Sringeri Sharada Peetham

Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetha is one of the four Advaita Vedanta monastery (matha) established by Adi Shankara in Sringeri (Karnataka), the others being Kanchi(Tamilnadu), Dwaraka (Gujarat), Govardhana (Odisha) and Jyotirmath (Uttarakhand).[2] The Sringeri matha is on the banks of the Tunga River in Chikkamagalur district located in the Western Ghats, India.[3] The Sringeri Sharada Peetham site includes two major temples, one dedicated to Shiva (Vidyashankara Linga, tenth Shankara memorial[4]) and the other to Saraswati (Sharada Amba). The Vidyashankara temple was built during the Vijayanagara Empire era (1338 CE) on a square plan set inside circles in the Tuluvas and Hoysala apsidal style.[5] It includes shrines and relief carving in reverence of major Hindu gods and goddesses such as Brahma, Vishnu (all Dashavatara, with Buddha), Shiva, Saraswati, Parvati, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Shanmukha (Kartikeya, Murugan), Durga, Kali and others.[6][7] The stone reliefs also include a large variety of Hindu legends from the epics and the Puranas.[5]

The Sringeri Peetham is one of the major Hindu monastic institutions that has historically coordinated Smarta tradition and monastic activities through satellite institutions in South India, preserved Sanskrit literature and pursued Advaita studies. It is one of the centers of the Dashnami monastic order.[2][8] The Sringeri Peetham has been a library and a source of historic Sanskrit manuscripts.[9][10] Along with other Hindu monasteries, the contemporary Sringeri matha has been active in preserving the Vedas, sponsoring students and recitals, Sanskrit scholarship, and celebrating annual Adishankaracharya jayanti usually in May, Guru Purnima (Vayasa Purnima) usually in april.[11]

The Sringeri Sharada Peetham, also called Sringeri Pitham or Sringeri Matha,[12] is about 85 kilometres (53 mi) east of Udupi and 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast from Mangaluru across the Western Ghats, and about 335 kilometres (208 mi) west-northwest from the state capital, Bengaluru.[13] In historical texts, Sringeri is also referred to as Risyasringagiri of the Ramayana fame,[14] whose legend is also recited in the Mahabharata.[15]

Adi Shankara is traditionally believed to have established four Advaita monasteries on the Indian subcontinent. These were the Dwarka monastery in Gujarat to coordinate religious studies in the west, Badari in Uttarakhand for the north (Jyotirmatha), Jagannatha Puri in Odisha for the east (Govardhana), and Sringeri Sharada in Karnataka for the south.[16][17] He also began the tradition of appointing independent leading gurus for each of the four monasteries and their succession planning by naming sri Hastamalakacharya to head Dwaraka, Totakacharya to head Badari, sri Padmapadacharya to lead Puri and Sureshwaracharya to lead Sringeri.[16]

A hagiographic legend states that Adi Shankara envisioned this place as the holy site where a snake unveiled his hood like an umbrella to protect a frog from the hot sun. According to tradition, the Sringeri matha is one of four major temples site established by Sankara.[18] As per Hindu legend, the place is associated with sage Rishyasringa, son of Vibhandankamuni.[18] Beyond such legends, Adi Shankara (8th-century) is regarded as the greatest teacher and reformer of the Smartha tradition of Hinduism.[19] Shankara taught the nondualist interpretation of the Upanishads as the touchstone of a revived Advaita Vedanta tradition.[20]

Sureshwaracharya, believed to be the same as Maṇḍana Miśra,[21][22] was installed as the successor of Shankaracharya before the latter resumed his tour to found his three pithas at Puri, Dwaraka and Badarinath. The math holds one of the four Mahavaakyas, Aham-Bramhasmi. The math has a lineage of Jagadgurus, stretching back straight to Sri Adi Shankaracharya himself. The present and 36th Jagadguru acharya of this peetham is Jagadguru Bharathi Teertha Mahaswami. His guru was Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswami. The successor-designate (the 37th Jagadguru acharya) was appointed in 2015, and was given the Yogapatta (monastic name) Sri Vidhushekhara Bharati Mahaswami.[23]

