By Swami Harshananda
Hastāmalaka literally means ‘one who knows a thing thoroughly like knowing a myrobalan placed in the hand’.
When Śaṅkara (A. D. 788-820) the great teacher of the renaissance of Vedic religion and philosophy, came to a small town, Śrībali in Karnataka, he heard of a ‘dull’ boy who appeared to be deaf and dumb. He was the son of Prabhākara, a well known brāhmaṇa of that place. When Prabhākara met Śaṅkara and told about his ‘misfortune,’ Śaṅkara questioned the boy, ‘Who are you my boy? Why are you behaving like a dullard?’
The boy immediately replied for the first time, ‘I am not a jaḍa (inert) but the jaḍa springs into action by my presence’. He is said to have replied in fourteen verses which were full of Vedāntic (advaitic) wisdom. These verses are now famous as Hastāmalakastotra.
Śaṅkara recognized him to be highly evolved soul and asked Prabhākara to gift the boy to him. This boy was named ‘Hastāmalaka’, since he knew his real nature as the ātman. He became the third of the four chief disciples of Śaṅkara. He later on assumed charge as the first pontiff of Govardhana Maṭha at Puri (in Orissa).
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore