On the once remote village of Veliyanad, near Ernakulam in Kerala, India, is a Nambutiri Illom or Mana (home of a Kerala Brahmin) called 'Melpazhur Mana'. This sacred dwelling is the ancestral, maternal home and birthplace of the world renowned saint and revered Advaita Vedantin, Adi Sankara. Local tradition has it that Adi Sankara's vidyarambha and upanayana ceremonies were performed at Melpazhur Mana. Today, this place of pilgrimage is named 'Adi Sankara Nilayam’, and it is the home of the Chinmaya International Foundation (CIF), the Chinmaya Mission's accredited institute for Sanskrit and Indology research.
Set in Kerala's lush, green country, amidst temple shrines and lotus and lily ponds, Melpazhur Mana offers a spiritual ambience that attracts aspirants who come in search of peace and solitude from the world over. Within the Mana stands the awe-inspiring quiet grandeur of the nalukettu (a building which has a four-winged architectural design) on an extensive compound of 11 acres. This age-old Nambutiri house highlights par excellence, Kerala's sacred and graceful traditions of yore. Its structural strength and design exquisitely blend utility and art, wood and granite, work and worship. The central courtyard is adorned with the holy 'chetti’ (ixora) and 'mulla' (jasmine) plant. The Mana — now a four-winged structure (nalukettu) — was originally an eight-winged structure (ettukettu). The outer four wings were dismantled. The now downsized Mana still exudes the spiritual glory and affluence of old, in its serene character and architectural design.
The northern wing hosts the room ‘Thevarappura’, wherein the daily agnihotra, havans (fire rituals) and other forms of ritualistic worship were conducted. The western wing has an underground cellar 'Nilavara’, as well as specially designed rooms where the household could store grains, temple ornaments and utensils. The southern extension features the 'thekkini’, where large family gatherings feasted on special occasions. And finally, in the eastern section, close to the traditional kitchen and well, is the sacred room where Adi Sankara was born.
In order to enhance the feeling in seekers and help them reach into their own divinity, an idol of Adi Sankara vigraha, was installed in 2015. Meditating in this room is most fulfilling and effortless. Truly, Sri Sankara is felt here in the light of the ever-lit akhanda jyoti and the regular chants and prayers that fill this room.
Sri Sankara's stories and the divine anecdotes that dot his brief but glorious life, were sought to be depicted in Kerala mural paintings, to adorn the walls of Adi Sankara Nilayam. Sri Gopi was commissioned in 2017 to draw these murals which are now installed in Melpazhur Mana, the birthplace of Sri Sankara.
These paintings capture the significant milestones in the history of Sri Adi Sankara, starting with Sri Lakshmi and Ganapati – Goddess of prosperity with Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, followed by one showing the devas beseeching Mahadeva to incarnate for the protection of Sanatana Vaidika Dharma; followed by Aryamba and Sivaguru in prayer at Vadakkumnathan temple, then the birth of Sankara, his upanayanam in the central courtyard of Melpazhur Mana, then the episode of how the Kanakadhara Stotram came to be composed, Sri Sankara's tapas and svadhyaya – Bala Sankara deeply immersed in study and sadhana; then a three-part mural that shows Sri Sankara seeking permission for sannyasa, the encounter with the crocodile and a young Sankara seeking his mother's permission for aapat-sannyasa (sannyasa in some emergency). The last painting depicts the significant occasion where Sri Sankara sets forth into the world as a sannyasi in search of his Guru. The sixth mural depicts Sri Vettakkoruvan, the son of Kirata Siva and Parvati – who incidentally is also the family deity of Melpazhur Mana. A visit to this ancient illom shall fill the heart of seekers and the murals shall highlight on the glorious life of Adi Sankara.