Ubhayabhaarati is the wife of Mandana Misra, who went on to become one of the four disciples of Adi Sankara, and one of the foremost proponents of the Weltanschauung (world view) or Darshana known as Advaita Vedanta. But such was not the case when Sankara first met Mandana Misra in a debate, which was presided and moderated by Ubhayabhaarati. We take up this fascinating story at this point
"Acharya now requested the two sages to function as judges to the debate. Both of them knew very well that Mandana's wife Ubhayabhaarati was the very incarnation of Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. Therefore, they suggested, " Let Mandana's wife be the judge of the debate". Mandana expressed assent and agreed to follow the suggestion of the sages and let his own wife be the judge. Then he asked the revered Acharya, " Kindly condescend to stay and take rest in the guest-house this day. We shall start the debate early in the morning of tomorrow".
Mandana then directed the doorkeeper to lead Acharya to the guest- house and look to his convenience with all respect. Next morning the Acharya finished his morning ablutions and arrived at Mandana's residence accompanied by a few of his disciples. Many scholars had by then assembled at the place. Al of them realized the importance f the debate and had gathered there in great curiosity and wonder. Mandana made the necessary preparations for the debate and invited the Acharya to the fray. Everyone had taken their seats in the hall of the debate and it was filled to the capacity. Only the judge's seat had still to be occupied. The Acharya said, " Bhattapada also told me that a right judgment could be ensured only if your wife, who is none other than Devi Saraswati adorns the judge's seat. Please ask her to listen to our arguments and meditate". Ubhayabhaarati came forward to do her duty without any fear or favor. With no pride and with no airs of any kind, but with a modesty and a bashfulness, that so became her, she occupied the judge's seat. The condition of the debate was made known to all; it was that the vanquished should go over to the victor's side, accept his views and propagate his faith.
When the stage was thus set, Ubhayabhaarati invited the two contestants, each to state his proposition to the other. Then Mandana remarked, " It is the Acharya who has come here seeking a debate. Since his is the initiative, let him state his case first. When he has finished, I shall present the other side".
Acharya agreed that the suggestion was a proper one. And he put forth his point of view with clarity and conviction. He said, The only sense, the only significance of the Veda is the knowledge of the non- dual Brahman. Work or worship is only a means, a special means for cleansing and purification of the Chitta or the mind-stuff. Therefore it is out of question that there can ever be a linking or assembling together of knowledge and worship. Their natures cannot coalesce. A person desiring liberation need not at one and the same time take to both knowledge and work (karma) or to knowledge and worship. Through work and worship, the cleansing of mind is effected. And by the true realization of ` I am Brahman', or of ` Brahman is Truth, Wisdom and Infinity', by such steady knowledge of the non-dual Brahman-atman in the purified mind is the liberation of the soul affected. There is no return, no coming back to relative existence. There is no more rebirth. It is, therefore impossible to attain directly or solely through Karma or worship". Acharya's basic stand was that while the performance of good deeds and adoration and prayer aided much and cleared the way, they were not directly capable of leading to liberation which could be the outcome only of full and complete knowledge. The open sesame to Moksha was Jnana and not mere Karma.
Mandana would not subscribe to the supremacy of knowledge. He said, " The sense, the significance of the Veda is Karma or action or work. And as the fruit of action comes liberation in the form of everlasting paradise. The teaching in the Veda about the identity of Brahman and the Atman is for the purpose of establishing the perfection, the all completeness of karma. There are several Vedic assertions which emphasize and reveal the power of karma. By the performance of work, eternal heaven can be attained".
It is worthy to note that Ubhayabhaarati, though gifted beyond measure and united in wedlock to one who was very well to do in life, considered the performance of her household tasks the foremost duty. The touching loyalty to the little tasks of day-to-day living, this deep concern for the demands of wife's duty, is in tune with the Indian genius.
Ubhayabhaarati then put garlands of flowers on the necks of both and then declared, " He whose garland fades first will be taken to be the party vanquished in the debate. You may, therefore proceed with the debate comfortably"
After many hours of debate, which would have exhausted lesser mortals,, Mandana Misra concedes defeat when faced with the superior wisdom of the boy Acharya.
While being a fair judge, Ubhayabhaarati would not accept the loss of her husband during the debate lightly and goes on to debate Adi Sankara himself. Ubhayabhaarati embodied all the qualities that are valued even today among women - courage, learning, wifely devotion and loyalty to her husband, apart from being a fair judge and a conscientious hostess.