Ever since his ‘chance’ encounter with the chandala in Kashi, Shankara had become increasingly restless. He knew not what ailed him, but his peace of mind had been disturbed. No more could he enjoy the tranquil placidity of the atman, or the peace of the deep meditative states whereby he used to unravel the mysteries of the Vedanta. A sense of urgency pervaded his very being. There was something that needed to be done, he knew. But what??
He was often haunted by the vision of the chandala confronting him on the streets of Kashi. At other times he would, in his sleep as well as in his meditative state, see a tall, and fair ascetic, with matted locks, and serpents coiled around his body calling out to him in his booming voice. This fearsome ascetic held a shimmering trident in one hand, and the other hand was in the abhaya mudra, the pose of benevolence. He had covered himself with the skin of dead animals and smeared his body with ash. Shankara knew who this ascetic was; but why was he summoning him? And where to?
Then, slowly, day by day, and night by night, the ascetic showed him other visions. Things which resolved Shankara’s dilemma and showed him the path he must take.
The ascetic showed him the mighty river which flows in the three worlds, the river called the Bhagwatpadi, or the Ganga. It’s clear, icy waters invited him with their ringing sound as they fell down the icy slopes of the Himalayas. Here the river was called Mandakini. There was another river too, some distance away from the Mandakini, and it was called the Alaknanda. The ascetic showed Shankara a tall badari tree, the Indian berry tree. It was an ancient place of meditation, a place where Nar and Narayana, the twin ascetics had meditated, and attained the supreme position in the bosom of the one who is infinite, the one who lies on the bed of the serpent called the Adi Shesha, in the ocean of milk, known as the ksheer saagar.
The ascetic showed Shankara the two rivers, and the two sanctuaries situated on the two rivers. He also showed Shankara the place where the green and blue waters of the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda meet and form the Ganga, a place of unique spiritual importance, a place called Dev Prayag, the union of gods. And lastly, the ascetic showed Shankara the books he must read, and must write about. He showed him the Brahma sutras, the Upanishads, and the Bhagvadgita.
In his dreams, and in his waking state, the tall ascetic, the one with a third eye in the middle of his forehead, had shown Shankara the way forward…..
Shankara must go to Badarikashram, the ancient pilgrimage site on the banks of the pristine Alaknanda, one of the sources of the divine Ganga. He knew how he will do it; the ascetic had shown him. He would walk up along the river Ganga, along one of her banks. The river will lead him up to the junction of the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, and then up again to the junction of the Mandakini and the Alaknanda, and then finally lead him up to the two most revered shrines of the sanatana dharma – the BadriKedaar, the twin shrines to Harihara – Vishnu and Shiva.
He will live there, in the Himalayas for some time, amongst pilgrims, and ascetics, and will write his commentaries. Then he must return to Kashi once more, following the Ganga again, this time on the other bank. Thus, he will complete the Ganga parikrama. The way forward, which the ascetic had shown to Shankara, was clear now, and he resolved to leave Kashi as soon as possible.
To be continued……
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