The permanent charm of the name of Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada, the founder of the Sringeri Mutt, lies undoubtedly in the Advaita philosophy he propounded. It is based on the Upanishads and augmented by his incomparable commentaries. He wrote for every one and for all time. The principles, which he formulated, systematized, preached and wrote about, know no limitations of time and place.
It cannot be denied that such relics of personal history as still survive of the great Acharya have their own value. It kindles our imagination to visualize him in flesh and blood. It establishes a certain personal rapport instead of a vague conception as an unknown figure of the past.
To those who are fortunate to study his valuable works, devotion and gratitude swell up spontaneously in their hearts. His flowing language, his lucid style, his stern logic, his balanced expression, his fearless exposition, his unshakable faith in the Vedas, and other manifold qualities of his works convey an idea of his greatness that no story can adequately convey. To those who are denied the immeasurable happiness of tasting the sweetness of his works, the stories of his earthly life do convey a glimpse of his many-sided personality.
Of the chief incidents in his life, there is not much variation among the several accounts entitled 'Shankara Vijayas'. Sri Shankara was born of Shivaguru and Aryamba at Kaladi in Kerala. He lost his father in the third year. He received Gayatri initiation in his fifth year. He made rapid strides in the acquisition of knowledge. In his eighth year he obtained with great difficulty the consent of his mother and took up sanyasa. He started out in quest of a competent teacher. And eventually found Govinda Bhagavatpada (the disciple of Gaudapada) on the banks of the Narmada. He stayed with his Guru for a while. Under his command, he went to Kashi and Badri where he composed his unrivalled and unequalled Bhashyas (commentaries) on the Prasthantraya.
He went to meet Kumarila Bhatta, the champion of Karma Mimamsa. It was too late to hold any discussion with him, as he had commenced the penance of slow death as a means of expiation. As directed by Kumarila Bhatta, Shankaracharya went to meet his foremost disciple Viswarupa, also known as Mandana Mishra. The debate with Mishra, his eventual conversion to the views of Sri Shankara and his taking up Sanyasa, as Sureshwaracharya, are all well known.
Shankara then started on a tour of religious revival throughout India. He condemned un-Sastric practices, and re-established Vedic observances. He rid the society of many evils and restored the Vedic religion in its philosophical and practical aspects to its pristine purity and glory.
To safeguard the maintenance of this purity in the future, he established four Mutts in four directions. He entrusted them to the charge of his four foremost disciples. He ascended the Sarvajna Peetham in Kashmir. Before his 32nd year, he had completed this colossal work. It is beyond one's comprehension how he found time and energy for such accomplishment. In addition, he composed the great mass of literature that stands to his credit.