Thus, the young sanyasin left his village, nestled deep in the dakshinam, the southern part of the country which had for millennia been known as the Jambudwipam. He had said goodbye to his mortal mother, his village Kaladi and the holy river Periyar, and had started his travels towards the heart of the jambudwipam, in the direction of the ancient kingdom of Mahishmati. Towards the east of Mahishmati, he knew, lay the holy city of Omkareshwar, on an island between the two streams of the great river Narmada, also known in the puranas as the Reva.
The island, and the river which flowed around it, were in the shape of the letter Om, the Sanskrit word which denoted the primordial sound of the pranav, or the sound of the universe. It was the sound which was there at the beginning, it was the sound which would be there in the end. It was the sound of the spinning of the galaxies in the antariksha, or the cosmos. And that was the reason why this sound, the Omkar, was revered in Sanatana dharama, since times immemorial. This sound was the god before the gods were born.
Omkareshawara was one of the jyotirlingas, the pillars of fire, where Shankara or Shiva, the primordial ascetic, the adiyogi with no beginning and no end, had manifested himself. It was one of the twelve jyotirlingas spread across the holy land of Bharatavarsha.
Shankara knew that he had to go to Omkareshwara, where the saint Govindapada or Govinda Bhagvatpada lived. His fame had spread like the light of the afternoon sun throughout the country, and Shankara wanted to become his disciple. He wanted to learn advaita from him. But will Govindapada accept Shankara as his disciple? He was a revered saint, an accomplished theologian, a gifted academician and a renowned philosopher. Why would he take under his care a nine-year-old boy from a non-descript village in the south?
Shankara did not know the way to Omkareshwara, but he met other itinerant monks along the way who helped him. He would join one group of ascetics for some time, then find another group. Thus, he made his way north, through the forests, and rivers, and mountains, and grasslands of dakshina Bharata, the land of the gods. He crossed several rivers on his way north – the Kaveri, the Krishna, the Godavari, the Tapti – and visited several pilgrimages along the way before he reached the banks of the Narmada, one of the few major rivers in the country to flow from east to west.
The Narmada was one of the seven great, holy rivers of this ancient land of the aryas, and Shankarabowed down to worship the river when he reached its banks. He crossed the river with the help of a boat and went straight to the ancient temple of Omkareshwar, where Shiva had manifested himself.
‘Where can I meet the great saint Govindapada?’, he asked the priests of the temple after he had had his darshan of the deity.
‘He will be meditating in his cave, son,’ an elderly priest answered, looking curiously at the young sadhu. ‘Why do you want to meet him?’
‘I want him to be my guru, and teach me advaita,’ Shankara answered, his young face glowing with religious fervor.
The old priest looked intently at him for a few moments, as if making up his mind, and then said, ‘Follow the river when you exit the temple, son. It will take you to a cave. Guru Govindapada will be inside. Be sure not to disturb his meditation, it is not the best way to introduce yourself!’
Shankara brought his hands together in pranam and exited the temple.
To be continued……
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