Preceptors of Advaita
SRI KAMAKOTI PITHA OF SRI SANKARACHARYA
Kanchi, the famous city of temples, known from times immemorial as one of the seven Mokshapuris of India, is intimately connected with the life and works of the great Advaitic teacher Sri Sankara. Almost all the works which deal with the life and doings of Sri Sankara, called Sankara-vijayas, refer to Sri Sankara’s consecrating Sri Kamakshi and Srichakra in Kanchipuram. Thus, the Madhaviya Sankara-vijaya in chapter 15 says that Sri Sankara reached Kanchi after worshipping Ramanatha at Ramesvaram. The Anandagiri Sankara-vijaya, which is recognised by orientalists as the authentic biography of Sri Sankara, refers to Sankara’s visit to Kanchipuram, the establishment of his Matha there, his giving the Yogalinga to Sri Suresvara as well as his siddhi at Kanchi itself. The Chidvilasiya Sankara-vijaya says that Sri Sankara visited Kanchi and himself drew and consecrated the Srichakra with his own hand in the temple and ascended the Sarvajnapitha at Kanchi after satisfying the various opponents. These traditions have continued in other works like the Patanjalicharita by Ramabhadra and the Sankarabhyudaya by Rajachudamani Dikshita. The great Itihasa Siva-rahasya in the chapter dealing with the life of Sri Sankara refers to Kanchi as Sankara’s final place of resort. These literacy evidences tend to prove that Sri Sankara established his monastery at Kanchipuram, ascended the Sarvajnapitha there and also attained his siddhi there. This Matha of Sankara which has been adorned in a continuous line by the great Acharyas of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha is still serving as a beacon light for the spiritual guidance of all devotees who turn to it with devotion and sincerity.
Kanchipuram which is thus the seat of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha from times immemorial is also well known to us from other sources. Literacy references to Kanchi can be traced back to the centuries before Christ, the earliest being that made by Patanjali (C 150 B.C) in his Mahabhashya. The Chinese records mention about an embassy sent from China to Kanchi (Houang-Techi) in the 2nd Century B.C. The Sangam age literature of Tamils which also belongs to the same period furnishes us the glimpses of the city of Kanchi or Kacchi. Traditions have it that Karikala Chola, one of the illustrious rulers of Sangam period enlarged and beautified this town. Tondaiman Ilandiraiyan1, the famous contemporary of Karikala, who was also a poet of repute, is credited with the excavation of a big tank at Tenneri or Tinyaneri which is about 14 miles to the north-east of Kanchi2. The Perumpanatruppadai of Rudran Kannanar describes Kanchi as a well planned and strongly fortified city with high ramparts, King’s palaces, broad streets, busy bazaars and numerous public buildings built of burnt brick. A strong and invincible army always guarded the palace in which Ilandiraiyan the King lived. Festivals were celebrated with much pomp when large numbers of people flocked at the city and worshipped at the temples. A temple of the God “who sleeps on a serpent couch” is specially mentioned by the author3. Manimekhalai, a Buddhist epic written by a Sattanar of Madurai, a Kulavanigan or grain merchant, gives us a graphic description of Kanchi, in the post-sangam period (c. 5th Century A.D). The city was said to be then afflicted by a famine and Manimekhalai went to the town to offer relief to the affected4. She is said to have visited the Buddhist Chaitya built by Ilankilli, the brother of Chola Tondukalarkilli and stayed in the Dharmadavana arama located in the south-west of the city.
The history of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha is thus closely connected with the history of Kanchipuram itself since the Pitha was established there from the times of Sri Sankara. Apart from the literary evidences quoted above, the Matha itself is preserving a good number of copper-plate inscriptions which give us considerable insight into the antiquity of the Matha in historical times. The evidence of these copper plate grants is also supported by stone-epigraphs which we find in places like Kanchipuram, Ambi, etc. These are further supplemented by the evidence of contemporary records of the past 200 or 250 years in several archives like the Sarasvati Mahal Library, the Madras Central Record Office, etc. The most ancient of all the copper plate epigraphs of the Kamakoti Pitha is that of the Telugu Chola King, Sri Vijaya Ganda Gopala. (Vide p. 448). The grant purports to record the grant of the village Ambikapuram by Sri Vijaya Ganda Gopala to Sri Sankaraya Guru of the Matha situated to the west of Sri Hastisailanatha for the purpose of feeding 108 Brahmins every day. The details of the date of the grant are given, as cyclic year Khara, the Sun being in Karkataka Rasi, the tithi being Dasami of Sukla Paksha, Anuradha Nakshatra and the week day being Monday. This has been edited by me elsewhere and on the basis of the astronomical evidence given above; it has been shown that the date of the grant corresponds only to 17th July 1111 A.D. The boundaries of the village Ambikapuram which was then granted are given in the grant as Gridhrapura to the west, Kanchipuram to the east, Kaidaduppur to the south and Sirnanni to the north. The village is said to be situated to the north of the river Vegavati. These villages are still existing near Kanchipuram. Ambikapuram is known today as Ambi and to its south is a village Kadirpur which can be identified with Kaidaduppur, to the north is a village Sirunai which can be identified with the village Sirnanni. This is the earliest copper plate grant of the Matha and it belongs to the 12th century A.D.