The history of Sringeri Peetham from the time of Adi Shankara to about the 14th-century is unclear, in part because the sources are contradictory about the dates and events, in part because of the loss of records, and also because the pontiffs of the monastery adopted the same name which has created confusion in understanding the surviving records.[24] The early inscriptions that mention Sringeri, all in Nagari script and the regional Kannada language, are donative or commemorative. Though useful in establishing the significance of the matha, they lack details to help establish the early history.[25] According to Hermann Kulke, the early history of Sringeri is unknown and the earliest epigraphical evidence in the region is from the 12th-century and belongs to the Jainism tradition.[26]

The history of Sringeri Peetha after the 13th-century, in the Vijayanagara Empire era is found in the matha's literature as well as in kadatas (ledger records and inscriptions of various forms) and sanads (charters).[12][27]

A Sringeri monk and scholar named Vidyaranya (sometimes referred to as Madhava Vidyaranya,[28] or Madhavacharya[29]) was an ideological support and the intellectual inspiration for the founders of the Vijayanagara Empire.[30][31][32] He helped Harihara I and his brother Bukka to build a Hindu army to overthrow the Muslim rule in the Deccan region, and re-establish a powerful Hindu kingdom from Hampi. In his counsel, the Vijayanagara founders lead an expansive liberation of much of the southern Indian peninsula from the Sultanates that had formed after several invasions by the Delhi Sultanate. The monk's efforts were supported by the 10th and 11th pontiff of Sringeri peetham. Vidyaranya later became the 12th pontiff of the Sringeri peetham in 1375 CE.[31][30][28] Shortly after the start of the Vijayanagara empire in 1336 CE, the rulers began building the Vidyashankara temple at the Sringeri peetham site. This temple was completed in 1338.[31] The Vijayanagara rulers repaired and built numerous more Hindu and Jain temples in and around the Sringeri matha and elsewhere in their empire. This is a period where numerous inscriptions help establish the significance of the Sringeri peetham from the 14th-century onwards.[33][34]

The Vijayanagara rulers Harihara and Bukka gave a sarvamanya (tax-exempt) gift of land in and around Sringeri in 1346 CE to the Sringeri matha guru Bharati Tirtha, in a manner common in the Indian tradition for centuries, to help defray the costs of operating the monastery and temples.[35][36] The grant is evidenced by a stone inscription by the king who reverentially refers to the 10th pontiff of Sringeri matha as a guru (counsellor, teacher).[31] This grant became a six-century tradition that ended in the 1960s and 1970s when the Indian central government introduced and enforced a land-reform law that redistributed the land.[35] The Vijayanagara empire gift also began a regional philanthropic tradition of endowments by the wealthy and the elderly population to the Sringeri matha. The matha managed the land and therefore operated as a sociopolitical network and land-grant institution for over 600 years beyond its religious role and spiritual scholarship.[35] This relationship between the monastery and the regional population has been guided by a mutual upcara (hospitality, appropriate conduct) guideline between the matha and the populace.[35] According to Leela Prasad, this upcara has been guided by the Hindu Dharmasutras and Dharmasastras texts preserved and interpreted by the matha, one composed by a range of authors and generally dated to be from the second half of the 1st-millennium BCE through about 400 CE.[37]

The Vijayanagara kings visited the Sringeri monastery many times over some 200 years and left inscriptions praising the monks, revering their knowledge of the Vedas and their scholarship. The monastery also provided the Vijayanagara empire administration with guidance on governance.[31] The descendant rulers of the Vijayanagara empire regularly visited the monastery and made a series of endowments to the Sringeri matha as evidenced by various inscriptions.[38] They also established the agrahara of Vidyaranyapuram with a land grant for the Brahmins, and in 15th-century established the earliest version of the Saradamba temple found at the Sringeri peetham site.[38] The tradition of establishing satellite institutions under the supervision of the Sringeri peetham started in the Vijayanagara empire period. For example, Vidyaranya organized a matha in Hampi.[38]

