śañkarācārya, date debate and kēvala advaita

Adi s’ankara and kEvala advaita vEdAnta:

“Brahma Satyam. Jagat Mithyam. Jivo Brahmaiva Na Parah.”

The brahman is real, The moving wold is a mirage (illusion). The individual self of jIva itself is the brahman, and none else.

Sankaracharya wrote a commentary on The Bhagavad Gita , which is a part of Vyasa’s Mahabharata. So Sankaracharya lived after Veda Vyasa. He also wrote commentaries on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras. These three commentaires are called the prasthAna traya bhASyas.

By birth, Sankaracharya was a Namboodari Brahman from Kerala. He wrote many books including, Viveka ChoodamaniBhaja Govindam, and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and major Upanishads. He started 5 Mathas, all over India, where people could study and practice what he taught. He wrote the Soundarya Lahari in praise of the Devi. He wrote an explanation of the famous sentence from the Chandogya Upanishad – “Tat Tvam Asi”. That explanation is called Vakya Vritti.

There are many Advaitins, followers of Sankaracharya even today. He died when he was just 32 years old, a brahmachari, who never married. This shows that we can do a great deal with our life, in a very short time too, if we are focused and work continuously. I hope all of us do great things also. Some followers of Sankaracharya believe that he is Siva Sankara himself, others believe that the entire universe is a manifestation of Siva., there are no two things such as Siva and not Siva!


As with the rest of Indian History there is no agreement between the traditional view and the mainstream view on this matter. As always my target audience is the emerging centre who would like to hear both sides of the arguments, look at the data and make up their own mind. 

Traditional Date :

s’loka and translation :

Birth :

from Brihat Sankara Vijaya of Chitsukhacharya, a contemporary.

तिष्ये प्रयात्य नलसेवधि बाणनेत्रे |
ये नंदने दिनमणा वुदगढ़वभाजी |
राधे दिते रुडुविनिर्गतमन्गलग्ने |
स्याहूतवान सिवगुरुहू सच श्रंकरेति ||

tiSyE prayAtya nalasevadhi bANanetre |ye nandane dinamaNA vudagaDvabhAjI |

rAdhE dite ruDuvinirgatamangalagne |syAhUtavAn sivaguruhU sacha s’ankareti ||

Meaning:···-· Anala=3. Sevadhi = 9, Bana = 5, Netra= 2, which comes to 2593rd year of Kali (source). On Sunday, Vaisakha Sukla Panchami in the constellation and Lagna of Dhanus in the year Nandana, a son was born to Sivaguru and he was named ‘Sankara’ by his father in 2593 Kali.

All our previous study leads us to accept the date of 3102 BCE as the start date of Kaliyuga. Please refer Date of the Mahabharata War and How many kinds of Yugas are there?

Therefore the s’loka above leads to a date of 3102-2593=509 BCE as the year of Sankara’s birth.

Bodily Demise :

from Jina Vijaya :

रशी रबान स्ताधा भूमि र्मार्त्याक्षाऊ वामामेलानात |
एअकत्वेअन लभेअतान्कम तामराक्षा तत्र वत्सरः |

ras’I rabAna stAdhA bhUmirmArtyAkshAu vAmAmElAnAta|
eakatveana labheatAkam tAmrAkSA tatra vatsarah|

Rishi = 7. Bana = 5, Bhumi = 1 and Martyakshau = 2 (source). This gives 2157 as the  year of demise as per the Jina Calendar. The Jinas use a different Yudhisthira Sakam from the one used by us. Please see How many kinds of Sakas (Eras) are there? Their Yudhisthira Saka is off from our Yudhisthira Saka by 467 years. While our Yudhisthira s’aka starts in year 1 of Kaliyuga, theirs starts in year 468 of Kaliyuga.

Therfore Sankara’s ascent or bodily demise works out to 2157+468 = 2625 Kali or 3102-2625=477 B.C.;

kAmakoti pITa : (source)

The Punya—sloka—manjarigives only the cyclic year, the (lunar) month, Paksha and tithi, sometimes
even the time of the day, decease of the gurus. But here and there. the Kali or Saka year is given.

The chronological table of Kamakoti clearly gives the following dates among many:
1. Establishment of Peetha 482 B.C.
2. Sri Sankaracharya, First Acharya, occupied peetha for 6 years, demise: Raktakshi year, Vaisakha month, Sukla-Paksha, 11th day, 476 B.C.

