Characteristics of Ancient Indian Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

It is sad to see the status of the current educational system. Whether it is student-teacher relationship, related to fee, control of the state or central government, mental/ethical development of students, imparting social responsibilities or providing pure knowledge…..everywhere you will find flaws and need some serious introspection. These are the few reasons why we have fewer enrollments in higher studies (out of ~ 140 million High school students in India only 1.8 million students opt for postgraduate or MPhil or PhD). Other issues are: having less trained workforce and unemployment rates among higher educated personnel (among literates unemployment rate is higher among better qualified, unemployment rate is 7.23% among illiterate and 10.98% among literate (2011 census)). Although the primary objective of modern educational system is to satisfy modern societal needs, but it is not able to address this adequately. So I thought to look into what kind of education system was available in ancient times, and how that system operated.

The ancient education system can be best described by the following verse from Vishṇu Puraṇa.

तत्कर्मयन्नबन्धायसाविद्यायाविमुक्तये। आयासायापरंकर्मविद्यऽन्याशिल्पनैपुणम्॥

Tatkarmyannabandhāyasāvidyāyāvimuktaye।  Āyāsāyāparṁ karmavidya’nyāśilpanaipuṇm।।

 (Vishṇu Puraṇa 1-19-41)

That is action, which does not promote attachment; that is knowledge which liberates. All action is a mere effort/hardship; all other knowledge is merely another skill/craftsmanship.

The above quotation is the best portraiture of the Indian educational system in the past, and the Vedas form the basis of such a system. The word ‘Vidya’ is derived from the root vid, to know, which the same root as Veda is. Since the entire educational system is based on the Veda, Vidya garnered by Veda enables a person to know the truth regarding the universe and the individual relationship with the universe. The Rishis understood that student should have self motivation to succeed, and teaching should suit the natural inclination of a student. It’s the duty of a Guru to test the student and impart knowledge in the subject of his/her liking. That’s why in ancient times a teacher/guru provided only suggestions/advice to his students, and students needed to put their hearts and minds behind that to assimilate the knowledge.

This educational system teaches consciousness, self-control and purity of thought and action. A person who is not selfish and well-educated leads a pure life, conquers avarice by generosity or hatred by love. Such a person does not bother about caste, creed or color. All these distinctions come when education leads to the patch of commercial contracts, but when it inculcates purity, selflessness and self-realization, then it makes individual to realize the ideals of uplifting. It is clear that this system is based on the idea of attaining perfection without degrading self or humanity as a whole. This system is based on three fold system of Vidya; a) Parā-Vidyā, b) Aparā-Vidyā, and c) Kāla. Parā-Vidyā helps one to attain pure-consciousness, Aparā-Vidyā teaches the law of nature and the cause of other phenomenon, and Kāla deals with kauśala (applied science) (Ramdasi PhD thesis).


Vedic education starts with an intimate relationship between teacher and the student. The relationship between the teacher and his students starts with a religious ceremony called Upanayana. By Upanayana ritual teacher impregnates his student with his spirit, and start students new birth. After this student is known as Dvija (born afresh; Agarwal, 2011). In this education system, student finds his teacher, live with him as family member, and treated by teacher as his son in every way. The school was in natural surroundings, Hermitage, away from urban distractions, and function in solitude and silence. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore: “A most wonderful thing was notice in India is that here the forest, not the town, is the foundation head of all its civilization. Wherever in India its earliest and most wonderful manifestations are notices, we find the men have not come into such close contact as to be rolled or fused into a compact mass. There, tree and plants, river and lakes, had ample opportunity to live in close relationship with men. In these forests, though there was human society, there was enough of open space, of aloofness; there was no jostling. Still it render it all the brighter. It is the forest that nurtured the two great ancient ages of India, the Vedic and the Buddhist. As did the Vedic Rishis, Buddha also showered his teaching in the many woods of India. The current civilization that flowed from its forests inundated the whole India.

Every education system is always associated with the social life of the time. In ancient time, the society was divided into four categories or Varṇās; the Brahmaṇa, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya and the Śudras. Education was given in the beginning mainly to the first three Varṇā of the society.  Initially, everything was taught to all the three classes. During the Vedic ages, persons of the same family group followed different occupations according to their individual taste. As time passed on and Varṇās were required to do some imparted duties (mainly in post-Vedic era or Upaniśad era), subjects got divided according to Varṇās. Birth not occupation then came to be regarded as the basis of the caste system. The Brahmaṇas learnt the Vedic texts, the Kṣatriya learnt the Veda, science of warfare and Arthsastra, and Vaiśya were taught commerce, agriculture, etc. Śudras were not entitled to formal education, they are apprenticed under the skilled individual in their trade and craft. In fact, for a time being they were also allowed for formal education. In the Baudhāyana Grihya Sutra, ŚudraRathakār was allowed to have the Upanayana Sanskar (Bakshi et al., 2005). Budhayana says: “Let him initiate a Brahmaṇa in Spring, a Kṣatriya in Summer, A Vaiśya in Autumn, a Rathakār in the rainy season or all of them in Spring”.

वसन्तेब्राह्मणामुपनयीतग्रीष्मे राजन्यं शरदि वैश्यं वर्षासुरथकारमिति।  सर्वानेववा वसन्ते।

Vasante brāhmaṇāmupanayῑtagrῑṣme rājanyaṁ śaradi vaiśyaṁ varṣāsurathakāramiti। sarvānevavā vasante।।

(Baudhyana Grihya Sutra 2-5-6)

Notably, ŚudraRathakār is defined in this book as an offspring of a Vaiśya male and Śudra female.

In addition to this four Varṇās, there are four Āśramas which an individual is expected to experience in his/her lifetime; the Brahmacharya, the Grhastha, the Vanaprastha, and  the Sanyasa. These Varṇās and stages of life give us an idea of the aims and ideals of the ancient Indian education system.

Education was free and it was the teacher’s responsibility to take care of the primary needs of the students. Debate, discussion and seminar are essential parts of learning involving listening, contemplation, comprehension, self study and recall (Ramkumar, 2014). Rote learning was the technique used for elementary education. At the secondary level Vedic studies and writing was introduced, and higher education consisted of advanced study of the metaphysical subjects. Several schools were operated those days such as Pariśad, Tola, Forest colleges, Court schools, Temple colleges, Mathas, Ghatikas, and Agraharas ( Teachers had designation according to their methods of teaching: Acharya (teach Vedas without charging fees), Upadhyaya (taught a portion of Veda or Vedangas as his profession), Charakas (wondering teachers), Guru (imparting education to his disciples), Yaujanasatika (teachers with their profound scholarship), and Sikshaka (teaching arts like dancing) ( schools specializing in subjects like philosophy, law, the sacrificial ritual, astronomy, grammar and logic appear to come into existence since 500 B. C. Under the Brahamic auspices, universities like Takhsila were established. University curriculum included physical sciences, arts, literature, philosophy, logic, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and theology. In the course of time distinction between Arts and Science were drawn and practical pursuits were included in the arts. In later Vedic era, they evolved and expanded the curricula in all the fields of knowledge. With the expansion of education system, enrollment increases, which necessitated in development of various branches of specialization. This also amalgamated various school systems to create universities like Takshila and Nalanda (Sakunthalamma, 1994). These universities had various departments with specialties. In those days the departments were –

  1. Agnisthana: This was the place where fire worship and other prayers took place. Probably here the performance of religious rites and rituals were taught.
  2. Brahmasthana: This was the department of the Veda.
  3. Vishnusthana: In this department Rajnti, Arthanti and Vārtā were taught.
  4. Mahendrasthana: This was the department where military sciences were taught.
  5. Vaivasvatasthana: This department is for Astronomy.
  6. Somasthana: Department of Botany.
  7. Garudasthana: This was the department which dealt with the transport and conveyance.
  8. Kartikeyasthana: In this department the science of organization of military, patrolling and battalions, and the army was taught.

The examination was an oral one. The student was required to give oral answers in a congregation of scholars. If he satisfied them, he was given a degree or title, somewhat similar to the PhD dissertation defense today. The consensus of the scholar’s opinion was essential for obtaining such a title.

There are evidences that girls were admitted in the Vedic schools or Charanas (Agarwal, 2011). A Kathi is a female student of Katha school. There were hostels for female students and they were known as Chhatrisala. Though the state did not include education as one of the subjects under its administration, the head of the state and other wealthy merchants, etc., encouraged these activities with their endowments. After the student completed his course (in general, 12 years of learning), the school organized Samavartna Sanskar, which is similar to convocation today. Taittirῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.1 describes address of Guru to his students, in which he exhorts to speak truth, practice social ethics and not to neglect the pursuit of knowledge. They were also advised not to forget the debt to the Gods and ancestors. According to Taittrῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.2, students were specially asked to see God in their mother, father, teacher and guest. Students were also advised to give gifts to their teachers sincerely and according to their means. Finally the teacher ended his address with the words that what all he said was the import of the Vedas, the divine scripture, which was to be meditated upon.


Sankuthalamma V. (1994). The trends of education in ancient India. PhD thesis, Shri Venkateshwara University, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Agarwal, V. (2011). Principles of Education. Chapter 1. Lakshay Publication, India.

Ramkumar, A. M. (2014). “Gurukul to University”: Ancient education system and the present day. Golden Research Thoughts, 3, 1-5.

Ramdasi, N.R. Visualising Indian heritage digital library metaphor. Research paper of PhD thesis. C- Dac, Pune.

Bakshi S.R., Gajrani S., and Singh, Hari (2005). Early Aryans to Swaraj. Volume-3, 25 – 26.


The Idea of God (Part-II)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

Continued from Part-I

Mono- versus polytheism

The Sumerian ideogram Dingir was read as ElIn neighbouring Akkadian, a Mesopotamian dialect of Semitic. We know this word very well through Hebrew, a northwestern (Levantine) dialect of Semitic. Thus the names Uriel, “my light is God”; Gabriel, “my strength is God”; Michael, “who is like God?” But as we shall presently see, these names now carry a meaning of “God” that has resulted from a revolution, viz. from poly- to monotheism.

A derivative of El is Eloha, “a deity”, “a god”. We know it mainly through the plural form Elohim, “gods”, “pantheon”. Strangely, this form has survived the theological revolution described in the Bible book Exodus under the leadership of Moses, ca. 1250 BCE. Here, the many gods were replaced with a single jealous god, yet the plural form Elohim remained but with a singular meaning: God. Thus, the Bible, which received its definitive form only under the Persian empire ca. 500 BCE, when this usage was well-established, starts with the sentence: “Berešit bara Elohim et ha-šamaim ve-etha-aretz”, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The connection with the stars was severed, at least for the Israelites, not all the other nations: “Pay attention lest ye lift your eyes up to the sky for seeing sun, moon and stars, that ye be led astray and adore and serve them, those whom the Lord your God hath assigned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut. 4:19)

A synonym of Elohim, referring to the same jealous God, is Yahweh. Moses himself introduced this god-name into Biblical tradition. Though new to the Israelites after centuries in Egypt, it must have existed earlier among the Arab (South-Semitic) Beduins as well as among the Northwest-Semitic people of Mari. Moses, when a fugitive from Egyptian law after he was found out to have committed murder, stayed with a Beduin tribe. They had a storm-god Yahweh, best translated as a causative participle of a verb meaning “to move in the sky”, whether “to blow” or “to stoop like a bird of prey”, from an Arab root HWY later attested in the Quran (22:32), but not in the Bible. This meaning is confirmed by the fixed expression Yahweh Sabaoth, “he who causes the motion of the heavenly hosts”, i.e. of the majestic procession of the stars across heaven. Here again we find a stellar meaning associated with a god-name.

Moses saw an apparition of this god in the burning bush. When Moses asks the god who he is, the god expresses his total sovereignty: “I am who I am”, ehyeh ašer ehyeh. Theologians and translators have contemplated this sentence profusely, until in ca. 1900, the German Orientalist Julius Wellhausen hit upon its probable original meaning: it elaborates a pun on the name Yahweh, which the Hebrews misinterpreted folk-etymologically as a causative participle of the verb HYY, “to be”, hence “the being one”, “he who is”, or more philosophically, “he whose essence is existence” “he who necessarily exists”, “he who causes existence to exist”. This edifice of profundities is entirely built on a folk-etymological pun, nothing more. Or to put it more positively: a new conception of the divine was grafted onto an old god.

The Arab form of the originally polytheistic term ha-eloha, “the deity”, is al-Ilāha, also “the deity”. A contracted form is Allāh, “thé deity”, “the god par excellence”, hence “God”. Originally it could refer to any earlier-mentioned god. Thus, Mohammed’s Pagan father was called Abdallāh, “servant of the deity”. Mohammed, in a bid to establish monotheism among the Arabs, reinterpreted Allāhas a synonym of Yahweh. He saw himself as the latest (and even last) one of the line of the prophets of Yahweh, renamed Allāh in Arabia. This way, the star-god El, the Semitic form of Sumerian Dingir, ended up shedding his connection with the stars and becoming the disembodied extra-cosmic Creator-god Yahweh/Allāh. The Quran (6:78, 22:18, 41:37) simply and strictly prohibits star worship.

In the footsteps of the reform movements Brahmo Samaj and Aryan Samaj, many anglicized Hindus claim that “Hinduism too is monotheistic”. This is a very defensive stand, and it is simply not correct. If the Hindu wealth of gods and of ways of worship were not polytheistic, what other religion would be? It seems to us that they are using a word they don’t understand. Monos does not mean “one”, it means “alone”, “one and no other”. Monotheism accepts only Yahweh or Allah, and considers all others as false gods, only good to be destroyed and discarded: Marduk, Ba’al, Osiris, Ahura Mazda, Śiva, Buddha. By contrast, Hinduism is inclusive. The Vedic verse: “The wise call the one essence by many names”, means that the different gods are not false but are essentially the same as your chosen god. There are no “false gods” in Hinduism. Reality is both one and manifold, and Hinduism is not bothered with the question whether the divine is single or many.

This also counts for other Pagan civilizations. When Protestant missionaries set up shop in China, they discovered that a native term roughly meaning “God” was Shangdi, so they appropriated this term as name of the Christian God. (Catholics preferred Tianzhu, the “Heavenly Boss”.) What they did not know, is that the Chinese language mostly does without the separate category of a plural, so the same word can be both plural and singular. Shangdi does not so much mean “the Sovereign on High”, as rather “the Powers on High”. In Chinese, even the grammar militates against the contrast between one and many. To monotheists this numerical matter is all-important, worthy of the iconoclastic destruction of all the “false gods”; but to regular people such as Hindus or Confucians and Daoists, it is just not an issue.


Heaven-worship is truly the universal religion, rivalled only by ancestor-worship. And even then, these two are intertwined. Deceased ancestors are deemed to be in heaven, often actually associated with a specific star. When your father has died, you take your child on an evening walk, and when the stars appear, you point out one of them and say: “There is grandpa, watching over us.” In a Vedic ritual, a zone in the sky, in the Scorpio-Sagittarius area, is designated as the destination of the dead.

For famous people, who had become part of the collective consciousness, the procedure could be to “elevate them to godhood” (Greek: Apotheōsis) by associating them with a specific star or constellation.A case in point from antiquity is Antinoös, the lover-boy of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who drowned himself and was given a star in Aquarius, still named after him. When in the 17th century the southern sky was mapped, one constellation was named after the protection given to Vienna by Jan Sobieski against the Ottoman siege: Scutum Sobieskii, “Sobieski’s shield”, now simply Scutum.

This practice was first attested in writing in Ugarit, Syria, where in ca. 2000 BC famous people upon their deaths were identified or “associated” with a star. In the native Semitic, this practice was named Širk, “association”. The term ought to be well-known today, but with an evolved meaning. When Islam imposed monotheism, it denounced polytheism and idolatry as Širk, i.e. the “association” of a mortal, a creature, with the Supreme Being, the Creator.

India too has known this practice. The stars of the Great Bear are named after the Seven Sages who composed most of the Ŗg-Veda. There are different variations of this list of seven, but one of the Sages who returns in all of them is Vasiṣṭha. He and his wife Arundhātī are associated with the twin stars Mizar and Alcor. In a moderate way, they did graduate to godhood, with a few temples in Himachal and Uttarakhand dedicated to them. Another sage who made it to heaven is Agastya, the Sage who went to the South, and therefore has the southern star Canopus named after him.


At the dawn of history, and practically since the birth of mankind, star worship, partly overlapping with ancestor worship, was the main religion worldwide. With the development of civilization, conceptions of the divine grew away from their referents in nature. India generated a spirituality implying renunciation, and the gods followed suit. The Upanishads signalled a break with the Vedic focus on the gods and reoriented mankind’s attention to the spiritual path. A kind of relation with a kind of gods was restored, but adopting the new focus on Liberation.

Star worship remained alive, as “nothing ever dies in India” (in the words of the late Girilal jain), but that old layer was overlaid with new levels of abstraction. The highest of these was the abstract concept of the Absolute (Brahmaṇ) that appeared in the Upaniṣads and remained, in various guises, in the mai sects of Hinduism. But the lower levels, including the naturalistic, star-related levels did not disappear; it was an organic evolution.

A roughly similar evolution took place in the Greek world and then in the Roman empire. The elites outgrew the colourful pantheon and, mainly through Stoicism, accepted a more abstract and more unitary concept of the divine. In Neoplatonism, which may have been influenced by Indian developments, everything was thought to emanate from “the One”. In China too, “the One” was the name of a unifying abstract concept transcending the many natural gods of everyday religion.

Unfortunately, in the Roman empire, this natural evolution was interrupted and forcibly driven in a particular direction by the imposition of Christianity. However, at the same time, to better insinuate itself in the Greco-Roman culture, Christianity also took over much from Stoicism and Neoplatonism, which appear mainly in Christian morals c.q. theology.The breakthrough of monotheism followed the same pattern as the conceptual development in Hinduism to a some extent, but was unnecessarily brutal and destructive regarding the earlier religion. The same scenario repeated itself even more abruptly with the advent of Islam.

The resulting concept of divine unity (in Islam: tawḥīd) was also much cruder than a what gradual development would have made possible. While superseding the colourful old gods, Yahweh or Allah were much like them in their negative aspects: all too human, too personal, not nirguṇa, “beyond qualities”. As India has shown, it was perfectly possible to move from a naturalistic to a more abstract conception of the divine without destroying the earlier conception.


The Idea of God (Part-I)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

koenraadMarxDr. Elst, born in 1959 in Leuven, Belgium, studied Sinology, Indology and Philosophy and did his Ph.D. on the ideological development of Hindu Revivalism. He worked as a political journalist and as a foreign-policy assistent in the Belgian Senate, but mainly as a independent writer. He became fairly well-known in India with his argumentation in favour of the Ayodhya temple, now vindicated, and with his work on the Aryan homeland question, still controversial.

All known civilizations have a thing called “god”, plural or singular. They are a category of beings deemed endowed with far more power and a vastly larger longevity than us human beings. For the rest, their characters and functions may vary.

In writing, the idea of “a god” is first attested in the Sumerian ideogram Dingir, which has the physical form of a radiant star. It certainly has the meaning “god”, for it is used as the common determinative for a whole class of names signifying gods. That, indeed, was anciently how a divine being was conceived: as a radiant heaven-dweller. In Babylon and in Harran, each planet was worshipped in a temple of its own.

The pre-Islamic religion was also largely star worship (next to ancestor worship and the worship of special stones like the Black Stone in Mecca’s Ka’ba). Thus, the three Meccan goddesses of Satanic Verses fame, al-Lāt, al-Uzza and al-Manāt, are roughly the Sun, Venus and the Moon. The Ka’ba was dedicated to the moon-god Hubal, and housed a stone fallen from heaven.

Stars were explicitly recognized as gods by prominent philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Some dissident freethinkers however, like the philosopher Anaxagoras and the playwright Aristophanes, thought stars were only burning rocks. After Christianization, when all divinity was invested in an extra-cosmic Supreme Being, the planets were desacralized and reduced to cogwheels in a cosmic machinery set in motion by the Creator and operated by his angels. Though numerically, a large part of humanity now espouses this desacralizing view, it is rather exceptional in the history of religions. The association of gods with stars was pretty universal.

Other properties of a god

Because a star is radiant and stands in heaven, near-permanently visible to all, it is a part of our collective consciousness, our shared frame of reference. This, then, is the operative meaning of “a god” in human life: the personification of an important collective factor difficult to negotiate, and which you have to take into account in the things you plan to do. Thus, Dyaus = heaven, Agni = fire, Indra (“the rainer”) = storm; Vayu = wind, Pṛthivī (“the broad one”) = earth. This principle is then generalized, and gods can be personifications of any category of beings. Thus, Śiva is the personification of the renunciants, unkempt and living in the mountains.

A god is powerful in that he can impact your life. But he is not all-powerful, because he has to share his power with other gods. Rarely if ever is he seen as “the Creator” who stood outside the universe and fashioned it from nothing. Rather, he himself is a part of the universe. Creation is normally seen as only a transformation from formless matter to the present world of form, and in that process, gods may play their part. In that limited sense, the Vedas and Puranas have plenty of “creation” stories. Yet they also assume that the universe as a whole has always been there, though it cyclically becomes unmanifest, only to reappear again. It is an exclusively Biblical-Quranic belief, further propagated by thinkers who elaborate the Biblical or Quranic assumptions, that a single Supreme Being, in a single moment never to be repeated, created the whole universe from nothing.

Gods are imagined to be endowed with personalities befitting the element of which they are the personification. As such, they are also sensitive to gifts and flattery, and may thus be influenced into exercising their power in a partisan, friendly way. That is why people who would never think of appeasing the stormy sea, do devise rituals to appease the sea god, hoping that he will guarantee smooth sailing.

Finally, a star or god is also, as far as a mortal can tell, eternal: it existed before we were born and goes on existing after we have died. As suggested by the extreme longevity of the physical stars, gods are proverbially deemed immortal. Hence the binary: us mortal earthlings versus the immortal heaven-dwellers.



The same meaning of “star”, “radiant heaven-dweller”, is present in Vedic Sanskrit Deva, “the shining one”, hence “a god”. It is also etymologically present in cognate words like Latin Deus, “a god”. One of the Sanskrit terms for “astrologer”, at least since its mention in a 4th-century dictionary, is Daiva-jña, “knower of the gods”, or in practice, “knower of destiny”. Another is Daiva-lekhaka, “gods-writer”, “destiny-writer”, i.e. horoscope-maker. Obviously, the stars here were seen as gods regulating man’s destiny.

A parallel development, but omitting (or only implying) the original link with the stars, is found in Slavic Bog, “the share-giver”, “the apportioner”, “the destiny-decider”, related to Sanskrit Bhaga, and hence to the derivative Bhagavān. Other god-names are more derived from the practice of worshipping, such as the Germanic counterpart God, “the worshipped one”, Sanskrit Huta; or the Greek counterpart Theos, “god”, related to Latin festus, “festive”; feriae, “holiday”, i.e, “religious feast”; and to Sanskrit dhiṣā, “daring, enthusiastic”, dhiṣaṇā, “goddess”, dhiṣṇya, “devout”. But even here, a stellar connection reappears, for the latter word is also a name of Śukra / ”Venus”.

More examples of the personification of heavenly phenomena as gods are found throughout the Vedas. The deities Mitra and Varuṇa represent the day sky (hence the sun, here remarkably called “the friend”) c.q. the night sky, with its stable sphere of the fixed stars, with its regular cycles representative of the world order. The Nāsatyas or Aśvins (“horse-riders”) are thought to represent the two morning- and evening stars, Mercury and Venus, who “ride” the sun, often likened to a horse. Uśa (related elsewhere to Eōs, Aurora, Ostara, and hence to “east” and “Easter”) represents the sunrise.

The Vedic gods were personifications of natural forces, with whom you could do business: do ut des, “I give to you” through sacrifice, “so that you give to me” the desire-fulfilment I want. That type of relation between man and god is pretty universal. That was the ancient worldwide conception of gods. But in auspicious circumstances, religion was to graduate from this stage, and the gods would go beyond the stars.

Transcending the stars

Hindus often react to the above-mentioned view as insufficiently respectful to Hinduism. They insist that it is a Western “Orientalist” fabrication to see the gods as mere personifications of natural forces. In foreign countries, perhaps, but not in India. They think it treats religion as essentially childish, for in children’s talk, or in that by mothers towards children, there is a lot of personification. Yet, we insist that in the Vedic stage of civilization, this conception of gods still prevailed; perhaps already as a rhetorical device built on top of an earlier more primitive stage, but still sufficiently present to leave numerous traces. It shows a deficient sense of history to project the newest insights of Hinduism back onto its past, and to deny the amount of change that has taken place in the conceptual history of Hinduism.

But then two things happened. The first is that from the Upanishads onwards, in a distinctively Indian development, the notion of Self-Realization or Liberation arose. The way to this goal, the Sādhana or what is nowadays called “the spiritual path”, is not about the fulfilment of desires; instead, the point is to decrease your desires, to renounce, to abandon. This was initially conceived as a process in which no god or other being played any role (whether they were deemed to exist or not), making way for a focus on the Self (ātman), equal to the Absolute of pure consciousness (brahman). This Absolute was conceived as being above the pairs of opposites, as devoid of characteristics (nirguṇa). Gods were relegated to the background, to the world of desire-fulfilment through rituals. Self-Realization implied renunciation from desire-fulfilment, and hence a distance from the gods and their favours.

The second development is that the gods persisted or were revived, but in a transformed role. Stellar references are explicit in the case of Sūrya, the sun, and of Soma Candra, the moon; but less so in the case of Viṣṇu, “the all-pervader” (like the sun’s rays), though he has a solar quality; and Śiva (“the auspicious one”, an apotropaeic flattery of the terrible Vedic god Rudra, “the screamer”), the Candradhāra or “moon-bearer”, the Somanātha or “lord of the moon”, has a lunar, nightly quality. The classical Hindu gods Viṣṇu and Śiva represent a revolution vis-à-vis the Vedic worldview. You don’t bring sacrifices “for Liberation” to the Vedic gods, a notion presupposing renunciation from those desires. By contrast, the later “Puranic” gods of classical Hinduism take some distance from the naturalist meaning in which they originate, and do integrate Liberation. Very soon, devotional-theistic movements adapted this new notion to their cult of Viṣṇu, Śiva or Śakti (or elsewhere, Amitābha Buddha or Avalokiteśvara), gods with a distinct personality (saguṇa) but more spiritual. In Kashmiri Shaivism, Śiva gets abstracted as pure consciousness, Śakti as pure energy. With these gods, you could “unite” so as to terminate your susceptibility to worldly suffering, to delusion, to the karmic cycle. They would grant you Liberation, just like the Vedic gods would grant you wish-fulfilment.

But that doesn’t mean Hindus have given up on wish-fulfilment. They still perform rituals to help them get what they want, and often this involves explicitly stellar gods, but conceived as lower gods or “demi-gods”. Astrologers instruct their clients to say prayers before the planet that disturbs their horoscope. The client will get advice on what ritual to practise, when and how and for which god, to ward off the negative influences of the stellar configurations indicated in his horoscope. This will remove the obstacles to his well-being and the fulfilment of his desires. The navagraha or “nine planets” (sun, moon, their two eclipse nodes, and the five visible planets) as a whole are a normal object of worship.

To be continued….

‘Why Rama killed Vali?’ Valmiki Ramayana Answers…

Prof. Shashi Tiwari, General Secretary, WAVES-India 

Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa is a regarded as a Dharmaś́āstra which exemplifies the Vedic Values. Vālmīki lays great emphasis on Dharma or righteousness, the principle that upholds society and country. To serve mankind is the greatest virtue for a king or administrator, according to Rāmāyaṇa. Rāma is called Puruṣaṛṣ̣abha (best human being) whose inspiration was truthful moral life.Sarva-bhūta-hite rataḥ’ (always busy in the welfare of all) was his social ideal. The Rāmāyaṇa consists of 24,000 verses in seven books (kāṇḍas). The fourth book, Kiṣkindhā Kāṇḍa, describes the meeting of Hanum̄an with Rāma, the destruction of the vānara king Vālī and the coronation of his younger brother Sugrīva to the throne of the kingdom of Kiṣkindhā.

Rāma was an exiled prince but was still behaving as a king because Bharata had not accepted kingship officially and moreover he was not sitting on the royal throne (Raja-siṁhāsana) of Ayodhyā.  Rāma was performing all political duties related to the welfare and protection of his subjects while he was in kingdom or in forest during exile. At the time, when Sri Rāma was preparing himself for Vanavāsa, he left all decorative ornaments and dresses to be dressed in Munivastra Valkala. Without fail he kept his Dhanuṣa, and tarakasa for the protection of state and its people, living in the city or  forest.  After accepting the appeal of Lakṣmaṇa to accompany him in the exile, Rāma ordered him immediately to bring his divine weapons, preserved by  Guru Vasiṣṭha.

One question is often raised – why did Rāma choose the weaker of the two brothers as his ally? Kabandha advised Rāma to seek the friendship of Sugrīva, who knew the geography and the topography of the world and who was in trouble like Rāma. Sugrīva will be a proper ally because he needed Rāma’s help and Rāma needed his help. Between the two placed in similar situations there will be a subtle bond of friendship. Further, Shri Rāma offered friendship to Sugrīva, and not to king Vālī, because he found him careless as a king who could not notice the evil act of Rāvaṇa taking away Sītā all the way through sky, while Sugrīva and Hanumān observed that carefully.

Later Rāma killed Vālī from behind a tree, and that too when Vālī was engaged in battle with other man. Vālī called this action of Rāma as immoral deed which is not supported by dharma (Ram. IV.17.52). Śri Rāma replied and consoled Vālī with words that contain the essence of righteousness ‘dharma’. He scolded him, ‘you don’t know the true meaning of Dharma. You know no law, no restraint’. It is important to see how Rāma tried to refute the allegations brought against him by Vālī.


The first argument against Vālī’s accusation is: ‘this earth, with its mountains, woods, and forests are under the sway of Ikṣavākus. They take it upon themselves to protect or punish the beasts, birds and men within their empire.  Truthful and righteous Bharata sits on their throne at present. He is the soul of truth and honor. He himself has assumed the charge of protecting this land. He puts forth his strength and valour against his foes even as the shatras would have it.  He always acts in the right time and place. We and some other kings rule under him according to kingly tradition and roam the earth to bring law and order among his subjects. Who would dare to defy dharma when that noble king rules the earth? We shall consider how we shall punish them who go astray’ (Ram.IV.18.6).

It means in exile also Rāma was with delegation of royal powers. On the basis of Tilaka’s commentary we may say that though Bharata did not give such authority to Rāma at Citrakūṭa, implication may be drawn here about such authority. When Bharata was king his power spread to his relations and naturally Rāma had a share of it. After the debate it was arranged that Rāma should in law be king and that Bharata should be his regent.  The person who delegated the authority certainly could act for him or resume back the authority. Vālī may be an independent king of Kiṣkindhā, but what Rāma enunciated, was the law in Āryāvarta.

Ram’s second justification to Vālī was on moral grounds. Vālī has ravished the spouse of his younger brother called Rumā, and it is Kṣatriya dharma to punish all those who violate moral rules and commit sins. Rāma said, ‘You blinded with lust has done this crime which could not be ignored. I know of no other punishment than this for you.’

The third argument was that he has made a promise to friend Sugrīva to protect him. Rama explained, ‘Sugrīva is dear friend to me even as Lakṣmaṇa, and in consequence, he should be restored to his crown and wife. He even seeks my welfare. Further, you are the foe of Sugrīva that has won my friendship, then according to the rules of kingly polity, you are my enemy too. To help a friend in distress is also considered dharma. So view it from any point; I have given you this punishment according to dharma. We, kings, have to act according to Shāstra. Moreover, if a person, after doing sinful act, accepts and enjoys punishment given by a king, then he becomes pure and goes to Swarga’ (Ram.18.29-32).

Further, on the objection ‘why he was killed from behind’ Rāma pointed out, ‘Kings used to do hunting of animals with all tactics. They don’t view it as a fault. Similarly, it is no crime to kill you whether you attack me or not.’ Hearing these words of R̄ama, V̄alī proclaimed with deep repentance, ‘Noble Sir! You speak about dharma and beyond the shadow of a doubt. I confess that I went back upon dharma and allied myself with vice and injustice. Please extend your forgiveness and protection unto me.’

Here we may see that Rāma explained that his action is not a crime at all.  In this reference, another good reason of Rama’s action is well-known. Sītā was abducted by Rāvaṇa, a powerful king of South. This abduction was an insult which had to be avenged.  To accomplish this purpose, Rāma needed powerful allies who could help him in this great task and therefore, he was constrained to enter into negotiations with those chiefs who were desirous of kingdom but were driven away, or who wished to join Rāma in the hope of securing a kingdom in return.  Killing of Vālī was thus a means to get huge support of vānara army to fulfill objective of the welfare of the subjects.

Thus, Śri Rāma did the service of nation following the morals of Rājadharma for being a designated forthcoming king and a Kṣatriya during his exile.  We know that he was not fighting for the expansion of his kingdom; and hence he crowned noble Sugrīva on the throne of Kiṣkindhā after killing Vālī. Till today Rama is regarded as the embodiment of Dharma and a famous quote says, Rāmadivat pravartitavyam na rāvaṇādivat’ i.e., ‘one should act like Rāma and not like Rāvaṇa.

वैदिक ज्योतिष, अपने आप में एक पूर्ण विवादित प्रश्न !!

-Mr. Kanuj Bishnoi, General Secretary, Advanced Research Organisation of Micro Astrology (AROMA)

KBMr. Bishnoi did Vedic Acharya as Guru-Shishya Parampara in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. He worked towards expanding his knowledge in divine science of Vedic Astrology, formulated a five-rule theory of Vedic Astrology, conducted workshops on understanding the various important aspects in life through Vedic astrology and also on ancient Bhrigu-Nandi Nadi Samhita. Honored by many organizations as a Vedic healer & Vedic Vaastu expert. He is visiting professor of many Astrological institutions in major Indian cities and has published several articles in Jyotish magazines & journals.

