Original review: Saturday, January 21, 2006
Many corrections added later.
Watched the movie Adi Shankaracharya (Amazon link) by G. V. Iyer. It was a wonderful experience to watch a movie made in Sanskrit, the language, that was enriched by Sri Shankara, who was not just an exegete, philosopher and reformer, but also a great poet and enriched the beauty of the language with his memorable works.
Background: The film begins at the time when religion in general and sanAtana dharma (Hinduism) in particular was in a state of turmoil. Buddhism had started losing its forte and Hinduism was going in the wrong direction. The big battle Shankara had to fight, was not --as this author assumed to be-- with Buddhists, but with the blind practitioners of Vedic rites (mainly the followers of pUrva-mimAMsA). For example, animal sacrifices were stopped, but sacrifices were made of animals made of dough. The Upanishadic realization of the true purport of karma-kaaNDa (in the context of parama puruShArtha) was lost. No one was concerned about the fundamental aspects of reality and truth. The holy city Varanasi, the city where Annapurna and Vishveshwara reside, the city on the holy banks of the holy Ganges, was echoing with DukRRi~n karaNe [a grammar rule], rather than shivo.aham [I am Shiva], the chant of the unity of individual self with the supreme spirit.
Shankara and his "companions/friends"
The life story in the movie begins with a narration of how Shiva Guru, Shankara's father, asks him to treat mRRityu [death] as a friend. mRRityu approaches Shankara as a boy and both become friends. At the time of Shankara's (upanayana) initiation, he meets another boy, praj~nAna [wisdom] and makes him his other friend. These two friends, "praj~nAna Sharma" and "mRRityu" grow up with Shankara and stay with him (except for brief times). Whenever the friends are together, they sing the shlokas ".... vishvam bhUta bhavya-bhavat prabhum" [He who has inner vision is the Lord of the past, present, future] by praj~nAna Sharma. mRRityu chants “AkAshAt-patitam-toyam” [every drop of water from the sky merges with the sea]. The movements of the friends are very carefully orchestrated ones.
In another scene, Shankara's friend praj~nAna Sharma moves away from Shankara when the latter says to a shUdra in Kashi, as is customary for a saMnyAsi, to move away. When Shankara realizes the truth, praj~nAna comes back to him again. The encounter of praj~nAna with Mandana Mishra's parrot, is enlightening. So is his deserting of Shankara's disciples when they become envious of Sureshwara.
[In another scene involving Shankara's friend mRRityu]
Shankara first meets mRRityu at the time of death of his father Siva Guru. mRRityu was already there when Shankara reaches home from Sringeri to meet his mother. Many times, mRRityu is angry at Shankara, as he (Shankara) laughs in a mocking fashion at mRRityu. When Shankara is ill, Shankara laughs again, observing the paradox of mRRityu taking care of his body, when actually he (mRRityu) should be destroying it.
Final embrace of Shankara and his friends: In the Himalayas, Shankara has a debate with his friend praj~nAna. When they embrace, praj~nAna merges into Shankara. mRRityu who was angry because, Shankara (always laughs at him mockingly) is also asked by Shankara to embrace him. He does after Shankara's persuasion "in spite of the fact that I laugh at you, you still have been with me. So you are my friend. So embrace me." He embraces Shankara and that is the last when we see of (mortal) Shankara.
Disciples of Shankara
Other than his friends, Shankara is always accompanied by his disciples.
Vishnu, the boy who accompanies Shankara at Narmada, and is assumed to be dead by him by drowning, meets him again at Kashi and is taken as a disciple. Vishnu is named Padmapada by Shankara.
Totaka, becomes the disciple in Kashi. He is so named because he composed a beautiful verse on Shankara in the toTaka metre ending with the lines sha~Nkara deshika me sharaNam.
In another scene, Shankara observes a boy, who is thought to be a lunatic by his parents. It is clear that Shankara knows the truth about the boy being an Atma-j~nAnI. Shankara asks the boy "Who are you? Where are you coming from?". The boy replies "All pervading, yet unpolluted I am Atman," and is taken as disciple by Shankara and named as Hastamalaka (hasta = hand; Amalaka = myrobalan fruit) [He can perceive the eternal truth of Self, without effort.].
Shankara is redirected by Kumarila to Mandana Mishra, a great scholar in pUrva-mimAMsA which puts emphasis on rituals, rather than renunciation leading to knowledge of Reality and Truth. Shankara defeats Mandana Mishra in a debate, takes him as disciple, and names him Sureshwara.
Ubhaya Bharathi, who acts as the judge during the debate, and declares Shankara as the winner accompanies them wherever they go. Shankara sees in her, his mother and even Sarada devi herself. When Shankara assigns the disciples places to go to establish schools, and assigns to himself bhuvana trayam (the three worlds), he asks her to be with him always.
A (brief) Transcript of the movie
[Copyright holders of this film, please see note at end of post.]
Pranava. Gayatri. Titles. The sacred words of other faiths of India: Shaivites, Jains, Buddhists. Father Shiva Guru chanting Gayatri. Aryamba, Shankara's mother watering Tulsi plant. Shankara's father Shiva Guru completing oblations.
Initial Learning: Shiva Guru knows that his time (to depart from this life) has come. Takes it with poise. Remembers the words from Bhagavad Geetha (meditate on Me at the time of death). Calls baala Shankara near him. Tells him "idam sharIram ashAshvatam, aham gamiShyAmi shAshvata padam" (This body is mortal. I am going to the eternal abode). Asks him to treat mRRityu as a friend. Asks Shankara to recite the shloka he taught him. Shankara recites:
aakaashaat patitaM toyaM yathaa gachchhati saagaram |
sarvadevanamaskaaraH keshavaM prati gachchhati ||
[A traditional prayer or a subhAshita]
Shankara meets mRRityu, the boy who asks himself to be treated as a friend. Shiva Guru breathes his last. (Traditional Brahminic) Initiation of Shankara. Shankara meets praj~nAna and makes him his friend. Introduces his friends to his teacher. Asks alms from a lady, who is too poor to offer anything but an Amalaka fruit. Recites kanaka-dhAra stotram beginning with a~NgaM hareH pulakabhuushhaNamaashrayantii to bless her with wealth. The Lady explains her husband does not hoard, even a morsel. So all she can give is AmalakAs. Shankara sees that the neighbour of the lady is hoarding. Refuses alms from him. Neighbour repents and asks his people to distribute all his wealth.
Learns from his teacher that sannyaasa is the way to equanimity. Teacher explains to him the greatness of sannyaasa, brahmacharya and the greatness of Govinda Bhagavadpaada. Shankara wants to renounce. Mother disapproves.
Shankara observes a brAhmin whom he knows, punish a coconut-thief by giving him something to eat and gifting him some coconuts. The brAhmin also makes the thief promise never to steal. When asked, the brAhmin explains to Shankara dehasya-daNDanam kShaNikam; mano daNDanam chirasthayi (Physical punishment is temporary. A teaching would go a long way in correcting a person.) The proof is in sanAtana dharma lifestyle. Teacher further explains that renunciation as explained in Upanishads is the key to understanding truth.
Is attracted to wearing the saffron cloth as an emblem of renunciation. Swims far to retrieve the white cloth he was wearing, while a crocodile catches hold of his foot. praj~nAna gets mother Aryamba to the river and she agrees for him to be a sannyAsi to be saved from death in the crocodile’s grasp. Watches the play of Nachiketa-Yama done in Kathakali style. Takes the permission of mother and leaves home. Promises to come back for her last rites.
Search for Guru: Sees how powerful death is and how people are not understanding it the right way. Sees caste prejudice. Faints. Is taken care of by tribals. Reaches Gokarna in Northern Karnataka, and meets his friend Vishnu. Vishnu follows him. They travel through Madhya Pradesh. Explains to Vishnu, who asks if Shankara is breaking the four-fold stages of life ordained by Vedas, that anyone qualified can choose to become a sannyasin after Brahmacharya. Reaches Narmada banks. Narmada takes away Vishnu. Prays and quells the power of Narmada. Reaches the cave dwelling of Govindapada.
