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Vidya Tirtha Vilasa - 1

 

Our revered Acharya Sri Sri Sri Jagadguru Abhinava Vidya Tirtha Mahaswamigal shone for thirty five years as the thirty-fifth pontiff of the Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetham. The holy life of this most illustrious one whose renown spread to the end of the quarters is an ideal for everybody.

This great soul took birth at Bangalore on Ashwina Krishna Chaturdashi of the year Pingala ' November 13, 1917, as the eldest son of a virtuous couple, Kaipu Rama Shastrigal and Smt Venkatalakshmi, and was named Srinivasa. He, who was endowed from childhood with devotion to God, detachment to sensory objects, fondness for noble people and with good conduct, became the recipient of the unlimited kindness of then pontiff of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, the pre-eminent Jagadguru Sri Sri Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal.

His Upanayana took place at Sringeri itself. Then, he learnt well from scholars the Veda and Sanskrit literature. When he was fourteen, the revered Guru graced him with the Sannyasa ashram and the Yogapatta of Sri Abhinava Vidya Tirtha and nominated him as the successor to Sri Sharada Peetham. Commencing thereafter the study of the Nyaya Shastra, he attained extraordinary proficiency in it in a few years and, even as he imparted it to students, his unique intellectual prowess was readily discernible. Thereafter, diligently learning the Vedanta Shastra from his Guru, he acquired excellent proficiency in it. Having put in much effort to master Sanskrit literature, he was thoroughly versed in Sanskrit, being able to write well in it and to speak in it flawlessly. Though not enamored of composing poems, he did glorify his Guru in beautiful verses. Deeply scrutinizing dharma Shastra texts, he resolved, with citations of authoritative passages and examples, the doubts of disciples on matters of dharma; he received the praise of his Guru for this. Able to speak fluently in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, he also mastered Hindi. North Indian scholars have been struck with awe on hearing him discourse in chaste Hindi.

His guru was generally thoroughly introverted; the Guru's mind did not incline even a little towards the activities relating to the Mutt. In obedience to his Guru's command, he safeguarded the fame of the mutt by keeping an eye on all the activities of the mutt, ensuring the proper conduct of its functions and granting audience to and communicating with the devotees. The first president of independent India, the distinguished Babu Rajendra Prasad, came to Sringeri on august 24, 1954, to have the Darshan of the Guru. At that time, Mahaswamigal arranged for his audience with the Guru, conveyed to him in Hindi what the Guru spoke in Sanskrit and conveyed to the Guru in Sanskrit what he spoke in Hindi. That very year, the great Guru attained disembodied liberation. Conscious of his duty, though deeply pained, Mahaswamigal performed the Guru's aradhana and the like in strict accordance with tradition. He was installed as the pontiff of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham on Ashwayuja Krishna Panchami ' October 16, 1954.

After his coronation, he dwelt for about one and a half years in Sringeri itself, focused on his revered Guru. Disciples variously requested him to undertake a Dharmic Digvijaya. Acceding to the requests, he set out from Sringeri on a tour in 1956. Reaching Kaladi, the place where Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada incarnated, he observed Chaturmasya and Navaratras there. Thereafter, he toured south India for six years. Right from the start, there has been the practice in Sringeri Peetham of its pontiffs undertaking tours to bless disciples. However, it is hard to identify anyone in the annals of the Mutt who so extensively and repeatedly toured from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas as did our Guru.

He used to discourse in a beautiful and lucid manner. He made people easily comprehend even profound Vedantic truths. The minds of people underwent a great transformation for the better on hearing his talks. The greatness of the talks was such that the listeners became dedicated to the performance of their duties. Through his discourses, common folk could understand topics of the Srutis, Smritis, Itihasas and Puranas that would have otherwise been difficult for them to comprehend.

At Sringeri, Mahaswamigal initiated various projects. There was earlier, just a single guest house for housing devotees. Mahaswaigal constructed many buildings such as Shankara Kripa, Shankara Niketana, Jayashankara Niketana, Sharada Niketana and Bharati Vihar and greatly benefited the devotees. He founded the Sharada Dhanvantari charitablec Hospital. For the protection of the cows, he built a huge Goshala (cow shed) and, for elephants, an elephant shed. Due to his tireless efforts, various branches of Sri Sharada Peetham, Dharmashalas and Pathashalas came into existence. The already existing ones were developed.