वैदिक ज्योतिष जैसे गूढ़ विषय पर लाखों लोगों की अपनी-अपनी विवादित राय है कई लोगों की दृष्टि में ज्योतिष सिर्फ भ्रम फैलाने का कार्य है, कई लोगों की दृष्टि में लोगों को ठगने का माध्यम तो कई लोगों की राय में यह कोई विद्या ही नहीं है, सिर्फ भ्रामकता है, तो कई लागों की राय में यह एक परिपक्व एवं शास्त्रोक्त विद्या एवं कुछ लोगो की दृष्टि में समय व्यतीत करने का एक सशक्त माध्यम लेकिन वास्तविकता यह है कि यह एक परिपूर्ण एवं शास्त्र सम्मत विधा है और पूर्ण रूप से नक्षत्रों एव ग्रहों पर आधारित ज्ञान है, जो हजारों वर्षों से विद्यमान है।
सम्पूर्ण जगत के सजीव जीव-जन्तु, प्राणी मात्र एवं समस्त जल, थल, अग्नि, वायु एवं आकाश ये पंच तत्व भी नक्षत्रों एवं ग्रहों द्वारा संचालित होते हैं। इन नक्षत्रों एवं ग्रहों, राशियों का ज्ञान ही ज्योतिष विज्ञान है। हमारे पुरातन वेदों में इसे वेदों के नेत्र कहा गया है न सिर्फ भारतवर्ष में अपितु अन्य कई देशों में वहां के संतों एवं दार्शनिकों ने ग्रहों और नक्षत्रों का अध्ययन कर भविष्य के प्रति अपनी भविष्यवाणियां की हैं। यूनान के प्रसिद्ध भविष्यवक्ता नास्त्रोदोनोमस एवं कीरो के नाम से शायद ही कोई अनभिज्ञ होगा, उन्होंने भी ग्रहों एवं नक्षत्रों का अध्ययन कर भविष्य के प्रति लोगों को सचेत किया है। लंकापति रावण ज्योतिष विद्या का महान ज्ञाता था और ग्रहों की चाल एवं नक्षत्रों के ज्ञान से वह भली-भांति परिचित था एवं जानता कि उसका और उसके परिवार का क्या हश्र होना है। आदरणीय पराशर होरा शास्त्र, भृगु संहिता,रावण संहिता, लाल किताब, ताड़ पत्रों पर लिखा नाड़ी सूत्र इसके जीवंत उदाहरण हैं। इन सबकी सत्यता एवं वर्तमान में होने वाले मानवीय जीवन पर इनके प्रभाव को झुठलाया नहीं जा सकता है। हां, ये बात जरूर है कि वर्तमान भौतिक युग में कई पाखंडियों ने इसे धन कमाने का माध्यम बना लिया है और वो येन-केन-प्रकारेण लोगों को मूर्ख बनाने में कोई कसर नहीं छोड़ते। इस कारण लोगों का इस पर से विश्वास उठता जा रहा है यहाँ हमें जरूरत है इस प्रकार के पाखंडियों से बचने की, न कि हजारों वर्षों से चली आ रही हमारी पुरातन शास्त्रोक्त विद्या से किनारा करने की।
ज्योतिष एक सशक्त माध्यम है जीवन जीने का। एक अच्छे ज्योतिषी की अच्छी राय से हम न सिर्फ भविष्य के प्रति सचेत हो सकते हैं, बल्कि हमारे जीवन की आगामी रूपरेखा भी तय कर सकते हैं। आज वर्तमान समय में दुनिया बहुत तरक्की कर चुकी है, व्यापार, अध्ययन एवं धन कमाने के कई नये द्वार खुल चुके हैं। एक अच्छे ज्योतिष की सलाह से हम उचित एवं हमारे ग्रह-नक्षत्रों के हिसाब से अनुकूल व्यापार, विद्या या नौकरी का चयन कर सकते हैं। यहां पर नकारात्मक विचारधारा एवं ज्योतिष को संदेह की दृष्टि से देखने वाले यह कह सकते हैं कि जो होना है वही होगा, चाहे कितना ही प्रयास कर लीजिये, भाग्य से अतिरिक्त कुछ नहीं होगा। मुझे उनकी उक्त बात से नाइत्तफाकी नहीं है अपितु मैं भी इस बात का समर्थन करता हूं कि जो होना है वही होगा। भाग्य का लिखा टल नहीं सकता है, लेकिन मैं ये भी कहना चाहता हूं कि मात्र भाग्य के सहारे तो हाथ पर हाथ रख कर बैठा नहीं जा सकता है। “कर्म तो प्रधान है ही” महाभारत में श्री कृष्ण ने भी यही कहा है कि कर्म प्रधान है, इसीलिए हम अपना प्रयास, अपना कर्म करते रहे।
जब हम रोग-ग्रस्त हो जाते हैं तो डाक्टर के पास जाते हैं, किसी कानूनी झमेले में फंस जाते हैं तो वकील के पास जाते हैं लेकिन मात्र ये सोच कर कि जो होना है होगा, बैठे तो नहीं रहते। एक डाक्टर भी अपने मरते हुए रोगी को जिसके बारे में वह अच्छी तरह से जानता है कि वो बच नहीं सकता, फिर भी उसकी आखिरी सांस तक वह अपना प्रयास जारी रखता है। एक वकील कमजोर से कमजोर मुकदमे में भी अपने पक्षकार को बचाने हेतु अपनी पूरी ताकत झोंक देता है। जब हम उन पर विश्वास कर सकते हैं तो एक अच्छे ज्योतिषी और ज्योतिष विद्या पर क्यों नहीं? एक अच्छा डाक्टर भी लम्बी-चौड़ी मेडिकल जांचों के बाद ही इस निश्चय पर पहुंच पाता है कि मरीज को क्या एवं किस अंग से सम्बन्धित रोग हो सकता है। लेकिन एक अच्छा ज्योतिषी मात्र आपका जन्मांग  (जन्म समय पर भचक्र में ग्रहों की स्थिति का विवरण) अर्थात जन्म-कुंडली से यह बता सकता है कि व्यक्ति को क्या तथा किस अंग से सम्बन्धित रोग कब होगा तथा वह कब तक एवं किस तरह पूर्ण रूप से ठीक होगा या नहीं होगा। यह भी एक अच्छा ज्योतिषी ही बता सकता है कि मुकदमे में आपकी जीत होगी या हार, वकील साहब सिर्फ मेहनत कर सकते हैं, मुकदमा लड़ सकते हैं, लेकिन हार-जीत का फैसला मुवक्किल की स्वंय की किस्मत पर है, जो आपको सिर्फ एक अच्छा ज्योतिषी ही आपका जन्मांग देख कर बतला सकता है।
