vedangas from his guru and thereafter he travelled widely, dispersing spiritual knowledge and spreading the tenets of Advaita Vedanta.
ब्रह्म सत्यं जगन्मिथ्या जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः ।
अनेन वेद्यं सच्छास्त्रमिति वेदान्तडिण्डिमः ॥
Brahma satyam jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah
anena vedyam sacchastram iti vedantadindimah
- Brahma Jnanavali Mala
“Brahman, Pure Consciousness, is the Absolute Reality. The world is unreal. The jivam(self) is Brahman itself and non different.This is the correct understanding of the Sastra, the thundering declaration of Vedanta ” Also known as Shri Adi Shankaracharya and Bhagavatpada Acharya (the guru at the feet of Lord), he was a reformist who critiqued the ritual oriented schools and cleansed the Vedic religious practices of ritualistic excesses. Adi Shankara is best remembered for his remarkable reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures and his commentaries on the Vedic canon (Brahma Sutras, Principal Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita).
In Nirvana Satkam, he sang:
अहं निर्विकल्पॊ निराकार रूपॊ विभुत्वाच्च सर्वत्र सर्वेन्द्रियाणाम्
न चासंगतं नैव मुक्तिर् न मेय: चिदानन्द रूप: शिवोऽहम् शिवॊऽहम् ॥
Aham nirvikalpo nirakara rupo vibhutvatcha sarvatra sarvendriyanam
Na cha sangatham naiva muktir na meyaha chidananda roopah shivoham shivoham
- I am without any attributes and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (Mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, everytime, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.
Seeing the struggle and miseries of the human race, he said:
मा कुरु धनजनयौवनगर्वं हरति निमेषात्कालः सर्वम् ।
मायामयमिदमखिलं बुद्ध्वा ब्रह्मपदं त्वं प्रविश विदित्वा ।।
ma kuru dhana jana yauvana garvam harati nimesatkalah sarvam, mayamayamidamakhilam hitva brahmapadam tvam pravisa viditva
- Bhaja Govindam by Adi Shankaracharya
Do not take pride in wealth, friends, and youth. Time takes away all these in the blink of an eye. Free yourself from the illusion of the world of maya and may you know the abode of Brahman and enter it.
His teachings on the philosophy have tremendously influenced various sects of Hinduism and have contributed to the development of the modern Indian thought.
Adi Shankaracharya established four Mathas or monastries in the four cardinal directions of India to uphold Sanatana Dharma and propagate the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. They continue to be beacons of knowledge and spirituality. Each of the four mathas of Shankaracharya was assigned one of the Vedas to study and propagate and connected with a Mahavakya - a grand, profound saying. Four disciples of Adi Shankaracharya, were given the responsibility of managing one of the mathas of Shankaracharya.
In Eastern India:
Sri Govardhana Matha, Puri, Odisha.
The Veda assigned is Rig Veda
First Acharya of the Matha – Sri Padmapadacharya (direct disciple of Adi Shankaracharya)
Deities worshiped here are Shree Jagannatha and Goddess Vimala
Mahavakya – Prajnanam Brahma (Brahman is pure consciousness) of Aitareya Upanishad, Rig Veda.
In Western India:
Sri Sharada Peetham, Dwarka, Gujarat
Veda – Sama Veda
First Acharya of the Peetham – Sri Sureshwaracharya (direct disciple of Adi Shankaracharya)
Deities worshiped here – Shree Siddheshwara and Goddess Bhadra Kali
Mahavakya –Tattvamasi (Thou art That) of the Chandogya Upanishad, Sama Veda.
In Northern India:
Sri Jyotir Matha, Garhwal region, Uttarakhand.
Veda – Atharva Veda
First Acharya of the Matha – Sri Totakacharya (direct disciple of Adi Shankara)
Deities worshiped here – Shree Narayana and Goddess Purnagiri
Mahavakya: Ayam atma brahma(This Self is Brahman) of Mandukya Upanishad, Atharva Veda
In Southern India:
Sri Sringeri Peetham, Chikmaglur, Karnataka
Veda – Jajur Veda
First Acharya of the Matha – Sri Hastamalakacharya (direct disciple of Adi Shankaracharya)
Deities worshiped here – Shree Rameshwar and Goddess Kamakshi
Mahavakya: Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman) of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Jajur Veda.
अमृतं चैव मृत्युश्च द्वयं देहे प्रतिष्ठितं |
मृत्युमापद्यते मोहात्सत्येनापद्यतेSमृतं || amrtam caiva mrtyusca dvayam dehepratisthitam mohadupadyate mrtyuh satyenopadyate mrtam - Adi Shankaracharya Immortality and death both reside in the body. Death comes from temptation and immortality come from the truth.
At Sri Govardhan Matha, Puri, taken from My Travel Diaries