Mr. & Mrs. Mishra

Indian Mythology 20 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, July 11, 2010


I recently met a gentleman whose family tree traces itself to the 8th century philosopher and scholar, Mandana Mishra of Mithila, Bihar. Not many of us have heard of Mandana Mishra, or his amazing wife, Ubhaya Bharati. But their story opens up for us an India, extending from Kerala to Bihar to Kashmir, where intellect was celebrated along with sensuality. Very different from today’s India where spiritual gurus are embarrassed to talk about sex and sexy sirens are not taken seriously when they discuss anything intellectual.In the 8th century, a young man from Kerala called Shankara (now known as Adi Shankaracharya, the first teacher called Shankara) refused to marry. Instead, he became a monk and traveled across India determined to bring back the people’s faith in Vedic thought, using words and logic as his weapons. He had two major opponents. The first was Buddhism, which rejected the idea that the Veda is the source of the truth. The second was Mimansika, which celebrated the idea that the Veda is the source of truth, but insisted it can only be realized through ritual, not discussion. Buddhism was a monastic order. Mimansika, however, favored the married life for unless one is married one is not allowed to perform Vedic rituals. Shankara was a monk like the Buddhist but he favored the Vedic thought like the Mimansikas. Thus he embodied a new approach.

Shankara went to Kumarila Bhatta, who had successfully challenged many Buddhist and Vedic scholars to become the most revered Mimansika. But Kumarila was dying. So Kumarila directed him to Mandana Mishra. “You will know his house when you find there caged parrots discussing such abstract concepts such as is the Veda self-validated, is the world a reality or a perception, is it karma or God that brings about results!”

Like Kumarila, Mandana was a ritualist and a married man. He was at first annoyed to see a celibate monk. He eventually relented and all the scholars of the land gathered to watch Mandana Mishra debate against Shankara. The difference between the two was stark: Mandana Mishra was older, married and a believer of rituals. Shankara was young, celibate and believed in philosophical speculation. Who would be the judge? Everyone agreed none was more suited for the role than Mandana’s wife, Ubhaya Bharati.

Shankara’s logic was razor sharp, his arguments incisive. Mandana Mishra was about to accept defeat when his wife said to Shankara. “You claim to have full knowledge of the world. But how can you? You are not married. You have no knowledge of kama-shastra.” By kama-shastra, she meant knowledge of sex as well as all other sensory pursuits such as food, fashion, fine arts and performing arts. Shankara had to admit his knowledge of the world was incomplete.

To complete his education, Shankara is said to have entered the body of a dying king called Amaru, ruler of Kashmir, and through his body experienced every aspect of kama-shastra, and recorded his experiences as a collection of erotic love poems titled Amaru-shataka, which also serve as metaphors for spiritual insight.

When Shankara returned he bowed to Ubhaya Bharati who was Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, to him. And Mandana Mishra bowed to Shankara and described him as the mythic hermit, Shiva, who had beheaded Brahma, father of rituals. From that day onwards, Mimansa was divided into two schools: the old ritual school of Purva Mimansa and the new intellectual school of Uttar Mimansa. This later school evolved into what is today called Vedanta, acme of Vedic thought.

  • Akshay

    Knew about the parable, but didn’t know the couple’s names nor the fact that the debate spawned a chasm in Mimamsa, into Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Thank you sir. I believe you are well set out on your way to evangelize “Indian” thought. And I’m with you.

    I’d just want put forth that your books should be as reachable to common-man as blogs. They are way too costly. Do you plan to do something about it?

  • ravi torne

    please tell us story of Shmbuka in Ramayana.

  • This was really nice your stories reveal so much to us.

  • arti malhotra

    Really nice to know. Thank you for sharing.

    • george

      it is not necessary that we need to experience everything to have knoowledge of it.It is even better not to experience things like drugs and crimes.
      Adi Sankara’s knowledge in no way improved by losing his chastity and all he acquired was while he was celibate

      • whatisinaname

        very well said.

        On second thought, drugs, crime murder is always criticised by all religion.You don’t need to commit murder to understand murder, one knows it is wrong. You don’t have to do drugs (addiction) you see one man addicted that is enough.

        In this particular story, it is to say do not criticize any thing if you don’t know about it. Other than which is clearly wrong, that is why humans have powers of discretion and not animals.

        Here Shankara claims that he has the knowledge of the world, given that Grihasta (married life) is a part of the world.


