Biographical Sketches of Dekkan Poets/Sankarachari

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Biographical Sketches.




THE following Account of the Life, and Actions of this great Legislator, is principally taken from a book written in the Sancrit dialect called "Sankara Vejaya" or the Tour of Sankarachari.

All the wonderful, and supernatural performances related in the work above named, are as implicitly beleived by orthodox Hindus, as are the miracles of Moses, and of Christ, mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, by the generality of Christians—It would therefore be presumptuous, and perhaps impious in me to modify, or alter one particle of the materials from which I compile this biography, of a prophet, and sage, who flourished in an age, so remote, as to claim antiquity prior to the Christian Era. I have given the records as I received them, and find them,acknowledged by the mogt learned men who have written on Hindu Theology, and leave it to the candor of the English reader, to whom this work is principally addressed, to use their own judgment in giving credit to the miraculous adventures of the Hindu sage in question.

SANKARACHARI, — A celebrated Hindu poet, lawgiver, and prophet, was born, according to some authors, at Sringiri Meru, a village in the subdivision called Nunganad, he was the son of a Nambur Bramin.

There is great discordance of opinion amongst Hindu writers respecting the time of his birth. The Kudali Bramins, who profess to follow, and teach his system of religion, declare his appearance to have been about two thousand years ago. In a Manuscript history of the Kings of Konga Dés, in the valuable collection of the late Colonel Mackenzie, he is said to be con- temporary with Trivikramadéva Chakravatri, Sovereign of Kundinipura in the Dekkan, and to have been born at Sringeri, a place now included in the Mysore Territory, and situated on the skirts of the Western Ghauts, where he founded a College that still exists, and assumes pontifical authority over all the Smartva Bramins in the Peninsula. Other accounts have placed him in a far later age, and some are even unwilling to give him a higher antiquity than óne thousand years from the present date.

As from traditions and authentic records however, we are informed that Govendayeti Guru, or spiritual guide of Sankarachari, was the father of Vikrama,— we are pretty sure that he must have been Contemporary with the Monarch above named: these same records also assert Sanka- rachari to have been born in the 95th year of Vik, Sak. in the cycle year Vilumby, in the Kerela Des, on the banks of the river Charni, and that he was of the family of the Porachor- loo Bramius.

Sankarachari was invested with the sacerdotal thread at eight years of age by his father, and applied himself diligently to the study of the Vedes, and made great progress in philosophy and divinity; while his precocity of intellect astonished his countrymen, and was far beyond any student of the time. When he was twelve years old his father died, but Sankarachari still continued cultivating the Sciences, and every branch of learning; and his mind took such a religious turn, that even at this early age he wished to forego the world and become a Synassy. - The supplications and commands of his parent prevented him putting his design into execution, but she could not prevail on him to marry, notwithstanding she used all her endeavours to bring about that event, for Sankarachari was resolved to continue single, that he might give his whole attention to religion, study, and devotional exercises.

One day, when he was returning with his mother, from a visit to a relation in a distant village, they came to a river, which they had forded on their journey thither, but which was now considerably swelled by the rains that had fallen, a very common case in that country — They stood at the banks for some time, till the torrent had in a great measure subsided, when they attempted to Cross it, but found themselves neck-deep in water in a very short time — at this juncture Sankarachari called aloud to his mother, and said, that unless she gave him permission to become a Synassi, they must both inevitably perish, but that if she would consent, he would by his prayers save both their lives. The perilous situation in which they were placed, induced the mother of Sankarachari to give her approbation to her son's request, and it is said, the prophet in consequence swam over the river, with his mother on his back. When they gained the dry ground he prostrated himself before his mother, whom he afterwards circumambulated according to prescribed rules, and then proceeded to Karnata, where he remained until he completed his knowledge in various sciences.

