Every year on this day, i.e. on panchamitithi during the shukla paksha of the Vaishakha month is observed Shankara Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the celebrated master, yogi and jivanmukta, Adi Shankaracharya.
Shankaracharya is best known for reviving Hinduism and establishing the teachings of the Upanishads in the form of Advaita Vedanta. In his short life of 32 years, he travelled the length and breadth of the country a number of times for the uplift of dharma, established the four peethams in four cardinal directions for the propagation of dharma and Vedanta and wrote a large number of texts — most important among them being the commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagavad Gita. These commentaries collectively called Prashtanatraya-Bhashya are so central to Hinduism, especially the Advaita Vedanta Parampara, that Shankaracharya came to be fondly referred to as Bhashyakara (the writer of Bhashyas). [A detailed account of his life can be read in MadhaveeyaShankara-dig-vijaya]
While it is well known and well recognised that Shankaracharya was an accomplished yogi, jivanmukta and a teacher of Vedanta, especially of jnana yoga, what is not realised or what is downplayed is that Shankaracharya was also a sublime Bhakta and a teacher of bhakti Yoga as well. This despite the fact that a large number of devotional hymns are attributed to Shankaracharya and is widely chanted and sung across India.
The Acharya composed a number of important texts on bhakti including Soundaryalahari, Shivaanandalahari, Dakshinamurthy Stotram, Bhajagovindam, Vishnusatpadi and a number of hymns dedicated to various deities of Hinduism. These wonderful texts and hymns are not merely compositions of the thinking mind, but are actually spontaneous manifestations of sublime bhakti in the form of heartfelt outpourings of the revered Acharya. Further, Shankaracharya has wonderfully integrated a larger number of teachings on life, bhakti, Dharma and Vedanta into these outpourings.
This is especially true about the text Shivaanandalahari, which is one of the most heartfelt submissions to Lord Shiva by Acharya.
Shivaanandalahari: Name and text
Shivaanandalahari is a text of bhakti dedicated to Lord Shiva. The acharya repeatedly calls upon Lord Shiva to enter his mind and be seated there so that he can experience and be established in Shiva’s bliss.
The term lahari means waves and Shiva-ananda means “Shiva’s bliss” or the bliss of auspiciousness. Thus, Shivaanandalahari means “waves of Shiva’s bliss” and is a reference to the waves of bliss that arises in a devotee’s mind when he/she contemplates on the auspicious form of Shiva. This is, in fact, the definition of bhakti, as noted by the sage Narada who defines bhakti as the very nature of bliss (Narada bhakti Sutra Verse 3). The use of the term lahari is also significant since it denotes the fact that if the deity of worship becomes fully established in a devotee’s heart, it is permanent and, hence, the bliss experienced by such a devotee is also permanent. The devotee will forever experience the waves upon waves of Ananda.
Madhusudhana Saraswati gives a beautiful example in this regard. He notes that, just as a color mixed with a melted lac will remain permanently in the lac even after it becomes solidified, so also the object of devotion becomes permanently established in a melted mind (Bhagavadbhakti-Rasayana, verse 8 and its commentary by MS). Thus, Shankaracharya is enunciating a definition of bhakti in the very title he has chosen for his work.
Further, Shankaracharya himself enunciates the reason for choosing this name in verse 2 of the text. He says:
Oh Sambhu, let the wave of Siva’s bliss, which trickles forth from the river of your life, which destroys the dust of sin, which falls into the paths of the streams of the intellect, which grants the mitigation of the agony of wandering in the circuit of worldly life and which carries in the heart of my heart, be victorious. [Translation by Rama Venkataraman and Uma Krishnaswamy]
From this, we can know that Shivaanandalahari is a complete text of bhakti yoga composed in the form of heartfelt pouring of devotion towards Lord Shambhu.
Outpourings of a sublime devotee
The Acharya uses a number of different metaphors to describe Lord Shiva, to express his devotion towards Him and to bring out the beauty of bhakti.
In the very first verse, Shankaracharya dedicates a beautiful prayer to the divine couple: Shiva & Shakti:
Let this be my salutation to the Auspicious ones, who are the embodiment of art,whose heads are adorned by the crescent moon, who are the fruits of mutual penance,whose bounteousness is displayed amongst (their) devotees, who are lavishly auspicious to the three worlds, who appear repeatedly in (my) heart and who experience the bliss that wells up.
In verse 4, Shankaracharya humbly submits that there are thousands of deities who can offer hundreds of boons of different kinds, yet his heart longs only for the feet of Shiva, whose proximity is difficult to get even for Vishnu, Brahma and others. In verse 6, Shankaracharya chides those who are too immersed in dry logic and disputations and advise them to turn their minds to bhakti instead:
Earthern pot or clod of earth or even an atom, smoke or fire on the mountain, cloth or thread, will this (logic) remove the terrible death? You display in vain agitation of your throat, by (such) vigorous argument. Oh wise one, worship the lotus feet of Sambhu and seek supreme happiness.
Then, in verse 7, Shankaracharya addresses his mind and different organs urging them to indulge in bhakti.
Let my mind dwell on your lotus feet, my speech in effortless praise (of you), my hands in worshipping (you) and my ears in the practice of hearing your tale. Let my intellect meditate on you, and my eyes (dwell) on the greatness of your image. OhParamasiva, beyond this, what use are the other great texts?
Comparing the mind to a fickle monkey, Shankaracharya says in verse 20:
It (my mind) roams always in the forest of delusion, it dances on the physique of young women, it wanders on the branches of desire rapidly, at will all around. Oh Kapali,Oh Bhikshu, tie my exceedingly fickle monkey like heart, firmly by devotion. Oh Siva, OhVibhu, make it subservient to you.
