Saint Adi Shankaracharya, was born as Shankara in around 788 AD in a Brahmin family in Kaladi village of Kerala.
He was born very late after marriage to Sivaguru and Aryamba. It is beleived that Aryamba was a great dissiple of Lord Shiva. She was blessed by Lord Shiva, in which he promised her to be her son as his incarnation.
Adi Shankracharya was very bright and brilliant right from his childhood. He mastered all the Vedas and the Vedanta in gurukul itself and could recite the epics and Puranas by heart.
Adi Shankaracharya was inclined towards sanyasa right from his childhood. However, his idea of sanyasaa was opposed by his mother.
Guru Govinda Bhagavatpada
He left Kerala and moved towards South India in search of a Guru. On the banks of Narmada River, Shankara met Govinda Bhagavatpada whom he regarded as Guru.
Under the guidance of his Guru, Shankara mastered Hatha, Raja and Jnana Yoga. Thereafter he received initiation in the knowledge of Brahma.
At the age of 32, Adi Shankaracharya retired to the Himalayas and is believed to have entered a cave near Kedarnath. He was never seen again and the cave that he entered is considered as his final resting place.
His aim in life was to spread the Vedic teachings of the Brahma Sutras throughout the world. Adi Shankaracharya believed in the greatness of the holy Vedas and was a major proponent of the same.
Not only did he infuse a new life into the Vedas, but also advocated against the Vedic religious practices of ritualistic excesses.
Shankaracharya had many disciples, however four of them were prominent and were considered as Shankaracharya's main disciples.
He founded four monasteries (mathas) and the responsibility was given to them. Shankaracharya Peethas are located in the four corners of India, which continue to promote his philosophy and teachings. The Mathas are as under -
1- Sringeri Sharada Peetham - This 'Pitha' was the first monastery founded by Adi Shankaracharya, which is located along the banks of Tunga at south India. Sureshvara was honoured as the head of this matha.
2- Dvaraka Pitha - This Pitha is located in the western India. Hasta Malaka aka Hastamalakacharya, was honoured as the head of this matha.
3- Jyotirmatha Peetham - This monastery is located in north India. Totakacharya was honoured as the head of this matha.
4- Govardhana matha - This matha is located in east India, which is a part of the popular Jagannath temple. Padmapada was honoured as the head of this monastery.
Once he accompanied his mother to a nearby river and took a plunge into the river. Suddenly, a crocodile appeared from beneath the river and caught hold of his leg.
Shankara then cried out to his mother, saying that a crocodile was pulling him into the river. When his mother felt helpless, Shankara urged her to allow him to die as a sanyasee.
Crocodile relieves Shankara
As soon as Aryamba gave her consent, the crocodile relieved him and entered back into the river. Shankara was miraculously unharmed and went on to become a sanyasee as his mother had already given him the permission to do so. Then he started the life of Shankara as an ascetic.
Once Shankaracharya's mother Aryamba was sick, but in spite of that she was firm on having her ritualistic bath in the river Poornaa. The river-bed, near to the house, had dried up because of summer heat.
Aryamba had to cross the sand-bed to reach the water. One day after her bath while returning home, due to the hot the sun and strain, she fainted and fell down.
On knowing this Shankara rushed to the spot to attend her and brought her home. However, Aryamba continued her routine eo go for river-bath. Shankara got worried and prayed to the river goddess, Poornaa Devi.
He requested her to flow in full level till their house, in order to facilitate his mother's ritualistic bath. In the same night there was a continuous downpour of rain and river Poornaa was seen flowing fully over the breadth of her sands.
This was miraculous the river was brought very near to the house. All the people of Kalati came to Aryamba in praising and blessing Shankara.
Shankaracharya possessed many siddhis and with his super-natural power he was travelling through the air. He was passing over the temple of Guruvayoor, when Guruvayoorappan was taking his routine morning ride on an elephant.
This is ritual repeated three times a day and crowds gathered to see Guruvayoorappan. Shankaracharya while passing over just stared at the procession below.
However, despite his fabulous powers, he found himself forcibly pulled towards the ground in order to bow to the embodied Brahman on the elephant. Shankaracharya soon became a great devotee of Guruvayoorappan.
It is to be noted that even though he was a pure advaitin or advocate of the non-dual reality of Brahman, he established many temples all over India including the Himalayan shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath and prescribed the rituals to be followed therein.
Once Shankara and Sanandana happened to be on the opposite banks of river Ganges. The disciple was drying his Guru's clothes. Shankara wanted to prove to all the great bhakti of his disciple towards him.
Shankara took a bath in the river and wearing his wet clothes told his disciple to get the dried clothes. Sanandana was worried that Shankara was wearing wet clothes.
Sanandana walks over lotuses
Soon he started walking on the river without any thought that he may get drowned or the clothes would get wet again. A miracle was seen there, that lotuses bloomed on water surface as he took each step.
It was Gangadevi who placed lotuses on his path on seeing his bhakti for his Guru. People around were amazed to see Sanandana's guru-bhakti as he crossed successfully the long river and brought his guru's clothes.
Shankara questioned him - how could he do so ? Sanandna said he was only thinking of Guru and the river depth was reduced to knee height.
Shankara then showed him the lotuses which Sanandana was not aware. Since then Shankaracharya called him as "Padmapada".