Thursday, February 23, 2012

Adi Sankaracharya's Saurashtra Visit

Dwaravati, now Dwaraka, was the first city of eminence in Saurashtra in pre-historic times. But today, Dwaraka can hardly be called a city, though it continues to be one of the most important temple towns in India. Almost all roads in the town lead to the temple of Dwarakadheesh Shri Krishna. Situated right next to the temple is the Sharada Peetha, one of the four peethas (monasteries) established by Adi Shankaracharya 12 centuries ago, as history books tell us.

Why did he choose Dwaraka to set up his first peetha? “Adi Shankara envisioned India’s unity in cultural, religious and all other aspects and hence he established his peethas in the four corners of India, beginning with Dwaraka,” reasons Swami Sadananda Saraswati, Pramukh Dandi Swami at Sharada Peetha.

Swami Sadananda Saraswati is referred to, albeit in hushed tones, as the next Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Sharada Peeth. Fluent in Sanskrit, Hindi and Gujarati, the ascetic’s understanding of the annals of history, however, remains Shankara-centric. “Our duty calls upon us to travel within the country, revive and rejuvenate Hinduism and society,” he says.

Mahamahopadhyay J.N. Dwivedi, director of Dwarakadheesh Sanskrit Academy and Indology Research Institute, tells us that the current Shankaracharya of Dwaraka is 78th since the time of Adi Shankara. “There has not been a single day when Dwaraka Peetha did not have a Shankaracharya,” he says. “There is an interesting copper plate inscription at the peetha which was issued by King Sudhanva in 477 BC.” (The peetha puts Adi Shankara’s birth at around 507 BC.) There are no other records available. In fact, the institute has undertaken an ambitious project to trace the actual path undertaken by Shankara during his Bharat Digvijaya Yatra.

If we go by the popular 
history that Shankara was born in AD 788, it was a period when the great Valabhi dynasty had met its end in Saurashtra region, with the defeat and death on battlefield of King Shiladitya VII in 779. Fall of Valabhi led to the emergence of many small states in the region. It is said that around the same time, Wagher tribes of Okhamandal region, where Dwaraka is situated, became independent. While Waghers were in control of the Okhamandal and the coastline, the control of the hinterland was passed onto the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. Shankara’s travel in Saurashtra region and then to Dwaraka seems to have taken place during the reign of Nagabhatta, the Gurjara-Pratihara ruler who ruled from Avanti (Ujjain).

There are varying accounts about King Sudhanva, too. According to Wikipedia, he was a Malayali king and disciple of Shankara. Swami Sadananda Saraswati speculates that Sudhanva could have ruled from Avanti. But, according to Naval Udela Chandanshu, a detailed account in Marathi about Adi Shankara’s life, Sudhanva was a king of Dwaraka who had fallen under the influence of Jainism. Written by S.D. Kulkarni, the book is based on Brihat Shankar Vijaya, written by Chitsukhacharya, and Prachin Shankar Vijaya, written by Anandagiri.

The Naval Udela Chandanshu states that, “Organising the religious order was his [Shankara's] main aim. He knew that it would be easier to organise the religion if such an effort is blessed by royal patronage. So he, along with Sureshwaracharya, proceeded to Dwaraka, where Kumrila Bhatta had been a Raj Guru.

“When Acharya [Shankara] entered Dwaraka, the king personally welcomed him and expressed his desire to be Acharya’s disciple. Acharya accepted the king’s wish with much happiness. The king then urged Acharya to take up residence in Dwaraka. Acharya told the king that he respected the king’s wish but it was his duty to travel all over India. He said, ‘I will establish a Dharmapeetha here in your capital. I would like you to be the patron of this Dharmapeetha.’ Upon this, the king bowed to Acharya’s command and urged him to appoint Sureshwaracharya as the first pontiff of Dwaraka Peetha.” (This paragraph is roughly translated from original work in Marathi.)

Jayashri Vyas, a lawyer from Dwaraka, takes us to the Bhadrakali temple. Shankara chose Bhadrakali and Siddheshwara as the reigning deities of the Dwaraka Sharada Peetha. “When Shankara visited the Bhadrakali temple, he had placed his staff at the feet of the goddess; the tradition continues since then,” says Vyas.

There is another interesting temple dedicated to all Shankaracharyas in Dwaraka. Situated rather oddly in a small lane named after the late Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of the Reliance group, this temple has a statue of Shankara in a padmasana position. On both sides of the statue are placed smaller statues of successive Shankaracharyas who have headed Dwaraka Peetha.

According to Glory of Dwarka & Saradapita, a book authored by Swami Sadananda Saraswati, when Shankara arrived in Dwaraka, the Trailokya temple in the town was empty. The idol of the deity had been thrown away by non-believers. He reinstated the idol and built Sharada Peetha on the same premises.

There are hardly any historical details available of Shankara’s journey in Saurashtra region, leading up to Dwaraka. The Missionary, a book published by the Chinmaya Mission Trust, merely mentions that after beginning his southward journey from Badrinath, Shankara went to Dwaraka. “On his way to Dwaraka, he visited Girnar, Somnatha temple and Prabhasa Teertha [the place where Lord Shri Krishna breathed his last],” says the book.

On other hand, some people like Balubhai Joshi of Prabhas Patan, the town that is home to Somnatha, say that they have never come across any reference to a 
shastrarth (discourse) by Shankara during his journey to Dwaraka. He, however, is certain about Shankara’s visit to Prabhas Patan. “Adi Shankara wrote Dwadashjyotirlinga Stotra. The first verse in this composition is in praise of Somnatha. How could he have authored a Sanskrit composition without ever visiting the temple?” asks Joshi, a highly respected senior citizen in the town.

Local people believe that when Shankara travelled in this region, he prayed inside a cave near Triveni Sangam in Prabhas Patan. This cave is now the venue of Sharada mutt in Somnatha. While the actual Sharada mutt is above the ground, the cave is situated underground and can be accessed using steps that have been specially put in place for devotees so that they can visit the venue where Shankara is believed to have rested and prayed during his journey in Saurashtra.

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