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  • Context (IE): The four Shankaracharyas have said they will not attend the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on January 22.

Who are the Shankaracharyas?

  • Shankaracharya means ‘teacher of the way of Shankara’.
  • It is a religious title used by the heads of the four cardinal mathas or peeths.
  • The Shankaracharya heads the four Hindu maths (monasteries) — in Dwarka (Gujarat), Joshimath (Uttarakhand), Puri (Odisha), and Sringeri (Karnataka).
  • These Maths were founded by the eighth-century religious scholar and philosopher Adi Shankara (c 788 CE-820 CE).
  • These mathas comprise religious shrines, temples, libraries, and residences.
  • The existence of these mathas before the 14th century CE is disputed, with evidence suggesting retrospective establishment to legitimise these centres of learning.
  • The Vijayanagara kingdom began to patronise the Sringeri matha in the 14th Century.

Adi Shankaracharya

  • He is Known as Adi Shankara, born 11th May 788 AD, at Kaladi (poised to be declared a national monument) near Kochi, Kerala.
  • He took Samadhi at the age of 33 at Kedar Tirth.
  • He was a devotee of Shiva.
  • He was the disciple of Govindacharya.
  • He propounded the Doctrine of Advaita (Monism) and wrote many commentaries on the Vedic canon (Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita) in Sanskrit.
  • He was opposed to Buddhist philosophers.
  • The followers of Shankaracharya are called as Smratas.
  • He was one of the mystic Bhakti poet-saint leaders who gave Hinduism a new direction.
  • He emphasised that devotion to the supreme Brahman is an effective means to realise the truth beyond duality.
  • He advanced the concept of Nirgunabrahman (god without attributes).
  • He emphasised knowledge (Gyan) as the only way to salvation.
  • He emphasised that ritualistic actions are secondary and do not lead to liberation.
  • He sought to integrate Gyan and bhakti as complementary means to attain the ultimate truth.

Adi Shankara

Major Works of Shankaracharya

  • Brahmasutrabhasya (Bhashya or commentary on the Brahma Sutra).
  • Bhajagovinda Stotra.
  • Nirvana Shatakam.
  • Prakaran Granths.

Disciples of Adi Shankaracharya

  • Shankaracharya’s four closest disciples played pivotal roles in propagating his teachings:
    1. Padmapada: Known for his deep devotion and poetry.
    2. Totakacharya: He devoted himself to Shankaracharya’s mission and was revered for his poetry “Totakashtakam.
    3. Hasta Malaka: A child prodigy astounded Shankaracharya with his understanding of Advaita philosophy.
    4. Sureshwara: Initially a householder, he became a disciple after losing a philosophical debate to Shankaracharya

Teachings and Philosophy

Advaita Vedanta

  • Adi Shankaracharya’s most significant contribution is his propagation of Advaita Vedanta.
  • This philosophy asserts the ultimate non-dual nature of reality, i.e., the Individual soul (Atman) is identical to the supreme reality (Brahman).
    • Adi Shankaracharya believed that the individual and supreme souls are like waves and the ocean.
    • The waves appear different from the ocean but comprise the same water substance.
  • According to it, the Upanishads reveal a fundamental principle of nonduality termed ‘brahman’, which is the reality of everything.
  • It seeks to establish that the essential core of oneself (atman) is brahman.
  • The fundamental thrust of Advaita Vedanta is that the atman is pure non-intentional consciousness.


  • Adi Shankara emphasised the concept of Maya, which is the illusion that the material world is separate from Brahman.
  • He argued that realising the illusory nature of the world and recognising one’s true identity as Atman is the key to spiritual liberation (moksha).

The doctrine of Neti-Neti

  • Shankara’s philosophy employs the “neti-neti” (not this, not that) approach, where one negates all attributes and limitations to realise Brahman’s attributeless and limitless nature.
  • Neti-Neti meditation is a form of self-inquiry in which the practitioner searches for the location of the self.
  • With its aid, the Gyani negates identification with all things of this world, not the Atman.
  • The doctrine of Neti-neti also finds significance in Buddhism.

Statues of Adi Shankara

  • 108 feet high ‘Statue of Oneness’ of Adi Shankaracharya was unveiled on Mandhata mountain at Omkareshwar in Khandwa district, M.P.

Significance of Mandhata

  • The Mandhata island, nestled on the Narmada River, is home to two of the 12 JyotirlingasOmkareshwara (located on the island’s south side) and Amareshwara.
  • The island is home to Shaivite, Vaisnavite, & Jain temples dating back to the 14th & 18th centuries.
  • The name ‘Omkareshwar’ is derived from the island’s shape, which resembles the sacred syllable ‘Om’, and its name means ‘the Lord of Omkara’.
  • Indian PM has also unveiled a 12-foot statue of Adi Shankaracharya at Kedarnath, UK, in 2021.
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