After the defeat of the Vijayanagara empire and the destruction of Hampi by a coalition of Deccan sultanates, the Vijayanagara empire territories faced a political turmoil.[39][40] The Deccan region was largely divided among five Islamic sultanates. The coastal regions of Karnataka that included the Sringiri matha ultimately came under the control of the Nayakas of Keladi from the Lingayatism tradition, who has previously served as governors for the Vijayanagara emperors.[41][42] The Keladi dynasty supported the Sringiri peetham for nearly 250 years, from 1499 to 1763, when the Keladi Nayakas rule was ended by Hyder Ali seeking to create a sultanate from Mysore.[43][44]

The Sringeri matha received gifts and grants from the Keladi Nayakas, as evidenced by ledger records and literature preserved by the monastery. Unlike the copious epigraphical evidence from the Vijayanagara era, few inscriptions from the Keladi era history are available and the history of this period is mostly discernible from the literary records.[41] The lands held by the monastery and the goods meant for its operation were treated by the Nayakas as tax-exempt and not subject to any tariffs. Additionally, the 17th-century records show that the matha received special gifts from the Lingayat rulers on festive occasions such as acharavicharas and Diwali.[41] Some of the Nayaka princes studied at a school run by the monastery.[41]

The Sringeri matha was supported by the Maratha rulers when they came to power in the post-Aurangzeb Mughal era. The monastery provided the Marathas with counsel in return as evidenced by over two dozen letters, mostly in the Marathi language and some in Sanskrit using Kannada script. These have been preserved by the monastery. According to the letters and ledger entries, the Maratha rulers delivered gifts and bestowed grants to the monastery between 1738 and 1894.[45] The letters of the Maratha rulers are typically in Marathi, while the replies from the Sringeri pontiff are in Sanskrit.[45] In addition to these records, the monastery literature mention land grants from the Marathas as well as records of the visit by the jagadguru (pontiff) to Maratha ruled regions and towns such as Pune and Nasik.[45]

The religio-political significance of the Sringeri monastery was such that both the Marathas and the Muslim ruler Hyder Ali sought "cordial relations" with it. According to Leela Prasad, after the Maratha ruler Raghunatha Rao invited the Sringeri matha's Jagadguru to visit him and the pontiff accepted the invitation, when Hyder Ali – whose hostility to the Marathas had been legendary – heard about the trip, Hyder Ali sent the Jagadguru gifts and an escort consisting of a palanquin, five horses, an elephant and cash for the travel expenses.[46]

After the third Anglo-Mysore war in 1791 between the armies of the British and Marathas coalition and those of Tipu Sultan, a part of the defeated contingent of the Marathas, called the Pindaris,[note 1] returned through Sringeri. They looted the monastery temples of its gold and copper, statues, killed some Brahmin priests, and destroyed property.[48][49] The news reached Tipu Sultan, who sent funds to restore the damage. Tipu Sultan, a Muslim, also sent a letter requesting the Jagadguru to perform penance and Hindu worship for "good showers and crops".[48] Scholars have interpreted this event both as an evidence of Tipu Sultan's religious tolerance and the predatory habits of some contingents in the Maratha army,[48][49][50] or alternatively as a strategic political move by Tipu Sultan to request the monastery to perform "superstitious rites" to "conciliate with his Hindu subjects and to discomfort his Maratha enemies", quotes Leela Prasad.[48]

The Pindari sacking led to a protest by the pontiff of the Sringeri matha who started a fast to death on the banks of the Tunga river. According to Shastri, after the Maratha Peshwa ruler learned about the Pindari sacking, he took corrective action and sent his contingents to locate the loot, the statues, gold and copper, to return it along with compensation.[49] In the years and decades that followed the Pindari sacking of 1791, the cordial relations and mutual support between the Sringeri monastery and the Maratha rulers returned.[51]

The Sringeri monastery has been a historic politico-religious center at least from the 14th-century. Along with the Vijayanagara emperors and the Mysore Muslim rulers such as Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, the colonial British authorities and their Nayak and Wodeyar dynasty appointees considered the monastery to be a strategically important hub for regional politics.[27] Its operations were a target of surveillance, its collection of Hindu texts on Dharma and its counsel given its regional significance were sought by the British authorities.[52][53]