This grant is also referred to in another stone epigraph on one of the walls of the temple in Ambi. It is of the time of Sri Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagara Empire and signed by Chandrasekhara Sarasvati. This epigraph is of Saka year 1436 (or 1514 A.D), in the cyclic year Bhava, 13th tithi of Adi month. This epigraph has also been edited by me elsewhere. In this, the village Ambi is referred to as “Nammudaiya Madappuram Ambi”. The word “Madappuram” refers to villages given as grants to Mathas only. Hence this stone epigraph also gives collateral evidence that the village Ambi granted in the 12th century A.D. continued to be in the possession of the Matha till the 16th century A.D. since it is referred to as Madappuram in one of the stone epigraphs of the village itself. It is pertinent to note that the Matha owns Inam lands in the village Ambi even now. This clearly shows the authenticity of the grant and the fact that the village has been in possession of the Matha for nearly 800 years ever since it was granted by Sri Vijaya Ganda Gopala Deva in the 12th century A.D.
There are several copper plate grants in possession of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha which gives us an insight into the influence of the Matha over the religious and spiritual life of the people during the course of the centuries. Some important ones are given here.
(1) In 1507 A.D. or Saka 1429, Sri Viranarasimha Deva Maharaja, the elder brother of the famous Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagara Empire, had granted to Sri Mahadeva Sarasvati, the disciple of Sri Sadasiva Sarasvati a village called Kundiyantandalam in the Valakuru Sima of the Padaividu Rajya. (Vide pp. 449-450). A hamlet Suruttial which lies on the border of Kundiyantandalam is referred to as Sankaracharyapuram in an inscription in the Varadarajasvami temple at Kanchipuram5.
(2) Sri Vijayaranga Chokkanatha, the Nayak King of Madura granted in 1708 A.D., cyclic year Vikriti, some land situated in a number of placed on the banks of the Akhanda Kaveri and Coleroon at the instance of the Svami of the Sarada Matha for the maintenance of the feeding of Brahmins in the Matha at Gajaranya Kshetra (Tiruvanaikkoil) in the island of Srirangam (Vide pp. 451-452).
(3) The last grant is an exceedingly interesting one made by the Qutab Shahi Muslim king, Tana Shah, issued on the first day of the month of Shavval of Hijri year 1088. The day of the grant is found to correspond to 17th November 1677 A.D. (Vide pp. 453-454). The grant is in Telugu letters. Half of it is in Persian and the other half in Sanskrit language. A perusal of the other Firmans of the Qutab Shahi King, Tana Shah available in the Central Record Office, Hyderabad, shows that this method of using local scripts and several languages was quite common with this King. Tana Shah was a remarkably broadminded ruler and the fact that he made a grant to the Acharya of the Sri Kamakoti Pitha proves the influence and the high esteem in which the Matha was held by even kings of an alien faith in those days.
Coming now to the part 200 or 250 years, we have a wealth of details about the Matha and its history, preserved in the Modi records of the Madras Central Records office, the Sarasvati Mahal Library and the archives of the Matha itself. Tradition has it that during the Carnatic wars on account of disturbed conditions, the Matha was transferred from Kanchipuram to Tanjavur and then later from Tanjavur to Kumbhakonam. The Mackenzie Manuscripts throw light as regards the inscriptions relating to Sri Kamakoti Matha.
The portion relating to Sri Sankaracharya of the Kamakoti Pitha, Kumbhakonam, is found on page cclxxiii and cclxiv (263 & 264) of the second volume of Mackenzie’s collection published Wilson in 1828. It is extracted below:
Page CCLXIII: Report of Babu Rao, Maratta Translator to Col. C. Mackenzie, of his journey to Pondicherri, Karaical etc., along the coast for the purpose of collecting historical information, coins, etc., from the 24th December 1816 to 27th May, 1817.
