The Legend of Shankara 4 : Shankara leaves home

The young Shankara, just a little over eight years old now, but not yet nine, stood in front of his former dwelling; the humble quarters he used to call home. He was dressed in the saffron robes of a renunciant, his head shaved, his forehead marked with the horizontal ‘tilaka’ of Shiva. A small dot of vermilion marked the place on his forehead between his eyebrows where his ‘aagya chakra’ was, the chakra he needed to awaken to attain enlightenment. And this could not happen without knowledge, and meditation, and a suitable guru to show the way. 

He had learnt by heart all that there was to learn, he knew the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gitopanishad – the song of the God; he knew everything in theory, but it was no use to him without a guru igniting the true light of wisdom inside him. He wanted to learn Advaita, the philosophy of non-duality, the oneness of god and man, of nature and creation, of animate beings and inanimate objects. He wanted to sit at the feet of the master who had written Karika, the commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, and receive wisdom from him. For this he had to renounce home and go in search of the master. 

And thus, he had donned the saffron robes of an ascetic, shaved his head, and had renounced worldly wealth and relations, to pursue the true knowledge of Advaita

He stood before his former home now, and proclaimed, ‘Bhikshaam dehi!’, asking for alms from the woman who was once his worldly mother. 

Aryamba stood in the doorway of her house, her eyes brimming with tears, looking at the young child who was her son, and who had renounced the world now, and stood in front of her asking for alms. She had some grain clutched in a cloth bag in her hand, ready to initiate her son into monkhood, but her will failed her. She could not bring herself to pour that grain into Shankara’s bowl, and let him go.

Bhikshaam dehi, Amma!’, Shankara said again, loudly this time, breaking Aryamba’s reverie. 

Aryamba stirred and moved forward, unwillingly, pouring the rice from the little sack into Shankara’s bowl. 

Kalyan’, Shankara said, as Aryamba stepped back after giving alms to the young sanyasin. 

‘Oh, Shankara!’, Aryamaba burst into tears. ‘Who will look after me when I am old? Who will do my samskara when I die? Without someone to light my pyre and invoke the gods, what will happen to my aatma, my soul? How will it find peace? My aatma will forever be condemned to wander around in the preta yoni without someone to perform my rites?’ 

She cried inconsolably, standing alone in the house that she and her husband had built. 

‘Don’t worry Amma. I will be there when you really need me. I will come back for tending to you in your last days. I will perform your rites. I promise!’, Shankara said, and moved on to the next house.

The villagers waited in front of their houses to give alms to this young sanyasin from their village, the one who had escaped from the jaws of the crocodile in the Poorna river to renounce this world and become an ascetic. His fame was already spreading in the nearby villages. People had started to come to see the ‘Crocodile ghat’ where Shankara had been given a new lease of life by the grace of Shiva. 

As Shankara moved from one house to the other, asking for alms, people came out of their houses and gave him rice, or copper coins, or fruits, or coconut, according to their individual capacities. The whole village stood out in the streets watching him fill his bag with the alms from the village and then leave in search of his guru.  

‘Where will he go?’, they thought. 

But the other Shankara, the one who lives in a cave, high in the Kailasha mountains, had his plans for this Shankara. He will guide the footsteps of the young sanyasin towards one of his abodes, a cave by the side of a river where the immortal Shankara had appeared as a jyotirlinga, a pillar of fire. 

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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