Mandana Mishra lived in the ancient Indian town of Mithila (Bihar) during the time of Adi Sankara. He is known to be a student of a mimansa scholar Kumarila Bhatta. Being a follower of the Karma Mimamsa school, he was a ritualist and performed all of the ritualistic duties prescribed by the Vedas. In certain Hindu traditions, Mandana Mishra is considered to be an incarnation of Brahma.
A legend describes how Mandana Mishra is said to have first met Adi Sankara. It was customary in the time of Sankara and Mandana for learned people to debate the relative merits and demerits of the different systems of Hindu philosophy. Sankara, an exponent of Advaita philosophy sought out Kumarila Bhatta, who was the leading exponent of the Purva Mimansa Philosophy. However, at that time, Kumarila Bhatta was slowly immolating himself as a penance for his sins. After reading some of Sankara's work and realizing the depth of his knowledge, he directed Sankara to his greatest disciple, Mandana Mishra, who was leading a householder's life (Grihastha), to debate the merits of their respective schools of thought. While trying to find the house of Mandana, Sankara asked for directions and was told the following:
Sankara found Mandana, but the first meeting between them was not pleasant. According to Vedic ritualistic rules it is inauspicious to see an ascetic on certain days and Mandana was angered to see an ascetic on the death anniversary of his father, which was such a day. Mandana initially hurled insults at Sankara, who calmly replied to every insult with wordplay. The people in Mandana's house soon realized Sankara's brilliance and advise Mandana to offer his respect. Finally, after a verbal duel, Mandana agreed to debate with Sankara.
Mandana and Sankara agreed that Mandana's wife Ubhaya Bharathi, who in is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Saraswati in the folklore of Mithila, would be the arbiter for the debate, and that the vanquished would become a disciple of the victor and accept his school of thought. The debate spanned many days and ranged across many different subjects within the Vedas, and the arguments of both competitors were compelling and forceful. Sankara finally emerged victorious. But Mandana's wife, who was the judge, would not accept an ascetic as having complete knowledge since he did not have any knowledge about kama sastras (rules about marital life). Sankara was then given a month to research certain aspects of sex-love sciences and then resume the debate. According to legend, he entered into the body of a king who had just died in order to learn these sciences. Later, after obtaining the necessary knowledge, the debate resumed. After a long debate, Mandana accepted defeat.
As agreed, Mandana becomes a disciple of Sankara and assumed the name Suresvaracharya. Along with Hastamalaka, Padmapāda, and Totakacharya, he was one of the four main disciples of Sankara and was the first head of Sringeri Mutt, one of the four mathas that Sankara later established.
Mimansanukramanika, Chowkambha Sanskrit Series, Varanasi