Preceptors of Advaita
SRIVATSA SOMADEVA SARMA
In the uninterrupted lineage of the preceptors of Advaita, Sri Sakti Acharya occupies the fourth place. His biography and greatness are described in various Puranas. Vasishtha, the spiritual son (manasa-putra) of Brahma, had a hundred sons through his wife, Arundhati. The eldest among them was Sakti, who possibly on account of the varied powers he had, was named so.
The greatness of Sakti is set forth in the work ‘Sri Kamakoti Pitha Jagadguru Parampararatnamalastuti’, by Sadasivabrahmendra with the commentary by Atmaprakasendra Sarasvati, published by Sri Vidya Press, Kumbhakonam, in 1837.
Manasa saktimupaimi sadviraktam
“I meditate upon Sakti, the detached one, whose presence removed the sins of the king by name Bahumitrasahan, who had pre-eminent splendor, who possessed of mantra and yantra powers bestowed upon him by great ones.”
The commentator explains the meaning of this verse as follows: Mitrasaha of the solar dynasty had Vasishtha as his family preceptor. Destruction of wild beasts and demons being the duty of the King, Mitrasaha once wanted to kill a demon; but the latter, by the power of his maya eluded the arrow and hid himself somewhere. With the evil intention of doing some wrong to the king, the demon disguising himself as a cook, prepared food from a human beings flesh for the ancestral ceremony to be performed by the king. The food was served to Vasishtha. But, the sage coming to knew of the true nature of the food that was served to him, got angry and spelt a curse on the king that he should become a man-eating demon. The king, not knowing the tricks played by the demon thought that Vasishtha was wrong in cursing him and he, in turn, in an angry mood took water in his palms to spell a curse on the sage. The minister, however, dissuaded him from doing so by saying that by cursing the preceptor the whole family would be destroyed. The king, fully convinced, poured the water on his feet. If the water taken after determination is poured anywhere that portion or place would get dirty. As a result of the king’s pouring water on his feet, his feet also became dirty; henceforth, he was called Kalmashapada. This act, according to the king, was mainly intended to show others that any insult done to the preceptor would be a sin. Thus having become a demon, one day while he was on a chase to kill the sons of Vasishtha he came across Sakti Acharya, and on merely seeing him his sin and curse were removed. He then prayed to Sakti Acharya to take him as his disciple and instruct him on the nature of Truth as a result of which he crossed the ocean of transmigration and attained release.
This narrative is slightly different from the one that is found in the other Purana. There, it is found that Kalmashapada killed and ate all the one hundred sons of Vasishtha including Sakti that Sakti’s son Parasara in order to kill the demons performed a sacrifice and that Sakti by the grace of Lord Siva appeared before the child to make him stop the sacrifice.
There seems to be a contradiction involved in the narratives of the two Puranas. But if we adopt the view that Kalmashapada ate Sakti and others from the first Purana and that his sins and curse were annihilated just by the mere presence of Sakti emerging from the sacrificial fire and that he attained liberation on receiving instructions from Sakti himself from the other one (Purana), the mutual contradiction in the views expressed in the two Puranas get dissolved.
In the 65th chapter of the first half of the Linga-purana the following version is found. It says that Sakti is the eldest of the one hundred sons of Vasishtha. He learned all the arts from his father, married ‘Adrsyanti’ and was running the life of a house-holder duly performing all the prescribed Karmas. Visvamitra, as a result of his enmity towards Vasishtha, accosted a demon by name Rudhiran to enter the body of Kalmashapada and made him kill Sakti and the other sons of Vasishtha. Overcome with grief at the death of his sons, Vasishtha, as was the custom in that cosmic age fell from a hill-top with his wife in an attempt to end his life as well as that of his wife. This way of putting an end to one’s life was known as ‘bhrgu-patanam’ which was not regarded as suicide, since one was permitted to end one’s life at the time of grief by falling from hill-top. But ‘Bhudevi’, the Goddess of earth saved the old couple. Adrsyanti, the wife of Sakti, consoled them by saying that since she was in the family way, the family thread would not be disrupted.
Vasishtha was solaced on hearing this piece of good news. One midnight Vasishtha heard the chanting of the Vedas from the place where Adrsyanti was sleeping. As he was wondering, he heard an unknown voice saying that it was his grandson, the son of Sakti who was chanting the Vedas from the womb of his mother, that he (the child) was going to be a great devotee of Siva and that he would compose Vishnupurana. Vasishtha, forgetting the grief that had seized him, began expecting the day of his grand son’s birth. At last, the day also came and the joy of Vasishtha and his wife knew no bounds. After having worked out the child’s horoscope, he was named ‘Sakteyan’. The child, noted for his wisdom even while in the womb, asked his mother the reason for her not being able to enjoy the birth of a child for her. While everyone else including Vasishtha and his wife was avoiding a reply, the mother herself informed the child that his father was killed by a demon and that was the reason why she was not happy. Even before she could conclude her narrative, the child told the mother that he would bring his father very soon. Sakteya, praying to Lord Siva, lit up a fire and began performing a sacrifice aiming at exterminating the demons. Thousands of them perished in that fire. Devi Parvati, consort of Lord Siva, astonished at the child’s devotion to his father requested her husband Siva, to return the father of the child. Siva also complied with the request of his consort. Sakteya, coming to know through his mother that Sakti was his father, prostrated before him. The father embracing the child told him thus: “Who can kill whom?
It is only one’s karma that is responsible for one’s death. So, stop the sacrifice.” The family of Vasishtha was once again united. Pulastya of the Rakshasa race blessed him thus: “Since you were like an arrow to the enemy, you shall henceforth be known as Parasara and you shall compose Vishnupurana.
The Mahabharata, Adiparvan, 192-195, gives a biographical sketch of the three preceptors—Vasishtha, Sakti and Parasara. Once, a king by name ‘Divodasa’ also known as ‘Mitrasaha’ was returning after a tiresome hunting in the forest. On the way he came across some sages among whom Sakti also was one. The king, feeling hungry and thirsty, asked the sages to give him way. Sakti told the king that it was he who should give way for the sages and not vice versa. The king, getting angry at this reply whipped Sakti and he in return pronounced a curse on the king that he would forthwith become a demon. While the king, repenting for his action, was about to apologise to the sage, Visvamitra prevented the king from doing so, by making a demon called kinkara enter the body of the king.
Sakti learnt all the Advaita texts under his father, Vasishtha. He was always conscious of his identity with the Supreme Self. It was indeed our good fortune to have had such illustrious, realized souls like Sakti who kept alive the Advaita tradition for the benefit of posterity.