Adi Shankara, the greatest intellect the world has ever known, is hailed as the Avatara of Parameswara. His accomplishments in a short life span of 32 years defy understanding. He fought and dislodged 52 systems of erroneous philosophy and established Advaita Vedanta on a firm footing. अ वष चतुवद ी ादशे सव शा िवत् । षोडशे कृ तवान् भा यं ा ंश मुिनर�यगात् ॥ Adi Shankara mastered all the four Vedas at the age of eight; expounded all Shastras at twelve; wrote commentaries at sixteen; left this mortal world at thirtytwo. He wrote incisive and scholarly bhashyas, commentaries on Prasthanatraya (Vyasa’s Brahmasutras, Upanishads and Bhagavadgita); these are for scholars. For beginners, he penned Prakarana Granthas, explanatory texts, like Vivekachudamani, Atmabodha etc. For ordinary people, he authored a number of Stotras, almost a hundred of them. From ancient times Stotras have been an effective means of inculcating bhakti. We are all brought up in the tradition of Sanatana dharma where simple stotras are taught in different languages right from childhood.
Stotras are mainly devoted to praising the appearance of the Devata, his or her divine beauty, resplendent ornaments, powerful weapons held etc.; then the Ananta Kalyana Gunas, limitless auspicious characteristics, mainly compassion (karuna), simplicity, gentleness, infinite power of grace etc.; then the lilas (sports) of the Devata like Srishti (creation), Stithi (sustenance), Samhara (dissolution), punishing the wicked entities like Asuras, protecting the virtuous etc.
But Adi Shankara’s Stotras are of a genre of its own. Apart from the striking poetic beauty, the lilting tune, the masterly diction and the coverage of common features mentioned above, he lays great emphasis in each and every Stotra on Gnana, Self realization, as the human goal to be achieved in one’s lifetime. In Ganesa Pancharatnam, in the very
first line, मुदा करा मोदकं सदा िवमुि’niसाधकम,
he brings in the prayer for Mukti, Liberation
from the cycle of birth and death. There are, of course, Stotras entirely devoted to explaining the principles of Advaita Gnana, like Dakshinamurthy Ashtakam. There are also Stotras going into Puja process (like various Manasa Puja Stotras) and specialized Upasana paddhatis (like Soundaryalahari, Devi Bhujangam).
Adi Shankara was Shanmathasthapaka; he established the six streams of worship for attaining Brahman, viz. adoration of Ganapati, Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya and Kumara. His Stotras are also wide ranging; they are dedicated by him to many Devatas, who are manifestations of the six forms of Parabrahman, and enshrined in kshetras all over Bharatadesha, where he offered worship during his travels. At the age of five, he sang in praise of Devi; at the age of seven, he sang Kanakadhara stotram and enabled
shower of gold coins in an impoverished household. It was said of him: अ’rतःशा’niः बिहःशैवः �वहारे तो वै1Sणवः, he was worshipper of Shakti internally, was Shaiva in appearance and was Vaishnava in his transactional life. Apart from Stotras, he wrote bhashyas, commentaries on Stotras like Vishnu Sahasranamam and Lalita Trisati.
The most significant point is that in every Stotra, there is a clearcut prayer for grant of Gnana. However, the paths for attaining Gnana, viz. performance of duties of varnasrama dharma in a spirit of dedication of fruit to Bhagavan and feeling of being instrument in the hands of Bhagavan (Karmayoga), getting the mind cleansed of impurities (chittasuddhi), and developing bhakti towards Bhagavan with simultaneous detachment from worldly affiliations are clearly spelt out in the Stotras. The teaching
�ानादेव िह कै व-यम्, Moksha is attainable only through Gnana, is brought out clearly.
On Karma, he says in Shivaparadha Kshamapana Stotram (7):
नो शHयं ?मात कम CितपदगहनC=यवायाकु लाIे
ौते वाता कथं मे ि जकु लिविहते 34मागा नुसारे । तJवेऽ�ातेऽिवचारे वणमननयोः Kकं िन>दLयािसत�ं
‘rत�ो मेऽपराधः िशव िशव िशव भो ीमहादव शl=भो ॥ ७॥
“I am not able to perform the Karmas consisting of rituals prescribed in the Smritis since it is beset at every step with abstruse procedures and expiatory rites for defective and missing performance. Much less is my ability to perform the Karmas prescribed for brahmanas in Shrutis (Vedic injunctions) leading to the essential path of the realisation of Brahman. I have not known the Reality; nor have I engaged in enquiring on Reality by passing through the prescribed stages of listening from Guru, reflecting on his teachings and contemplating on the Reality. O Shiva, Shri Mahadeva, Shambho, my fault is to be kindly pardoned.”
Adi Shankara issues a stern and direct instruction on performance of Karma in Upadesa Panchakam:
वेदो िन=यमधीयतां तद>ु दतं कम ?वनु@ीयतां
तेनेश?य िवधीयतामपिचितः काl=ये मित?=यAयताम्। ॥ १ ॥
“Study the Vedas daily. Perform diligently the karmas ordained by them. Dedicate all those karmas as worship unto Iswara. Renounce all desires in the mind.”