April 8th and 9th 1817: Proceeding by way of Nachargudi I arrived at Kumbhakonam, collecting some coins thereof from the shroffs. 10th: I visited the chief priest of Sankarachari, expending four rupees on fruit etc., to introduce myself and requested him to give me a copy of the copper inscription he had in his Matham, but some of the Karyasthalu (or managers of the Matham) directly denied that there were any inscriptions on copper-plate, being afraid of losing their original documents which they had saved through many years from destruction of different wars. I encouraged them much assuring them that I would take no original but only wanted a copy; they answered that if I assured them only a copy was to be taken and that I would give them a recommendation to my master regarding their discontinued Jagirs and obtain their restoration of any of the discontinued villages, that he would give me a particular account of the Chola, Chera and Pandian-together with that of the Rajas of Bijanagur as he was the Guru of all the Rajas. I accordingly gave them recommendatory letter. Then confiding in my assertions that I had only come to copy inscriptions and collect historical information he was much pleased and promised to get me particular information of the Rajas that had ruled from the commencement of the Kali Yugam. He took me into his agraharam and showed me about 125 copper sasanams each contained in five or six copper plates, he gave a copy of two, presented me with a piece of cloth worth 5 rupees and gave me leave promising me to get me a particular account of the Chola Rajas together with several coins if I recommended him personally to my master at Madras and got any assistance to recover their discontinued villages.
One of the records is 31/C Item 60 subsection 5 from the Modi records from the Sarasvati Mahal Library, Tanjavur. There is a petition where a number of people had made a complaint to the then king of Tanjavur about the alleged misdeeds of some Karyastha of the Matha. This interesting document belongs to the time of Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati who ascended the Kamakoti Pitha in the year 1851 during the time of the last king Sivaji of Tanjavur; and in this the petitioners in their introductory paragraphs give a brief but interesting account of the Matha. It is stated in the petition as follows:
“The Mutt of Sri Sankaracharya Svamy at Kumbhakonam was a small mutt6 when it was at Kanchipuram. Raja Prataph Singh brought the Sankaracharya from Kanchi and built a Mutt at Dabir Agraharam, granted Mohini lands, offered him his first honour and respect, etc., etc.
This clearly shows that the Matha was shifted from Kanchipuram to Tanjavur during the time of the reign of Raja Pratap Simha of Tanjavur. We have fortunately enough of original documentary evidence of the Tanjavur Maratha rulers themselves to substantiate the above.
There is an order issued by King Pratap Simha of the Tanjavur Maratha Rulers preserved in the Madras Central Record office as Record No. C-37/38-43 of the Tanjavur Palace Records. This is in Hemadipant Modi script. In this order the king had stipulated that the sambhavana to the Acharya of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha should be paid at some uniform specified rates. The Acharya is mentioned as
“Srimad Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya Srimad Pujya Sankara Bhagavad
Padacharyanam Adhishthane Simhasane Abhishiktanam Sri Chandrasekhara Sarasvatinam Pujyayoh Sripadayoh.”
In describing the Birudavali of the Acharya the king used the following phrases:
“Srimad Sakala Bhumandalalankara Trayastrimsat Kotidevata Sevita Sri
Kamakshi Devisanata Sakshatkara Paramadhisthana, Satyavrata Namankita, Kanchi Divyakshetre Saradamatha Sthitanam”, etc., etc.
From the above, it will be very clearly seen that the Birudavali of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha which is existing today was used in full in 1748 A.D. by King Pratap Simha of Tanjavur. There are a number of other Modi records of the same king and his successors, which go to reveal the great esteem and regard in which the Acharyas were held by Maratha Rulers of Tanjavur.
The question as to why the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha shifted its headquarters from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam arises for consideration. That the Pitha was established by Adi Sankara at Kanchipuram and that it has been continuing in an unbroken line of great Acharyas is clear from the other evidence already shown here. As to why and when the Pitha shifted its headquarters to Kumbhakonam, we have clear evidence in another important public record. This is about a court case belonging to the times of 64th Acharya of the Pitha. In the year 1844 A.D., the authorities of Sri Sringeri Matha filed a civil suit in the Trichi District Sadar Amin Court that the right for the Tatanka Pratishtha of Goddess Akhilandesvari belonged only to that Matha. Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha was made the first defendant in the above civil suit. The plaint of the plaintiff, the answer of the first defendant, the reply of the plaintiff for this and the defendant’s rejoinder, the evidence presented by both sides and the judgment, are all now available to us in print. Ultimately the court decided that the documents submitted on behalf of the Sringeri Matha were not reliable and that the oral evidence adduced on their behalf was self-contradictory and the suit was dismissed with costs. This suit bears the number O. S. 95/1844. This was taken in appeal No. 109/1846 and in special appeal petition No. 106/1848 to higher courts and in both the appeals the Sringeri Matha’s claims were disallowed with costs to this defendant. This one record is more than enough to give us a graphic insight into the affairs of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha about 120 years ago. This record contains an important point of reference. In this rejoinder of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha, para 20, the reasons for the shift of the Matha from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam are clearly given. The following is a free translation of the relevant passage:
“The plaintiff in column 20 of his reply states that if it is true that the Kamakoti Pitha was established at Kanchipuram by Sankara and if Sankara’s disciple was installed there, the first defendant should still be residing there only and the reason for his residence at Kumbhakonam has not been stated in the defendant’s answer. It is not stated in any authoritative text that the Kamakoti Pithadhipati must necessarily live only at Kanchipuram and should not take up his residence in any other place. The first defendant’s disciples and other staff of the Matha are still living in the Kanchipuram Matha and are still carrying on the daily Puja to the Sarvajna Pitha there. The first defendant’s Parama guru (that is Guru’s Guru) wanted to reside on the banks of the river Cauvery and hence came to reside in Kumbhakonam. He brought along with him the Yogalinga Chandramaulisvara Svami, consecrated by Suresvaracharya. The local Rajahs and other disciples afforded every facility and convenience to him and hence he used to alternate his residence between Kumbhakonam and Kanchipuram, etc., etc”.
The above clearly gives the reason as to why Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha was shifted to Kumbhakonam. This record belongs to the time of the 64th Acharya, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati V. He was the head of the Pitha from 1814 to 1851 A.D. His Parama Guru was the 62nd Acharya, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati IV who adorned the Pitha from 1746 to 1783 A.D. It was this Acharya, who shifted his headquarters from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam in order to carry out his meditation and worship on the peaceful banks of the river Cauvery. He attained Siddhi in 1783 A.D. in Kumbhakonam itself. The traditional accounts of the shift of the Matha from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam assign it to the period of King Pratapa Simha, one of the Tanjavur Maratha Rulers who was a great devotee of the Acharya. This has been clearly corroborated by the Modi document of 1750 A.D. mentioned above. This king ruled between 1740 and 1768 A.D. This traditional account of the shift of the Matha, is fully borne out by the statement made in the court documents mentioned above. It is thus clear that in the latter half of the 18th century, the Matha was shifted from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam7.
There is another record 1783 A.D. which was given by the Raja of Sivaganga on September 10, in which the village Pulavacheri was granted to the Matha. This grant purports to give the village Pulavacheri in Salivahana Sakabda 1705, Kalyabda 4884, cyclic year Sobhana, Avani Masa, 28th tithi, Suklapaksha, Bhauma Vasara and Paurnimavasya day, to Sri Kamakoti Pitha Singhasanabhishikta Srimad Sri Maha Bhagavatpadacharya Svami Matha situated in Sri Kanchipuram Divyakshetra, for Svami Puja, Diparadhana, brahmin feeding, etc., etc. We know from other evidence that the 63rd Acharya came to the Pitha on 20th January 1783 A.D., and on 10th September of the same year, the Pulavacheri record clearly establishes that the Pitha was situated in Kanchipuram. We have already seen that the Pitha had been shifted from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam only a few years ago and hence it can be safely deduced that the 63rd Acharya, Mahadevendra Sarasvati IV must have come to Kanchipuram immediately after ascending the Pitha probably on tour. This also fully bears out the statement mentioned in the Court document that the Acharyas used to live alternatively in Kanchipuram and Kumbhakonam and that the worship at the Matha at Kanchipuram was being continued by the disciples, since only a few years after the shift of the Matha, the grant clearly mentions that the Matha was situated in Kanchipuram.
Though the Matha was thus shifted to Kumbhakonam in the latter half of the 18th century, still in all the records of the Matha the Acharyas were still being mentioned only as Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pithadhipatis. For example, a Firman of the Nawab of Arcot of 1792 A.D., mentions that Sri Kamakoti Sankaracharya should be given all facilities while going to Tirupati, river Krishna, etc., (Vide pp. 455-456).
Another grant bearing the seal of Saadat Khan confirms a previous one by Dawud Khan, the original donor Naib of the Nizam from 1700 to 1708 to Sankaracharya Gossain of the village of Ponnambalam (Poonai) in the Karnataka Taluk of Hyderabad, measuring 250 chakras of dry land free of taxes. This document is dated 6 Zilhijja in the 6th year of the reign of the Emperor Mohamed Shah, 5th August 1725 A.D. There is a stone epigraph in the grantha script of the 63rd Acharya, Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati in the Adi Kumbhesvara Svami temple in Kumbhakonam. Here also, the Acharya is referred to as:
sri acharyasvamibhih nirmita
sri mahadevendrayati ubhayam
Another stone epigraph in Grantha characters of the same Acharya is found in that temple itself which is as follows:
“Salivahana Sakabdam 1722, Dunmati varsham, Kumbhesvara svami Somaskanda––murtikku ardhamantapam, mahamantapam mudunnu Sri Kanchi Kamakotipithadhipati Chandramoulisvara dasabhuta Sri Mahadevayati dharmam”. (Vide pp. 457-458).