[At the cave of Govindapada]: Meets Govindapada. Convinces Govindapada and other people at the aashram that he is a competent student. Composes the dasha-shloki – with the refrain tadeko.avashiShTaH shivaH kevalo.aham and his understanding of knowledge of Self. When Govindapada asks "With this mortal body, how can you cross the ocean of existence?" Shankara replies "body is subject to birth and death; but not Atman [dashashlokii]. The unreal has no existence; the real never ceases to be" [Gita]. Govindapada blesses Shankara: paramahaMso bhaviShyasi (may you become a paramahamsa) and takes Shankara as disciple. Shankara sees that Badarayana-Vyasa's vedanta-granthas are getting neglected as writes bhaashya for these. Using the story of Satyakama-Jabali and statements like mrittikA eva satyam, convinces other disciples that sarvaM khalvidaM brahma (from Chandogya) is the truth. Other disciples offer prostrations at his feet.
Kashi: Sees that people are reciting and analyzing rules of Panini grammar on the banks of the holy Ganges. Takes Vishnu as disciple and names him as Padmapada. People respect Shankara in Kashi. Takes Totaka as disciple. Recites Bhaja Govinda shloka to the scholar who was reciting grammar rules. The words bhajagovindaM bhajagovindaM govindaM bhajamuuDhamate reverberate in Kashi. Is paid respects by the King of Kashi. Meets his friends praj~nAna and mRRityu again at Kashi.
Chandala incident. Shloka 2 of maneesha panchakam which goes as
brahmaivaahamidaM jagachcha sakalaM chinmaatravistaaritaM
sarvaM chaitadavidyayaa triguNayaa.asheshhaM mayaa kalpitam.h |
itthaM yasya dR^iDhaa matiH sukhatare nitye pare nirmale
chaaNDaalo.astu sa tu dvijo.astu gururityeshhaa maniishhaa mama || 2||
I am quite convinced that he is the great Master, be he a Brahmin or an outcaste, who, dwelling on the pure and infinite Brahman thinks of himself as that very Brahman, of whose manifestation the whole Universe is,though apparently the Universe is assumed to consist of different things, due to ignorance and the three Gunas (Satva, Rajas and Tamas).
Praises Kashi that dispelled his ignorance.
kaashyaa.n hi kaashyate kaashii kaashii sarvaprakaashikaa .
saa kaashii viditaa yena tena praaptaa hi kaashikaa .. 4..
Takes Hastamalaka as disciple. Meets an old scholar (said to be Badarayana-Vyasa himself) and they both discuss Brahmasutras Meets Kumarila who is immolating himself as a penance for 'deceiving' the Buddhist monastics to learn their philosophy. Kumarila cannot comment on Shankara's work. Story of how Kumarila defeats Buddhists and why he has to perform immolation. Kumarila however, sees the work of Shankara, approves it, and asks Shankara to go to Mahishmati (on the banks of Narmada) to meet Kumarila's disciple Mandana Mishra.
Mahishmati, on the banks of Narmada: Reaches Mandana Mishra's place. Begs for a debate. Debate begins. praj~nAna observes that the parrot of Mandana Mishra is bound in a cage and eats only pepper. Offers sweet grapes to the parrot and frees it. Shankara defeats Mandana Mishra and takes him as a disciple. Sees his mother Aryamba Ubhaya Bharathi, the wife of Mandana Mishra, and says "experience is more important than knowledge". Camps at Sringeri with disciples.
Sringeri: When Sureshwara questions about the futility of ritual Vedic rites, Shankara sees he is mature and assigns him the task of writing commentary on his work on Brahmasutras. Other disciples get envious and Wisdom walks away from them. The others feel that the task should be given to either Padmapada or, Hastamalaka the brightest one. Shankara laments, if he cannot keep unity among his devotees, how can he do the same over Bharatavarsha? Shankara explains that he made the decision based on "experience is better than seniority or scholarliness". Disciples still show reluctance. Bharathi devi laments. Sureshwara gives back the Bhashya Granthas. Shankara asks Padmapada to write commentary and Padmapada realises his mistake and asks Shankara to make Sureshwara do it. Shankara instead says Padmapada should do it.
As Ubhaya Bharathi is serving them food, Shankara and his disciples recite Annapurna Astakam.
nityaanandakarI varaabhayakarI saundaryaratnaakarI
nirdhuutaakhiladoShapaavanakarI pratyakShamaaheshvarI .
bhikShaaM dehi kR^ipaavalambanakarI maataa.annapuurNeshvarI .. 1..
