Adi Shankara (pronounced [aːd̪i ʃəŋkəɾə]; early 8th century CE[note 1]) was a philosopher and theologian from India who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He is credited with unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism.
His works in Sanskrit discuss the unity of the ātman and Nirguna Brahman “brahman without attributes”. He wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon (Brahma Sutras, Principal Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) in support of his thesis. His works elaborate on ideas found in the Upanishads. Shankara’s publications criticised the ritually-oriented Mīmāṃsā school of Hinduism. He also explained the key difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, stating that Hinduism asserts “Atman (Soul, Self) exists”, while Buddhism asserts that there is “no Soul, no Self”
8th – 12th century AD marked the cultural renaissance in Kashmir .In a period spanning four hundred years Kashmir produced some of the greatest scholars, who were instrumental in shaping Indian thought and Philosophy. It was in this time that we see the resurgence of Agama and Tantra in Kashmir. The revelation of Siva Sutras could be termed as a milestone in the re-establishment of the Shaivate philosophy.
Adi Shankara travelled all the way from Kerala to Sharada Peetham(a shakti Peetham in Kashmir) in the second decade of 9th century . There he consolidated and established his ideas on Advaith philosphy. Then he travelled down south to Shringeri, Karnataka (near Chikamangalur), and set up the first Matha on Advaith Philosophy, and established the Sharada Temple Peetham in the Matha. This came to be known as Shringeri Sharada Peetham. After that, he established 3 more such peetham in the remaining 3 corners of India. This gave India the 4 seats of scholars and masters who were engaged in maintaining the eternal Sanatana Dharma, from the view point of the Advatya Vedanta Philosophy.
The ancient Sharada Shakti Peetham in Kashmir was the seed of the Shakta and Agamas. This influence is so very well seen in the works of Adi Shankara. He wrote a collection of 6 shlokas known as Atmana Shatakam or Nirvana Shatakam. This is provided below with translation –
The same influence of Kshmiri Shaivism and Kashmir’s Sharada Peetham is visible in his first matha in Shringeri, Karnataka. Shringeri Sharada Peetham is the first Matha created by Adi Shankara after his inspiration from the Kashmir’s ancient Sharada Peetham.
Later he established his eastern pheetham – Govardhana Pitham which houses the famous Jagannatha Temple. Lord Jagannatha is considered to be the 9th incarnation of Vishnu. But also he is worshipped as Bhairav (the fierce incarnation of Shiva) in the same temple. There are many tantrics who perform their rituals in this temple precincts.
He continued to travel the length and breath of India, and established 2 more pethams – one in Dwarka and the other at Badrinath. Following are the maths Adi Shankaracharya set up.
|Sharada Srigeri Peetham||Shrigeri Sharadamba Temple (Shringeri, Karnataka)||Sharada/Saraswati/Shakti|
|Govardhan Peetham||Lord Jagannath Temple (Puri, Odhisa)||Lord Jagannath/Bhairava (Vishnu/Shiva)|
|Jyorthimatha Pitham||Badrinath Temple (Badrinath town, Uttarakhand)||Badrinath/Badrinarayana (Vishnu)|
|Dwarka Peetham||Dwarkadheesh Temple (Dwarka town, Gujarat)||Dwarakadheesh (Vishnu)|
Setting up of these mathas were important. They were building of institutions that would continue the Guru Parampara continuously from 900 AD till date, ranging across a huge period of 1,117 years till date! This was a strategic move to enable the wisdom to be created and maintained across generations, going beyond the intellectual prowess of a single person.
Another important thing that Sankara did was that he made the 4 mathas specialize in different Vedas. This enabled deep dive into different Vedas by people who were more inclined to one of them. Following are the different themes of the Vedas, which are totally different from each other, and people would need to really spend enough time and efforts to know, apply and practice the wisdom in them. Hence it made pure sense to set up 4 universities to specialize in the 4 Vedas.
|PEETHAM||VEDA SPECIALIZATION||THEME OF VEDA||DETAILS|
|Govardhan Peetham, Jagannath Puri, Odhissa||Rig Ved||Principles of existence||It has 10 Books known as Mandalas. These contain 10,552 mantras. These mantras are known as riks, which is chanted in various meters such as Gayatri,
Anushtup, Trishtup. The meter is determined by the number syllables ending wiht a vowel. A mantrain Gayatri meter should have 24 such syllables.
|Sharada Peetham, Shringeri, Karnataka||Yajur Ved||Applications of the knowledge.||It is divided into two books – Shukla Yajurveda and Krishna Yajur Veda. This contains a combination of rik mantras and yajus mantras. Unlike rik mantras yajus mantras are short and rhythmic phrases, such as, ‘namah shivaya’.|
|Dwaraka Peetham, Dwaraka, Gujarat||Sama Ved||It is a subset of Rig Veda, and the same mantras are sung in rhythms||Every mantra has a number mentioned to the left of the text. It runs from 1 to 1,875.|
|Jyotirmath Peetham, Badrinath, Uttarakhand||Atharva Ved||Impact on the world. Sustenance. Sociology, politics, battles, education, healing, longevity, Ecology.||Many popular Shanti mantras from the Upnaishads are found here. This Veda contains the “Bhu Suktam” – An Ode to Earth. THe only one in teh entire ancient literature of the world. It begins with the idea that earth is not a mere physical structure, but an organism.|
Such was the constructive and organisational aptitude of Adi Sankara. Due to his systematic approach of building institutions in the right manner, he revived the Santan Dharma, when it was increasingly losing popularity due to the increasing appeal of Buddhism and Jainism.
His philosophy of Advaith Vedanta is inspiring, and enables us to reflect on the non-dual aspect of your unchanging experience that is a silent observer amidst the changing ephemeral dram of the mind and the world of the physical.