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I have read that there was a debate between Maṇḍana Miśra, an exponent of Mīmāmsā, and Ādi Śankara, an exponent of Advaita, in which Maṇḍana Miśra's wife was the judge. Ādi Śankara won the debate and Maṇḍana became an Advaitin and a disciple of Ādi Śankara.

What is the original source of this account? Is there an English translation of it?

  • It is not so much an answer but a comment. Why do we have to take a most likely historical event and denigrate its credibility by introducing events such as "Invoking Vyaasa and Jaimini"? Perhaps it is a reference to the ancient debate between Vyaasa and Jaimini themselves. Such references I believe undermine the power of Vedanta. The victory of Jaimini is perhaps both its greatest asset and its greatest loss. – Knowledge C.Ker Oct 1 '17 at 18:49
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The traditional biography of Adi Shankaracharya is the Madhaviya Shankara Digvijaya, composed by Vidyaranya, brother of the famous Vedic commentator Sayana. Here is what Vidyaranya says about the debate with Mandana Misra:

Shankara entered Mandana’s house and saw him cleaning the holy feet of Sages Vyasa and Jaimini, whom Mandana was able to bring there on account of his penance, for the conduct of a ceremony performed by him as per the Sastras. Mandana, who disliked Sanyasins, entered into a violent wordy duel with Shankara. The sages pacified Mandana and then he welcomed Sri Shankara’s challenge along with the condition that the loser of the debate would become the disciple of the victor.

Mandana fixed the next day for the debate and requested Jaimini and Vyasa to be the judges. But they said that Mandana’s wife Ubhaya Bharati, accepted as an incarnation of Goddess Saraswati shall judge the debate. The following day, Sri Shankara initiated the debate, announcing his proposition of the unity of all existence as follows: ‘Brahman, the Existence-Conscious-Bliss Absolute (Sat-chit-ananda) is the one ultimate Truth. It is He who appears as the entire world owing to ignorance, just as a shell appears as silver. When the illusion gets dispelled, the silver dissolves into the substratum, the shell. Similarly, when ignorance is erased the whole world dissolves into its substratum Brahman, which is the same as Atman. This is the supreme knowledge, as also Moksha (liberation from births and deaths); and the Upanishads are the authority for this proposition.’

Mandana made his proposition, emphasising the tenets of his faith thus: ‘The non-Vedantic part of the Veda dealing with effects produced by Karma is the real authority; actions alone (Karma) constitute the steps leading to Moksha and embodied beings have to perform action till the end of their lives.’ Ubhaya Bharati put a garland of flowers on the neck of the two contestants, declaring that the person whose garland withers will be considered defeated. The debate went on for several days. Ubhaya Bharati accepted that the cogent arguments of Shankara had overcome the contentions of Mandana and gave her verdict subjecting Mandana to defeat. The flower wreath on Mandana’s neck also faded. Mandana adopted Sanyasa in accordance with the wager. Ubhaya Bharati gave Bhiksha to both Sri Shankara and Mandana, indicating that her husband was now a Sanyasin.

Mandana, however, still had some questions regarding the aphorisms of Jaimini and their relation to the Absolute Truth, as propounded by Sri Shankara. When Sri Shankara clarified, Mandana prostrated and said, ‘You are the nature of pure consciousness, yet for the sake of ignorant men you have assumed this human body. You have saved all with the single statement - Tat tvam asi, and explained the great soul indicated in the Upanishads, the crest-jewel of the Vedas, as indestructible and one without a second.’ Praising thus, Mandana then surrendered himself at the feet of Sri Shankara.

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    Thanks. This was what I was looking for. @Sai's answer is also good, but will accept this answer. – Bharat Feb 25 '15 at 20:50
  • Vidyaranya Swami was the pontiff of Sringeri and brother of Bharati Krishna Tirtha. – user1195 Feb 28 '15 at 3:44
  • @moonstar2001 Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 8 '15 at 13:19
  • If I may post a cinematic depiction of the debate youtube.com/watch?v=jA0vM953EZo – pinkpanther Jun 1 '18 at 16:06
  • I have been reading about it everywhere, but I never get to see / read the actual debate between the two, personally I am torn by both sides of the argument. Though Mandana was defeated, I feel he was right. – Up-In-Air Aug 13 at 13:53
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According to this website, there are a number of biographies of Shankaracharya called shankara vijaya.

The oldest among them is the Madhaviya Shankara Vijaya, by Vidyaranya

mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya - The mAdhavIya is probably the oldest available, and also the most authentic and widely known among the different Sankaravijayas today. It is certainly the most popular such text in the advaita tradition, and is also known as the sam.kshepa Sankarajaya. The popularity of this work derives from the fame of its author, mAdhava, who is usually identified with vidyAraNya, the 14th century maThAdhipati at Sringeri.

So it's possible that this would be held as the most original source of this account.

The book 'SRI SHANKARA DIGVIJAYAM, AN CONCISE ENGLISH TRANSLATION ADAPTED FROM SRI MADHAVIYA SHANKARA DIGVIJAYAM BY SRI VIDYARANYA' is available online and it is a english translation 'adapted' from the same book. I am not sure what they mean by 'adapted from sri madhaviya shankara digvijayam' but there you go.

Here is how it describes the account of the debate:

Mandana, however, still had some questions regarding the aphorisms of Jaimini and their relation to the Absolute Truth, as propounded by Sri Shankara. When Sri Shankara clarified, Mandana prostrated and said, ‘You are the nature of pure consciousness, yet for the sake of ignorant men you have assumed this human body. You have saved all with the single statement - Tat tvam asi, and explained the great soul indicated in the Upanishads, the crest-jewel of the Vedas, as indestructible and one without a second.’ Praising thus, Mandana then surrendered himself at the feet of Sri Shankara

This story is famous by all advaitins and most of the Advaita saints have narrated this story when describes Shankaracharya's life History. The moral is mostly about how debates in the olden days were done in good spirits and not with any ego. Sometimes it is about the moral values of Mandana Mishra's wife Udhaya Bharati, which is a story by itself. All the best!!

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