On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the statue of the revered eighth century philosopher Adi Shankaracharya at Kedarnath. During his 52 minute speech, PM Modi advocated for a countrywide pilgrimage and urged Indians to follow the trail of the great saint and visit sacred places of worship throughout the country. “Invoke Shankara in every nook and cranny, every element of Hindustan — it’s the time to go out” he said.
Adi Shankaracharya through debate, discourse and over the course of his life revived Hinduism and heralded a new era for its expression.
His position within the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta is unparalleled. He organised the worship of the deities Surya, Shiva, Vishnu, Devi and Ganesh. The echoes of the hymns and shlokas he composed in their honour still resonate right from Kalady to Kedarnath.
The holy places he visited still remain central sites of pilgrimage in Hinduism. Adi Shankara, apart from setting up four renowned maths across India (Dwarka, Puri, Sringeri and Joshimath) is also said to have renovated the route to the Himalayan Char Dhams (Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri).
So vast have been the travels of this great saint that from every corner of the subcontinent can one journey in his footsteps. The Adi Shankara traversed the entire length and breadth of India; in this regard, we, as pilgrims of the 21st century, can retrace this trail of his — from Kalady (Adi Shankaracharya's place of birth in Kerala) to Kedarnath (his samadhi sthal in Uttarakhand) by visiting some of the prominent religious places of worship he travelled through (in some instances established), regardless of where we begin within the boundaries of Bharat.
The Adi Shankara’s Trail
Starting from the southernmost tip of India — Kanyakumari — where lies the Sarvani Shakti Peetha’s Bhagavathi Kumari Amman Temple, one can proceed to Kalady to visit the temple whose complex encompasses Adi Shankaracharya’s birthplace as well as the spot of his mother’s cremation (which he performed in defiance of his vows of sainthood).
The famous crocodile shrine where the revered saint obtained permission to pursue sanyasa is another sacred site visit. From there, one can proceed to Karnataka’s Subramanya to seek the blessings of Lord Kartikeya at the Kukke Shri Subramanya temple.
Then to Sringeri, where the Adi Shankaracharya established one of his four cardinal peethams — The Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham, and the renowned Sri Sharadamba (a goddess often associated with Saraswati) temple.
Nearby, lies Shankarnarayana, Mookambika and Gokarana (here the Mahabaleshwar temple is built on the site where Ravana laid down the Atmalinga).
Next stops are the Jyotirlingas at Triyambak and Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra and Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh. From here, one can proceed to the holy cities of Prayagraj and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
The journey then continues in Haridwar, the peetha in Joshimath and the Char Dhams in the state of Uttarakhand. Finally, one arrives at the land of Kedarnath — this blessed bhoomi is home to both a jyotirlinga as well as the samadhi sthal of the great saint. (After receiving darshan there, pilgrims can, one day hopefully, travel to the Adi Shankararacharya’s Sharada Peeth that is currently in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir).
Alternatively, after starting from Kanyakumari, one can traverse through Tamil Nadu, visit the Arulmigu Subramaniya Swamy Temple at Tiruchendur, the jyotirlinga at the Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameswaram, the Meenakshi temple at Madurai and the Kamakshi temple in Kanchipuram.
Pilgrims can then visit Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh to seek the blessings of Lord Venkateswara and Srisailam for the darshan of the Mallikarjuna jyotirlinga.
Following which, Lord Jagannatha awaits his devotees at Puri in Odisha — this holy city also houses the Govardhan Math — one of the four cardinal maths established by Adi Shankara. From Puri, one can travel to Omkareshwar and continue the pilgrimage as described before.
North: The Land of Kashyap
Starting from Kedarnath, the Char Dhams, Haridwar and Joshimath in Uttarakhand, pilgrims can choose to proceed down south either via Dwarka to Gokarna and onwards or via Kamarupa and Puri to Andhra Pradesh and further.
West: The Land of Krishna
The journey here begins in Gujarat from the land of Krishna — Dwarka (within which also rests the Nageshwar jyotirlinga) after which pilgrims may proceed to seek the blessings of the jyotirlinga at Somnath.
Then travel to Madhya Pradesh to visit the holy cities of Ujjain (Mahakaleshwar jyotirlinga), and to Uttar Pradesh to Prayagraj and Varanasi and follow the previously enumerated route to Kedarnath and one day ultimately to Kashmir.
After this, they visit Kamarupa in the northeast, proceed to Puri and move south via Andhra Pradesh.
In the northeast, the pilgrimage starts from Kamarupa in Guwahati, Assam. Here in the Nilachal Hills lies the Kamakhya temple of the Sakta order. It is the oldest of the 51 shakti peethas. Within the temple premises lies a mandap dedicated to Adi Shankaracharya.
From here, the journey could progress via the holy cities of Varanasi and Prayagraj all the way to Kedarnath, after which the pilgrims via Dwarka and Somnath move southwards to Gokarna.
Many more scared sites dot the path travelled by Adi Shankara; not all may have found mention here, but they certainly are places where the devout can seek solace and blessings.
The Prime Minister on Friday said: “there’s a tradition in our country to worship the Jyotirlingas (major Shiva temples), Shakti Peeths, (Siddhi) Asht-Vinayak (Ganesh). It’s considered a part of our life…. This pilgrimage is not a mere visit… it’s a lively tradition of uniting Bharat.”
Adi Shankaracharya united a fragmented civilisation with seemingly irreconcilable philosophies. Thereafter, despite centuries of brutal invasions and imperialism, these sacred sites of worship have not only survived but have prospered and thrived.
It is only fitting for Hindus to pay tribute to their glorious inheritance by continuing the tradition of pilgrimage to these holy destinations.
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