It is significant to note that in a temple epigraph in Kumbhakonam itself, in the beginning of the 19th century, the Acharyas is referred to as Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pithadhipati only.
During the close of the 18th century Avani Sringeri mutt had sent a Srimukham to the then Acharya of the Kamakoti Pitha. The Avani Sringeri Mutt is one of the sub-divisions of the Saradapitha each having religious jurisdiction over specified areas of the Karnataka region; the others being Sringeri on the Tunga, Virupaksha Sringeri, Sivaganga Sringeri and Karavir Sringeri. The Avani Sringeri has jurisdiction in the eastern portion of the Mysore territory bordering Tamil land. During the close of the 18th century the Mutt began to tour the Tiruchirapalli district on the banks of the Akhanda Kaveri and when it was brought to its notice that it has encroached upon the traditional rights of the Kamakoti Pitham in that locality, the mutt forwarded a Srimukham to the Kamakotipitham making amends and informing the routes they would take without violating the status quo in the locality. The route includes Pudukotta, Madurai, Ramesvaram, Ramnad, Sivaganga, Tirunelveli and Travancore8. The Acharya of Kamakoti Pitha is referred to in this letter as:
Srimad Sankara bhagavatpadacharyanam adhishthane
Simhasanabhishiktanam Sri Kamakoti Pithadhipati
Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati (Vide p. 459).
Two letters were sent by the sovereign of Travancore towards the close of the 18th Century or the early years of the 19th Century to the pontiff of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha. These letters have been written by His Highness Bala Rama Kulasekhara Varma the then Maharaja of Travancore and have been addressed to His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati who was the disciple of His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati of the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha. The first epistle contemplates the sending of an young elephant to His Holiness as an offering to Chandramoulisvara; while the second one tells that the same has actually been despatched (Vide p. 460). Both these epistles fervently pray for the contemplated visit of His Holiness to Trivandrum. These letters have been written in excellent Sanskrit in the Devanagari script and they are noteworthy for the sweetness of their language, choice of expression, depth of learning and devotion.
Both the epistles are undated. By a careful study of the genealogy of the Travancore ruling dynasty, one could come to the conclusion that these letters should have been written during the time of Bala Rama Varma, the first (Avittam Tirunal) who flourished between the years 1798-1810. There were three sovereigns of the Travancore ruling dynasty bearing the name of Bala Rama Varma. Bala Rama Varma I (Avittam Tirunal) flourished between 1798–1810. During his period, the pontiff at the Kamakoti Pitha was His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati (1783-1814). Bala Rama Varma II (Svati Tirunal) flourished between 1829-1847 A.D. And, during this period the pontiff at the Kamakoti Pitha was His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati (1814-1854 A.D.) Bala Rama Varma III (Mulam Tirunal) flourished between 1885-1924; and during this period the pontiffs at the Kamakoti Pitha were His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati (1857-1891), His Holiness Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati (1891-1907), His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati (1907) and His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, the present Head of the Kamakoti Pitha.
The two epistles were sent to His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati, by the king Bala Rama Varma. These could not have been sent by Bala Rama Varma II (1829-1847) because the pontiff at Kamakoti Pitha then was His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati. Both the letters bear the signature of the court which tried the suit of 1847. Hence they could not have been sent by Bala Rama Varma III (1885-1924). Therefore they must have been sent by Bala Rama Varma I to the pontiff of the Kamakoti Pitha His Holiness Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati towards the close of 18th Century or the early years of the 19th Century.
In these two epistles the Acharyas is referred to as follows:
“Srimad Kanchidivyayatana-nalinakara-mahamandana-Saradamathasarasijarajahamsanam. . . . . . . . . . Srimad Sankarabhagavadpadacharyanam adhishthane simhasanabhishikta. . . . . . Mahadevendra sarasvati Padaravindayoh”.
In 1808 A.D Chatrapati Maharaja Serfoji had sent a letter of invitation to the 63rd Acharya in which the Guru is referred to as follows:
“Srimad Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharyavarya Srimad Sankara Bhagavatpadacharyanam Adhishthana Simhasane Abhishiktanam Srimad Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati Samyamindranam antevasivarya Sri Mahadevendra Sarasvati Sripadanam,” etc.etc. (Vide pp. 461-463).
