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Śaṅkara or Śaṅkarācārya (trad., 788–820, but perhaps earlier). The pre-eminent philosopher and proponent of Advaita Vedānta, and one of the most influential thinkers in the entire history of Indian religion.

Although the traditional biographies disagree in many details, the main outlines of the saintly life portrayed in them are clear. He was born of a brahman family in S. India, probably at Kālaḍi in the modern state of Kerala. His father died while Śaṅkara was a child, and while still a boy, Śaṅkara left his mother in the care of some relatives, and set out on the life of a wandering mendicant. At a cave on the banks of the Narmadā River he met the sage Govindapāda, the disciple of Gauḍapāda, and remained there long enough to become his pupil, to study Vedānta philosophy with him, and receive from him formal initiation into the life of a renunciant (saṃnyāsa).

Leaving Govindapāda, Śaṅkara walked to Vārāṇasī (Benares) where he began to write, teach, and attract disciples of his own. From Vārāṇasī he journeyed north to Badarīnātha near the source of the Ganges in the foothills of the Himālayas. There, he composed his famous commentary on the Brahmasūtra. The last years of his short life were spent wandering the length and breadth of India proclaiming the philosophy of Advaita Vedānta and taking on all rivals in debate. This period is called the ‘Tour of Victory’ (digvijaya), during which Śaṅkara defeated Maṇḍana Miśra and many other worthy proponents of rival schools of religious philosophy, including Buddhists, Jains, and various sectarian Śaivas.

One of the most widely accepted accounts of the end of his life is that at the age of 32 he left Kedārnāth in the Himālayas travelling northward toward Mount Kailāsa, the abode of Śiva, and was seen no more.

For a description of his religious teaching see ADVAITA VEDĀNTA; ṢATKASAṂPATTI.