ज्योतिष एक महान विधा तो है ही, बल्कि इसे जीवन जीने का एक प्रबल सहारा भी जानना चाइये । यह इन्सान को जीने का सहारा प्रदान करता है उसे भविष्य के प्रति सचेत करता है, उसको जीने के प्रति एक आस बंधाता है। जब हम किसी परेशानी में होते है या जीवन के बुरे समय से गुजर रहे होते हैं तो किसी ज्योतिषी की शरण में जाते हैं और ज्योतिषी हमारा जन्मांग देखकर बताता है कि इतना समय आपका खराब है, उसके बाद यह परेशानी खत्म हो जायेगी तो उसके इतना कहने और इस आस एवं उम्मीद में कि कुछ समय की बात है, यह समय भी सत्कर्म करते हुए निकल जायेगा और इसके बाद हमारा अच्छा समय आयेगा, यही आस से हमारे में जीने की और उस समस्या से रूबरू होने की शक्ति एकत्रित करने लगती है और हम चाह कर भी कोई गलत कदम या गलत फैसला नहीं लेते। अब बताईये इससे अच्छा और जीवन जीने का सहारा क्या हो सकता है? एक विद्वान ज्योतिषी की अच्छी राय से हम हमारे भविष्य की रूपरेखा बना सकते हैं।हमारे बच्चों को उनके ग्रह अनुकूल क्षेत्र में भेजकर उनका भविष्य उज्जवल बना सकते हैं। अल्प समय के लिए आयी हुई परेशानियों को टाल कर पारिवारिक विघटन से बच सकते हैं तो फिर इस विद्या या इसके जानकारों पर भरोसा क्यों नहीं कर सकते?
आज बड़े से बड़े क्षेत्र और अनेको राष्ट्रों में ग्रहों और उनसे मानव जीवन पर पडऩे वाले प्रभाव और सृष्टि के विकास में उनके योगदान पर अनवरत अध्ययन एवं अनुसंधान जारी है। अमेरिका के नासा तक में हजारों वैज्ञानिक रात-दिन खगोल शास्त्र अर्थात एस्ट्रोनोमी के अन्तर्गत ग्रहों एवं नक्षत्रों के प्रभावों का अध्ययन एवं अनुसंधान कर रहे हैं। स्वंय हमारे देश के माननीय उच्चतम न्यायालय ने अपने एक फैसले में इसे विज्ञान माना है और उसी की बदौलत आज हमारे देश में कई यूनिर्वसिटीज ने इसे अपने पाठ्यक्रमों में शामिल किया है। आज कई विश्वविद्यालयों में इसके कोर्स एवं उपाधी कार्यक्रम चल रहे हैं। अत: ज्योतिष को पूर्णतया विज्ञान सम्मत वैदिक विधा जानना चाइये । इसमें किसी प्रकार की शंका की कोई आवश्यकता नहीं है बल्कि मैं तो यहां तक कहना चाहूंगा कि प्रत्येक इंसान का प्रत्येक परिवार का जिस प्रकार पारिवारिक डाक्टर, पारिवारिक वकील, पारिवारिक कर सलाहकार होता है, उसी प्रकार एक पारिवारिक ज्योतिषी भी होना चाहिये, जिससे कि समय-समय पर हम जानकारी लेकर भविष्य के प्रति हमारा मार्ग प्रशस्त कर सकें ।
आज अधिकतर सोशल साइट्स जैसे फेसबुक, ट्विटर, व्हाट्सअप आदि पर कॉपी-पेस्ट करके अपने को बड़ा ज्योतिषी सिद्ध करने वालो की बाढ़ आई हुई है और ये पोस्ट्स जन-सामान्य तक पहुंचती है इनमे वर्णित ज्योतिष की ऊंटपटांग व्याख्या एवं उपायों से समाज को गलत सन्देश जाता है । इस कारण समाज और ज्योतिष को जो हानि पहुंच रहीं है उसका कोई हिसाब रखने वाला ही नहीं है । ये सही है कि “ज्योतिषी भी शिक्षक, चिकित्सक और वकील जैसा और सही कहूँ तो जनसामान्य के लिए इन सबसे अधिक उपयोगी है” लेकिन कोई भी चिकित्सक, वकील, टीचर यदि फर्जी डिग्री लेकर इसको अपना व्यवसाय बनाता है तो वो अपने क्लाइंट के जीवन से खिलवाड़ के साथ-साथ उस से बेईमानी तो करता ही है लेकिन व्यवसाय को भी बदनाम करवा कर उसके साथ “नकली” शब्द और जुड़वा देता है। अन्य तीनो व्यवसायों की नियमन संस्थाएं जैसे मेडिकल काउन्सिल, बार काउन्सिल, शिक्षा परिषद आदि है जो सरकार की निगरानी में चलती है एवं उनमे जालसाजी करने पर दंड का प्रावधान है। उसी प्रकार क्या ज्योतिषी को समाज में आ कर अपने उपाय बताने से पहले किसी नियमन संस्था के अंतर्गत नहीं आना चाहिए ? और यदि कोई इसमें फर्जीवाड़ा के द्वारा प्रवेश कर जनसामान्य के जीवन से खिलवाड़ करता है (जो कि इस समय नब्बे प्रतिशत से अधिक कथित ज्योतिषी कर रहे है) तो उसको क़ानून के अंतर्गत लाकर कठोर दंड का विधान क्या नहीं होना चाहिए ?
आज वैदिक ज्योतिष को अधिकतर “कथित ज्योतिषी” धार्मिकता और पाखंड से जोड़कर एवं इससे भयभीत करके अपनी दुकानदारी चला रहे है । यदि वैदिक ज्योतिष को उसका उचित सम्मान दिलवाना है और उस से जन-सामान्य अधिकाधिक लाभ प्राप्त कर सके इसके लिए अत्यन्त आवश्यक है कि ज्योतिष को व्यवसाय बनाने से पहले एक नियामक संस्था हो जो प्रमाणित करे कि ज्योतिषी नियमानुसार व्यवसाय के लिए उपयुक्त है एवं यहाँ पंजीकृत किये बिना कोई भी ज्योतिष को व्यवसाय ना बन सके इसके लिए एक नियामक संस्था के गठन हेतु सरकार से मांग की जानी चाहिए।