In 1839 A.D., the 64th Acharya, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati performed the Kumbhabhishekam of Sri Kanchi Kamakshi temple. There is a stone epigraph in the temple which mentions this in Telugu characters as follows:
“Svasti Sri Vijayabhyudaya Salivahana Sakabda 1761(1839A.D.), Vikari Nama Samvatsara. . . . . Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pithadhipatulaina, Sri Chandrasekhara Svamulavaru, Kumbhakonamununchi Kanchikivachchi, etc., etc”.
There is another interesting letter of 1858 A.D. written by the Garrison officer of Kumbhakonam to the Agent of the Matha in which the officer commanding had informed the Manager that some sepoys who had misbehaved did so due to ignorance and that he had issued suitable instructions to them. The addressee of this letter is given as follows:
“Soobhier the Agent of Sree Sankarachariar the priest of Sree Conjee Commacote Peetam at cusbah of Combaconum”.
There are a number of records which clearly prove that the Acharyas were described as ‘Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pithadhipatis’ only even after the Matha was shifted to Kumbhakonam.
A reference to the Inam lands and Inam titles of the Matha also shows that from ancient times onwards several lands in several villages round about Kanchipuram like Madhavaram, Ambi, Sivakanchi, Sevilivedu and Kundiyantandalam have been in the occupation and enjoyment of the Matha. In several of them, the original title of the grantee is written as “Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham” or “Kumbhakonam Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham”, etc. This also clearly shows that the traditional title of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha was continued undisturbed even though due to various reasons the Matha was transferred from Kanchipuram to Kumbhakonam.
Regarding the Mutt of Sankaracharya at Kumbhakonam, Mr. Hemingway, I.C.S., records a tradition in the Tanjore District Gezeteer (p. 208) for the year 1906 thus: “There is an important Smartha religious Institution here in the Matha of Sri Sankaracharya which is said to have been founded in the time of Sankaracharya himself by a Tanjore king who wished the saint to reside in his dominion”.
In case this tradition is authentic, we infer that the building offered by the Tanjore King on the banks of the river Cauvery at Kumbhakonam may be an auxiliary one to that at Kanchipuram. Kanchi is one of the seven Mokshapuris of India.
“Ayodhya mathura maya kasi kanchi avantika
puri dvaravati chaiva saptaitah mokshadayikah”
In the same way Cauvery is one of the seven sacred rivers of India.
“Gange cha yamune chaiva godavari sarasvati
narmade sindhu kaveri. . . . .”
Both Kanchi and Cauvery are in the southern region. In the 10th skandha of the Bhagavata while describing the Tirthayatra of Balarama the following sloka occurs:
“Kamakotipurim kanchim kaverim cha saridvaram”
The Pitha at Kanchi should be necessarily supplemented by an auxiliary one on the banks of the sacred river Cauvery. Thus the institution should only be a branch one like the branch mutt of Kanchi Pitha in other holy places such as Jambukesvaram, Varanasi, Tiruvottiyur, Madhyarjunam etc.
The river Cauvery in Kumbhakonam dries up in summer and the northern branch of Cauvery, the Coleroon a perennial stream flows within seven miles north of Kumbhakonam. On the banks of the Coleroon river there is a village Nilattanallur and there is a dilapidated pavilion which is recorded in village accounts as Sankaracharya Mutt.
The Astikas of Madras who had an organization or Sabha for determining dharmic questions and correct lapses, if any, in the community were in the habit of assembling periodically in the premises of the Madras branch of the Kamakoti Pitha at 119, Thambu Chetty Street, G.T., Madras, which was dedicated to Sankaracharya Svami for the grace of Chandramaulisvara by one Vajrala Thyagarayadu in the year 1742. (Vide p. 464). The Astikas were represented by eighteen Jaladhipatis, who were the accredited heads of the different communities. The meetings were presided by an elected sabhapati at that time. The Sringeri Acharya in the year Sukla in the last century (1870), issued a Srimukham to the then Sabhapati of the Madras Mahajanas Sriman Pandipeddi Krishnaswami Ayya in which the Acharya makes it clear that he has no intention to act against the Kamakoti Pitha (Vide p. 465).
In the present century, the Hindu Message (Vani Vilas Press) published at Srirangam under the editorship of Mr. T.K. Balasubramania Iyer, Gurubhaktasikhamani (Sringeri) who brought out the Globe Edition of the works of Sri Sankaracharya wrote in its editorial on May 10, 1923, describing the Tatanka Pratishtha consecration as follows.
