THIS IS travel time for many of us. I was persuaded to go to Kalady in Kerala by a colleague who assured me I would love its sacredness. Never having heard of Kalady, I went there simply because the local Ramakrishna Mission ashram agreed to accommodate me. Once in Kalady, I was hooked to its serenity and the simplicity of its people. The mission monks directed us to the birthplace of Shankaracharya and we went as curious tourists. Soft Vedic chants made the atmosphere instantly uplifting. Faded pictures at the Kalady temple told the incredible story of the little boy who went on to single-handedly revive the Vedic religion. In 788 CE (a disputed date), at time when nearly 72 warring religious sects rent India, Shankara was born to an elderly, childless couple who, the belief goes, were assured by Lord Siva that He would incarnate as their son. Shankara's enemy was misinterpretation, which could be defeated only with a proper understanding of the Vedas. Seven-year-old Shankara wanted to be a sanyasi, but his mother was against the idea. One day, a crocodile caught Shankara by the leg in the river. Certain he was about to die, he cried aloud for permission to take 'emergency' sanyas before he breathed his last. His mother agreed - and the crocodile miraculously vanished! A bleeding Shankara proceeded from Kerala to the Himalayas to find a guru. Swami Govindapada Acharya asked him who he was, to which he replied, "I am neither fire, air, earth nor water, but the Immortal Atman (Self) hidden in all names and forms."
From there, Shankara went to Kashi to re-establish Vedic knowledge, and wrote commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita.The story is long and fascinating and I was very glad to have seen Kalady, the crucible of the Hindu revival.