-Dr. Shyam Deo Mishra, Assistant Professor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi
शङ्कराचार्य ने हिमालय से लेकर कन्याकुमारी तक, तथा अटक से लेकर कटक तक सम्पूर्ण भारत में धर्म-प्रचार की मन्दाकिनी को प्रवाहित किया, जिसमें तत्कालीन पतित, पथभ्रष्ट, एवं बौद्धादि दर्शनों के कुप्रभाववश नास्तिक, एवं आध्यात्मिक रूप से निष्प्राण, जन-मानस पुनः सनातन धर्म से अनुप्राणित एवं पवित्र होकर एक सूत्र में बँध गया। जिस समय आदि-शङ्कराचार्य का जन्म हुआ, भारत में नास्तिकों के प्रभाव से अनार्य-भावों एवं तज्जन्य दुष्कर्मों के प्रगाढ अन्धकार से आच्छादित होकर सनातन धर्म का प्रकाश लुप्तप्राय हो चला था। धर्म के नाम पर नाना प्रकार के अत्याचार किए जा रहे थे। उस समय किसी व्याकुल भारतभूमि पर, वैदिक-धर्म के रक्षार्थ एवं जनता के उद्धारार्थ आदि-शङ्कराचार्य ने अवतार लिया। उन्होंने लुप्त हुए वैदिक-धर्म की रक्षा की। शङ्कराचार्य अवश्य ही भगवान् की विशेष-विभूति थे जिन्होंने अत्यन्त अल्पायु में ही भारत वर्ष से नास्तिकता की दावाग्नि को आस्तिकता रूपी वृष्टि से निर्मूल कर दिया। 
आचार्य शङ्कर के प्रमुख शिष्य विद्यारण्य द्वारा विरचित ‘शाङ्करदिग्विजयम्’ के अनुसार, भारत में धर्म-विप्लव से व्यथित, एवं व्याकुल देवर्षि नारद व ब्रह्मा जी जब उपाय हेतु शिवजी के पास पहुँचे तो शिवजी ने इस संकट की समाप्ति हेतु स्वयं नरदेह धारण करने की बात कहते हुए उन्हें सान्त्वना दी। तत्पश्चात् भगवान् शङ्कर ने शङ्कराचार्य के रूप में, कार्तिकेय ने कुमारिलभट्ट के रूप में, सरस्वती ने भारती के रूप में तथा इन्द्र ने राजा सुधन्वा के रूप में भारतवर्ष में जन्म लेकर अधर्म की समाप्ति की।
आदि-शङ्कराचार्य (शङ्करस्वामी) का जन्म 845 वि.सं. (788 ई.) में केरल प्रान्त के मालाबार पर्वतीय प्रदेश में स्थित वेदपाठी व शास्त्रपारङ्गत ब्राह्मणों से परिपूर्ण कालटी (कालडी) नामक ग्राम में नम्बूरी (नम्बूदरी) ब्राह्मण-वंश में वैशाख शुक्ल-पञ्चमी को हुआ। इनके पितामह विद्याधर (विद्याधिराज) के पाण्डित्य से प्रसन्न होकर केरल के महाराज ने इन्हें आकाशलिङ्ग के महादेव-मन्दिर के प्रधानाध्यक्ष पद से विभूषित किया। विद्याधर के पुत्र शिवगुरु भी उद्भट विद्वान् हुए। सन्तान प्राप्ति हेतु शिवगुरु ने अपनी पत्नी कामाक्षीदेवी (सुभद्रा) के साथ घोर तपस्या करके कुलदेवता पिनाकपाणि शिव से वरदान स्वरूप शङ्करस्वामी को पुत्र रूप में प्राप्त किया।
शैशवावस्था में ही वर्ण परिचय के समय उन्होंने दिव्य भावों का परिचय दिया था। स्वरों, व्यञ्जनों, एवं मंत्र का एक बार उच्चारण सुनकर उन्होंने उच्चारण करना एवं लिखना सीख लिया था। बचपन में ही पिता के स्वर्गवास ने संसार की असारता एवं अनिश्चितता के प्रति शङ्कर को विमुख कर दिया था। पाप-परितप्त संसार के उद्धारार्थ अवतरित शिव-अवतार शङ्कर बाल्यावस्था में ही संसार के प्रति उदासीन, विरक्त होकर स्वयं को पिञ्जर-बद्ध पक्षी के समान मानने लगे। वे कहीं भी कभी भी किसी समाधिस्थ योगी की तरह बैठकर घण्टों तल्लीन हो जाते थे। आठ वर्ष की आयु में ही शङ्कर ने ध्यानावस्थित अवस्था में ‘आत्मबोध’ नामक ग्रन्थ की रचना कर डाली। संन्यास ग्रहण करने की उनकी उत्कट अभिलाषा की पूर्ति के सामने स्नेहमयी जननी का वात्सल्य भाव आड़े आ जाता था ,जो उन्हें प्रतिक्षण व्याकुल किये जा रहा था। अन्ततोगत्वा दैवयोग से एक नाटकीय घटना-क्रम का पटाक्षेप माता द्वारा उनको संन्यास ग्रहण करने की अनुमति से हुआ।
आठ वर्ष की अवस्था में शङ्कर ने गौड़पाद के शिष्य आचार्य गोविन्दपाद से गुरु-दीक्षा ले कर विधिवत् संन्यासी के रूप में अपना जीवन प्रारम्भ किया। उनकी अलौकिक तेजस्विता एवं प्रतिभा से उनके गुरु भी हतप्रभ रहते थे। उनको यह भान हो गया था कि शङ्कर कोई विशेष विभूति है, जो निश्चय ही सोद्देश्य अवतरित हुआ है। उनके गुरु गोविन्दपाद ने 17-18 वर्ष की उम्र में ही शङ्कर को स्नातक की उपाधि से विभूषित करके ‘शङ्कराचार्य’ इस नाम से सम्बोधित किया। वहाँ से अपने गुरुओं की इच्छानुसार, वैदिक धर्म के प्रचारार्थ शङ्कराचार्य ने देशाटन आरम्भ किया तथा जगह-जगह बौद्धों एवं कदाचार युक्त पाखण्डी वाममार्गियों का खण्डन करने लगे। गोविन्दपाद के आश्रम में रहते हुए एक दिन शङ्कर ने गुरु की निर्विघ्न समाधि हेतु आश्रम के समीप प्रवाहित नदी के उद्दाम वेग को अपने योग-बल से स्थिर एवं नीरव कर दिया। प्रतिदिन स्नानार्थ गमनागमन में अपनी वृद्धा माता को होने वाले असह्य शारीरिक कष्ट एवं दुर्बलता को देखकर शङ्कर ने अपने योग-बल से नदी की एक धारा घर के समीप से प्रवाहित कर दी। एक गरीब ब्राह्मण प्रभाकर के मूर्ख, रोगी एवं बर्बर पुत्र को जल के सिंचन मात्र से स्वस्थ एवं विद्वान् ‘हस्तामलक’ बना दिया।
शङ्कराचार्य के शिष्य सनन्दन पद्मपाद, चौलदेशीय ब्राह्मण थे। शङ्कराचार्य से दीक्षा ग्रहणार्थ वह काशी आए। उस समय गङ्गा प्रबल उत्ताल तरङ्गों से प्रवाहित होती थी। जिस दिन वह दीक्षा हेतु गङ्गा के एक छोर पर पहुंचे, प्रबल उत्ताल तरङ्गों से प्रवाहित प्रचण्ड वेगवती गङ्गा को पार करना उन्हें असम्भव प्रतीत हो रहा था। दूसरे छोर पर खड़े शंकराचार्य ने उन्हें हाथ से आने का इशारा किया। उनके संकेत पर दृढनिश्चयी सनन्दन ने जैसे ही नदी में पैर रखा उन्हें कमल-पत्र की अनुभूति हुई। इस प्रकार कमल पत्र पर पद-निक्षेप करते-करते उन्होंने अनायास ही उद्दामगतिक गङ्गा को पार कर लिया।
गुरुओं की आज्ञानुसार शंकर सम्पूर्ण भारत वर्ष में सनातन धर्म की प्रतिष्ठा हेतु उद्यत हुए। उन्होंने महार्जुन में स्थित वाममार्गियों के प्रधान मठ में अपनी योग-माया से सबको नतमस्तक करा दिया। तथा अपने प्रधान शिष्य सुरेश्वराचार्य को वैदिक धर्म के पुनः प्रतिष्ठापनार्थ स्थापित कर दिया। उसके बाद द्रविड़ पाण्ड्य, चोल, रामेश्वरम् में जगह-जगह शास्त्रार्थ करके सनातन धर्म के सही स्वरूप को समझाते हुए अद्वैतमत की स्थापना की। उत्तर की ओर बढ़ते हुए उन्होंने काशी, कुरुक्षेत्र एवं बदरिकाश्रम तक की यात्रा की। उन्होंने सम्पूर्ण भारतवर्ष में सनातन धर्म की स्थायी प्रतिष्ठा व प्रचार हेतु चार स्थलों पर मठ स्थापित किए। अथर्ववेद के प्रचारार्थ बदरिकाश्रम में ‘जोशीमठ’ स्थापित कर अपने शिष्य सनन्दन को यहाँ अभिषिक्त किया। यजुर्वेद के प्रचारार्थ उन्होंने मध्यार्जुन प्रान्त में तुङ्गभद्रा नदी के तट पर ‘विद्या-मठ’ (वर्तमान में शृङ्गेरी मठ) की स्थापना करके अपने सुयोग्य शिष्य सुरेश्वराचार्य को वहाँ नियुक्त किया। तत्पश्चात् भगवान् के उक्त वचन ‘वेदानां सामवेदोऽस्मि’ को चरितार्थ करने हुए शङ्कराचार्य ने श्रीकृष्ण-धाम द्वारकानगरी में ‘शारदा-मठ’ की स्थापना करके वहाँ अपने शिष्य ‘विश्वरूप’ को अध्यक्ष व संचालक नियुक्त किया। ऋग्वेद के प्रचारार्थ जगन्नाथ धाम में ‘ज्योतिर्मठ’ की स्थापना की। वहाँ से चलकर मार्ग में हिरण्यगर्भ, आदित्य, गाणपत्य प्रभृति सम्प्रदायों के आचायों को परास्त करते हुए शङ्कराचार्य बौद्ध धर्म के अनुयायी राजा हिमशीतल की नगरी काञ्ची पहुँचे तथा वहाँ बौद्धाचार्यों को शास्त्रार्थ में परास्त करके सनातन धर्म की पुनः प्रतिष्ठा की। यहाँ भी उन्होंने दो वैदिक-धर्म-प्रचार केन्द्रों ‘विष्णुकाञ्ची’ व ‘शिवकाञ्ची’ की स्थापना की।
आत्मदर्शन द्वारा क्षुद्र आत्मा महान् आत्मा में परिणत होता है। क्षुद्र मानव ब्रह्मज्ञ होकर स्वयं ब्रह्म हो जाता है ‘ब्रह्मविद् ब्रह्म भवति’। शङ्कराचार्य ने ब्रह्मत्व लाभ का यही पथ प्रकट रूप में जगत् के सामने उपस्थित किया। सुनीति एवं सद्धर्म ही उन्नति का सर्वोत्तम मार्ग है अतः, जो अधर्म एवं कुरीतियों को हटाकर इनकी प्रतिष्ठा करते हैं, वो महापुरुष कहलाते हैं। शङ्कराचार्य ने तत्कालीन वाममार्गियों एवं बौद्ध धर्म के विकृत रूप को विस्थापित करके सनातन धर्म पुनः प्रतिष्ठित किया। इनके इतिवृत्त एवं जीवन-चरित्र का अनुशीलन हमें अपने देश के गौरवशाली इतिहास का दिग्दर्शन कराता है एवं अपनी संस्कृति व सभ्यता के रक्षार्थ सतत प्रेरणा भी देता है।