Chinmaya Shankaram

Birth anniversaries of Swami Chinmaya and Adi Shankarcharya

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

On May 8-12 a five-day mega-programme, Chinmaya Shankaram, was held in the district of Ernakulam in Kerala, India, to commemorate the jayantis or birth anniversaries of two legendary spiritual masters who were born there: Adi Shankaracharya on May 12, 788 AD and Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda on May 8, 1916.

From May 8-12, Ernakulam, Kerala, hosted Chinmaya Shankaram, a five-day event celebrating the birth anniversaries of Adi Shankaracharya and Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda. Pic – Chinmaya Mission

The programme comprised various cultural activities and talks by Swamis and other eminent personalities, as well as the inauguration of a new Chinmaya Vidyapeeth (University) on 60-acre campus where Indian Knowledge Systems will be taught along with contemporary knowledge. The launch ceremony of the Chinmaya Shankaram was done by Shri Arif Mohammad Khan, Governor of Kerala, an outstanding Islamic and Vedic/Sanskrit scholar – whose interventions whether in English or Hindi are a treat to listen to and reveal his encyclopaedic and empathetic understanding of the human condition. 

Among the swamis who spoke were Swami Mitrananda, Swami Tejomayananda, former Spiritual Head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, and the current Head Swami Swaroopananda all of whom I have met and closely interacted with in Mauritius during their visits here. So, it was nice to see familiar faces discoursing on different aspects of the life and teachings of these two great luminaries, who were both responsible for a cultural and spiritual renaissance of Sanatana Dharma during their respective lifetimes.

As far as Swami Chinmayananda is concerned, he was born Balakrishna Menon. He lost his mother at the age of five and was brought up in a large matriarchal family typical of Kerala. By the time his father, a prominent judge, remarried, he was already on the way to Lucknow University. He graduated in English literature and law, took an active part in student politics in the struggle for independence, was at one time jailed only to emerge as a journalist with an incisive pen before a visit to the sage of Arunachal, Ramana Maharishi, triggered in him the inspiration to seek the truth of the Vedas.

He went to the Himalayas and in 1949 he was granted sanyasa by Swami Sivananda: thus did Balakrishna Menon become Swami Chinmayananda. He decided to take the message of the Vedas far and wide until he passed in 1993, and the technique he developed was jnana yagna: public discourses on the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures held over a period of five days. These are still immensely popular, along with the spiritual camps, Bal Vihar classes for children, study groups as well as the wealth of publications which continue to guide and inspire. Chinmaya Mission activities worldwide also include community service such as village improvement projects, educational institutions up to tertiary level, and vocational schools. There are about 350 Chinmaya Mission Centres worldwide, including the one in Mauritius headed by Swami Pranavananda.

In contrast, Adi Shankaracharya was born in village Kalady to a modest couple who prayed very devoutly to get a child. Like Swami Chinmayananda, he became orphaned at an early age: his father died when he was three years old. His mother sent him to a gurukula school – a traditional institution where Vedic knowledge is imparted. He turned out to be a prodigy, mastering the scriptures by the age of eight. He then returned to his home, looking after his mother and continuing his studies – his father had left a large collection of books.

However, given his exceptional nature, he had a burning desire to embrace sanyasa i.e. to give up the material world and engage in spiritual pursuit. For this he needed to find a guru. His mother was reluctant to let go of him, but finally relented. For two months this 8-year old walked alone towards the north, living on alms, at night resting under a tree, or in a temple or pilgrim’s centre – until he found his guru, Gobindapada Acharya who was living in a cave near one the banks of the Narmada river.

He stayed with the guru for a full three years and mastered all the scriptures and techniques of yoga. Before his guru sat in meditation then gave up his physical body and attained mahasmadhi, he advised Sankara to complete his mission of imparting Vedic knowledge to all and to proceed to Kasi, (as Varanasi was then known). There, he took up abode near the Viswanath temple near the famous Manikarnika Ghat and spent his time explaining the Vedantic texts and teaching the scriptures. He propounded the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, namely that: Brahman is the one and Ultimate Reality that underpins existence, and the only means to lead us to the goal of Realisation of this Truth is to overcome all sense attractions.

This is the goal of the Vedanta, the body of spiritual wisdom which contains the principles and details the paths and techniques available to the traveller on life’s inward journey seeking to achieve the goal, known as sadhana: they have been summarized by Shankaracharya in his Sadhana Panchakam. The Vedanta is based on the Vedas (from the Sanskrit vid, meaning knowledge) which are in four parts; it is a compilation of the end-portions of the Vedas, which are the conclusions arrived at by the rishi-munis (sages), hence Vedanta: Ved (from the Vedas) and anta (the end).

When he was barely 12 years old, the admirers, disciples and devotees of Shankara who included learned pundits and priests, conferred on him the title of Acharya – teacher. Thus did Shankara become Shankaracharya. Proceeding further, he travelled all over Bharata from south to north, east to west, establishing four mutts or spiritual centres which exist to this day. He wrote profusely, compiling bhashyas or commentaries on the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as composing many hymns and books which are in use to this day.

All this was done during his short life of only 28 years! A life in which on many an occasion he performed what would be considered as miracles by the uninitiated but were the expression of his extraordinary yogic powers that manifested from a very young age.

A classic magnum opus of Vedanta of Adi Shankaracharya is the Vivekachudamani, or ‘The Crest Jewel of Discrimination’, which many of us have had the opportunity and privilege of studying under Swami Pranavananda. Discrimination here used in the sense of transcendental discernment or viveka by the trained ‘Inner Eye’. This is the insight conveyed by the universal mantra:




(From the unreal lead us to the Real/ From darkness lead us to Light/From death lead us to Immortality) – which we recite at the end of all pujas.

Harih Om Sri Gurubhyoh Namah. Om Shanti

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 May 2024

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *