(An elegy on mother)
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, known as Sri Adhi Sankara, was born to a pious Nambudiri Brahmin couple Sivaguru and Aryamba in Kalady on the banks of River Purna, now River Periyar, in Kerala State. The couple were childless and praying for a child when one day Aryamba had a vision of Lord Siva in her dream and she was told that the Lord Himself would incarnate as her child and the couple were overjoyed. They named that child as Sankara. Sankara lost his father at an early age and it fell upon his mother to get his upanayanam performed and to get him admitted in a gurukula for the study of Vedas and other Sastras. When Sri Sankara finished his studies at gurukula he wanted to become a sanyasi but his mother wanted him to get married and live the life of a house-holder. His mother complained of old age and her struggle even to walk to the river for her morning bath to convince him to get married earlier. But Sri Sankara caused the River Purna to change its course to flow near his house through his prayer so that she need not struggle to walk a long distance for her morning bath. Then he caused another incident to happen in which a crocodile grabbed his foot when he went to take bath in the river. He then called out to his mother to give him permission to take to sanyasa as otherwise the crocodile will kill him. His mother agreed in desperation, and the crocodile let go of his foot. He emerged unharmed from the river and proceeded to renounce all his worldly attachments and take sanyasa. He comforted his troubled mother with the promise that he would be present near her in her final hours without fail and the left Kalady in search of a Guru. True to his word when he realized at Sringeri that his mother was nearing death, he rushed to her and was with his mother at the time of her death and also lighted the funeral pyre defying the custom and the village elders. It was at this time he wrote this work ‘Mathru Panchakam’, a small work of five slokas that poured out from the depth of his heart. The words written in grief for his departed mother rings true for all mothers at all times. This is an emotional work and it is not extolling any God nor is it explaining his philosophy. We shall see the verses which are simple and full of feeling, needing little explanation.
Aasthaam tavaddeyam prasoothi samaye durvara soola vyadha,
Nairuchyam thanu soshanam malamayee sayya cha samvatsaree,
Ekasyapi na garbha bara bharana klesasya yasya kshmo dhathum,
Nishkruthi munnathopi thanaya tasya janyai nama.
Salutations to you, O my mother. The pain endured by you at the time of delivery, the emaciation of the body during pregnancy, the year-long sharing of the bed made dirty by me, none of these miserable experiences borne by you during pregnancy can be adequately compensated by me even after becoming a grown up person.
In this verse the pain a mother undergoes is described. The pain is not only at the time when a mother carries and delivers the baby, but continues also for sometime later during the feeding stages. She observes diet restrictions and she eats only certain kind of food, not from taste point of view but only from child’s health point of view. The food is generally devoid of spices and is a lot of lentils and green vegetables. The poet remembers this and also adds that she must have spent sleepless nights because the baby's filth would have to be cleaned up regularly and the constant vigil making her weak and tired. However great one grows, still one cannot compensate or offer atonement for the pain a mother undergoes bearing the child in her womb and feeding the child as a baby.
Gurukulamupasruthya swapnakaale thu drushtwa,
Yathi samuchitha vesham praarudho maam twamuchai
Gurukulamadha sarva prarudathe samaksham
Sapadhi charanayosthe mathurasthu pranaama.
O Mother, once in your dreams you saw me as clad in the dress of a sanyasi. You came to the gurukula and wept aloud. The entire gurukula also wept with you. What can I do except falling at your feet and offering my salutations.
Once Aryamba, the mother of Sri Sankara had seen in her dreams her son in the robes of an ascetic. She immediately ran to the gurukula, embraced him and wept aloud. Knowing from her the reasons for her grief, others also wept with her. Sri Sankara remembers this incident as he pays obeisance to the feet of that mother as he later took sanyasa, as she feared.
Na dattam mathasthe marana samaye thoyamapi vaa,
Swadhaa vaa no dheyaa maranadivase sraadha vidhina
Na japtho mathasthe marana samaye tharaka manu,
Akale samprapthe mayi kuru dhayaam matharathulaam.
O! Mother! I could not offer water to you at the time of your death. I cannot offer you food on the anniversary of your death by performing Srardha. O! Mother! I have not chanted the redeeming Taraka mantra in your ear at the time of your death. O! Mother! be compassionate to me who has come late.
Sri Sankara has promised his mother before leaving Kalady as a sanyasi that he will be at her side at the time of her death. Though he was at her bedside as she breathed her last he could not perform certain final religious rites, as he had become a sanyasi and a sanyasi cannot perform the final rites. So here he feels sorry and seeks forgiveness for not doing the funeral ceremonies as a dutiful son.
Mukthaa Manisthvam, Nayanam mamethi,
Rajethi jeevethi chiram sthutha thwam,
Ithyuktha vathya vaachi mathaa,
Dadamyaham thandulamesh shulkam.
Long live O!Son! You are my jewel!; You are my eyes!; You are my dear prince!; you live long!;-You have said these fondling words! But in return of that all, O my mother I am putting these dry grains into Your mouth' (in the mouth that has spoken the fondling words,)
Before the cremation of the dead body, dry grains will be put into the mouth of the dead person. So Sri Sankara here laments that he is putting dry grains in the mouth that had fondled him with words of adoration and praise and had always prayed for his welfare only, calling him as "O my dear pearl, my eyes, my prince (king), my life".
Ambethi Thathethi Shivethi tasmin,
Prasoothikale yadavocha uchai,
Krishnethi Govinda hare Mukunde tyaho,
Janye rachito ayamanjali.
O! Mother, That day at the time of the labour pains you cried aloud : O! Mother, O! Father, O! Lord Siva, Today I offer my humble obeisance to that mother chanting O! Lord Krishna O! Govinda and Hare Mukunda.
In this verse Sri Sankara offers his homage to his mother who, at the time of delivering him screamed aloud in pain crying out to parents and Gods, by chanting the various names God. It is also Sri Sankara’s acknowledgement of the hardships his mother went through in delivering him as a child. It is also said that by praying to Lord, he got her the vision of Lord Siva and Lord Krishna in her final moments. No doubt he would have ensured her Moksha after death also, through his prayer.