The Legend of Shankara – 3: Shankara: The Young Renunciant

It had been several years since Shivaguru’s death, and Aryamba was finding it difficult to make ends meet. She could not go out for work in the village, it was forbidden, and Shankara was only eight years old. Besides, all he had time for was his scriptures, and contemplation. He performed his daily religious activities well, which is all that Aryamba expected from him. After all, what could he do, the poor fatherless child? Thus, she pitied herself, and her son, and hoped and prayed that they would see better days once Shankara grew up and found some work. For now, they had to find sustenance only on the generosity of others. 

The Namboodiri community took care of Aryamba and her fatherless child. Every now and then, someone would generously donate a sack of rice which, along with the vegetables and fruits that grew in their yard, would help them get by. Thus, their days passed in pious penury. 

Their poverty, however, was not the only worry on Aryamba’s mind. The young Shankara wanted to be a renunciant!! He wanted to give up his worldly possessions, whatever little he had, and become an ascetic. Several times he had approached Aryamba for permission, since he wasn’t the one to do anything without his mother’s permission, but Aryamba had refused outright. 

‘I will be all alone, Shankara, if you leave,’ Aryamba had said to the young Shankara when he had come to her asking for her permission to become an ascetic. 

‘What will I do? Who will look after me when I am old? What will happen if I die here, all alone, without anyone to look after me? You are my only family, Shankara, why do you want to leave me?’ Aryamaba would plead to her son, teary-eyed, and Shankara would have to give up his insistence for some time. 

One day, while Shankara was taking a bath in the Periyar, a crocodile caught his foot and started dragging him down into the river. The other villagers bathing at the river, ran back to inform Aryamba, alarmed at what they saw!

Aryamaba rushed to the riverside, only to see Shankara standing waist-deep in water, and a crocodile, which had held his leg, thrashing about in the water, trying to drag him in. Shankara’s face, however, showed no fear, or urgency; he did not even resist the pull of the crocodile, just stood there and let the animal do its job. 

Shankara!’, Aryamba yelled. ‘Come out of the water son, fight the beast.’

She threw a rope towards Shankara

‘Pull at the rope son, pull yourself out of the water. The beast will drag you in.’

‘It is no use mother,’ Shankara said, calm as ever. 

‘The beast has been sent by the Adi Yogi, the one you saw in your dream, the one who bestowed me upon you. The beast will take me away with him, if I cannot fulfil my purpose in this life which has been granted to me by the ascetic Shankara. Unless you give me your permission for becoming a monk, mother, my duties in this life will remain unfulfilled, and the beast will drag me away.’

Aryamba was stunned! How did Shankara know about her dream, and the tall ascetic who had visited her in the dream? Could it be true that her Shankara was bestowed upon her for a purpose? How else could his behavior, and his predilection towards asceticism be explained? Is this why he had been able to master all the Vedas at such a tender age? Was he a gift from the Adi Yogi, the Neelakanth who lives on the Kailash Parvata?

There was no time to think, Shankara was now chest-deep in water and the crocodile’s tail was no longer visible, so deep it had gone down in the water. 

‘I give my permission son. You do whatever it is that God wills you to do. Just come out of the water, please,’ Aryamba cried. 

Suddenly, the thrashing about in the water ceased, and the villagers could see the crocodile swim away from Shankara. They had witnessed a miracle!!

To be continued……

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