Adi Shankaracharya (788-820) Philosopher known for his contributions to the doctrine of ‘Advaita Vedanta’. a sub-school of Vedanta. Born in Kalady, Kerala, Shankara proved to be a child of prodigy, mastering the four vedas at the age of eight. Inclined towards leading an ascetic life from a young age, he left Kerala and traveled towards north. While travelling across India to propagate his philosophy, he founded four monasteries or ‘mathas’, uniquely contributing in the historical development, revival and spread of Hinduism and Advaita Vedanta. His works include commentaries, philosophical treatises and devotional hymns, the most notable of them being the commentaries that he wrote on the ten major Upanishads, Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita. Adi Shankara played an instrumental role in the revival of Hinduism, at a time it had begun to decline because of the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. Though he lived for only 32 years, his striking impact on Hinduism and India is underscored by the fact that his doctrine is followed by a sect even to this day.
Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) A nationalist, scholar, writer, poet, literary critic, philosopher, social thinker, visionary and yogi, the list of epithets run into several lines to mark someone like Sri Aurobindo. After a short political career, which saw him become one of the most revered leaders of the Indian freedom movement, he devoted himself completely to his evolving spiritual mission, eventually giving shape to his vision in Pondicherry, for the rest of his life. Born on Aug 15, 1872 in Kolkata, Sri Aurobindo was named Aurobindo Ackroyd Ghose by his father Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose. He completed his education from St Paul’s in London and later from King’s College Cambridge. On his return to India in 1893, he rendered administrative and educational services to the State of Baroda. During this period he prepared secretly for revolutionary political activities. Soon he came to the forefront of political affairs as his editorials in the daily Bande Mataram made him a national figure. Sri Aurobindo was kept in solitary detention from 1908 to 1909 during which he went through some decisive spiritual experiences. In 1910, he retired from active politics and left to Pondicherry, in an answer to an ‘Inner call’. From that time onwards till he left his body on 5 Dec, 1950, Sri Aurobindo along with his spiritual collaborator known as the Mother, remained at the center of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which is not a retreat for ascetics or retired men but a veritable experiment working on the transformation and perfection of life.