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Adi Shankaracharya Jayanti: How Adi Shankaracharya’s meet with Chandala enlightened him

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Indian guru and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya’s birth anniversary is observed as Adi Shankaracharya Jayanti. It is celebrated on Panchami tithi during Shukla Paksha of Vaishakha month which falls in April or May in the Gregorian calendar. Born in Kalady in Kerala during 788 CE, he consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta and revived it during an era when the Hindu culture was on a decline. His guru Govinda Bhagavatapada was deeply influenced by the principles of Buddhism. Adi Shankaracharya, Madhava, and Ramanuja were instrumental in the revival of Hinduism and are even today followed by their respective sects. In 2018, Adi Shankaracharya Jayanti falls on April 20.

Mother’s last wish
Adi Shankaracharya’s father Shivaguru passed away when he was young and hence he was raised by his mother, a worshipper of Krishna. His mother was against Shankaracharya’s wish to become a hermit but gave him permission after he promised to return to perform her final rites. However, in Vedic tradition, a hermit has to give up his household life and cannot perform any household rituals including funerals. But as promised to his mother, he acted as a revolutionary and performed her final rites. He was denied permission for her rites but he carried his mother’s body to the backyard of their house and performed the rituals there.

Encounter with chandala
Adi Shankaracharya was one of the greatest advocates of the philosophy called non-dualism, which sees everyone equally. But there was a time when he considered dogs and people belonging to lower caste impure. Once on his way back from the Ganges at Varanasi, where he used to take bath, he came across a Chandala and his four dogs. Chandala is the one who looks after the crematorium. To avoid any touch, Shankaracharya moved aside and him to move out of his way. To which chandala replied, “My body, or my soul, the form or the formless, the limited or the limitless?”


The incident had a deep impact on Shankaracharya who realised no one should be differentiated and at the end, the soul is beyond all other things. Earlier he used to follow the principles where purity and pollution mattered, but now he has accepted the chandala as his guru. He also composed the ‘Manisha-Panchakam’, where he looks beyond divisions that create dualities and affirms non-duality.

Death
Adi Shankaracharya passed away at the young age of 32 in the Himalayan region. It is believed that before his birth, his father was given a choice between an ordinary son with a long lifespan and a great son with a short lifespan. In which his father chose the latter one. It is also said that he was a child genius and was supposed to die at the age of eight but was later given the extension of eight years to excavate the truth of Vedas. Looking at his brilliance at monographs and commentaries, Ved Vyasa extended his life by another 16 years so he could spread the idea to the world.