Chaos pervaded all through India in the matter of religion and philosophy. Sect after sect, such as Charvakas, Lokayathikas, Kapalikas, Shaktas, Sankhyas, Buddhas and Madhyamikas sprang up. The number of religions rose as high as seventy-two. There was fight amongst sects. There was no peace anywhere. Chaos and confusion reigned supreme. There was superstition and bigotry. Darkness prevailed over the once happy land of Rishis, sages and Yogins. The once glorious land of the Aryans was in a miserable state. Such was the state of the country at the time which just preceded the Avatara (incarnation) of Sankaracharya. The existence of Vedic Dharma in India today is due to Sankara. The forces opposed to Vedic religion were more numerous and powerful at the time of Sankara than they are today. Still, single-handed, within a very short time, Sankara overpowered them all and restored the Vedic Dharrna and Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity in the land. The weapon he used was pure knowledge and spirituality. The previous Avataras, like Rama and Krishna, used physical forces because the obstacles to Dharma in those days arose from the physical obstructions and molestations of the Asuras (demons). The menace to Dharma in the Kali age (age of destruction) arose from obstacles that were more internal than external, more mental than physical. The seeds of Adharma (unrighteousness) were then working in the minds of almost everyone. Hence the evil had to be combated purely by the weapon of knowledge and self-purification. It was in order to forge this weapon and wield it with efficacy that Sankara took birth in the Brahmin Varna (caste) and entered the Sannyasa (renunciate) order early in life. The previous Avataras like Rama and Krishna took birth in the Kshatriya Varna (warrior caste), because in their days they had to wield military weapons in the restoration of Dharma. All are no doubt aware of the very important position assigned to Sankaracharya in the history of Indian philosophy. It can be affirmed, without any fear of contradiction, that Bharata Varsha would have ceased to be Bharata Varsha several centuries ago and would never have survived the murderous sword, the devastating fire and the religious intolerance of the successive invaders, if Sankara had not lived the life he lived and taught the lessons he taught. And those lessons are still pulsating in every cell and in every protoplasm of the true aspirant and the true Hindu.
Sankara was born in a very poor family in the year 788 A.D. in a village named Kaladi, six miles to the east of Alwaye, Kerala. Kaladi is a railway station, on the Kochi-Shoranur rail link. Sankara was a Nambudiri Brahmin. Rajasekhara, a Zamindar (a rich landlord), built a Siva temple in Kaladi and formed an Agrahara for Brahmins who were in the service of the temple. Vidyadhiraja was doing Puja (worship) in the temple. He had only a son named Sivaguru. Sivaguru studied the Shastras and married at the proper age. He had no child. He and his wife Aryamba prayed to Lord Siva to bless them with a son. A son was born to them in the Vasanta Ritu or the spring season at noon, in the auspicious Abhijit Muhurta and under the constellation Ardhra. This son was Sankara. Sivaguru died when Sankara was seven years old. Sankara had none to look after his education. His mother was an extraordinary woman. She took special care to educate her son in all the Shastras. Sankara's Upanayana or thread ceremony was performed in his seventh year, after the death of his father. Sankara exhibited extraordinary intelligence in his boyhood. When he was only sixteen, he became a master of all the philosophies and theologies. He began to write commentaries on the Gita, the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras when he was only sixteen years old. What a great marvel! Sankara's mother was consulting astrologers about horoscopes of suitable girls for her son's marriage. But Sankara had a firm resolve to renounce the world and become a Sannyasin. Sankara's mother was very much grieved that there would be no one to perform her funeral rites after her death. Sankara gave full assurance to his mother that he would always be ready to serve her at the death-bed and perform the usual funeral rites. Even then his mother was not satisfied. One day, Sankara and his mother went to take bath in the river. Sankara plunged into the water and felt that a crocodile was dragging him by the foot. He shouted out to his mother at the top of his voice: "O dear mother! A crocodile is dragging me down. I am lost. Let me die peacefully as a Sannyasin. Let me have the satisfaction of dying as a Sannyasin. Give me your permission now. Let me take Apath-sannyasa”. The mother immediately allowed him to take Sannyasa. Sankara took Apath-sannyasa (the adoption of Sannyasa when death is near) at once. The crocodile let him go unharmed. Sankara came out of the water as a nominal Sannyasin. He again repeated his promise to his mother. He left her under the care of his relatives and gave away his little property to them. He then proceeded to find out a Guru with a view to get himself formally initiated into the sacred order of Sannyasa.
Sankaracharya.Org - http://www.dlshq.org/saints/sankara.htm
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