Oh! Mother Annapurna! renderer of the support of compassion, the bestower of eternal happiness, the donor of gifts and protection, the ocean of beauty, the destroyer of all sins and purifier, the great goddess, the purifier of the family of Himavan, and the great deity of Kasi, (thou) grant us alms.
Shankara wants his four disciples to start schools (pITham) at Dwaraka, Badri, Puri and Sringeri. He assigns himself the three worlds (bhuvana trayam).
Back to home: praj~nAna wants to see mother Aryamba. Shankara agrees and both immediately leave. mRRityu was already there when both reach their home. Aryamba dies. Shankara asks to do final rites. Brahmins around object to that and expel him. He realizes the illusory nature of everything. Sees he still has his friends with him. Remembers the brahmin-(who-punished-the-thief) and Govindapada who were lamenting on the lack of Dharma in the Veda BhUmi.
Conquest: Reaches Kanyakumari. Prays to Goddess Kanyakumari. His disciples start to chant the prayer, and everywhere there is the echo, of the beautiful call (nay thunder) from Mahanarayana Upanishad about Renunciation being the lone means of obtaining Knowledge.
na karmaNaa na prajayaa dhanena tyaagenaike amR^itatvamaanashuH .
pareNa naaka.n nihita.n guhaayaaM bibhraajate yadyatayo vishanti ..
vedaantavij~naanavinishchitaarthaaH sa.nnyaasayogaadyatayaH shuddhasattvaaH
te brahmaloke tu paraantakaale paraamR^itaaH parimuchyanti sarve
dahra.n vipaapa.n varaveshmabhuuta yat puNDariikaM
tatraapi dahre gagana.n vishoka.n tasmin yadantastadupaasitavyam.h
yo vedaadau svaraH prokto vedaante cha pratishhThitaH .
tasya prakR^itiliinasya yaH paraH sa maheshvaraH
Reaches Kanchipuram. Makes more people his disciples. Story of Raikva (of the Upanishads). Feels how great each of his four disciples are. Ugra Bhairava comes and asks Shankara to become a sacrifice to Kali for the purpose of nirvana of kaapalika. Shankara follows. A Lion (the vaahana of the devi) kills Kaapalika. Shankara prays to Goddess. Reaches Somnath, Marble rocks of Narmada river, Prayag, Benares, Devaprayag (Himalayas). Has conquered India.
Himalayas: Disciples observe that Shankara is ill. Prays to Himalayas Shiva and Ganges (lalATaM lAvaNya-dyuti-vimalaM AbhAti tava yat dvitIyaM tan-manye makuTa-ghaTitaM candra-shakalaM / Saundaryalahari #46)
Prays to Ganges. Shankara encourages his disciples. All walk towards Himalayas.
[The voice over and Shankara.]
[The Supreme Truth is one, which is the all-pervading Self, True knowledge of Self leads to liberation. He who know the Self controls the gross, living, mental, rational and supra-rational being.
Shankara is the Sun of the spiritual sky
Before the rays of knowledge, the ordinary Sun is pale as moon
I bow to the sun of knowledge, in thought, word and deed.]
As Shankara is walking to the top of a mountain top, the other faiths --represented by Jainas, Buddhists, (possibly) Shaivites, (possibly) Kaapalikas-- fall behind.
Final Debate: Shankara alone reaches the top of the mountain. Wisdom asks him if there is anything more to be achieved. Shankara and praj~nAna debate on how can the humans torn by sorrow and ignorance be liberated. praj~nAna feels that the theory that Shankara proposes is subtle and complicated. praj~nAna feels that Ishwara anugraha mixed with devotion alone leads to Advaita in humans and asks him to not lament about the realization of humans. Shankara says that he is not lamenting and is sure everyone will be liberated. In the meanwhile, mRRityu comes and says time is up. Shankara declares to mRRityu that he is Brahman. mRRityu gets angry and leaves him. Shankara explains to praj~nAna the oneness of reality. praj~nAna accepts the reasoning. After the debate, Shankara embraces praj~nAna. praj~nAna merges into Shankara. After some persuasion by Shankara, mRRityu also embraces Shankara. Disciples lament and then console themselves that Shankara Acharya will always be in their intellect.
