By Swami Harshananda
Padmapāda lived in 9th century A. D. Born in a place in South India in Tamil Nadu on the bank of the river Kāverī, Padmapāda went to Kāśī for his education. There he met Śaṅkara and became his disciple. He is said to have been Śaṅkara’s first apostle.
It is said that he was once washing the clothes of his guru Śaṅkara, standing on the bank of a river. Śaṅkara, who was sitting on the opposite side of the river called him urgently for some work. Then Padmapāda, whose earlier name is not known, set out immediately walking on the water. A padma or a lotus started appearing below his pāda or foot supporting him! Hence the name ‘Padmapāda’. His commentary on the Brahmasutrabhāsya of Śaṅkara was the earliest of such commentaries. It was supposed to be in two parts, the first being known as Pañcapādikā and the later part as Vrtti.
The story goes that the manuscript of the entire commentary written by him was destroyed by his uncle smitten by jealousy. However, a part of it was retrieved by him since his guru Śaṅkara, who had heard it read out to him and Śankara was endowed with a photographic memory dictated that portion: The first five pādas or quarters out of the total of sixteen The name of the commentary, Pañcapādikā, is based on this fact. However, the commentary on the first four sutras only is available now.
Prakāśātman has written a gloss on this, known as Pañcapādikā-vivaraṇa, further amplifying Padmapāda’s views. This has developed into a separate and special school of Advaita Vedānta called the Vivaraṇaprasthāna. Padmapāda was a worshiper of the Narasimha aspect of Lord Viṣṇu and had once saved the life of his guru from the hands of the Kāpālikas. However, the commentary on the first four sutras only is available now.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore