The Legend of Shankara – 2: Destiny Intervenes

The young child with skin like molten copper stood still, holding a bunch of straws in his hands, his forehead marked with sandalwood paste. An unstitched loincloth was the only covering upon his body. For a child as young as he was, he stood strangely still and composed, considering the occasion. His face was tranquil, and his eyes glowed with the knowledge of the Vedas which he had memorized in a very short time. There were others too, standing around him, menfolk of his village. But none of them were as calmly radiant as he was. Some were tired, some sad, their brows creased with worry for the child and his future. 

There were no womenfolk present, they had all stayed at home, grieving, while the men of the small village of Kaladicarried the dead body of Shivaguru to their community’s cremation ground. 

There being no adult male in the family, the Namboodiri community, to which Shankara and his family belonged, had decided to help the bereaved family with the cremation. The village elders had led the small procession out of the village and into the community’s cremation grounds, guiding the young Shankara along with them – after all, he had to perform the last rites of his father!

Shankara had gone along with the village elders, chanting hymns from the scriptures he had learnt. His father had helped him lay hands on as many manuscripts as he could, he had tried to feed young Shankara’s voracious curiosity as best he could, but he was a man of limited means and Shankara’s appetite was unlimited. 

When all the manuscripts in his home, and village and community were exhausted, Shivaguru had told Shankara, ‘You need a Guru now, Shankara. We cannot help you beyond this. It is only at the feet of a learned master that you can learn more, and really blossom. I see the divine spark in you, son, and I will help find a suitable guru for you.’

And indeed, Shivaguru, had started to look for a suitable teacher for his prodigious son Shankara, but fate had willed otherwise. After a short illness, Shivaguru died when Shankara was just four years old, leaving his family’s sustenance to his wife, Aryamba, and his young son. 

But mortal sustenance was not something which bothered Shankara as he stood in the cremation ground, straw in hand, ready to kindle his father’s pyre. He had to find a guru!!

Shankara,’ a village elder said gently, breaking his reverie, and reminding him of the ceremonies which were still pending. 

Shankara looked up and saw the village priest put a piece of camphor at the end of the bunch of straw that he held, and light it up.

‘Start your pradakshina son,’ the priest said, and Shankara started his perambulation around the pyre. Round and round he went, chanting the invocations to the gods, requesting them to let Shivaguru’s soul merge into the eternal consciousness.

As he touched the pyre of dried wood, in which his father slept, with the lighted bunch of straw which he held in his hands, the wood caught fire. Tentatively at first, then with greater conviction, the flames crept up the logs, feeding on them. Soon the pyre was crackling and burning with red, yellow and orange flames which flickered and ascended into the skies, carrying Shivaguru’s soul with them, delivering it to the gods that be.

Shankara stood and watched the whole ceremony in a detached manner, his mind dwelling on deeper philosophical questions of aatma, and parmaatma

Later, the procession returned to their village and deposited the young Shankara into the care of his grieving mother. 

To be continued……

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By Divya Narain

Additional Professor in Plastic Surgery, doting father, loving husband, newbie author. Love travel and literature. Love reading religion, politics and history!

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