PM Modi and the Sangh Parivar agenda to appropriate the Adi Shankara legacy

The prime minister's visit to Kalady will speed up converting Shankara's birthplace into a monument of national importance.

ByK A Shaji

Published Aug 31, 2022 | 8:32 PM Updated Sep 01, 2022 | 7:25 PM


When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the Adi Shankara Janmabhoomi Temple at Kalady village near Cochin International Airport on Thursday, 1 September, it will herald an almost total Sangh Parivar appropriation of the rich legacy of the exceptional philosopher who propagated the Advaita ideal.

After visiting the village where the sage is said to have been born,  the prime minister will address a mammoth BJP public meeting in which at least 10,000 people are expected to participate.

In all probability, Modi will reportedly explain to the gathering how a young boy from central Kerala — who spread Advaita Vedanta by establishing mutts at Sringeri, Dwaraka, Puri and Joshimath — facilitated a Hindu India that transcended the political boundaries before him.

For the RSS-BJP, Shankara’s “digvijaya” conquest is a solid foundation in which it develops its nationalistic project where faith, philosophy, and geography are blended together.

While projecting Modi’s visit to the village as something that could help the party make inroads into an otherwise indifferent Kerala, the BJP wants its renewed focus on Shankara to help strengthen the Hindutva ideology at the national level.


The Keerthi Sthambha at the birthplace of Adi Shankara. (Supplied)

For Modi, Shankara is an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It has been almost nine months since the prime minister unveiled a 13-foot statue of the philosopher at his reconstructed samadhi behind the Kedarnath temple. In the case of Kalady, the prime minister’s visit is expected to mark the beginning of efforts to convert the Shankara birthplace into a grand monument of national importance.

To that end, National Monuments Authority (NMA) chairman Tarun Vijay has already met Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and sought his help. It was in keeping with the Central government’s policy to give due importance to the birthplaces of India’s greatest seers.

Once it gets declared a monument of national importance, the birthplace will be brought under the purview of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and the Central government will allocate funds to “maintain, protect, and promote” the site.

Efforts are now on to prepare a detailed report on the significance of Adi Sankaracharya’s birthplace, which dates back to the early eighth century. In his Kedarnath speech, Modi recalled how Shankaracharya facilitated a united India by establishing holy maths, Char Dham, and the renaissance of 12 jyotirlingas.

Sangh Parivar ideologues believe no other metaphor will work like Shankaracharya, a young lonely seeker who transcended geographical boundaries to fight enemies of the Sanatana Dharma. If propagated widely, the “digvijaya” of the acharya will find takers even among those who have reservations about the Ayodhya and Kashi policies of the Sangh Parivar.

A remarkable saga of one who lived only 32 years, Shankaracharya’s story involves a lot of aspects, including travel, adventure, philosophical inquiry, and mobilisation.


The branch of Sringeri mutt in Kalady. (Supplied)

Myths and legends about him prevail across the country. Going by the legends, Shankara was born in Kalady on the banks of  Kerala’s second-largest river — Periyar — to Brahmin couple Siva Guru and Arya Antharjanam. At a very young age, he left home searching for learning and became a hermit.

People say a crocodile caught him while he was bathing in the Periyar, and let him off when his mother agreed to send him to sanyas.

Even amidst the extensive travels across the country, Shankara authored 116 works, including celebrated commentaries (bhashyas) on 10 Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Gita, and poetic works including Vivekachudamani, Maneesha Panchakam, and Saundaryalahiri.

The world is an illusion, according to Shankara. But for the BJP and RSS, his legacy is integral to expanding their clout in the world around.