Mahaswamigal was intent on the dissemination of the Vedas and the Shastras. Every year, he organized a Vidwat Sadas during Shankara Jayanti and honored scholrs. To spread Sanskrit literature throughout the country, he started an institution called the Surasaraswati Sabha. Many publications were launched by the Mutt during his pontificate. He initiated numerous religious activities at various places. For example, he effected the performance of many Sahasra Chandi Yagas, Atirudra Yagas and Koti Kumkumarchanas at Sringeri. Every work of his is an illustration and a reflection of his foresight and benevolence. The great incarnation discarded his mortal body in 1989 in the Sukla year.

Sri Mahasannidhanam treated friends and foes, disciples and non-disciples alike. During those days, Koodali Mutt was without a Pithadhipati. Dharamvir, the then governor of Karnataka consulted Mahasannidhanam to discuss the issue of selecting a Pithadhipati for Koodali mutt. But Mahasannidhanam expressed no views. Though Koodali mutt was a branch mutt of Sri Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetham, it did not have a good relation with the Moola Sringeri mutt. It is said that when Adi Shankaracharya defeated Mandana Mishra, the Brahma incarnate in a debate, his wife Ubhaya Bharati - Saraswati incarnate, decided to return to Brahma Loka. Though Srimadacharya requested her to grace the Peetham he was planning to establish, Amba began to hurry towards her abode. Srimadacharya, the very personification of Mahatripurasundari - the Moola Shakti reigning above the Trinity, bound her with Vanadurga Mahavidya and forced her to follow him to Sringeri, where he planned to establish the first of the four Amnaya Peethas. Amba agreed to follow him but posed a condition that he would never turn back and look at her till they reached Sringeri. Srimadacharya agreed to the condition and the two proceeded towards Sringeri. When Amba reached Koodali (close to Shimoga, which is the point of confluence of rivers Tunga and Bhadra), she decided to reside there and cleverly began to walk on the sands in the riverbed. Due to this, her anklets which were making mellifluous twinkling sound till then, turned quiet. Concerned at this, Srimadacharya turned back to ensure that Amba was following him. Now that he had turned back, Amba stood at Koodali. But she promised Srimadacharya that her partial presence would always be present in Sringeri. During the Navaratras, she assured her complete presence in Sringeri. The Sharada idol at Koodali is in a standing pose and is supremely beautiful. The complete presence of Sri Sharada can be however be felt in Sringeri on all the days because of two reasons: 1. The presence of Srichakra, Ratnagarbha Ganesha, Sri Nrisimha Salagrama and the Chandramoulishwara Linga, which are the gross manifestations of Sridevi. 2. The Jagadguru Shankaracharya Mahaswamigal of the Peetham, the living incarnation of Sri Kameshwara and Sri Mahatripurasundari. During the period of Sri Vidyaranya, a branch mutt of Sringeri was established in Koodali. Over a period of time, certain people with vested interests began to claim that the Koodali mutt was the original mutt established by Srimadacharya and not Sringeri. Though this brought no recognition to the mutt, its relation with the Sringeri mutt was severely affected. Due to this reason, Mahasannidhanam decided not to express his views to the governor and to stay out of the issue.

Sri Avinashiyappa Chettiyar was a great Surya and Shakti Upasaka from Mudukutore near Talakadu, Mysore. Though a great simpleton, he had reached great spiritual heights in Sadhana. He followed several strict rules and lead a life of austerity. River Kaveri was his very soul. He considered the river to be his mother and drank water from no other river. He would never visit places away from Kaveri. If at all he had to, he would stay without bath and food for days, till he reached a place on the banks of Kaveri. Whenever he visited Mysore, he would wake up early in the morning, finish his bath at Pashchimavahini and collect water in a Kumbha. He would then come home, draw a Mandala with different colors, decorate it with specific flowers and light a lamp. He would then invoke Parashakti in the Jala Kumbha and Surya Narayana in the lamp and worship them. Before eating food, he would offer food to cows and birds. He would finish his dinner before sunset. On days when sun was not visible, he would refuse to consume food. He would spend the entire day chanting his mantra. He would not accept food in every house. Even if his host was a scholarly Brahmana, he would accept his hospitality only if he was convinced that the host followed the Shastras to the core. He expected his hosts to be devoted to the lord, following the rules of internal and external Shaucha (like Bahishtha dharma, parAnna etc.), having a cow and a calf in the house etc. He would not drink the milk of the cow without a calf, which he considered to be equal to meat. He was also very particular that none in the host's house be addicted to cigarette, liquor, snuff or tobacco.

There were very few houses in Mysore which met his standards. This Sadhaka did not wear any stitched clothes or footwear. He wore a Khadi Dhoti and an Angavastram. He always wore Bhasma, Chandana and Kunkuma on his forehead. Though he was a merchant by profession, he had dedicated his entire life for Sadhana. He slept for not more than 2-3 hours everyday. He appeared as a fool or a mad man to ordinary people. Even though he visited various temples, he would only have the Darshan of the god but would not accept any Tirtha or Prasadam from the shrine. One of the few priests who gave him Tirtha and Prasadam was the priest of the Lakshmi Narayana temple on Chamundi hills.

On one occasion when he visited Mysore, he found out that his host was not in the house. Upon enquiry, he gathered that the host, a Vaidika Brahmana, had gone to the nearby Shankara Mutt to witness pooja performed by Sri Sri Jagadguru Mahasannidhanam. When the Sadhaka reached the venue, the place was filled with people, preparations were on for the pooja and a musician was playing Vina melodiously. Then suddenly, Mahasannidhanam arrived and all the people there stood up to bow down to his holy feet. But the Upasaka ignored this event and simply stared at Mahasannidhanam. As Mahasannidhanam started the Chandramoulishwara pooja, the Vaidikas started reciting Rudram and other Veda mantras. It seemed as though even the celestials were waiting to witness the sacred pooja. Our Sadhaka began to think, 'There are hundreds of scholars and Upasakas of great merit assembled here. Even the common folks generally busy with day-to-day chitchat are maintaining pin drop silence. If this Swamiji had no special powers, would this have been ever possible?Then there was an alternate thought, 'Why can't the Swamiji perform pooja alone for his own sake? Why this show and grandeur? When there is the calming light of the lamps available, why is this pomp of serial electrical lights?' Even as he was thinking on these lines, there was a sudden power-cut and all the electric lights there were extinguished. Mahasannidhanam continued the pooja in the light of the lamps. So immersed in pooja he was that he even failed to notice the power shutdown. After the pooja, Mahasannidhanam got up, blessed the crowd and slowly began to walk towards his residence. He started climbing the steps of the building and stopped for a while, turning towards the east. Immediately Avinashiyappa witnessed the most glorious sight in his life. An infinitely bright light appeared from the east, did a pradakshina of Mahasannidhanam like the Sudarshana Chakra and entered the point between the eyebrows of the Mahasannidhanam. Sri Mahasannidhanam had proved that he was non-different from Surya Narayana, the Upasya of Avinashiyappa. Avinashiyappa was filled with tears as he fell down at the holy feet of the Jagadguru.

During the reign of Sri Sacchidananda Bharati Mahaswamigal in Sringeri (1622-63), the Koodali mutt had been occupied by certain Lingayat/Veerashaiva sects. A king had then freed the mutt and given its control to the Sringeri Mahasannidhanam. Mahaswamigal had then visited the place, renovated the Rameshwara temple in Koodali and appointed his disciple Sri Shankara Bharati Swamiji as the pontiff of Koodali mutt. After this, during the period of Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati Mahaswamigal, the Koodali mutt was adorned by the great Yogi Sri Valukeshwara Bharati Mahaswamigal, who later renounced the Peetham out of sheer Vairagya. His successor was Sri Vidyabhinava Valukeshwara Bharati Mahaswamigal, known as Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Hanagal Viroopaksha Shastrigal in his Purvashrama. This great man, a disciple of Sri Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati Mahaswamigal and the Vidya Guru of Sri Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal, was a scholar par excellence and a treasure house of Vairagya. He had accepted the seat of the pontiff only to carry out the instructions of Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal. One can find more details about this incarnation of Sridevi in the Guru Parampara page on this website. After this, the mutt was again without a pontiff. Some scholars then chose Sri Srinivasa Chintamani Swamiji of Hospet as the successor of this mutt, who took Sannyasa at the Adhishthanam of Sri Sri Vidyabhinava Valukeshwara Bharati Mahaswamigal at Mysore. Mahasannidhanam graced the Pattabhishekam ceremony of the new Swamigal. Recently, a book 'Concise history of Koodali Mutt' has been brought out by some Vaishnava authors (Prahlada Rao and Vishnu Tirtha), which tries to prove that the Koodali mutt is the actual mutt established by Srimadacharya. But the falsehood of this claim has been proved by a publication by Sri Nagaraja Rao, a professor in Mysore University. Mahasannidhanam always advised people to forget personal animosities, and to work for the cause of universal well-being, rather than spread hatred among the Shaivas and Vaishnavas, Smartas, Madhwas and Srivaishnavas. He has always upheld the futility of debates, which serve more as tools to propagate hatred than as equipments to propagate knowledge.

Another time, a book from the Kanchi mutt claiming Sri Vidya Tirtha (1228-1333) to be an Acharya of the Kanchi mutt was shown to Mahasannidhanam. Sri Vidya Tirtha was the tenth Acharya in the Sringeri Guru Parampara. The author from the Kanchi mutt had written: 'Sri Vidya Tirtha was the Pithadhipati of Kanchi mutt. He visited Sringeri and established the current mutt. He also appointed Sri Vidyaranya as the pontiff of the mutt and attained Siddhi in the Himalayas'. This imagination was blindly believed by even famous scholars like Dr. T M P Mahadevan who quoted this story in the introduction to his book, 'The philosophy of Advaita'. Dr. S Balasubrahmanyam took the story further by claiming Sri Sureshwaracharya as the head of Kanchi mutt in his book, 'The Taittariyopanishad Bhashyavartika of Sureshwara'. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan later published a book, 'Uttankita Vidyaranya', which is a collection of edicts related to Sri Vidyaranya. All the edicts mentioned in this book are from the Sringeri mutt and there is not a single proof available indicating any relation between Kanchi and Vidyaranya. Kanchi mutt brought out another publication directly challenging the Amnaya status of the Sringeri mutt. Some of the incorrect facts described in the books were: Srimadacharya has born in 5th century B.C.; he attained Siddhi in the Kamakshi temple; Kanchi mutt is the Moulamnaya mutt which is more authoritative than the four Amnaya Mutts etc.

What was claimed by the book was that Sri Vidya Tirtha was originally from Tamil Nadu, took Sannyasa from one Chandrashekhara, visited Sringeri and renovated the mutt and attained Siddhi in the Himalayas. The author of the book quoted a shloka from 'Punya Shloka Manjari', said to be the work of Sri Sadashiva Bodhendra, a Yati from Kanchi (1523). According to this shloka, one Sarvajna Vishnu, the son of Shargapani from Bilvaranya took Sannyasa and became Sri Vidya Tirtha. He took Sannyasa from one Chandrashekhara Yati. Madhavacharya, the author of 'Sarva Darshana Sangraha', was the son of Sayanacharya and this Sarvajna Vishnu was his Guru. There is no proof even to claim that Sarvajna Vishnu accepted Sannyasa. It is thus appropriate to conclude that the author of Punya Shloka Manjari, which is undoubtedly a work written in the earlier part of this century and hence in no way related to Sadashiva Bodhendra, has mistakenly assumed Sarvajna Vishnu and Sri Vidya Tirtha are the same. Sri Vidyaranya praises Sarvajna Vishnu as a great scholar in his works. Sri Vidya Tirtha was the pontiff of the Sringeri Peetham much before Sri Vidyaranya and Sayanacharya came in contact with him. So, would a great scholar like Vidyaranya ever praise his Guru, a Yati, with his Purvashrama name? This proves that Sarvajna Vishnu and Sri Vidya Tirtha were different people.

