A Story from the Past – 9 – Contd.

This week, we reflect a bit more on the debate between Shankar-Aacharya and Mandan-Mishra. It has such lessons for today’s world.

Consider the relative positions of the two people. Shankar was a young man, some 16 years old. Mandan Mishra was the recognized star of Vedic Dharma at that time. He had reached the pinnacle of fame and status. So how did he agree to debate with the young Shankar?

Think of a bright young ambitious politician of today. Such a young man usually has to win small elections and rise from lower levels of political power to higher levels. He could leap over several levels if he could engage in a public debate with the country’s President or Prime Minister and win that debate handily. But the chances that he would be able to get a President or a Prime Minister to debate him are zero.

Think of a young boxer who eventually wants to fight for the heavyweight crown of the world. He has no chance at all of getting the World Champion to fight him in a public forum. He would never get through the entourage surrounding the World Champion. He would have go through a legion of fighters and slowly over years win his way to the world championship fight.

It was the same with Mandan Mishra. This was a man surrounded by his entourage and to meet him was itself a feat. But to meet him, to speak with him and to make him so angry that he loses his sense and agrees to debate you. That sounds rather impossible.

And this was not a simple debate. The deal was that the loser had to surrender to the winner, become his student and accept the winner’s way of life. In other words, if Shankar lost, he would have to become Mandan Mishra’s student and give up Samnyaas. If Mandan Mishra lost, this chief Scholar, the Head of Vedic Dharma, would have to become Shankar’s student and become a Samnyassi.

Mandan Mishra had everything to lose in this debate and nothing to gain. So how did Mandan Mishra get trapped in this debate? Folklore tells us a couple of stories about how Shankar entered the house of Mandan Mishra. One is that Shankar used his Yogic powers to dematerialize himself and then rematerialize himself after he had crossed the outer doors. The other is that Shankar entered through the backyard with servants.

Regardless of the ruse, Shankar managed to enter the house of Mandan Mishra when he was engaged in Shraddha of his father. This was another tactic of the young Shankar. Fair play would dictate that Shankar should have waited for the Shraddha ceremony to conclude and for Mandan Mishra to get over his grief. Then, at a arranged time, the debate should begin.

But this was not a simple debate. At stake was the entire mission of Shankar-Aacharya and the key to Seat of the Chief Scholar of the country. Shankar-Aacharya, in the best traditions of the Bhagwat-Geeta and in the tradition to winners worldwide, did not wait for fair play or traditional procedures. He entered Mandan Mishra’s house uninvited and unannounced; he interrupted Mandan Mishra during the Shraddha of his father. Then he proceeded to insult Mandan Mishra by word play and purposefully misinterpreted every statement of Mandan Mishra until Mandan Mishra got infuriated and agreed to shut up this young insolent pup of a Samnyassi by debating him.

This we think is the untold story of this great debate.

Editor’s Note: This may be different in tone from our earlier stories. But there is a reason for that. Every great teacher, reformer and warrior in history has engaged in practices that might be construed in hindsight as not quite fair or noble. But often the desired end result is worth the unfair play. This is the lesson of the Mahaa-Bhaarat War. So the behavior of young Shankar was completely consistent with the behavior of Shree Krishna in that great War. What does the Bhagwat-Geeta say about such behavior? We shall see that in the next few weeks. 

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