Adi Sankaracharya, equipped with the Advaita philosophy, set out on his journey to spread awareness throughout the length and breadth of Bharatvarsh. He crossed the high mountains, dense forests, meandering rivers, great plateaus and wide fields, debating, conquering and transforming people and their ingrained beliefs.
As he was travelling through the Southern part of the country, he chanced upon an unusual sight which made him stand still in awe. He was walking by the banks of the river Tunga, admiring her might. As he turned to the other side, he saw a frog resting on a rock. As he focused his gaze on the frog, he realized, to his amazement, a cobra spreading its hood over the frog like an umbrella trying to protect it from the scorching heat of the sun. Adi Sankaracharya instantly knew that the place Sringeri, that could fill the heart of a sworn enemy with compassion and ignite an instinct to protect his rival, had to be holy and divine, blessed by the sages.
Situated in the plateau of the Western Ghats, Sringeri is breathtakingly beautiful. Nature has been bountiful and has gifted this place with all its beauty. It is surrounded by charming hills on one side, guarding it like a fortress while the river Tunga flows on the other side with its crystal-clear water sparkling as the rays of the sun fall on it. The mountain ranges surrounding it are known as the Rishyashringa Parvat. The mountain range is named after sage Rishyashringa whose name is found in the Ramayana. King Dasaratha had been advised to perform a yagna to be blessed with sons. The king had invited sage Rishyashrings to perform the Putrakameshti Yagna for King Dasaratha. As a result of the Yagna, Lord Vishnu descended as Sri Rama, the son of King Dasaratha. Adi Sankaracharya chose this divine, picturesque place to establish his Peetham, the first and foremost of his Mathas, the Sringeri Math, also known as the Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham. Sringeri is a serene and enchanting spot where the surrounding atmosphere reverberates with peace and harmony.
The river Tunga that flows by Sringeri is perennial and sacred. The air, rich with the aroma of medicinal herbs soothes and calms the senses and heals within and out. The stream Tunga winds its way towards north east and paces up to meet another stream Bhadra, coming from the opposite direction. The two streams merge to form the sacred river Tungabhadra. The high mountain range, the dense forest impregnated with tropical trees, flowers and fruits, the sacred river flowing by, the singing birds and the joyous animals roaming around make this place heavenly, an abode of the sages. The sacred vibrations of this place arouse the spiritual seeking in all beings.
After establishing the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, Adi Sankaracharya travelled through the length and breadth of Bharatvarsh, uniting the whole country and establishing three more Amnaya Peethams and appointed his disciples as the heads of the four Peethams. He placed Sureshwaracharya (hailing from the north) at the Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham at Sringeri (in the south), Hastamalakacharya (hailing from the south) at the Poorvamnaya Sri Govardhana Peetham at Puri (in the east), Totakacharya (hailing from the south) at the Uttaramnaya Sri Jyotish Peetham at Badrinath (in the north) and Padmapadacharya (hailing from the southern Chola region) at the Paschimamnaya Sri Kalika Peetham at Dwaraka (in the west).
The temples of Sringeri are architectural marvels. The gorgeous Sringeri Matha by the Tunga River radiates peace and tranquillity. The Sringeri Matha which came into existence in the 8th Century consists of many structures. There are two main temples, ‘The Sharadamba temple’, where Goddess Saraswati is worshipped and ‘The Vidya Shankara temple’, dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The Sharadambal Temple is enthralling with its intricate Gopuram reaching to the sky. Adi Sankaracharya had brought the main deity Maa Sharada Devi from Kashmir. The Goddess, Devi Sharada, sitting on the Shree Yantra, is adorned with royal clothes, glittering jewellery and flowers. She is the most benign Devi, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees.
jāyā padmōdbhavasya praṇatajanatatēḥ sarvamiṣṭaṁ diśantī ।
indrōpēndrādivandyā tribhuvanajananī vāksavitrī śaraṇyā
sēyaṁ śrīśāradāmbā sakalasukhakarī maṅgalāni pradadyāt ॥
(May the Goddess Sharadamba who holds in her hands the Vedas, the chinmudra, beads and the pitcher of nectar, who shine with the brilliance of countless Suns, conferring all that is desired by the devotees, the Consort of Lord Brahma adored by Lord Vishnu and Indra, Divine Mother of the three worlds, Goddess of speech and protector who bestows all happiness, bless us with prosperity.)
The next temple, the Vidya Shankara Temple is an equally stunning piece of architecture. This monument is made of stone and raised on a high platform. The temple has twelve intricate pillars. The four pillars on the right are larger than the rest. These pillars represent the twelve zodiac signs. The first rays of the sun fall on the zodiac pillar corresponding to the current month. The ceiling of the mandapa is carved with beautiful lotuses and parrots. In the inner sanctum sanctorum, a huge Shivalinga made of black stone is worshipped.
Inside the complex, there is also a shrine dedicated to Adi Sankaracharya. A small staircase guarded by two rock cut elephants on either side lead to the inner sanctum of this temple. The walls are painted with stories from the life of Adi Sankaracharya. A small bridge over the river Tunga connects it to the other side of the forest which has the administrative building. There are many anecdotes and quotes written all over the place and it also has a Gurukul where one can hear young children reciting the vedas in front of their Guru. A large hall called the ‘Guru Nivas’ is also found in this part where the Sankaracharya delivers his sermons.
Dakshinamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham at Sringeri
Image Courtesy: Shyama Mohanty