A certain young scholar-disciple of the Sringeri mutt wrote another book to disprove the claims of the Kanchi mutt. But the then Jagadguru Mahasannidhanam, the celebrated Jivanmukta H H Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal said, 'Truth will always be truth. If they claim we are not related to Srimadacharya, let them. If they claim Sri Sharada to be false, let them! Their claims will not in anyway disprove our sacred lineage or bring down the prestige of Jagadamba Sri Sharada. The way a lineage thinks, behaves and eventually its state is determined by the authenticity of its Guru Parampara. So, let our actions and thoughts speak and not these abusive books. Eventually, the state of our mutt in the days to come will prove the correctness and truth of our Acharyas and their beliefs. Srimadacharya worked all his life for the cause of national integration. If we, the followers of one Guru, Sannyasins of the same sect, start competing among ourselves, what to speak of Srimadacharya and his ideals? Writing such books will only kindle more hatred in the hearts of people, which will result in no accomplishment of Dharma. Please engage yourself in a more constructive work and stay away from these activities of pomp, show and propaganda'.

When Sri Mahasannidhanam was in Mysore during a Sanchara, the pontiff of Sri Parakala Mutt, who was very close to Mahasannidhanam, invited him to visit the Parakala Mutt. Sri Mahasannidhanam accepted this invitation with immense joy. Some disciples expressed discomfort with this decision because the mutt belonged to Srivaishnava Sampradaya. Sri Mahasannidhanam immediately said, 'Have you read the biography of Sri Ramanujacharya? Before he wrote his Sri Bhashya on the Shariraka Sutras, he visited Kashmir in search of Bodhayana Smrti. He there had the Darshan of Sri Sharada. As the Kashmiri Pundits refused to part with this work, his disciple Kurattazwar wrote down the entire Smrti there. Before he returned, Sri Sharada gave a Hayagriva idol to Sri Ramanuja for his personal worship. It is the same Hayagriva idol which is worshipped in Parakala mutt to this day. By visiting the mutt, not only are we expressing our gratitude to the pontiff of Sri Parakala mutt for extending a warm invitation but also are getting benefited by the Darshan of Sri Hayagriva. Sri Mahasannidhanam visited Parakala mutt the very next day and the Swamigals of both the mutts immensely enjoyed the occasion.

It was the practice of many Madhwa pundits to write books and articles criticizing Advaita, Srimadacharya and Sringeri. Though many disciples insisted on ably replying to these attacks, Mahasannidhanam always asked them to remain quiet. The Acharyas of Sringeri are called, 'Jagadgurus'. They are not Gurus only to the Smartas. There are many Vaishnava, Srivaishnava, Christian and Muslim disciples who consider them as Gurus. Sri Mahasannidhanam has said: 'Each person should follow his own religion. One should not claim their path to be the only path or abuse other paths'. Sri Shankara Kripa, a magazine brought out from the Sringeri mutt was publishing the Guruvamsha Maha Kavya of Sri Kashi Lakshmana Shastrigal at that time. This Maha Kavya describes a certain incident. Sri Sacchidananda Bharati Mahaswamigal (1708-41) once approached Subrahmanya Kshetra during a Sanchara. The Madhwas in that region blocked his way and asked him to leave the place. But his disciples from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka arrived at that place even before Mahaswamigal and there was a fight. The Madhwas were defeated and they began to pretend as Smartas by applying limestone on their foreheads (as Bhasma). Sri Mahasannidhanam came to know that this episode was about to be published in the magazine. Immediately he wrote a letter to the editor of the magazine and said, 'Please do not publish this past incident which may cause pain to the Madhwas or hurt their sentiments. Please refrain from publishing such incidents. Now, when the kind Jagadguru would not even allow the publication of some past incident, would he ever bother to hurt thousands of Madhwas who had faith in him, just because a few from that community wrote abusive articles’?