Mathru Panchakam! An ode to his mother by Adi Shankaracharya

‘Mathru devobhava

Pithru devobhava

Acharya devobhava

Atithi devobhava’

Is what taught to a Hindu. This shloka from Taitthiriya Upanishad says,

Be the one to whom a Mother is aGod, Be the one to whom a Father is a God, Be the one to whom a Teacher is a God, Be the one to whom a Guest is a God.

these days there is fad of dedicating a day to celebrate someone, like commercially created father’s day/mother’s day. Yes of course there is nothing wrong in celebrating and all of us do celebrate anyhow.

Let’s not go back much, just 20 years back, we never had these mother/father /valentine’s days, we had much better respect for elders than we have in today’s world. our culture doesn’t expect Archie’s, Walmarts to remind us the importance of matha, pitha etc.. We have been taught to not only respect them but to worship them as gods. Let us just not limit celebrating these ‘prathyaksha devatha’ s for a day.

Adi Shankaracharya have composed amazing 5 slokas called “Mathru ppanchakam.The time, place and the situation when He composed this shloka is so unique.

Adi Shankaracharya bhagavadpada was born at Kalady in Kerala in a Namboodiri family. His mother was Aryamba. He lost his father in a very young age..

When he wanted to take up sanyasa very much against the will of her mother, she finally agreed with a condition, that He should be present near her death bed and also he should perform  all the last rights. Sankaracharya agreed to this and took up Sanyasa.When he was at Sringeri, he had an intuition, that his mother was nearing death and by his Tapo shakthi reached there immediately.

He was near his mother at the time of her death and also performed her last rights as she had wished. It was at this time he came up with these heartfelt, five slokas which he receited to his mother.

In Hindu culture a devotee approaches god, as a son approaches his mother. Mother is often termed as Dhatree(One who bears the child), Janani(one who gives birth to the child), Ambaa(One who nourishes the limbs of the child) and Veerasu(One who makes him a hero), Shusroo(One who takes care of him).

The beauty of mathru panchakam is that, here Shankaracharya is not equating his mother to God and singing her praise, instead He laments to the lady who was his mother and points out how his conscience is pricking him for being not able to do the duty of a son.

He says,

Oh my mother , with clenched teeth you bore the excruciating pain, When I was born to you.

You shared the bed with me, even when it was soiled by me for an year, your body became thin in nursing me.

Oh mother dearest, you have nourished me keeping me in your womb for nine months.

No matter how great I become, I can not compensate what you have done for me.

Clad in a dress of a sanyasi, You saw me at my  teacher’s school, you silently wept.

Looking at you embracing and fondling me , my dear mother,

And all the teachers and students wept with you too, What could I have done,

Except falling at your feet, And offering my salutations.

When in labor you cried in pain to shiva, mukunda, and other gods

But in return, Oh my mother, I can only pray to you and offer my salutations.

Neither did I give you water at the time when death was near, Nor I offered any help to you to ease through the journey of death, And I did not chant ram’s name in your ear, Oh Mother , pardon me with compassion, For I have arrived here late to attend to my duties.

This last shloka truly makes anyone reading, emotional,

Rajethi jeevethi chiram sthutha thwam,

Ithyuktha vathya vaachi mathaa,

Dadamyaham thandulamesh shulkam.

You always had blessings for me, you said

Long live my son, you said I am a jewel to you. You said I was like a king in your eyes.  You sung beautiful songs to me and I was your life, But in return to all of that, Oh my mother I couldn’t give you anything but dry rice in your mouth.

Adi Shankara who achieved so much in his life in such a young age, he was a scholar par excellence and at his time there were no other scholars of that capacity to debate him. He had sakshatkara of parabrahma. Yet he sat with his ailing mother in death bed, only sorrow filled his heart.

This shlokas doesn’t not only depict a bond of mother and her child. This shloka symbolically speak of the very life of human beings.

We set out to achieve different goals, some seek knowledge, some popularity, some money and some service. But deep in our heart we are all bound to experience pain and sorrow. All the achievements lose their shine when sorrow fills one’s heart.

Yet one should pick himself up and carry on to achieve desired goal. That is the life lesson of Adi Shankaracharya to this world.

When ‘kala’ decides its time, we have to leave behind everything we achieved no matter how great it is,and walk alone.

Hence let’s not get carried away by any success, when the ultirior goal life is to known ‘oneself’. Let humility be in our actions, kindness in our words and respect in our heart.

This is what ‘Advaitha’ mean in simple words. There is no difference among any living beings. All are same, in all God resides

Dr Sindhu Prashanth