As one may know Shri Adi Sankara was born in a Brahmin family in a village called Kaladi on the river bank of Purana now called Periyar in the coastal state of Kerala. His parents, Shri Siva guru and Smt Aryamba were childless for a long time and frustrated. One day Lord Shiva appeared in the dream of Smt Aryamba to tell her that he would himself born to the childless couple as a child. Soon Smt Aryamba conceived and gave birth to Shri Adi Sankara. As the child grew he was able to retain in memory anything that has been read just once and even at the age of six he mastered in all Vedas and recited extensively from the epics and Puranas whenever he discussed the spiritual matter with anyone. Shri Adi Sankara was a great Philosopher and showed keen interest in studying not only our own Hindu philosophies but also that of diverse sects thus becoming storehouse of philosophical knowledge. Slowly he renounced the family life and became a sanyasin.
Omkareshwar has been famous for the Jyothi linga Shiva temple. It is situated on a small hilltop surrounded by the serene Narmada river which has encircled the hill from all sides to turn the hill into an island. This place is near the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. One has to cross the Narmada river and climb the steps to reach Omkareshwar Temple. In the past era people had to wade through the water or swim across the river. Otherwise, they used boat service to cross from one end of the other to reach the foot of the hill and then climbed over it. Now two new bridges have been constructed for ease of pilgrims who prefer to walk and reach the temple as part of ritual during months of fasting especially in the month of shravan. The temple assumes more importance because the river Narmada which flows around this hill is shaped as holy word ‘Om’. This is why this hilltop temple is called Omkareshwar.
Omkareshwar is one of the twelve Jyothi linga Shethras and the main deity enshrined is of Banalinga. The rare Banalinga, natural stone, ancient and connote divinity of Lord Shiva is found inside the bed of the Narmada river. Bana means in reality Lord Shiva. It is a smooth ellipsoid stone either roller shaped or cylindrical as found in the river. They are not carved or crafted by human hands and are nature created in those shapes. The Vedic scriptures and Puranas propound that the Banalinga have self manifested and divine energized by Lord Shiva.
There is a story narrated in a puranic text called Aparajita-pariprchchha (205, 1-26) about the origin of the Banalinga and their association with the Narmada river. Once a demon called Banasura was living in the flying city of Tripura which had been obtained as a boon from Lord Shiva himself. The demon Bana was the eldest of the hundred sons of Bali who was grandson of baktha Prahlada, son of Hiranyakasipu. Bana was a great devotee of Siva and performed penance invoking Siva’s favor and Siva gave him his own representative in the form of a natural linga for his worship in Tripura. Tripura consisted of three cities spread in three worlds. one of them was made of Iron, the second silver and the third Gold. Unless all the three cities came in one line it can not be destroyed, and rightly Banasura lived in world of Gold. When the atrocities of Banasura became unbearable to bear, Lord Shiva decided to annihilate him. At an opportune time Lord Shiva fired a fiery dart from his great bow pinaka and the dart broke Tripura into tiny bits, which fell on three spots one of which was the banks of the holy river Narmada. The bits that fell in the Narmada river soon multiplied into crores each bit becoming a linga. As it formed part of the possession of Banasura when he lived in the golden city of Tripura it was called Banalinga. When Tripura was exploded by the arrow of Lord Shiva the Banalinga given to the demon also broke into several tiny places and fell in the river Narmada. Thus Banalinga with the complete energies of Lord Shiva came to be associated with river Narmada. Since Shiva's energies ridden Banalinga submerged in river Narmada, Lord Shiva’s anger cooled down and he decided to manifest on the bank of river Narmada and this was one of the reasons for him to take the form of Banalinga and stay in the temple in Omkareshwar.
The scholarly Pundits say that many divine devathas (ganas) worshipped Shiva linga on the banks of river Narmada with powerful mantras dedicated to lord Shiva and while leaving to devaloga they were left there. In passage of time those Shiva Lings left by them either got buried deep under the ground or settled down in the river. The Shiva Lingas thus submerged in the Narmada river turned in to highly energized stones called Banalinga compared to other Shiva Lings found elsewhere.
