Shri Shankara decided to go to Mount Badrinath in the Himalayas to complete his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. It was in a cave near the Mana glacier that Shri Vyasa had composed these Sutras. In the company of a Brahmachari named Sanandana and a few other close disciples he set out on his journey, keeping to the course of the river Ganges and worshipping at the holy places on his route. After staying a few days at Hardwar the small party continued on its way and came at last to Badrinath. Shri Shankara was dismayed to find that a form of worship called Tantra, which involved human sacrifice, was practised in these regions. By his influence he succeeded in dissuading the people from these foul practices, which were not based on the Vedas. Badrinath is a holy place surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan peaks; it is a part of heaven brought down to earth and no one can remain unmoved by its inspiring beauty. The present temple is of milk-white marble. It has a courtyard with a marble floor surrounded by high walls which can accommodate more than a thousand pilgrims as they gather there at dawn before the temple gates open. To the north is the great Mana glacier, and the two holy mountains called Nar and Narayana add to the incomparable beauty of the place called Badarika Ashrama. Here are the purest breezes from the border of Tibet and the sight of the lofty Mount Kamet and the glaciers lift the mind from the world to the infinity of bliss. Nowhere else can one experience such an atmosphere of bliss and peace as in Badrinath.
Shri Shankara was shocked to discover that the traditional image of Shri Vishnu was missing from the temple. The priests told him that during the terrible Chinese invasions the holy image had been deposited in the Ganges for safety but they had lost trace of the exact spot. The holy Acharya plunged into the Narada pond where the water is coldest, the current swiftest and the depth almost immeasurable. He dived deep and came up with the ancient image of Vishnu, Finding that an arm was missing he was not satisfied that it was the right image and threw it back into the river. Tradition holds that he threw the image of Shri Vishnu back into the water nine times, but each time he dived and secured the same image. The writer has visited this pool and bathed in it. It seems miraculous that any swimmer could dive to the bottom of this deep and swift flowing stream and come out alive. The holy image was finally installed in the temple by Shri Shankara: it is still there today and pilgrims are able to visit it for a few months of the year.
Shri Shankara realised that none of the local Brahmins were equipped to be priest of Badrinath temple, and he therefore appointed to this position a Brahmin of the Nambudari sect from his own birthplace. The same tradition continues to this day, and the writer has described elsewhere his interview some forty years ago with the then Shankara Acharya. Some twenty miles lower down the holy Acharya established a winter residence for the monks which today is known as Joshimath. The writer spent a few days at Joshimath and had the privilege of examining the ancient library. Shri Shankara came to Vyasa Ashrama near Mana village at the opening of the mighty glacier which is described in the writer’s memoirs. When the writer visited this holy and spacious cave, he had an experience of peace and upliftment which has coloured his life ever since: had it not been for the desire to follow in the steps of the great Shankara and preach Adwaita for the good of the world, he would never have sought to come down again to the plains. The cave is near the picturesque confluence of the Alakananda and the Keshava Ganga and not far from Badarika Ashrama. It is said that when Shri Vyasa composed the Mahabharata there, Shri Ganesha wrote it down. Shri Shankara made this cave his ashrama and lived there four years, writing his brilliant commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, and instructing his disciples.
Once Sanandana, one of his disciples, went across the river Alakananda on an errand. Shri Shankara was sitting by the side of the river with certain disciples and called for Sanandana several times. When the latter heard his Guru call he straightway plunged into the swift flowing Alakananda instead of crossing the bridge. Pleased with the devotion of Sanandana who had come at the command of his Guru even at the risk of his life, Shri Shankara conferred upon him the name of Padmapada Acharya. This place is extremely cold. When the writer visited it as a pilgrim during the month of August, the temperature was well below freezing point. In some Puranas this spot is described as the real Kailash: near it is the lofty mountain Swargarohan, up which the five Pandava brothers climbed in the closing stages of their life on earth.
Shri Shankara and his disciples remained there for some time During the bitterly cold spells they occasionally visited the natural hot spring which emerges from a nearby cave. Prom there the hand of pilgrims proceeded to Gangotri and Uttara Kashi in the deep Himalayas, where the Ganges flows as a gentle stream through a secluded valley. Days of unbroken ecstasy were experienced in this valley remote from the bustle of mundane life.
One day an olive-complexioned Brahmin appeared before Shri Shankara’s ashrama and asked: “Who is your Guru? What does he teach?” One of the disciples replied politely: “The holy Shankara Acharya is our Guru. He is well versed in the hidden truths of the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. He has successfully refuted the dualist doctrines and has established the supremacy of Advaita.” The olive-complexioned Brahmin spoke in a tone of surprise: “Who knows the real spiritual meaning of the Vyasa Sutras in this age?
I have been looking for such a man for many years since I am doubtful about the meaning of a certain verse. Will he be good enough to give me a satisfactory explanation?” When the disciple informed the Acharya of the Brahmin’s question he came out and, offering a deep salutation, greeted him saying: “Sir, I do not claim to have penetrated very deeply into the mysteries of the Sutras, but if you will kindly indicate the passage you have in mind I shall try to throw light on its meaning so far as my limited knowledge allows. ” The Brahmin quoted the first Sutra of the third chapter and asked the Acharya to explain it. This Sutra refers to the departure of the jiva from the body at the time of death. Shri Shankara in an attitude of humility interpreted the Sutra in the light of the verse of the Chandogya Upanishad to which it refers. The Brahmin raised a large number of objections in a long discussion which was resumed every day for a week, but Shri Shankara was able to meet all of them satisfactorily. Shri Padmapada was struck by the extraordinary intellectual ability of the Brahmin and concluded that he was no ordinary pundit. The following day the pundit revealed himself to be none other than Shri Vyasa, the author of the Sutras.
He closely examined Shri Shankara’s commentary and gave it the seal of his approval as a correct exposition of his meaning and of the philosophy of Adwaita. Before leaving he blessed the holy Acharya and said: “My son, there is a most learned pundit named Kumarila Bhatta: convert him and make him a devotee of the Adwaita philosophy. “
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