The Legend of Shankara – 1: A Prodigy is Born

The tall ascetic stood erect, a trident in his right hand, his matted locks reaching his waist. His hair was wet with the waters of the divine stream that trickled from his head, and washed his feet before making its way earthwards. The ferocious serpent that he wore like an ornament in his neck, hissed and bared its fangs, its tongue slithering in and out of its mouth. The ascetic was fair, well-built and wore the skin of a tiger as a loin cloth. In his forehead, right in the center, was another eye, a third eye, which was closed at the moment. His skin, fair like camphor, was smeared with ash, and glowed with a heavenly light. His neck was dark blue, like indigo, and he wore small anklets in both his feet. 

He looked down at Aryamba and smiled, his smile dispersing the morning mist.

‘One brilliant child with short life span, or a fool with a long life, what do you want?’, his voice boomed at the kneeling figure of Aryamba. 

Was it the ascetic speaking?

Aryamba did not know, she dared not look up as she kneeled in front of this divine figure, her head touching the ground near his feet. She shivered with happiness, and nervousness. 

Was she dreaming? Was it really Shankara?

Aryamba trembled with emotion. Her lips moved, but words failed to come out. 

Her head still on the ground, she looked up. The ascetic was real, and he was smiling at her, his left hand in the abhaya mudra, the benevolent pose. 

‘Speak up Aryamba, what do you want?’ he said again. 

‘An illustrious son, O Shankara!’, Aryamba muttered under her breath, her voice a mere whisper. 

It was enough for Shankara, for he could even hear the thought in her head. He was the one who had destined it to happen this way. He was the cause and the end of it all. It was his will that moved the stars in their paths, which fired the sun and gave life to creatures on earth. He was the jyotirlinga, the primordial shaft of fire which Narayana, the dark-skinned God, could not measure. And he had appeared for Aryamba to grant her what she had so fervently prayed for, for so many years – an offspring. 

Aryamba and Shivaguru, had been childless for several years. In all their prayers, all their penances, they had asked for only one thing – a child. It seems their prayers had been answered now. 

Tathastu’, Shankara said. So be it. 

And then he disappeared. 

Aryamba woke up from the dream. 

It was not dawn yet. The night sky outside her modest dwelling had lightened in the east, and the birds were stirring. She could hear the current of the Periyar which flowed some distance away from their house. 

‘Was it a dream?’, she asked herself, ‘or real?’

Shivaguru was already up; it was the brahma muhurta, the time of the day when the Gods are about, the ideal time for ablutions and prayer. 

Aryamba got up from the bed and proceeded to perform the morning duties with a heavy heart. When Shivaguru returned from his bath in the river, she told him of her dream. Together they knelt in the small temple in their house, and prayed to Shankara once more, to make the dream come true……….

Few months later, when Aryamba gave birth to a healthy baby boy, like Shankara had promised, they named him Shankara, after their deity, the immortal ascetic who lived in the Kailasha mountains. ……

To be continued……

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