Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kalady- Adi Shankara's Birthplace

After enjoying a two week vacation, I have since returned to Bangalore and have the pleasure of resuming my job with the enclosure


Best Wishes
B.M.N.Murthy, Saturday 13th June 2009


The birthplace of any great personage has its own sanctity more so if the person has attained spiritual eminence. Even though Acharya Shankara was born in Kalady in Kerala in 788A.D. his field of activities covered the entire country so much so that he is today venerated all over as a person who revived Vedic culture and re-established its pre-eminence and glory. Just as Ayodhya is even today surrounded by the halo of Sri Rama’s birth and Mathura by the halo of Sri Krishna’s birth, Kalady is full of the halo of Acharya Shankara even after 1,200 years.

Even though Shankara became popular all over the world as a pre-eminent Vedantic philosopher, there had been a debate for sometime on the place of his birth, particularly in literary and philosophical circles, whether he was born in Kalady of Kerala or in Chidambaram of Tamil Nadu. However, literary research and a thorough analysis of local traditions have now proved beyond doubt that Kalady in the Kottayam district of Kerala is the birthplace of the Acharya. Kalady is a tiny village cradled with green fields on the right bank of river Periyar [also known as river Poorna]. This tiny village has now become an important centre of pilgrimage, not only for the Hindus but even for students and research scholars all over the globe.

It is interesting to note that even though the Acharya passed away at Kedarnath in the Himalayas in 820 A.D., the news of his death reached Kerala only 5 years later in 825 A.D. When Udayana Marthanda, the ruler of Kollam [Quilon] heard this news, he at once convened a meeting of Palace vidwans and learned men of Kerala and discussed about ways and means of commemorating the event. It must be said to the credit of the king and his learned scholars that it was decided to found a New Era[Samvatsara] in 825 A.D and name it as ‘Kollam Era’ which would herald the advent of a New Age.[ This is something analogous to Vikrama Nama Samvatsara in Karnataka]. This is followed even now as the Malabar Era or Kollavarsham in Kerala and in the bordering districts of Tamil Nadu. What a wonderful memorial in honour of the great philosopher-saint! Thereafter Acharya Shankara’s fame spread far and wide, biographies were written and Institutions founded by him prospered. However, the public almost totally forgot the place where he was born, the tiny village of Kalady on the banks of the river Periyar.

It fell to the good fortune of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham, in particular to the efforts of His Holiness Sri Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharathi [1866-1912], the 33rd Pontiff, to rediscover Kalady. His Holiness was born in 1858 as Shivaswamy in Mysore. Orphaned at an early age, he was taken in by the 32nd Pontiff, Sri Narasimha Bharathi VIII who gave him Sanyasa at the age of eight. Nurtured by his competent Guru, Sri Shivabhinava Bharathi soon mastered the scriptures and the administrative intricacies and ritualism associated with the Math’s far-flung branches and Mother Sharada at Sringeri. He was frequently engaged in the meditation on the personality of Acharya Shankara and always thought about ways and means of propagating the Acharya’s message of Advaita Vedanta.

Painfully alive as he was to the spread of materialism in different forms and the decline of the Sanathana Dharma, he believed that only a re-descent of the spirit of Shankara could redeem the land. His prayer to Shankara was always a request to fill the Peetham, founded by him, with all his divine splendour with a view to dispelling the darkness of ignorance that threatened to envelope the land. While engaged in deep mediation on the Acharya, it once occurred to him that by rediscovering the place of birth of the Acharya and by consecrating it and developing it into a real centre for spiritual illumination, the spirit of Acharya Shankara could be revived. He thereafter created a wide spread interest in the subject by instituting an annual five-day Shankara Jayanthi Celebrations. Once this was done, ceaseless efforts were started to go in search of the actual place of the birth of Shankara.

