July 2016 By Pradeep Krishnan Pradeep Krishnan travels to Adi Sankara Nilayam in Kochi and gets deeply immersed in the vibrations of the place A calm and quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of city life. A beautiful garden with lovely red, blue, orange and yellow flowers in gay array; fluttering butterflies of different colours and shades and the soothing chirping of birds in the background. As soon as I stepped into this picturesque terrain, the serene and tranquil setting at once made me joyful. My mind instantly became quiet, peaceful, and happy. My family and I had the good fortune to visit and experience this unique spot at the headquarters of Chinmaya International Foundation (CIF), located in the village Veliyanadu, about 50 kms from Kochi, Kerala. The author stands amidst the array of colourful blooms This enchanting milieu houses the sprawling Melpazhur Mana, a 1,200-year-old Namboodiri illam (the ancestral house of Kerala Brahmins), built in the traditional Kerala architecture style. It is believed that the famous exponent of Advaita Vedanta, Sri Sankaracharya, was born in this house in the early part of the eighth century. The young Sankara’s vidhyarambha and upanayana ceremonies were supposedly held over here. The well-preserved edifice is a perfect blend of the past and the present. After being taken over in February 1990 by the Chinmaya Mission, the dwelling was renamed, Adi Sankara Nilayam by Swami Chinmayananda, and set up as a centre for research in Sanskrit and Indology. Swamiji took keen interest in its renovation, and often made drawings and gave specific instructions. About the restoration, he once remarked, “The building is not being changed; the very same foundation has been retained; even the walls have not been changed. Only the roof has been repaired. The building is as it was 1200 years ago. Everything is the same…the designs; the wooden carvings are all the same.” Swamiji visualised CIF as a bridge between the past and present, East and West, science and spirituality, pundit and public. Even though popular history holds that Sri Sankara was born in Kalady, in his father Sivaguru’s ancestral home, Swami Chinmayanadaji was of the view that since Kerala society at that time was matrilineal and traditionally children were birthed at their mother’s maternal home, Sankara was born at Melpazhur Mana, his mother Arya’s ancestral abode. The expansive terrain spread over 8.3 acres, the surrounding greenery, the well-preserved garden with tall trees, the small but well-conserved temples housing the ancestral deities and the beautiful pond nearby make the place really charming. The pond outside CIF, the house where Sri Adi Sankaracharya was born according to Swami Chinmayananda At dusk, while sitting on the steps leading to the pond, gazing at the beautiful full-bloomed lotuses and enjoying the cool breeze, my mind travelled to Sankara’s childhood days. I visualised the young Sankara, clad in a loin cloth, roaming around the site, chanting Vedic hymns inside the temples and meditating amidst nature’s bounty. Sri Sankara’s life and teachings have always inspired me. At a very young age, he left home and wandered through the length and breadth of India on foot, re-establishing the real tenets of sanathana dharma, which was completely lost in lifeless rituals, ceremonies and customs. In a life spanning about three decades, he gave mankind the remarkable philosophy of Advaita Vedanta that unequivocally established the essential unity of the Universe, which is now widely accepted even by modern-day physicists. His commentaries on the four principal texts of sanathana dharma infused fresh blood into Hinduism. Legend says that many of the ancient temples located in different parts of Bharath were re-consecrated by Adi Sankara from ruins. The sacred space in Adi Sankara Nilayam where Sankara was born is now used as a meditation hall. The perfect silence and the amazing fragrance from the flowers and the incense sticks made it an ideal place to contemplate one’s own life. The traditional lamp that stays lit before the beautiful picture of Adi Sankara throughout the year suffuses the place with an aura of divinity. Sitting in contemplation, my mind instinctively turned inward merging with the vast universe. For a few minutes, I experienced a white light slowly engulfing my whole body, making me blissful. Soon I started pondering over a host of essential questions on life; where did we come from? Why were we born? Is there a life after death? Slowly responses started popping up in my psyche. Are we not a tiny dot in the majestic Universe, which has no beginning or end? The cosmos has been in existence for millions of years and has been functioning perfectly well without any human interference. One cannot find the meaning of life in religions or rituals, but only in the deepest recess of one’s own heart. Suddenly it flashed to me that we hold a vain and childish view that every question ought to have an answer, an absolute answer. That’s why the wise ones never give absolute answers since no answer can lead one to the truth. Rather they advise us to know ourselves, be ourselves and realise ourself. Then all questions will cease. It dawned on me that the eternal mysteries have never been answered adequately and can never be answered; but the riddles get evaporated when we feel Him, when we belong to Him. Even though CIF was established as a research centre, it has been designed as an ashram to suit spiritual aspirants of different temperaments. While a bhakta can immerse himself in pure devotion to God in the different temples located in the campus, a jnani can delve deep into the nuances of philosophy among the 20,000 odd books in the well arranged library. Similarly, a karmayogi can lend a helping hand in the various activities of the centre. Being an ideal place for learning, contemplation and retreat, aspirants of any denomination are allowed to reside in the campus with prior permission for a nominal charge for food and accommodation. All the year round, CIF offers a variety of programmes, that includes academic seminars and workshops, educational tours, spiritual camps and a host of multifarious academic projects. The home study courses on Vedanta, the Bhagavad Gita, and easy Sanskrit are very popular. One of the key areas of research undertaken by CIF is to create a bridge between Indian and Western philosophers and thinkers. The two-day sojourn at Adi Sankara Nilayam was indeed memorable. While bidding goodbye to the inmates, who took extra care to make our stay comfortable, we vowed to visit this distinctive ashram every year at least for a couple of days to re-charge and rejuvenate all that we lose while living in the city. When the car slowly moved away from the magnificent Adi Sankara Nilayam and its beautiful surroundings, I bowed my head, offering pranams to Sri Sankaracharya and Swami Chinmayanandaji. About the author: Pradeep Krishnan is a seeker based in Trivandrum, Kerala, seeking answers to ‘existence’ and a student of consciousness deeply attracted to the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
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