“Never before in the annals of Trichinopoly have we witnessed the grandeur and enthusiasm that were displayed at the reception of His Holiness Sri Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha who arrived at Trichinopoly on the 23rd ultimo. The mile long procession headed by richly caparisoned elephants and surging crowds with His Holiness seated high on the Ivory palanquin in the centre surrounded by large concourse of Brahmins chanting the Vedas and followed by the numerous Bhajana Parties and Tevaram Parties, the rich and tasteful decorations all along the route which extended to nearly eight miles, the buoyant enthusiasm of the huge crowd that pressed on all sides just to have a glimpse of His Holiness’s beaming countenance and that followed the procession right through to the end, the festive appearance of the whole town and the eagerness of everyone in the vast concourse of people to do some sort of service to His Holiness were sights for gods to see and they beggar all description. It showed in a clear and unmistakable way the strong hold of religion and religious ideals still on the people of the country. No VICEROY or even the EMPEROR himself could have evoked such spontaneous and heartfelt enthusiasm. It took nearly five hours for the procession to reach its destination. His Holiness had a smile or a word of cheer for every one of the assembled people and when he retired into the Mutt, His Holiness observed that the weariness of the journey was counteracted by unprecedented enthusiasm of the people. The very next day commenced the preliminaries for the Tatanka Pratishta for the Goddess Akhilandeswari at Jambukeswaram. As many of our readers may not quite understand what it means by Tatanka Pratishta we will describe it a little in detail.
When Adi Sankaracharya incarnated in this holy land, he went round the whole of Bharatavarsha several times and in the course of his Vijaya Yathra established several Yantras in different big temples. Of such temples Jambukeswaram is an important one. It appears the Goddess here was very fierce and with her ugra kala used to burn everything before her. Even the archaka who opened the temple doors early in the morning was reduced to ashes and the people, unable to put up with such fierceness, eagerly availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by the presence in their midst of the great Sankaracharya who came to this kshetra in the course of his tour and implored him to draw out the ugra kala of the Goddess and thus appease her ferocity. Accordingly, he established a temple of Ganesa just opposite to that of the Goddess so that when the temple doors were opened in the morning the first person to catch the eye of the Goddess may be her own favourite son. This in a way reduced the ferocity, but not satisfied with this, Sri Sankaracharya prepared two Sri Chakras in the shape of two Tatankas (Ear-ornaments) and drew forth all the ugra kala of the Goddess into these two Tatankas and fixed them on her two ears. Thenceforward the Goddess became Soumya Murthi and ever since then this Tatanka has been worn by the Goddess always except during the nights. And whenever this ornament got into disrepair, it was repaired by the spiritual descendents of the great world-teacher, who adorned the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha and put up again on the ears of the Goddess after due Pratishta. In accordance with this time-honoured rule, the present occupant of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham deemed it part of his duty to repair the Tatanka and perform the Pratishta while fixing it up again on the ears of the Goddess. With this object in view, His Holiness started from Kumbakonam more than four years ago and after touring through various parts of the country, teaching Dharma to his numerous disciples, reached Trichinopoly just two weeks ago. The preliminary ceremonies were performed on a grand scale with the help of thousands of Brahmins and the ceremony proper took place on the 29th ultimo. Ever since very early hour that morning, people began to assemble in large numbers and by about 8 A.M., when His Holiness left the Mutt for the temple, the crowd had become so dense that the town could not hold it. The twin attraction of the Goddess Akhilandeswari (Goddess of all the Worlds) and the divine Jagadguru (the World-Teacher) was so great that it attracted enormous crowds with boundless enthusiasm. The sight of this surging mass of people and the tremendous enthusiasm that swayed them was simply marvellous. The rush was so great that it became very difficult even for His Holiness to enter the temple. After all, when His Holiness got into the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Kumbham was brought in from the Yagasala and the Abhishekam was performed for the Goddess, there arose a thrill of reverence throughout the surging mass of humanity. Soon after, under the commands of His Holiness and blessed by him, the Tatankas were fixed up as usual on the ears of the Goddess and immediately there shone a brilliant divine lustre which it was the privilege, of only those that were inside, to witness. Thus ended this unique festival, eagerly awaited by thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the country. People were fed in tens of thousands and a very large number of highly learned Vidvans, who had graced the occasion, delivered a number of public lectures under the command of His Holiness on various interesting topical subjects. They were all duly honoured by His Holiness with valuable presents according to their merits. Thus ended the unique ceremony not witnessed by any for two generations past”.
In the present century the learned royal families of Cochin, Benaras and Pudukkotah refer to the institution as ‘Kamakoti Pithadhishthana of Jagadguru.’
In the Subhalekha (invitation) sent to this Mutt on the occasion of the coronation of the present Maharaja of Mysore Sri Jaya Chamarajendra Wodayar, this Mutt is referred to as “Sri Jagadguru Kanchi Srimat Sankara Bhagavatpadacharyanam adhishthane simhasanabhishiktanam.”