At the same time on the other side Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada too was waiting for the arrival of Shri Adi Sankara to take diksha and become his disciple. He had premonition of the young sanyasin and awaited for his arrival.
Sri Guru Govinda Bhagavatpada was already staying in the cave in Omkareshwar close to the river and he reportedly preached to Shri Adi Sankara the concept of Vedanta, knowledge of the secrets dyana, dharma and samadhi etc besides many other concepts of Hinduism. For many years both stayed inside the cave and even for taking bath in the Narmada river they used a secret tunnel available inside the cave which has since been blocked. otherwise they never came out. No one is permitted to go deep inside the cave as its sanctity need to be maintained. An idol of Adi Sankara has been enshrined in the cave. Who has constructed this secret cave is not known. For many years the existence of the cave was not known even to the public. One of the devotees of Paramacharya of Kanchi mutt Shi. Nagaraja Sharma traced it after many years of search and brought it to the attention of Paramacharya of Kanchi mutt and made known to the public. Learning about the cave I visited the site sometime during the period 1984-85 and wrote about it in a Tamil weekly magazine called Thai (mother).
The river Narmada was in spate during the third year of Shri Adi Sankara’s stay there. It is said that the monsoon caused river Narmada to rise threatening to submerge the cave where the master and the disciple were staying. Shri Adi Sankara reportedly placed a water pot at the entrance of the cave and the mystical pot absorbed entire floodwater into itself and the flood did not affect the cave in any manner. Shri Adi Sankara prayed to Narmada Devi to appease her anger and the flood immediately subsided. Thus Omkareshwar assumes importance for the divinely cave where Shri Adi Sankara stayed and meditated for a long time along with his Guru Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada. The later account of the exit of both Guru and the disciple from the cave is not known. The cave is well preserved now and those who visit Omkareshwar offer prayers to the idol of Shri Adi Sankara enshrined there.
Thereafter Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada directed Shri Adi Sankara to go to Kashi. On the directives of his master Shri Adi Sankara travelled to Kashi where he wrote his famous commentaries on Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and Gita. He successfully wiped out several criticisms leveled against them till then.
Shri Adi Shankaracharya's temple in Kashmir
Kashmir in those period was seat of Saivaism. It is believed only during the stay of Shri Adi Sankara in Gopadari Hill in Kashmir, he composed the famous Soundarya Lahari verses after realizing the greatness of Sakthism (greatness of Devi) which emphasizes that only the union of Shiva and Shakti transpire into Shakti and Lord Shiva gets the power of creation only when he is united with Shakti. The compilation of Soundarya Lahari lead to the emergence of powerful Sakthi Yanthra called Sri Chakra the symbol of Devi (Goddess).
Shri Adi Sankara with his remarkable reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures, especially on Upanishads or Vedanta, had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism at a time when chaos, superstition and bigotry were rampant in the country besides the emergence of various other religious sects such as Buddhism and Jainism that posed threat to the spread of Hinduism.
Most of the Scholars believe that Adi Sankara great philosopher who lived during A.D-788-820 visited Kashmir in the first quarter of ninth century A.D. to spread sanathana dharma and stayed and meditated in a place which is presently known as Shankaracharya Temple.
The temple is of great importance, not only from the point of view of religion, but also from architectural viewpoint. The temple structure is supported by a 20 feet high octagonal (8) platform and the sidewalls of the steps which bore some valuable inscription have faded away or have been erased. Eight occupies an important place in Hindu dharma and scriptures.
Some historians suggest that the temple was actually a Buddhist temple during Buddhist era which was subsequently changed into a Hindu site of worship by Shri Adi Sankara. Persians and Jews call it Bagh-i- sulaiman or the Garden of King Solomon. Persian inscriptions are also found inside the temple. The temple has regular worship and pilgrims visit the temple during the Amaranth Yatra.
Shri Shankaracharya temple is regarded as the oldest temple in the valley of Kashmir. The best time to visit the this temple is between May and September when the weather is pleasant.
Shri Adi Sankara is believed to have died at the age of 32 when he went to the Himalayas after winning over several pundits and scholars in various places. He reportedly built a mutt at Joshi and a temple at Badrinath. He then proceeded to Ketharnath higher up in the Himalayas and merged with Shiva Ling by disappearing from there.