A fortuitous occurrence helped the search when Sir K.Seshadri Iyer, hailing from Kerala, became Dewan of Mysore State. Drawing all the necessary details and information required for identifying Kalady from Swami Vidyaranya’s ‘Shankara Vijayam’, His Holiness gave these details to the Dewan and asked him to undertake the task of identifying and locating the birthplace of the Acharya. Iyer, who was himself a devotee of the Shankara Math, was too happy to take up the assignment. He at once began the search and within a short time he identified Kalady in Kuttanad Taluk of Kerala as the birthplace of Acharya Shankara. Speedy progress on the project followed. During the search, the cremation site of the Acharya’s mother Aryamba was also discovered. The Maharaja of Mysore and the Maharaja of Travancore as also several religious leaders volunteered help both physically and monetarily. In fact, the Government of Travancore issued an official Order dated 27th January 1906 which said:
“As a further step towards the implementation of the scheme for improving Kalady, the birthplace of Sri Shankaracharya, the government of Travancore considers that all measures should be adopted for the preservation of the birthplace of the great religious teacher and reformer whose name is venerated throughout India. It is situated in the village of Kaladi, Manjappa Proverthy, Kuttanad Taluk on the banks of the Alwaye. The locality is treated as ‘Sanketham’ or place of sanctity. ----There is a walled enclosure in a compound close to the ghat leading to the river which is also held sacred, as having been used by the great reformer in performing the obsequies of his mother”.
The Maharaja donated the entire site to the Jagadguru of Sringeri Math together with a purse of ten thousand rupees to assist the project in building a suitable temple for the Acharya.

The area was soon taken over by the Sringeri Math and concrete plans were drawn for the temple and its construction. In addition to the temple for Acharya Shankara, seven more temples were built for the ‘Sapta Matrukas’ [Seven Mother Goddesses] namely Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kowmari, Vaishnavi, Vaarahi, Indrani. and Chamunda. After having completed the construction of all the temples, 21st February 1910 was fixed as an auspicious date for consecrating the temples. The Jagadguru who left Sringeri in February 1907 on a tour on foot of the Southern districts reached Kalady a few days before the day fixed for consecration. All along the route of his triumphant tour, grateful disciples of His Holiness offered their contributions to the great cause which in terms of money amounted to Rs. 2 lakhs. Far more significant for the success of this enterprise was the approval that the Jagadguru received in a vision from Sri Aryamba, the mother of Shankara while His Holiness was camping at Perumbavur before he crossed over to Kalady on the opposite bank. It was indeed a beatific vision that set the seal of divine approval. The consecration of the temples was duly performed on 21st February 1910 with His Holiness himself presiding over the ceremony. The function was conducted on such a great scale so lavish, magnificent and soul-stirring that it still lingers in the mind of some Keralites who got first hand information from some of their forefathers.

It is to our good fortune that the successive line of Gurus of the Sringeri Math has developed the area in several aspects. Several facilities are now available for further study and research on Vedanta like the establishment of a Sanskrit University at Kalady, taking up teaching of the Vedas and other ancient scriptures, publishing works and conducting research. Kalady today inspires the entire world. If Acharya Shankara incarnated to help the Vedic heritage regain its supremacy and proper place in India, His Holiness Sri Narasimha Bharathi was born to resurrect the symbol of this great heritage and cause a renaissance in Vedic studies. The resurrection also proves Maharshi Aurobindo’s point that “the Indian culture has been from the beginning and has remained a spiritual, an inward-looking religio-philosophical culture” A happy blend of religious ritualism, Yoga Sadhana, devotional hymnology; philosophical studies and meditation on the Transcendent are the gifts of Kalady.

ARTICLE NO.504--Kalady, The Birthplace of Acharya Shankara
Created: Friday, June 12, 2009 9:57 PM


At June 27, 2012 at 4:02 AM , Blogger Raghavendra said...

I was in Kalady yesterday. It is a complete bliss to visit the birthplace of Sri Shankara. Your writing gave me more insights into the stories I had heard about Kaladi. Last month, I was at Kedarnath and visited his siddhi place. He is nothing but reincarnation of Lord Shiva. Let Shiva-Shankara bless us all!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home