A sacred mark (Tripunda) on the forehead! The swinging beads of Rudraakasha around his neck! His sonorous voice–  the extraordinary blessing of Goddess Saraswati! – Adi Guru Shankaracharya was a saint-extraordinary. One day, Shankaracharya, along with his disciples, was proceeding towards some destination.
En-route, Adi Shankaracharya happened to see the dead body of a King. His queens were mourning his death. On observing that sight, Shankaracharya addressed his disciples thus: “To accomplish certain
important assignment, I need to enter the dead body of this king. This is not only necessary, but also will deliver supreme good to the entire humankind. For one month, I give the responsibility of protecting and preserving my gross body to you all.”

Atha sonupashyata vibhaati guha purataha shilaa samatalaa vipulaa
Sarasi cha tatparisarechhajalaa falabhaaranamrataruramyatataa

(Shri Shankara Digvijaya, 9/102)

Meaning-- O disciples, look there! In that desolated place there is a cave, in front of which there is a huge stone slab. In its vicinity, there is a rivulet with crystal clear water, surrounded by trees that are loaded with fruits. It will be the most appropriate place for protecting my body. Besides, it will also be a secret abode.

Paripaalyaataamiha vasadibharidam vapurapramaadamanavadyagunaahaa
Ahmaasthitastaduchitam karanam kalayaami yaavadasameshukalaam

(Shri Shankara Digvijaya, 9/103)

You all remain here and preserve my body carefully, till I return from the body of the king after accomplishing my task. I will return soon. As for courage, faith and discrimination, you must be steadfast and victorious at all times.

After giving detailed instructions to the disciples, Adi Shankaracharya abdicated his gross body, his Linga Sharira consisting of five gyanendriyas (the organs of Knowledge), five karmendriyas (the organs of actions), five pranas (the streams of vital energy), mind and intellect, pulling his life force from the toe to the tenth door. Then he made the exit from the crown chakra (thousand-petalled lotus, brahmarandhra) and entered the dead body of the king through his brahmarandhra, proceeding to the toe--

Angushthamaarabhya sameeranam nayan karandhramaargaad bahiretya yogavit
Karandhramaargena shanaihi pravishtavaan mritasya yaavachcharanaagramekadhihi

(Shri Shankara Digvijaya, 9/105)

As soon as Adi Shankaracharya entered the body of King Amruk, his heart began to throb. He opened his eyes, got up and stood erect. On seeing their husband alive, unable to control their emotions, the queens screamed in joy– “Oh God! What miracle is this! What a benign merciful act by God! The stars of our good fortune have begun to twinkle. Our husband is alive. Sing the holy songs, beat the drums,
play the musical instruments…”

All the queens were dancing with happiness on finding their king alive. Here, Nature too began to swing with merriment on experiencing the divine presence of the Holy Master. The rivers gushed forth with a
gurgling sound. The trees began to bear flowers and fruits, unseasonal though, with their branches bending low as if to touch the sacred feet of their Creator! Milk yield of the cows increased substantially. Lord Indra (God of Rain) also seemed to be highly pleased as adequate rains poured, and, substantial increase in the yield of cereals and other agricultural products blossomed.

In the kingdom, to everyone’s surprise, there was a total change in the style of functioning, talks, and dealings of the king. His sober nature astonished one and all. The unexpected change set the Ministers
and the intellectuals thinking. One day they all gathered together for a discussion on the issue.

First Minister: The one who is like Yayaati (a king of ancient India) in donating wealth to the seekers; the one whose level of intelligence is like Brihaspati (a Hindu god and a Vedic deity) while conversing; the one who is like Arjuna (a strong warrior of the Bronze Age) in winning battles against the enemies; and the one who is All-knower like Lord Shiva– this individual cannot be our king. He is not at all King Amruk! After all, King Amruk had died. Certainly, the life-force that entered his body all of a sudden does not belong to him but someone else.

Second Minister: It looks as though some extraordinary divine soul has entered the body of the king and he is ruling this planet Earth–

Tasmaadasmaadraajavarshama pravishya praaptaishvaryaha shaasti kashchiddharitreem

(Shri Shankara Digvijaya, 10/8)

Third Minister: What has happened is for the good of all, is it not?

The Chief Minister: But, good times will persist only till this divine soul remains in the body of the king and does not re-enter his original body. If he gives up this body and goes to his previous body, we will be again orphans and luckless. Therefore, we need to take some serious steps to prevent him from entering his original body-

Atha te bhuvi yasya kasyachid vigataasorvapurasti dehinaha
Avicharya tadaashu dahyataamiti bhratyaan rahasi nyayojayan

(Shri Shankara Digvijaya, 10/10)

Thus, the soldiers were given strict instructions to look out for dead bodies in every nook and corner of the city, and on spotting one, immediately cremate it without any second thought. On getting instructions from the Head Minister, the soldiers began to scan their respective areas for dead bodies and burned them.

A bitter struggle, the clash of interests, ensued. On the one hand, the soldiers were out to destroy the body of Adi Shankaracharya, if located; and, on the other hand, the devoted disciples were determined
to protect the holy body of their revered Guru and keep it safe! On the one hand were those seeking the secular and fleeting material aggrandizement; on the other hand was the selfless devotion of the disciples for their Guru! On the one hand were the fully armed and egoistic soldiers; and, on the other hand were the loving hearts of the devotees torn with pangs of separation from their Guru!

Well, the point is not to judge as to who wins. But, the point of import is to see to what heights the level of courage and determination of disciples can go! How extraordinary is their faith and surrender, which sets an exemplary model for the society for all the times to come!

Within the cave, the disciples of Adi Shankaracharya were in conversation:

A disciple (his throat choked with emotions): It’s been 1 month and 6 days since Gurudev left his body. But, he has decreed he will be gone for a month. O Gurudev! Your words are the ultimate revelations and
they originate from the pinnacle of truth. Then, why this ambiguity?

Another disciple: What do we know about the divine plan of Gurudev? To interpret his divine revelations is beyond the capacity of our limited brains.

The third disciple: When our thinking is too short to fathom the depth of his actions, why then is he testing the feeble ones like us by placing all in such a strenuous situation? In the absence of his physical presence, we have withered just like the plants droop in the absence of sunlight…

Then Padmapada, the one who was well-versed with the spiritual glory of his holy master, said these words in an effort to console the grieving disciples– “Dear Guru-Brothers, undoubtedly our Gurudev has
bestowed upon us his immense love, and as such the moments of his divine grace repeatedly come up and flash in our inner chambers. But, to downplay his impregnable and unchallengeable revelations is most unfair on our part. We hanker and thirst for his divine presence and loving gaze, but this is not the time to be carried away by emotions, shed tears and prove ourselves weak. Instead, we need to be the
courageous disciples and meet the challenge squarely. As such take control of yourself quickly. We do not know when the soldiers dispatched by the Minister will reach this spot. They are looking for
the dead bodies all over and scouting extensively."

The disciples were yet engaged in conversations when the soldiers surrounded the cave.  Some soldiers even entered the cave. On seeing the divine body of Adi Shankaracharya, one of them shouted– “Whose
body is this?”

“Sir, this not a dead body. This is our Gurudev, practicing Shavasana (a yogic posture),” one of the disciples replied in a measured, poised tone.

The Soldier: Shavasana?

The Disciple: Yes! Don’t you know that the Yogis mostly practice this yogic exercise to give rest to their bodies?

Saying thus the intelligent disciple took the soldiers out of the cave, engaging them in conversation...“You will see that after sometime Gurudev will rise from this yogic posture and will explain to you the entire proceedings. These exercises are highly interesting. Until then, you all take rest for some time…”

The Soldier: No, No…we do not have time to take rest. Tell him to get up immediately from Shavasana!

The disciples were in a dilemma. After few seconds...

A Soldier (to a disciple):  Hasn’t your Guru awakened from Shavasana?

Another Soldier: He is making useless arguments! He is trying to fool us!

The Third Soldier: Perhaps this disciple wants to get himself burnt along with his Guru!

History bears testimony to the fact that tests are meant to measure the grit and determination of the student as to how far he can go to challenge and tackle it. As soon as one reaches the final frontier of
the efforts, the road gets cleared of its own to enable one to proceed further.

The disciples tried their utmost for protecting the body of their Guru. But, the soldiers were armed and they outnumbered the disciples. Thus, they snatched away the body of Adi Shankaracharya from the
possession of the disciples.

Inside the cave itself, the soldiers prepared the pyre for the cremation of the body. They then forcefully placed the body of Adi Shankaracharya on it. The soldiers, according to the instructions of the Minister, set fire to the pyre. The grieving disciples prayed intensely in chorus: “O Master! You are the support and essence of our life. You are the foundation of the world and its existence. You are all-powerful. Kindly bestow mercy on your novice disciples. O Lord! Come back soon! Kindly re-enter your body at once!”

The ardent prayers emanating from the deepest core of the disciples pierced the heart of Adi Guru. That’s why a miracle  unparalleled in history occurred! An incident without parallel! It was wonder of all wonders! Adi Shankaracharya abdicated the body of King Amruk. The King over there swooned and fell to his death instantly. And, Adi Guru re-entered his own body–

Gaatram puroditanayena sa deshikendraha sangyaamavaapya cha pureva samutthitobhoota

(Shri Shankara Digvijaya, 10/57)

The blazing fire in the pyre cooled down instantly and Adi Shankaracharya came out of the cave majestically.

The disciples were blessed with their life-support again, as their Guru had materialised in his original body! Indeed, the disciples were victorious. Courage, dedication and faith at the feet of the master
proved to be more powerful. The disciples had successfully cleared the test imposed on them by their Guru. History was created. For the sake of their most revered Gurudev, the disciples had made the ultimate commitment– putting their life itself at stake! But, by making this ultimate commitment, they made their lives receive the ultimate gift of immortality through the Ages!