In verse 26, Shankaracharya lets out a pain of longing and asks Shiva when he will get a chance to experience the auspicious feet of Lord Shiva and planting them on his head and heart and enjoying the fragrance of the lotus feet. In verse 33, Shankaracharya asks if worshipping the Lord with namaskara, puja, dhyana, etc. is not mukti, what else is?
Upholding the glory of recounting the accounts of the Supreme Lord, The Acharya says in verse 40:
When the divine nectar like mass of water has been brought from the story ofSadasiva, by the machinery of the intellect, by the pots of speech and by the series of canalsand subcanals of poetry and have united with the paddy crop of devotion in the field of theheart, they cause productiveness. Oh Bhagavan, Oh Visvesa, where is fear from famine forme (your) servant?
In verse 60, addressing the mind to approach the feet of Lord Shambhu, which removes all fear, Shankaracharya says:
Just as one dragged by flood water approaches the bank, the fatigued wayfarer the shade of the tree, one who fears the rain the comfortable home, the guest a householder, the indigent one the righteous master, one overcome by great darkness the lamp and one who is made uneasy by the cold the fire, likewise Oh mind, you approach the lotus feet ofSambhu, which removes all fear and which is joyous.
Noting that there is no end to the glories of Lord Shambhu, Shankaracharya concludes his Shivanandalahari thus:
Enough of praise. I do not speak falsely. At the time of the discourse, of the enumeration of the praiseworthy, the gods such as Brahma etc. know that you are to be counted first. Like chaff shaken off the grain, your devotees Oh Sambhu, know you to be the best of excellent objects, amongst the praiseworthy, when discussing the subject of the foremost amongst the exalted.
Teachings of bhakti yoga
While even a single reading of Shivaanandalahari makes it obvious that it the spontaneous outpouring of bhakti of the revered Acharya, a careful reading will also reveal that Shankaracharya has integrated detailed teachings of bhakti Yoga as well as a theory of bhakti within these hymns. Though it is beyond the scope of this article to examine this issue in detail, a brief presentation of some important tenets enunciated by Shankaracharya will be mentioned below.
We noted how the very name for the text has been chosen by Shankaracharya carefully with an intention to serve as a definition of bhakti. He elaborates this definition in verse 61, wherein he speaks about the four stages of bhakti that devotees traverse through. He says:
Just as its own series of seeds reaches the Ankola tree here, the needle theloadstone,the chaste woman her own lord, the creeper the tree and the river the ocean, likewise, (when)the state of the mind having approached the two lotus feet of Pasupati, stays there always, that(state) is said to be devotion.
The Acharya is here defining the state of mind being established in the lotus feet of Supreme Lord, which imparts permanent bliss as bhakti. Then, he elaborates what it means by establishing the mind in Supreme Lord. He says that the devotion first begins with the notion of “I belong to Yours” like the seeds of Ankola tree spontaneously moving towards the tree or the needle towards loadstone and finally ends with the devotee merging with the deity and attaining Suyujya, like the river merging into the ocean. [The author has elaborated this at “Reflections on bhakti– I: From “I am Yours” to “I am You”] The Acharya further mentions about different types of bhakti in verse 28.
In a number of verses like 3, 24, 25, 53, etc., Shankaracharya has given various descriptions of Lord Shiva along with his retinue for the purpose of facilitating meditation. In Verse 53, for example, Shankaracharya gives a dhyana shloka for meditating on Shiva as Neelakanta. He says:
I worship that Neelakantha, who has the sky for his crest, who has the leader of the serpents as a necklace, who favours those who bow in salutation, who sings with sounds like Keki, when instructing on the sacred syllable Om, who dances joyously having seen the dark, auspicious beauty of Parvati and who takes pleasure in sporting in the garden of Vedanta.
Then, in verse 81, Shankaracharya speaks about twin aspects of bhakti as sadhana and sadhya. In a number of verses, including verse 90, Shankaracharya enunciates the competency required for bhakti. He notes that all can practice bhakti. The rich, poor, learned, ignorant, bhakti is open for everyone. The only condition is for the heart to be soft and melted, and to be one-pointedly devoted to the Supreme Lord, as Acharya notes in verses 95 & 96.
In Bhagavad Gita (7.16-17), Lord Krishna notes that there are four kinds of devotees: the afflicted (Artah), the seeker of Knowledge (Jignasuh), the seeker of wealth (Artharthi) and the man of Knowledge (Jnani). And among them, Lord Krishna notes that the Jnani excels than others and is most dear to the Lord. A reading of Shivaanandalahari will show why Lord Krishna is right.
Adi Shankaracharya who is a Jnani par-excellence and a Jivanmukta comes out in the text as an unparalleled Bhakta. He employs various beautiful metaphors to give shape to his inner outpourings and through these sublime verses full of devotion, he also teaches the intricacies of bhakti-yoga. The Acharya posits Lord Shiva as the Supreme Ishwara, the consort of Shakti and the cause of the universe and advices people to give up their ego, greed, and other mental passions and surrender their minds at the feet of the Great God and attain Supreme Bliss.
On this auspicious day, let us remember the great master and reflect upon his teachings.
Bhagavad-bhakti-Rasayana of Madhusudhana Saraswati
bhakti Sutras of Sage Narada
Reflections on bhakti– I: From “I am Yours” to “I am You” by Nithin Sridhar
Shankara on bhakti by S Balakrishnan
Shivaanandalahari of Adi Shankaracharya, Translation by Rama Venkataraman& Uma Krishnaswamy