At periodic intervals, mankind has needed preceptors to guide straying humans back to the path of devotion. Adi Sankara came into this world in order to dissipate knowledge. His parents Sivagurunathan and Ariambal had prayed fervently at the ancient Vadakumnathan Temple in Thrissur for a child. Siva, the presiding deity, offered them a choice of a wastrel with a long life or a good son with a short lifespan and they chose the latter. While Adi Sankara is famous for his philosophy of the Self (Atman), he is also remembered for highlighting the unique bond between a mother and son, said P. Swaminathan in a lecture.
When Adi Sankara decided to turn ascetic at an early age, his mother was devastated and voiced her angst at being left alone, her husband having passed on. Adi Sankara pacified his mother saying nothing can break the bond between a mother and son.
Adi Sankara asked his mother to think of him and call out to him if she felt she was ready for the final journey and he would arrive within seconds. It so happened that when Adi Sankara was in the North, Ariamabal was sinking and with her last breath, whispered, “Sankara, you are not with me.” Lord Krishna, the family’s deity, is said to have reached her side at once, sporting his trademark feather on his head and beads around his neck and called out to her. Although she could not see, she called her ‘son’ to her side and when she touched his head, she was cast in doubt. She opened her eyes with all the life left in her and saw Narayana in all His glory, blessing her. Adi Sankara arrived soon after and performed her last rites amid stiff opposition. He soon rendered the Mathru Panchagam, five songs that immortalise the bond between a mother and son.