Praise be unto Him who conquered other philosophies: Sankhya, Yoga, Naiyayika, Vaiseshika, Purva Mimamsa and became the master of Uttara-Mimamsa. He is the King of Spiritual world.
Voice of Shankara: I accept every faith. he who has no attachments is verily the Self, the Universal Self.
I bow down to the Self which is pure knowledge.
Who with pure intellect and fortitude controls this sensual body.
And shuns sensation will be free from attachment
He whose mind is unattached, subdued in thought, desire-free,
and free from action, through renunciation, attains perfection
Ego-free, free of false conviction of Bravery, free of thoughts of anger and lust humble and pure, then he is worthy of becoming Brahman. Madhuram, Manoraharam, Anandam. [Charming, Pleasant, Blissful] Come along all of you.
(aakashaat patitaM toyaM saagaraM prati gachchhati |)
puurNamadaH puurNamidaM puurNaat puurNamudachyate |
puurNasya puurNamaadaaya puurNamevaavashiShyate ||
OM shaantiH shaantiH shaantiH ||
I bow down to Shankara, the master of Advaita!
- The identification shlokas of the friends of Shankara are played everytime they are in action.
- The Nachiketa play done in Kathakali, the traditional dance form of Kerala.
- Punishment" of the thief by the Brahmin.
- Kumarila: Story of Kumarila, a great scholar of Kashi, who wanted to learn the secrets of Buddhists so that he can defeat them. He achieved his objective of defeating Buddhists. Kumarila laments to Shankara that when the Buddhists pushed him off an abyss, he should have said "Let the eternal Vedas save me" instead of saying, as he said, "If Vedas are eternal, let me be saved". This resulted in him being saved, but he got blinded in an eye. By the time Shankara meets him, Kumarila had defeated his Buddhist master, and is immolating himself because he broke the Buddhist tradition of not respecting the master.
- Hastamalaka: The entire episode of Hastamalaka is very moving. Shankara sees a young boy who acts like a mad person. It is Shankara's keenness which makes him observe that the boy is laughing at the fish that are living in the water and dying when they land on the bank. The boy is clearly amused at the futileness of the whole existence in this dualistic world. If he is laughing at the highest fear, namely death, he should be staring at the greatest truth. This is what is shown when he is playing and stares at the Sun (a representative of the Brahman) directly. The interplay introduces his parents who are worried about him and explain him his situation. The funny part is, they are explaining their own ignorance is mis-apprehending the boy's illumination. Shankara asks the boy "who he is". The boy replies "he is the eternal Atman". Shankara asks the parents to give the boy to him and gives him the ochre robe.
- The release of Mandana Mishra's parrot: In Maahismathi, Shankara meets Mandana Mishra of the pUrva-mimamsa fame. Mandana Mishra has a parrot that recites that Vedic rites are the final authority. The parrot, of course is a symbolism for Mandana Mishra himself. While Shankara and Mandana Mishra are debating, praj~nAna finds out that the parrot eats only pepper and chooses to remain in a cage. While Shankara and Mandana Mishra are debating, praj~nAna offers the parrot sweet grapes. The parrot says that it likes the sweet grapes. At the same time, Shankara is gives the winning argument. praj~nAna offers the parrot why he wants to remain in a cage, rather than being free. praj~nAna says that ants will take many life times to climb a mountain, while a parrot with wings can fly over to the top immediately. Shankara at the same time, asks Mandana Mishra why he chooses to take the slow path of Karma, when renunciation will make him free immediately. praj~nAna frees the parrot and at the same time, Mandana Mishra accepts defeat. Shankara takes Mandana Mishra as disciple and names him Sureshwara.
- Kerala Style Vedic recitation, as well as many Upanishadic passages rendered beautifully.
- Shankara and his disciples reciting annapoorna ashtakam is very moving.
Explicit References from the Upanishads: The movie is full of upanishadic allegories, and every dialogue questions the fundamental aspects of perception and reality. Explicitly, it shows the following references from Upanishads: Two birds from Mundaka, Nachiketa from Katha, Satyakama-Jabali and Raikva. Chanting in the background from Isha Upanishad and of course, the Gita.