The Sringeri matha includes two major temples. One is dedicated to Shiva and is called the Vidya Shankara temple, the other to Saraswati and is called the Sharada Amba temple. The earliest version of the Shiva temple was built in the 14th-century, of goddess Saraswati in the 15th-century.[54]

The Vidyashankara temple is a fusion of pre-Vijayanagara Hindu temple architecture traditions with Hoysalas and Vijayanagara styles, giving it an unusual appearance.[5] The temple has an apsidal shape with its interior chambers and sanctum set on the square principle while the spire and outer walls use an almost circular plan.[5] The temple is set on a high plinth like the Hoysala temples, with the basement adorned with sculpted animals and balustrades with yalis flanking the steps.[5] The outer walls of the Shiva temple have large sculptured panels at right angles to each other and these show the major gods and goddess of Vedic tradition and post-Vedic Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Saurism (Surya) and Ganapatya (Ganesha) traditions of Hinduism.[5][55] The base of the temple have relief friezes depicting a large variety of stories from Hindu epics and puranas.[56][57] The sanctum has a linga, the southern side of the sanctum features Brahma-Sarawati, the western side Vishnu-Lakshmi, and the northern side Shiva-Parvati.[58]

The temple can be entered from four directions. Inside the temple is a large mandapa with intricately carved pillars, several antechambers with artwork, a sanctum with linga and a circumambulation passageway around it. The passageway opens to smaller shrines dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses from various Hindu traditions.[5] According to George Michell, the current Vidyashankara temple reflects the 16th-century additions.[5]

Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts in the Hindu tradition, is the presiding deity of the monastery. The monastery tradition states that Adi Shankara installed a sandalwood image of Saraswati as Saradamba in a simple shrine, one that was replaced with its current copy in gold during the Vijayanagara era. The shrine was rebuilt in the 15th-century and expanded in early 20th-century. The temple has a maha-mandapa (main hall) with images of saptamatrikas (seven mothers) sculpted by Tamil artists in the Tamil style. The goddess sits in a golden chariot. Along with Saraswati in the sanctum, the temple has small shrines for Ganesha and for Bhuvaneshvari.[59] The Saradambda temple and nearby structures additionally house a library, a Vedic school, a shrine for Adi Shankara, and other facilities of the monastery.[60] It has been the historic epicenter of Sringeri's annual Navaratri festival celebrations, as well as the chariot festival held in February or March every year.[61] The temple also gives the site its name, with "Sarada peetha" meaning "seat of learning".[62] The temple was renovated to its current form in 1916.[63]

Sringeri matha has preserved and been a source of ancient Sanskrit manuscripts to scholars.[9] In the contemporary monastery, a library is located on the first floor of the Saradamba temple. It has about 500 palm-leaf manuscripts and a large collection of paper manuscripts, most of which are in Sanskrit. These manuscripts are not only related to Advaita philosophy, but to classical subjects such as Sanskrit grammar, Dharmasutras, ethics, and arts.[10][64]

The Sringeri Sharada Peetham, over its 1200 years of operations has evolved a structure to manage the monastery, its succession and its branches.[65] Some of the key positions and features include:

The Sringeri Sharada Peetham has a network of branches in India. Some of the major branches include those in Varanasi, Haridwar, Nasik, Gaya, Mysore, Hyderbad, Madurai, Chennai, Kanchipuram, Tirupati, Coimbatore, Ramesvaram, Kalady, Ramnad and Bengaluru. The monastery also supervises a number of Vedic studies and Sanskrit schools in various parts of India.[70] The monastery owns some agriculture land and this is farmed by the monks and monastery workers.[70]

Jagadguru Vidhushekara Bharathi was appointed as Uttaradhikari of the Sringeri Sharadha Peetham by Jagadguru Bharathi Teertha Mahaswami on 23 January 2015. The last five Jagadgurus were: