The Legend of Shankara – 9: Shankara tames the Narmada

The time of the evening sandhya was approaching, and Shankara accompanied his guru Govindapadatowards the cave for his evening meditation. Shankara was now a disciple of Govindapada and had endeared himself to his guru by his diligence, his loyalty, and his steadfastness. His service, and his devotion towards his guru was absolute. 

Pleased with his service, Govindapada had lovingly taught the tenets of Advaita to Shankara, had guided him, encouraged him to read esoteric volumes, and had explained arcane concepts patiently. 

His education was nearly complete now, and Shankara contemplated his next destination after leaving the hermitage of Govindapada, as he walked with his guru towards the cave. 

‘I will tell you where you should head next, Shankara, after I have completed my meditation,’ Govindapada said, reading Shankara’s mind.

Shankara bowed his head in reverence to his guru, as he paused outside the cave while Govindapada entered it for his prayers. 

‘Don’t let anyone disturb me, Shankara,’ Govindapada’s voice resonated from inside the cave. 

‘Yes Guruji,’ Shankara responded, and stood guard outside the mouth of the cave. 

Few dark clouds had gathered above in the skies, unnoticed, thus far, by the teacher and the taught. They rumbled now, and a few tentative drops of water fell from the sky. Shankara looked up at the sky; a storm was gathering! 

The wind had picked up speed, and another bank of dark clouds had suddenly appeared in the sky from nowhere. The winds lashed the waters of Narmada so that huge waves rose in her normally placid waters. 

As Shankara waited outside the cave, partly sheltered from the rain, which was just beginning, he looked worriedly at the skies. A bolt of lightning flashed, and the clouds thundered incessantly, heralding the beginning of the tempest. 

It had grown dark, the clouds blotting out the evening sun, and covering the sky from the east to the west. Soon, it was pouring steadily, and in torrents. 

The water level in the Narmada rose quickly, frighteningly, and the river threatened to break its banks. From where Shankara stood, the edge of the water was not very far off. If the Narmada were to break its banks, the waters would flood the cave where Sri Govindapada sat in meditation. 

This could not be allowed. 

Shankara picked up his kamandalu, the hollowed-out gourd which sanyasins used as a watercarrier and walked over to the edge of the angry river. Her waters roared, and roiled, and crashed against the island with a maddening energy, threatening to break the rock. Shankara walked to the very edge of the water and, muttering a mantra under his breath, placed his kamandalu near the edge of the river. Having planted the watercarrier firmly on the ground, Shankara walked back to the mouth of the cave, back to his post, and faced the rebellious and belligerent river once more. 

He folded his hands, praying to the river deity to respect its boundaries, and not disturb his guru who sat in meditation inside the cave. The river would not listen. She roared, and sprayed froth all over the banks from her tumultuous waters. 

Shankara was suddenly angry. His eyebrows knotted in the middle of his forehead, his eyes crimson with righteous indignation, Shankara touched his yagyopaveetam, the sacred thread, with one hand, and pointed with the other hand towards the river; his index finger accusing the river of rebellion.

As he muttered ancient mantras, and gestured with his hands, the river quieted down. Her waters, which had overflowed her banks, entered Shankara’s kamandalu stationed near the banks, and disappeared in its depths. 

And thus, while Govindapada meditated silently inside the cave, his disciple had tamed the boisterous river, and forced her to remain within her confines. 

Sometime later, Govindapada emerged from the cave and, oblivious of what had happened in his absence, uttered just one word when he saw Shankara – ‘Kashi’.

Kashi, the city of Shiva, the capital of Hindu religious discourse. Yes, Shankara thought, Kashi is where he will go!!

To be continued……

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