      • Vijay

        Adi Shankara’s knowledge was incomplete without knowledge of basics of life which involves reproduction. How can anyone preach without this knowledge.

      • Satheesh

        adi shankara did not lose celibacy. He used parakaya pravesha – a major sidhi by which one soul can enter to another’s body to know about loukik life. So the body that indulged in sensual pleasures was not his and technically he was still celibate when he returned to his real body. No knowledge is complete unless one experiences it. You might have read hundreds of books about self realization but unless you experiences it you wont know it.

        • Yes satheesh agree, few comments above seem immature ones…

  • Aastha

    Since it was Janmashtmi recently, perhaps we can have some story related to mythology of Krishna. Are Devaki and Vasudev ever mentioned in Krishna mythology again Krishna’s birth? Why doesn’t Krishna rule over Mathura once he kills Kansa? And if Kansa didn’t want Devaki’s eighth son to kill him why didn’t he just send Devaki and Vasudeva to different prisons? Keeping them apart would be better than killing seven infants.

  • Gopal

    I really appreciate your interest in spreading awareness among the english intellectual masses about the important concepts related to our history. As you have taken this great work, I request you to cross-verify from various sources. Because, people can take your information as correct and form opinions. In this context, the issue is small. However, I’ve seen that some of the articles were closed with half-truths and that might add confusion in these gullible minds.

    Here, in this story I want to point out one thing. The story of Shankara’s debate with Mandana Mishra is correct. However, the origin of names “Purva Mimamsa” and “Uttara Mimamsa” as given in this article is incorrect. They are not based on AdiShankara’s debate. The word “Mimamsa” stands for a “deep inquiry” into the meaning of vedas. It is one of the “vedangas”, sub-vedas.

    They were named during the time of Vyasa himself. All the four vedas have two major components, the karma kanda and jnana kanda. The part of mimamsa that explains Karma Kaanda is also called “Purva Mimasa” and the part of Mimamsa that explains “jnana kaanda” means “uttara mimasa”. I’m refering to the book “Hindu Dharma” written by H.H. Sri Chandra Sekharendra Saraswati, who was the chief monk of Kanchi Matt in Tamilnadu. This book is regarded as one of the premier books on Hindu religion. I’ve found similar explanation in many other sources.

    • Devdutt

      Dates are a contentious issue in India as Indian scholars did not bother with history…what mattered more were ideas….this obsession with dating is a Western disease….some people believe Adi Shankara lived 2500 years ago, others insist he lived 1200 years ago…..for devout Hindus all four Vedas appeared simultaneously…historians say Rig came first and the other three later….so one can go back and forth and lose sight of the real point – THE IDEA. Focus on the IDEA please, that is the atma of my articles…..the real Mr. Mishra who is a descendent of Mandana Mishra told me his family believes the gods came down to witness the argument…is that true or just a metaphor…who knows?….the point is the idea, once again.

      • Jai Sri Radhe!

        “this obsession with dating is a Western disease”

        Why so negative? Why a “disease”?

        Why not just a “characteristic” that does in fact, serve a good purpose?

        • Coz obviously they keep track , they are intrested in creating history, where as our culture we belieaved in creating Ideas , concepts and did not bother in jotting them down to gain creadit for it or earn fame in history…..
          Our culture teaches liberation, free flowing knowledge we dont patent anything on our name and date…

      • Truth Seeker

        Dear Devji,
        Somehow, articles after articles, you seem to ignore contribution of ancient Rishis like Ved Vyas and others. You say dating is a Western disease, but you are into that same date “trap”, by saying Purva Mimansa and Uttara Mimansa came after that incident with Adi Sankaracharya, and not prior to that when vedas were authored by Ved Vyas.

        • Devdutt

          There are two Indian schools of history….according to one school everything came 5000 years ago…according to another, everything happened in the last 3000 years in a sequential manner…both have strong proponents and opponents….take your pick

  • stunning, simply awakening, Devdutt. Its god sent.

  • Prior to approaching the shelter of Mandan Mishra’s house, Shankara met the son of Mandan at the garden near his residence.

    Sankara asked for the address and the child replied – “why are you quizzing me for the address?”

    Sankara – “You are a adolescent child. What should I tell you?”

    The child replied – “Though I am less than five years old, I can explain you about the entire planet as my Saraswati is not adolescent.”

    Baloaham jagadanand na me bala saraswati apurne panchame varshe, varnayami jagatrayam.

    Sankara was in deep shock as he did not expect a child below five years age to talk in this manner.

    Jai Bharat