Nepalaraja Vamsavali:(source)
In the Suryavamsi dynasty of Nepal the 18th king was Vrishadeva Varma. He reigned from 2554 Kali to 2615 Kali or 547 B.C., to 486 BC.  It is stated in the Nepalaraja Vamsavli that; “Adi Sankaracharya came from the South and destroyed the Buddha faith.” Kali 2614 or 487 B.C

Temple of Sankaracharya in Kashmir : (source)

“Gopaditya the 70th king in the list of Kashmir kings (417-357 B.C.) founded Agraharas and built the temples of Jyestheswara and Sankaracharya” (A short history of Kashmir By P. Gwasha Lal, B.A., Ed. 1932; p. 27).
“Sankaraoharya”-—”This shrine is situated in the city of Srinagar. Sankaracharya is an ancient temple crowning the Takht-i-Sulaiman hill and standing 1000 ft. above the valley. The temple and the hill on which it stands take their name from Sankaracharya, the great South Indian Teacher of Monism who came to Kashmir from Travancore. This temple was built by king Gopaditya who reigned in Kashmir from 368 to 308 B.C. It was repaired later by the liberal minded Muslim king Zainul Abdin.” (Vide The Hindu dated 17——7·—1949 p. 15, 2nd column and Kali Saka Vijnanam by K. Venkatachalam part III, p. 66). The real time of Gopaditya is 417-357 B.C. `Therefore it is evident that Sri Adi Sankaracharya lived before Gopaditya’s time i. e. Between 509-477 B.C.

Sringeri Matha : (source)

There are 2 Sringeri Mathas. One at Kudali Sringeri at the confluence of Tunga and Bhadra with a history from 509 BCE which lays claim to being the original Sringeri Matham established by the Adi guru Sankaracharya.

From Sringeri, the river Tunga flows about a hundred kilometers and then it meets river Bhadra at Kudali Sringeri, which is at a distance of about 10 KM from the town of Simoga, the head quarters of the district of Shimoga in the Karnataka state. Only thereafter the downstream river is known as Tungabhadra. In the Sarada Bhujanga Prayat Stotra the Sarada Devi is addressed as looking at the Tungabhadra river. This refers to the Sarada temple located at Kudali Sringeri. Therefore the Kudali Sringeri Math claims that it is the original math established by Sankaracharya.  (source)

The other Sringeri Matham had the patronage of Sri Krishnadevaraya as well as many great Sankaracharyas. This Matham gives a date of 44 BCE for Adi Sankara. It appears that they do not take into account the difference between the Jina Yudhisthira Saka and our Yudhisthira Saka. If the correction of 467 years is added, we get 511 BCE which is pretty close to 509 BCE. It is hard to believe that people who are experts in such matters would make so trivial an error. There may be something else we do not know.The Sringeri maṭha records its history from the 8th century onwards. It thus claims that Adi Shankaracharya lived during that time. But the Kudali Sringeri matha has record of the matha from 509 BCE. The recent Sringeri maṭha sources reported that Sankara was born in the 14th year of the reign of Vikramaditya. Some believe him to be the Vikramaditya II of the Western Chalukya Dynasty, which ruled from Badami in Karnataka. Others believe him to the Vikramaditya of the 1st century BC. The history of the Sringeri Matha since the period of Sri Bharathi Tirtha (I) and Sri Vidyaranya onwards is well documented. The names of the Acharyas preceding Sri Bharathi Tirtha (I) are based on the ancient traditions of the matha. This is because when Vidyaranya and his younger brother, Bharati tirtha, who though younger became the pontiff before Vidyaranya, moved from Kudali Sringeri to Sringeri and a lineage of Acharyas continued in the Kudali Sringeri. Kudali Sringeri had the most authentic record of the chronology of the maṭha as when Vidya Shankara swami returned he had all the past records with him and these records were not available to Bharati Tirtha and Vidyaranya swami, who moved away from the parent maṭha. What Vidyaranya swami could do was to record back up to only the 8th century. Most of the names from the Sringeri lineage up to Vidyaranya are also found in the Sri Guru Charitra, a 15th century Marathi work by Gangadhara Saraswathi. (source)
The other Sankara Mathams validate the date of 509 BCE for Sankaracharya, based on their own chronology.
The Western or Mainstream Date for Adi Sankaracharya :It is important to state at the outset that not all Indians hold the Traditional or Indian date and not all westerners hold the Western or Mainstream Date. Western and Indian Refer to schools of thought and not to individuals. It is also important to recognise the use of circular references in western writings. In one paper they claim that A is of this date because of B and in another that B is of this date because of A. As an example please do refer to the articles concerning Sandrokottus and Chandragupta Maurya on this blog-site and elsewhere.In Jan 1916 Sri S.V. Venkateswara wrote a paper for the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. I shall  to make a few notes from his data without accepting his conclusions. For example though he can accept that Mozart or Keats were prodigies, he cannot accept that Sankara could write so many commentaries under the age of 32.. so he adds 60 years to it to get 92 years and another rakthakshi samvatsaram.

  1. As per this article Sankara attacks Buddhist doctrines in Brahma Sutra Bhasyas. (I have found my grandfather’s copy of this bhasyam but have not even begun reading it – so for now I will accept this statement, conditionally. I have actually heard that Sankara was criticised as a prachana bouddha – disguised Buddhist by Ramanujacharya.
  2. The article further says that Sankara’s disciple Padmapada, said that Sankara opposed Mahayana Buddhism.
  3. Then the article connects Mahayana Buddhism as a post Asokan phenomenon. Having then unquestioningly accepted that Asoka was of the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya who was the same as Sandrokottus, a common soldier who met Alexander. This identification was the contribution of a certain William Jones who read nothing but the sanskrit poetry of Kalidasa’s period.
  4. The article uses the questionable western date for Buddha to push down the date of Sankaracharya and as a major reason objection to the traditional date. The Indian dates for Buddha can vary from 1900 BCE to 1400 BCE roughly.. I am yet to write about this in detail. In my view this objection to Sankara’s traditional date is th weakest of the lot.
  5. The article says that since Sankaracharya knew the Puranas, he must be dated after them. Then the article makes the common mistake of dating the entire puranas as the date of the last update to the puranas. Even Chanakya knew the Puranas and refers to them in his Arthasastra.. should we imagine that he too is from the 8th century AD? The puranas in their core form existed before Veda Vyasa. He received several of them from his predecessors, compiled and edited them. Only a small section of each purana that dealt with kaliyuga was updated over time and written in future tense. Based on this people have incorrectly given the puranas and the purana karthas very late dates.
  6. The article tells us that Sankara was a younger contemporary of Kumarila Bhatta and that Bhatta referred to Kalidasa. Then it puts Kalidasa after the Vishnu Purana which it dates very late (see point above). We have previously written that Kalidasa was of Varahamihira‘s time and worked out the cause for the errors in the date given to Varahamihira by the western school. Please see Varahamihira – Really 427 of Saka Era? : Pancha SiddhantikaBased on that analysis, I worked out that Varahamihira could not be earlier than 185 BCE. This may give more credence to the 44 BCE date for Sankara advocated by the Sringeri Matham.
  7. The article refers to the work of Justice Telang. Telang said that since Pataliputra was destroyed in the 7th century and since the Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sankara – refers to the coronation of pUrNavarman. The reasons given by the article against this are a little cloudy.
  8. Similarly there is a rather vague point in the article –  on the identity of the Kirthi  referred to by Sankara’s disciple Suresvaracharya in his vartika to Sankara’s upadesa  sahasri. The article insists that that Kirthi can be none other than Dharma Kirthi who is assumed by the article to be of the 7th century.
  9. The article tells us that the Vaishnava Yamunacharya who was the guru of Sri Ramanujacarya lists Sankara to be of a later date than Bhartruhari. The article assumes that Bhartrhari is of the 7th century.
  10. The article tells us that Sankara refers to the Dravidian Saiva Saint, Gnyana Sambandha in Soundarya lahari and to Sirutonda Nayanar in Siva Paradha Ksham Stotram and assumes these saints in the 7th century. (It does not give the basis for such an assumption.)
  11. The article then refers to the work of Prof. Pathak and Dr. Bhandarkar. It states their views to refute them. The date they have given is 788 to 825 AD. But the refuting is done in another article. One interesting point in it is that the usage of Vedic Sanskrit by Sankara is attributed to his Malayali/Malabar origins.
  12. Sarvajnataman, the student of Sankara’s student mentions an “Aditya of the Race of Manu” in his Samkshepa Sariraka. Dr. Bhandarkar identofied him with the Chalukyan king Vimaladitya. The article identifies him with the Chola king 880 to 907 AD.
  13. The article then refers to a hymn of Sankara to the Devi in which he gives his age as 85 by her compassion. It goes on to say that the correct date for Sankara is 805 to 897 AD.

Conclusion :

Unless we ascertain the dates of Bharthruhari and other referred poets/saints from indpendent resources, there is no serious basis for accepting or refuting the western view of the Sankara’s date, as given in the article referenced above.

At present my mind hovers between 44 BCE  given by the Sringeri Sankara Matham and 509 BCE given by Sri Kota Venkatachalam.