After some time, Sankarachari went to KanchI, "where he confuted numerous priests of the Budha religion, who were put to death in oil-mills, by Himasitala Maharajah their king, as had been agreed to by the parties previous to the contro versy. These transactions are recorded; by inscriptions engraved in stone, in the temple of Smasaneswar at Seva Kancbi, and at Terucovalure, on the opposite side of the Vegavati river, not far from the before-mentioned place. He afterwards cousecrated an image of the Goddess Kamakshi on a copper pedestal, and engraved mysterious syllables in the different arches and rooms, according to the rules, laid' down in the Adharvna Vede, and composed eight Sanscrit verses in praise of the goddess, which are entitled " Kamakshi Astaka." He also established a lingum at Kanchi, and dedicated it to Yaka Amreswar, since which time, the place is, called Siva Kanchi — Sankarachari went thence to Terupati, where he was again engaged in religious controversy, and overcame the most learned pundits in disputation, and erected a crystal lingum, as the image of Venkateswar and denominated it Chandra-maleswar, or the crescent crowned God: the temple was, in a conspicuous position on a ,hill, where the doctrine of there being no distinction between Seva and Veshnu was taught. He directed his disciples, to collect contributions, from every pilgrim that was present, at the procession of the chariot,or ear of Venkateswar, and that food should be supplied to indigent visitors and votaries. The above-mentioned Saga composed twenty seven verses in honor of Chandramaleswar and Venkateswar and entitled them "Nakshatramala" and be left directions—that the lingum should be worshipped one month with Belva leaves.

From this place Sankarachari proceeded to, Benares, by the route of the Vindhya Hills in order that he might be acquainted wjth the learning of the people of the north. He there heard much of the reputation of Mandana Misra, an author of several works on logic, and had a great desire to visit and form an intimacy with him— on this design be set out for his house, but when arrived there, his entrance was obstructed by eight parrots, that were endued with human speech and intelligence — While struck with astonishment, and waiting in suspence at the door of Mandana's house, he observed a cocoanut tree not far from him, and being informed that some people in the Magadha country,who were cashmereans,possessed the art of plucking the fruit of the cocoanut tree by the mere power of incantation,without being obliged to climb the tree —Sankarachari in consequence made a journey to Valatechepure in Cashmere, where he saw a toddy-man extracting juice from a palm tree by merely striking the stem with his hand. After some time Sankara persuaded him to instruct him in the mantra, or prayers, by which he effected this miraculous performance, and it is said, that Sankarachari in time initiated the toddy-man in a very wonderful and profitable art, which was the transmutation of metals into gold by merely pouring on it the juice of a certain plant; while pronouncing certain mysterious and magical syllables It is said, that the toddy-man on becoming an adept in the art last mentioned, lost his former one, but by means of the new art he acquired manufactured a great quantity of gold, and struck coins,bearing the impression of his own figure. A short time after this, Sankarachari returned to the house of Mandana Mishra, before mentioned, situated at Goda, on the bank of the Narmada river; when there he climbed the cocoanut tree that has already been noticed and by the means of its branches jumped into a saloon in the house, where he found Mandana Misra, harangueing a large multitude, Who were seated'to bear his doctrines, and listening to his discourses with admiration. Sankarachari was soon engaged in controversy with the master of the house on some abstruse point in philosophy, and completely vanquished him in every argument that was contested. The wife of Mandana Misra perceiving that her husband was baffled and overcome,immediately stepped forward and challenged Sankarachari to dispute on the mysterioua science of Sexual intercourse. It should be observed that the art of love among Hindus is cultivated by the learned as a science the most intricate and Sublime that can engage the mind of man, and many Shasters have been written on this subject by sages of antiquity, whose texts have been explained by numerous commentators— Sankarachari had no knowledge of this science, as he was a bachelor, and had never been engaged in a love affair with any female, since his birth — he therefore, declined the contest for the present with the wife of Mandena Misre, agreeing coma to her in the course of six months, and contend with her on any point she wished to propose.

Sankarachari after this made a journey to a city whose king of the name of Amaraga, was just dead, and the body placed on a pile of sandalwood in order to be burnt. Sankarachari, it is said, being in possession of an art, by which he Could transmigrato his soul into other bodies, was determined to avail himself of the opportunity that now offered, and giving special directions to his own disciples, who were collected round him, and whom he entrusted with the secret to take special care of his own corpse, he by pronouncing some cabalistic and mysterious syllables caused his own soul to animate the dead body of the king; he then sprung up, and quitting the pile proceeded to his palace, where all the courtiers and attendants of the late king were in admiration, at the supposed resuscitation of their master.