CारDधं ि=वह भुAयतामथ पर34ा=मना ?थीयताम् ॥५॥
“Experience and exhaust ‘Prarabdha’, the fruits of past actions. Thereafter live absorbed in the truth “I am Brahman”.
When the mind is purified with performance of Karma and experiences growth of bhakti, what should be one’s attitude to Bhagavan? Adi Shankara defines bhakti in Shivanadalahari (61):
अMकोलं िनजबीजस’rतितरयfका’rतोपलं सूिचका साLवी नैजिवभुं लता ि ितOहं िस’rधुः स र -लभम् ।
ाYोतीह यथा तथा पशुपतेः पादारिव’rद यं
चेतोवृि Oपे=य ित@ित सदा सा भि’ni र=युWयते ॥ ६१॥
“Just as all the seeds of Ankola tree move towards the parent tree on their own, the iron needle is instantly attracted to the magnet, the chaste woman is ever mentally with her husband, the creeper goes round the tree, and the river rushes to the ocean, when the mind goes to and steadily abides in the twin lotus feet of Shiva Pashupati, that state is said to be Bhakti.”#
Bhakti towards Ishtadevata is exemplified in Soundaryalahari (4):
=वद’rयः पािण�यामभयवरदो दैवतगणः
=वमेका नैवािस क टतवराभी=यिभनया । भयात् ातुं दातुं फलमिप च वा\छासमिधकं शरQये लोकानां तव िह चरणावेव िनपुणौ ॥ 4 ॥
“All deities except you vouchsafe protection to devotees and grant their desires by gestures of their hands. You alone are not given to any such external demonstration of giving boons and freedom from fear. It is so because your feet are by themselves powerful to protect those in the grip of fear and grant more than what is desired by devotees.”
Adi Shankara assures that bhakti will definitely lead to Gnana. In Pandurangashtakam, he even draws a lesson in Gnana from the very standing posture of Shri Vitthala (3):
माणं भवा धे रदं मामकानां िनतl=बः करा�यां धृतो येन तfमात् ।
िवधातुव स=यै धृतो नािभकोशः पर34िलMगं भजे पाQडुरMगम् ॥ ३॥
“I salute that Panduranga, who symbolises the Supreme Brahman; who appears to declare by his gesture of keeping his hands on his waist, ‘For my devotees, the ocean of Samsara is only this much deep (waist deep)’; who, in order to provide an abode for Brahma, produced the lotus flower in his navel.” Similarly in Shri Subrahmanya Bhujangam, Adi Shankara instils Gnana by merely refering to the location of Shri Subrahmanya’s abode on the sea-shore (4):
यदा सिVधानं गता मानवा मे भवांभोिधपारं गताfते तदैव। इित �Tयि’rस’rधुतीरे य आfते तमीडे पिव ं पराशि’niपु म् ॥
“’When humans reach my abode on the shores of this sea, they have already crossed the ocean of Samsara’ – So the lord seems to proclaim from his coastal shrine. I adore this sacred Son of the Divine Mother.”
In Devi Bhujangam, there is a direct prayer for Gnana (27):
जगbालमेतJवयैवाl=ब सृ ं =वमेवाcयासीि’rdयैरथ जालम् ।
=वमेकै व क e=वमेकै व भोH ी न मे पुQयपापे न मे ब’rधमो ौ ॥ २७॥
“This magic show of the world is put up, O Mother, by you; you are moving about with the sense organs of humans in the web of various objects of experience. You alone are the doer and the enjoyer; neither merit nor sin clings to me; neither bondage nor release is there for me.”
In Bhaja Govindam, Adi Shankara guides us on the path of Gnana in simple terms (9):
स=सMग=वे िनfसMग=वं िनfसMग=वे िनम_ह=वम् ।
िनम_ह=वे िन`लतJवं िन`लतJवे जीव’rमुि’niः ॥ ९॥
“From satsanga, company of good people, comes non-attachment; from non- attachment comes freedom from delusion, which leads to self-abidance. From self- abidance comes Jivanmukti, Liberation even while in human body.”
Considering the abiding spiritual value of Adi Shankara’s Stotras, Paramapujya Jagadguru Sri Shankara Vijayendra Saraswathi Swamiji, Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, instructed that Shankara Stotra Makaranda Lecture classes be held online for teaching select Stotras of Adi Shankara to worldwide audience with emphasis on pronunciation, padaccheda (word split), word meaning and overall import. The classes were started on 29 January 2021 with an inspiring and benevolent Anugraha Bhashanam of the Acharya, conducted on zoom and YouTube during weekends and completed on 11 July 2021. A list of 26 Stotras of Adi Shankara was finalised and got approved by Sri Acharya Swamiji. A large number of participants from all corners of the world reaped the benefit. KKSF, USA has been coordinating the effort. The YouTube links to the classes, the Stotra texts, audio records and Lecture notes are put out in their website www.kksfusa.org/ssm.
A compilation of the Lecture notes, prepared by enthusistic volunteers led by Sow.Usha Natarajan of Chennai, was brought out in the form of a book, published by Giri Trading. The volunteers put in tremendous efforts to take down lecture notes, listen to the recorded lectures again, bring the notes to common format and send them to me for editing. It is hoped that this compilation will help devotees to chant the glorious Stotras with proper understanding of meaning.