Sunday, July 3, 2016

Shri Adi Shankaracharya's temple (E)

Many may not be aware of the two historical sites connected to the life of Shri Adi Sankara. Even the life history of Shri Sankara does not mention in depth details on those sites. The two most sacred and historically important places are a cave in Madhya Pradesh and a temple in Jammu Kashmir.

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.

Shri Adi Sankara’s Cave in Omkareshwar 

After renouncing family and took up monastic life, Shri Adi Sankara began travelling by foot to various places from Kerala in search of his Guru, the preceptor who would lead him to the light of wisdom and to learn the highest level in the concept of Vedanta and Hindu scriptures. His main aim of the mission was to find a Guru who was realized soul i.e Brahman, the one at the doorstep of divine. Earlier he had internally known of an ancient guru living in a cave by the side of river Narmada. He had an intuition on the presence of a Mahayogi waiting for him in the North and therefore proceeded to North in search of his guru. 

Idol of Adi Sankara in Omkareshwar cave

; line-height: 150%;"> Even though Shri Adi Sankara was himself incarnation of Lord Shiva, having born a human he had to face certain aspects of life of humans and therefore had to wait for ordained time to reach his guru. Wherever he visited he remained in penance for some time before moving to other places. Shri Adi Shankara’s journey towards his guru took him over hazardous terrains where dangerous confrontations with evil men or wild animals occurred. The Narmada was flowing north of the village Omkareshwar and within two months he approached the cave of his guru. He came to the banks of river Narmada after passing through many hermitages and finally found the hermitage of the divinely Saint Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada in a cave below Omkareshwar temple.

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. 
Adi Sankara cave then and now in Omkareshwar temple hill

While climbing the hill, you can see the thousand year old small cave associated with Shri Adi Sankara located below the temple hill. Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada was in a state of deep Samadhi when Shri Adi Sankara reached him. Seeing his guru Shri Adi Sankara felt elated. He realized that he had finally reached the guru he had been searching for and once Shri Adi Sankara saw his Guru Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada in the cave he desired to take diksha from him.

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). 

Jabalpur Shri Nagaraja Sharma 

who discovered the cave

Affectionately called Jabalpur Shri Nagaraja Sharma, he was working in electricity board in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. He reportedly found out the cave on the night of Shivrathri sometime in the year 1978 after spending seven years of search on this mission. The cave reportedly had five passages inside. One went to the sanctum above, the second to Ujjain, the third to the city, fourth went below touching river Narmada. It is not known where the fifth one went. It was also stated that the rough sketch on the location was given to Shri Nagaraja Sharma by none other than Kanchi Paramacharya, and to the shock of Shri. Nagaraja Sharma, when he found the cave, it matched exactly with the model sketch given to him by Maha Periyava called Kanchi Praramacharya. According to Shri Nagaraja Sharma who discovered the cave none of the four mutt heads too were aware of its existence. Other than Kanchi Paramacharya who was well aware of the cave, only the head of Jyothirmutt had an inkling that Sri Guru Govinda Bhagavatpada stayed in some cave on the bank of river Narmada in a place called shangalghat but was not aware where the place was. None of the devotees who visited Omkareshwar shrine were aware of the cave which was full of bush and wild animals like tigers used to stay in such places. The cave was an abandoned place, fully dark fully in dilapidated condition. However Shri. Nagaraja Sharma managed to discover the cave in arduous search and the highly sanctified cave has now been opened to public for worship of the highest divinely Gurus of Hindu religion.

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 

Shri Adi Sankara travelled to many other places and took part in spiritual debates and discussions and defeated the most highly scholarly pundits and others in various places. While on tour, Shri Adi Sankara visited Kashmir too and stayed there for some time in a cave like place above a small hilltop called Gopadari Hill. It is now named as Shankaracharya temple. The visit to Kashmir by Shri Adi Sankara assumes more importance in the history of Hinduism.

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).

Debate with a lady in Kashmir 
There is a word of mouth told folklore prevails amongst some of the Kashmir Pundits on the events that led to Shri Adi Sankara compile the famous Soundarya Lahari verses and form Sri Chakra. As per the lore when Adi Sankara visited Kashmir, he happened to stay in a place called Vichar Nag where learned and scholars met to exchange their thoughts and views and debated the spiritual subjects. Shri Adi Sankara by then was firm in belief that idols were only representation of the God but not their manifestation. In the process to prove his belief he slapped an idol of Shakti to show that it is bereft of any life but to his utter surprise blood started oozing from the forehead of the deity. Realizing his folly Shri Adi Sankara tore out a piece of cloth and tied it on to the forehead of the idol he slapped and the blood stopped. That was the turning point in the life of Shri Adi Sankara to move closer to the belief on Sakthism. Another incident happened next. Shri Adi Sankara along with his disciples was camping on the outskirts of the Srinagar city without proper boarding and lodging arrangements. But their hosts had provided them with all material for the preparation of food except some device to lit fire for cooking and therefore the troupes of Shri Adi Sankara were unable to cook for want of fire. As they faced dilemma a lady cook was sent to cook the food and when she requested for fire to light up the cooking stove for cooking including Shri Adi Sankara, none could ignite the fire. The frustrated lady then picked up two wooden sticks in hand, recited some mantras and rubbed the sticks. Pat came out the fire and she was able to light up the cooking stove and cooked the food. This surprised Shri Adi Sankara. That was not the end. The lady was highly learned Kashmir woman and she desired a debate with Shri Adi Sankara. Their discourse continued for seventeen days and though the lady ultimately faced defeat and retired, Shri Adi Sankara too had to accept the predominance of Shakti (greatness of Devi) as he could not establish his supremacy against the contents on the greatness of Devi and Sakthi cult during the debate. Perhaps it was Parvathi devi who enacted the drama to usher in the change in the mind of Shri Adi Sankara. The story is almost similar to the debate Shri Adi Sankara held with Mandana Mishra and his wife Kumarila Mishra in the city of Mahismathi in the state of Bihar and defeated both of them in the contest.

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.

Shri Shankaracharya Temple is an ancient temple that finds its origin in the 4th century. Initially it was not known to public as Shri Sankaracharya temple for centuries. Located on Gopadari Hill in the south-east of Srinagar, Shri Sankaracharya Temple lies at a height of 1100 feet above ground level. The temple is easily accessible from the city by regular buses from Srinagar. While originally it was called in different other names such as Takht-e-Sulaiman, only at later centuries the temple was renamed as Shankaracharya temple and a Shiva Linga enshrined inside. Only during the rule of Gulab Sikh, devotees began to offer prayers in the temple. It is claimed that the Dogra King Gulab Singh who reigned during 1846-1857 AD constructed the steps to the hill from Durga Nag temple side. When the Maharaja of Mysore came to Kashmir in 1925 he made the electrical installations at the temple and in the year 1961 the his holiness Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Peeda enshrined a statue of Adi Shankaracharya in the 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. 

Shiva Ling inside Shri Shankaracharya temple 
There are several contradicting stories on who constructed this temple. According some Kashmir Pandits the temple was originally built by the Hindu king Sandiman who reigned in Kashmir during the period 2629 to 2564 BC and subsequently repaired by a King called Raja Gopadatya who ruled during 426–365 BC. The temple was damaged by earthquakes and therefore it was repaired again King Lalitaditya of Karakote dynasty who ruled during 697–734 A.D. Throughout its life, the temple has seen many repair and renovation works. The origin of the temple is not without dispute. According to one Shri Kalhana who authored a book on Kashmir, King Gopadatya built the temple on the top of the hill as a shrine for Lord Shiva around 371 BC. The book in Sanskrit language called Rajatarangini written by Shri Kalhana is a metrical legendary and historical chronicle of the north-western Indian subcontinent, particularly the kings of Kashmir. Rajatarangini means river of kings. Some scholars claim that the temple has been constructed around 200 BC by one Jaluka who was the son of Emperor Ashoka.

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.

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