Sankarachari enjoyed all the rights of a husband with, the queen, widow of the late king: after a time however, she began to suspect that this was not her real husband, but that some adept in the art had animated her husband's corpse: she consequently gave directions that every dead body in her dominion should be immediately bornt, and her ministers and guards forthwith proceeded to put her orders into execution. — The disciples of Sankarachari were not able to conceal the corpse of their master, from the scrutiny of the queen's servants, and the body was immediately placed on a pile of faggots to be burnt. The pupils of Sankarachari on this immediately run to the palace exclaiming aloud these words, "thou art the true spirit" — Sankarachari suspecting the case, immediately re-animated his own body, which was on the pile that had already been set fire to: finding that now the flames were reaching him, he repeated eight verses in honor of Lakshmi — Narasimha, or Vishnu, by virtue of which the fire became impotent, and he was enabled to quit the pile unhurt in the least degree. He then quitted the place with all possible expedition, and went accompanied by his disciples to the house of Mandana Misra, whose wife immediately entered in lo controversy with him, on the subject which he had previously declined, or rather procastinated. Experience, however, had by this time well qualified Sankara to give a ready answer to all her questions, and he, without hesitation pointed out all the topical positions, according to their revolutions, of passion, and lust. The wife of Mandana was defeated and abashed, and made obeisance to her conqueror and master. Sankarachari whose slaves she and her husband became, in consequence of her defeat, as had been before stipulated. The Hindu sage generously gave them their liberty, and shortly afterwards proceeded to Cashmere, where he met with the toddy-man before mentioned, who was anxious to recover the art he had lost to Sankarachari, and made obeisance to him. Sankarachari however paid no heed to him, but went strait to Valabhipore, where he prayed to the goddess to come and reside in that part of the peninsula in which he was born. It is said, that the goddess assented to his request, and intimated to him, that in whatever spot she became manifest to him, she would rest, Sankarachari was mach gratified at the condescension of the goddess, and immediately proceeded towards- Bednore, which is a province in the Carnatic. When he arrived at the hermitage of the Reshi, called Sringi, on the banks of the river, Tunga Bhadra, the goddess Sarada became manifest, and intimated to him, that she intended to reside there, and commanded him to build temple in her honor, which Sankarachari accordingly did he also raised several edifices in various divisions, where worship was paid to the above-named deity. After this, he made a tour round the Indian peninsula, and erected fanes in honor of the goddess in numerous places, giving them distinct denominations. He returned to Sringeri and composed a poetical work to celebrate the incomparable charms and accomplishments of the wife of king Amaraga. He also compiled a commentary on the theological works of Vyasa and intitled it " Sarera — Bhashya," in which was recorded his extermination of the heretical sects of Jainas, Bowdhas, Charwakas Kafabkas, etc. his eminence in philosophy obtained for him the title of " Shanmato-dharaka" or confirmer of true tenets. Sankarachari made mother tour to the northern countries, and established the God Pasupateswar in the Nepaul Country thence he went to Kamarupa, in Assam, where he planted an image of the goddess Kamakshi and leaving this place, proceeded to Revalaya, a mountain in which place he erected a lingum and called it Revalayeswar; after this he went to Badararikedar, on the declivity of what is called, the Snowy Mountain: in this place he completed his theological works, and delivering them to his disciples, directed that they should he published. The last accounts we have of this Hindu legislature, inform us, that he went to the country of Yavans, or Greeks,and that he never returned. As no authentic narration of his death has been given,many pious Hindus believe that he is still in existence. His pupils Padmapadachari and Hastamalkachari returned to Sringeri, where they published the works of their master, still extant: these pious -men spent the remainder of their lives in abstract, devotions, and died at the above-named place. Their descendants have exercised supreme jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters till this very day.