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Dance Drama on the life of Jagadguru Shankaracharya

Posted at 2210 hrs. on 1st Sept 2009

In a dampened evening that appeared to have lost its natural splendor when rain clouds concealed heaven in the sky, The Heaven on planet earth did not relent.

 Onam is the biggest and the most important festival of the state of Kerala, celebrated by all communities with secular feeling beyond religious boundaries. It is supposedly the harvest festival of the state and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm. Thiruvonam is the day when Keralites, according to the legend, welcoming their erstwhile King Mahabali whose story is tagged with the story of Vamana. Mahabali, shunning his ego, while returning to the neither world as per the command of Lord Vamana was blessed with a boon to return to the state once in an year, and this return is celebrated throughout the state as Onam.

Adi Shankara’s illustrious story is quite familiar to the Sai Fraternity as his story comes quite often, referentially, in Bhagawan’s Divine Discourses. The day’s evening programme was on the life story of the illustrious philosopher saint, Adi Shankaracharya who was the most authoritative proponent of the Advaita philosophy.

The Balvikas children from the district of Trivandrum had a simple yet thematically rich presentation, “Shankara Digvijayam” that covered the life story of the great saint. The drama began with a backdrop wherein an inquisitive little mind, a little boy, who, during the last leg of his lengthy pilgrimage, to various holy places along with his father, meeting up with someone to open up a conversation on the holy life of Shankaracharya. The inquisitive mind who already nurtured a desire to lead the path of an ascetic posed a vital question. ”…How did an eight year old boy who left his home become Jagadguru Shankaracharya?” and there unfurled the story of the illustrious life of one of the greatest Saints of Bharat, Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya.

The first scene depicted Shivaguru, father of Shankaracharya narrating a dream to his better half, Aryamba. The dream was about a promise by Lord Shiva to end their long agony of not having progeny as Lord Shiva Himself would be taking birth as their son.

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But, Aryamba’s joy was short lived as Shivaguru, after seeing the child’s horoscope revealed that the child was destined to take up sanyasa. Shivaguru in his attempt to pacify his wife went philosophical telling that ignorant, myopic vision of the ordinary could not fathom Divine Foresight. “If God has a different plan, we should accept it”.

Shankara was extraordinarily brilliant and intelligent in the Gurukula and his inner thirst to embrace the life of an ascetic was burning with intensity. But, in the meantime his father passed away. His mother, who was ever reluctant to part away her son by permitting him to become an ascetic finally had to yield when she was caught in a fixed situation, as her son was caught in a crocodile’s clutch and she had to pledge her son to Lord Shiva allowing him to become a Sanyasi.

To a worried mother who raised her concern that she would be missing her son during her last moments, the young Shankara promised that he would be at her “beck and call” in her final moments and would perform her last rites.

Shankara moved on, travelling extensively. He met his guru, Govindacharya on the banks of Narmada under whose tutelage he was trained to become a great scholar. Later at the instance of his guru, Shankara left the holy city of Kashi and wrote commentary on Brahmasutra and several strotras including Kalabhairava Strotram, Annapoorna Strotram. While in Kashi, he initiated his first disciple Sanandan, who later came to be known as Padmapada. In Kashi, the seat of knowledge, great scholars and saints conceded to Shankara’s great wisdom who thus earned the title Shankaracharya.

The next episode showed great wisdom dawning upon Shankara wherein he was made to learn the oneness of all by lifting the veil of illusion. While on the move he was encountered by a beggar who came on his way. Shankara’s disciples with the thick veil of illusion tried to drive away the beggar who in turn retorted asking Shankara, questioning him as to whether the person who wrote “Brahma Sathyam Jagad Mithya” could command the soul to move away. With wisdom dawning upon, Shankara sought to touch the feet of “The Lord” conceding that his veil of illusion was removed.

In the meantime it was emotional scene back at his home in Kaladi, Kerala. Mother was wailing as she was waiting to breathe her last and fondling memories of her beloved son was haunting her soul. She was expectant and as per the promise given, Shankara finally reached home to an emotional scene. Imparting wisdom to the departing soul, telling her that she was not the body, but was the fearless refuge, Shankara helped her to regain her composure to become courageous to face death without any worries. Accepting her last wish Shankara recited Govindashtakam to liberate her to the ultimate freedom.

In an emotional scene, tiny tots, the narrators of the dance drama, remembered Bhagawan and Holy Mother Easwaramma singing the glory of the illustrious mother telling that no son could repay a mother for all the sacrifices and pains she endured.

In the meantime Shankara Digvijayam was already a happening and there were real concerns from some quarters who feared that Shankara was converting everyone into Advaita philosophy. Kapalika, a cruel king, who belonged to a sect which had been worshipping Goddess Kali, had been nursing a grievance against Adi Shankaracharya, whom he viewed as a potential threat to his faith and sect. Obtaining consent from Shankara in the name of Lord Shiva, Ugrabhairava, the lieutenant of Kapalika, wanted to behead the wisest man living on earth, who was supposedly Shankara. He took the Acharya to a nearby cave, made necessary arrangements for the sacrifice-ritual and prepared himself to behead Adi Shankaracharya. The Acharya agreed that Ugrabhairava could behead him once he entered in trance.

However, when the Kapalika lifted his sword and readied himself to chop off his head Sankara's disciple Padmapada, envisioning this murderous scheme rushed to the cave. Having been possessed by Lord Narasimha, he verily, became the man-lion Lord himself to save Shankara.

The Digvijayam was on and Shankara was on the move across the length and breadth of Bharat.  Thousands followed him abandoning worldly life. Finally he summoned his four major disciples, Padmapada, Hasthamalaka, Thotaka and Sureshwara, asking them to travel to the four corners of Bharat spreading the Advaita philosophy, empowering generations with the light of Advaita. He declared that he would be going to Kedarnath and would never return.

The drama ended with a declaration that Advaita philosophy was as popular and effective even today and one should serve the society with selfless love and service, as desired and willed by Bhagawan. The final scene showed the little ascetic aspirant desired to have the darshan of Bahgawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi.

The presentation by 54 Balvikas children from Trivandrum had emotion packed scenes, powerful dialogue delivery and to top it all, scores of beautiful songs, intertwined with some from original Shankara composition in Sanskrit. Shankara Digvijayam was the portrayal of one of the greatest saints of India, whose doctrine of Advita stands in good stead for the days to come.

Towards the end of the presentation Bhagawan distributed clothes to all children participants. Prasadam was distributed and Arathi was offered before Bhagawan retired to Yajur Mandiram.

Eariler Prof. Mukundan, State President, Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, Kerala introduced the programme stating that it was due to the greater love and compassion that enabled the state to organise Onam 2009 in Prasanthi Nilayam, in the immediate Divine Presence. Subsequently he announced the programme for the evening, Sri Shankar Digvijayam which was corrected by Bhagawan...He made yet another announcement admitting that he was under Divine Correction as Bhagawan said, the drama title was Shankara Digvijayam...