Possible anachrony: The teacher of Shankara and is making them recite vAgarthAviva sampR^iktau shloka, which is the first shloka from Raghuvamsham, written by Kalidasa. I thought that Kalidasa was preceeded by Shankara, not otherwise.
Postscript correction (Not an anachrony): A couple of searches reveals that Kalidasa is a 5th-6thcentury poet. Since Shankara is generally ascribed to the time 7-8th century, the use of the shloka may not be an anachrony.
General comments about the movie:
Miracles: Traditionally Shankara's story is associated with many miracles, like the experience with the Amla devi, Padmapada's lotus, the fading of garlands when he is debating with Sureshwara, he taking another form to argue kaamashAstra with the wife of Mandana mishra etc. The movie does not have any of these. Maybe G.V.Iyer felt that the dramatization that comes with showing miracles may alter the way the teachings of Shankara are shown.
Acting: Sarvadaman Banerjee was very good as Shankara. He also acted later, as Sri Krishna in the T.V. serial by Ramanand Sagar and also as Sri Krishna in G.V.Iyer's Bhagavad Geetha. Bharat Bhushan as his father and the friends praj~nAna and mRRityu, the four disciples and Ubhaya Bharati act well. G.V.Iyer himself acts as Veda Vyasa.
Music: The direction of music for the movie was by Manganampalli Balamurali himself, who even sang some songs with his melodious heavenly voice. There are names of other doyens, like Nookala chinna Satyanaraya among others in the initial credits list. The first raaga of the movie, of course, had to be Sankara Bharanam [Adornment of Sankara]. Shankara and his disciples singing Annapoorna astakam was memorable. The background score is by B.V.Karanth, who does a good job.
Dialogues: The dialogues for this Sanskrit movie were penned by a noted Madhwa scholar Dr.Bannanje Govindacharya from Karnataka. He won the 2009 Government award Padma Shri. (Thanks to Shri Subbu-ji for the reference in the comment!).
Awards: This film was made in 1983. and won the national awards for "Best Feature Film", "Best Screenplay", "Best Cinematography" and "Best Audiography". The script, screen play, production and direction of the movie was by G.V.Iyer himself (the producer of the film was G.V.Iyer himself, rather than Subbarami Reddy, as advertised on the DVD. Subbarami Reddy, to his credit, did produce G.V.Iyer's later movies.). The awards were enriched by the movie, thanks to the committee.
DVD details: There are some minor errors in continuity. The movie is around 2:40 hours, rather than 2:00 hours as written on the cover of the DVD. The dialogue is available in Sanskrit as well as Hindi (which I did not opt for). The subtitles are in English (as well as French, which I did not opt for) which is good, with minor errors. The great part of the subtitles is that they go into narrative mode when mantras are recited, instead of transcribing mode, which could be thought of as disrespecting the tradition.
Later works by G.V.Iyer: Ganapathi Venkaramana Iyer (born 1917), from Karnataka. It seems in 1992, G.V.Iyer made a film on "Bhagavad Geetha", that was again appreciated by critics. To watch that movie. Also, a brief look at the filmography of G.V. Iyer reveals that G.V. Iyer's 1983 move was no flash in the pan. He followed it with films like: Madhavacharya (1986), Ramanujacharya (1989), Bhagwat Geeta (1993), and Vivekananda (1994).
To watch them!
Note to the copyright holders of the film: I have really loved this movie and thanks (more than a trillion times) for making it. I have put up the transcript for the (educational) benefit of myself, and for my friends, who may not have access to the movie. If you have any objections to me making the transcription available on the web, please let me know and I will remove it from the web.
Note to the readers: I sincerely appreciate the help of Shri Sunder-ji who helped me in making numerous corrections to this. The remaining faults in the review, of course lie with me. I also appreciate the readers who made pointers to this review and appreciated it and wanted it to be corrected. It was my fault that it was not done in time!
Shri Ramaraju Bhaskar is writing the review in Telugu. Parts of it are vailable at the following link.
sarvaM sha~NkaraarpaNamastu |
sarvaM keshavaarpaNamastu |
shriichakrapuranivaasinii raajaaraajeshvarii lalitaa parameshvarii devyai arpaNamastu |
shrii raamaarpaNamastu |
shriikRRiShNa parabrahmaarpaNamastu |