Accepted paper:

In the footsteps of Šaṅkara: mapping an all-India Digvijaya in the local space of Kerala


Olga Nowicka (Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland)

Paper short abstract:

The map itself could be a practice or an instrument applied to a spatial dimension. The process of making reality by constructing the physical space seems to be the case of Trichur - the city where the legendary map of Śaṅkara’s life became re-created and inscribed in specific geographic location.

Paper long abstract:

Most of Śaṅkara's hagiographies feature his conquer of the quarters (digvijaya) as their dominant topos. During all-India journey, Śaṅkara was said to travel along with disciples to the four corners of Indian Peninsula. He supposed to establish four vidyāpīṭhas (seats of learning), each affiliated with one of the four dhāmas (sacred places of pilgrimage).

Alternation to this popular account remains in circulation in Kerala. According to the local hagiographic tradition, Śaṅkara has founded four Advaita Vedānta maṭhas in the city of Trichur only. These were Vadakke Maṭham ("Northern Maṭha"), Naduvil Maṭham ("Middle Maṭha"), Edayil Maṭham ("Maṭha In-between") and Thekke Maṭham ("Southern Maṭha"), each of them associated with one adjacent temple. Subsequently he attained samādhi in Vatakkunnathan Temple situated nearby. Three of mentioned monasteries have survived until today.

All those institutions were build in one city, next to each other, just few hundred meters away from Vatakkunnathan Temple. The physical space of Trichur was rearranged in order to actualize the ideological concept which gave it a symbolic meaning. Thus, the legendary map of Śaṅkara's life became recreated and inscribed in geographic location of Trichur.

Thereby, in analyzing this peculiar local tradition, the key concept seems to be the map itself. The map with its ability not only to represent the physical area but also to create and re-create the space along with the reality. Thus the literary cartography in this case may enable understanding the cultural process of "making the place" of pilgrimage, giving it an importance, function and symbolic values.

panel P41
Spatial and visual dimensions of pilgrimage in South Asia