Shri Adi Shankaracharya: His Life - Part 1

Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya
Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya

The Advent of Shankara

In the early centuries of this Kali Age, Buddhism and Jainism were predominant religions. At that time, a young child was born in a village called Kaladi in Kerala to a couple, Shivaguru and Aryamba. They were a virtuous couple and were very devoted to God. They were not short of any food and shelter, but as they didn't have children they were miserable. Therefore they prayed to Lord Shiva. One night Lord Shiva came in Shivaguru’s dream and told him that he would get a son who would have a short span of life. After some time the child was born and was named as Shankara - a gift of Lord Shiva. In reality it was not a gift. Lord Shiva offered Himself to Shivaguru.

Lord Shiva comes in Shivaguru's dream
In those days, there used to be frequent wars between kings of different territories. These wars generated hatred between people of different regions. The feeling of national unity was lost. With the loss of unity, all kinds of bad practices developed. Untruth, injustice, dishonesty and disreputable conduct became the order of the day. That was not all. Even the learned Pandits, scholars and intellectuals of the time started interpreting the Vedas in perverse ways. The very face of the scriptures was blackened. As a result, people’s faith in the Vedas and scriptures was diluted. At such times, God or a Divinely inspired saint or Messiah makes His advent on earth to reform the wicked and restore the reign of Dharma. Such incarnations are known as Archananaama forms of the Divine. In this Archananaama form, the manifestations are regarded as Amsa Avatars – manifestations of partial aspects of the Divine. The Vibhava Avatars (like Rama and Krishna) are Purna Avatars (total manifestations of the Divine). The Archana Avatars are Amsa Avatars (partial manifestations). Such Avatars incarnate from time to time, not only in India but in all countries. Jesus declared at first that he was ‘A Messenger of God’. Who are these messengers? They are of two kinds Yamadoota and Avadhoota. Yamadootas are messengers who inflict harm on people. Avadhootas are messengers who protect. Jesus belonged to the second category. In due course, he recognised his own inner Divinity. Then he declared, “I am the Son of God”. Thereby he proclaimed his right to a share in all the qualities of God. When he acquired all the qualities of the Divine, he announced, “I and my Father are one”. The same threefold progress can be seen in the pronouncements of Hazrat Mohammed. First, he declared “I am in the light”. Then he said, “The light is in me”. Finally he declared, “I am the light”. These declarations can be compared to the three systems of Indian philosophy Dualism (Dvaita), Qualified Non-Dualism (Vishishta Advaita) and Non-Dualism (Advaita). 

The Early Years

Shivaguru, Aryamba and child Shankara
In the first year, the child learned all the alphabets. In the second year, he learnt all the words. In the third year, he could read all the texts. This type of education comes from within and not from outside. Shankara’s father, Shivaguru, passed away when Shankara was barely 3 years old. In this context, it is interesting to note how the Divine operates. Ten days before his passing, Shivaguru had a vision of an effulgence. The effulgence conveyed a message to Shivaguru, “Perform the Upanayanam of your son”. Shivaguru hurriedly arranged to have the Upanayanam (thread ceremony) performed for the 3 year old child. The little boy started reciting the Gayatri Mantra.

After the passing of Shivaguru, the grief-stricken mother devoted herself to bringing up the little boy. She took him to a Guru, who taught the boy all kinds of scriptural knowledge. By the time he was 16, Shankara had completed study of the 4 Vedas and the 6 systems of philosophy. Normally even 50 years would not have sufficed for such study. Shankara was a prodigy. He could grasp anything at the first mention of the subject. Even the Guru was astonished at the boy’s genius.

One day, the mother and the son were sitting at their door step. At that time, some sages who were passing by, stopped on watching the boy and started conversing among themselves, “This effulgence, this radiance are not the appearance of an ordinary boy. He is the very spark of the Divine”. The second sage while closing his eyes said, “No doubt he is the spark of Shiva, but he won’t live long. Education is of a high standard, but he has a short life time. He has capacity but he will not have adequate time to spread the message.”

The mother asked Shankara to offer his respects to all the saints. Shankara offered his respects but didn't catch hold of any sage’s feet. There are four types of Namaskars, they are:

i. Sashtanga Namaskara Saa-Ashtanga meaning Namaskaram with eight points in the body.
ii. Panchanga Namaskara – The head, the two legs and the two hands.
iii. Trayanga Namaskara – Bending the heads and joining both the hands.
iv. Ekanga Namaskara – Mere bending of the head.

Shankara didn't do even the Ekanga Namaskara. On seeing this one of the sages said, “The one who is capable of receiving respects from us, how can we expect to receive respects from him?” On listening to these words, the mother was very happy but was also dejected on hearing that he will have a short life.


  1. please update with Part 2. Sairam.

  2. Sai Ram,

    We are very glad to note your interest in the blog. The blog posts are updated every Thursday (Indian Standard Time). We shall be uploading part 2 tomorrow.

    Thanks a lot for your interest.

    SSwS Team

  3. SaiRam brothers,
    I am not very sure about the line " The vibhava avatars ( like Rama and Krishna ) are purna avatars. I vaguely remember that Swami had once told that other than Sri Krishna , swami is the only other purna avatar. Please confirm whether Sri Rama was a purna avatar ( I think 16 attribute are required to be a Purna avatar of which Sri Rama had displayed only 12.( For example Yoga Maya which was performed by Sri Krishna ( and definitely swami ), like transporting people from one place to another during sleep etc. was not displayed by Sri Rama ). Please confirm.

  4. Sai Ram Sir,

    Thank you very much for your feedback. However, this series of discourses on Adi Shankaracharya were given by Swami between July and September 1996 in Sai Kulwant Hall. All details and excerpts are based on the original discourses. It is purely Swami's own words. No interpretations of any kind have been added. The policy of SSwS is to put forth Swami's original discourses on various themes so that devotees and Sai students can benefit from the Divine Directions and Message.

    SSwS Team

  5. Sairam dear Students,
    Great to see this blog and its contents. Please post all the stotras that you all recited for Swami and make sure that the lyrics and the meaning are correct before you post them as many are following what ever they like and you will be at least the standard for Sai followers around the world to have proper stutis with correct spelling and meaning.
    Keep up the great work with HIS blessings and Love! Jai Sairam!

  6. My humble sairam. We are running a guru course and we would like to know exactly which stanzas have been written by Sri Adi Shankara and which stanzas would be more appropriate to teach would be gurus? Please advice.



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