The authorities of the Sringeri Mutt in a letter dated 14-10-1942 to Sri Visuddhananda Bharati who was residing in Kanchi in the building belonging to Sringeri Matha have informed that Kanchi is the seat of the great Kamakoti Pitha and the building of the Sringeri Matha there was not to be given the status of a Matha. (Vide pp. 466-467).
It will thus be seen from the above that the tradition, legends, copper plate grants, stone epigraphs, literary evidence, contemporary records, all go conclusively to show that the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha established at Kanchipuram by Adi Sankara has been functioning there in an unbroken line of Acharyas. The Ambi grant, supported by the stone temple epigraph of the same place, clearly takes the antiquity of the Matha to the beginning of the 12th century A.D. Earlier to that we have the traditional accounts preserved in the Sankara-vijayas and other literary works referred to. The later copper plate grants spanning nearly 5 to 6 centuries and the profuse Modi and other contemporary records of the past centuries clearly prove the continuity of the Pitha as a great and powerful spiritual influence on the people. The Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha has thus an ancient and illustrious history and has from the day of Adi Sankara been serving as a centre of dissemination of Dharma and spiritual knowledge. No wonder that Sri Muka Panchasati mentions the Kamakoti Pitha as Adima Para Pitha. The greatness of the Pitha lies not merely in its antiquity. It lies in the fact that the Pitha was established and consecrated by Bhagavatpada Adi Sankara himself and the influence of the spiritual power of that great teacher is being continued in its pristine purity by a line of great Acharyas who have adorned the Pitha down the ages. The sacredness and sanctity of the Pitha and the divine influence of the Acharyas are more vital and important.
It is our good fortune that a Jivanmukta, who is considered by one and all as an avatar of Sankara himself, is guiding us from the Pitha. It is a great event that is being celebrated, viz., the 60th anniversary of his ascension to this ancient Pitha. It is unique in the history of any ancient institution that the incumbent sheds lustre on the institution and the institution also imbues the incumbent with its own greatness.
jivanmukto jagatyam nijaniyamatapassaktitah pujaniyah
sad-dharmasyoddhidhirshuh kaliyugajanusham bhagyato
sri kanchi kamakoti gururapi ca tadadhyasyamanam hi pitham
dhamnanyonyam dvayam tat prathayati nitaram naitadanyatra
drishtam –– (Svakritam).
“The Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Guru who is a Jivanmukta and for-ever bent on the uplift of Dharma, is to be worshipped for the power and greatness of his own tapas; He is adorning the Pitha due to the good fortune of the people of this Kali age. This Guru and the great and illustrious Pitha adorned by him, these two, shed lustre on each other. This rare event is not seen anywhere else”.
[Verse by the Author]
1. Mediaeval Telugu Chola records are all unanimous about Karikala ruling from Kanchi while the Tiruvalangadu plates of Rajendra Chola I say that Karikala renovated and beautified its structures with gold.
2. Kadiyalur Rudran Kannanar ‘Pattuppattu’.
3. The temple is at present identified by some with Yathoktakari temple in the suburbs of Tiruvelka and if it is so this is perhaps the earliest reference to Vishnu as an Anantasayi in the Tamil literature.
4. The ruling king is said to have welcomed her and constructed at her request a Pitha for Buddha and shrines for the Goddess Dipatilakai and Manimekhalai.
5. See Annual Report on Epigraphy, 1919-20: No. 443 of 1919.
This stone inscription substantiates the grant of Viranarasimha which, however, has some confusion in date according to T.A. Gopinatha Rao, the Travancore epigraphist.
6. In the report of Babu Rao to Col. C. Mackenzie reference is made to the Mutt’s discontinued Jagirs and the request to their restoration. Probably it was in this stage that the institution is described as a small mutt.
7. Cf. ‘The celebrated Dabir Pandit an expert in Revenue matters was another of the great men in his court. He continued to serve the son of Pratap except for a short period and did much good to the state. He and Pratap welcomed to Kumbakonam the Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Pitha from Udayarpalayam whither the latter had shifted from Kanchi on account of the increasing Muhammadan trouble in the City.’ By K.R. Subramanian, The Maratha Rajas of Tanjore, Chap. vii, p. 48.
8. The Mackenzie manuscript, this Srimukham of the Avani Sringeri Mutt, the firman of the Nawab of Arcot, the manual of Pudukottah state (Vol. I,Chapter3) referring to the large following of the peoples and the ruling family towards the Kamakoti-pitha tend to show that large portions of Andhra, Tamil and Kerala regions were offering their allegiance directly to Sri Kamakoti Pitha.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
1. Grant by Sri Vijaya Ganda Gopala (i)
2. Grant by Sri Viranarasimha Deva (ii) & (iii)
3. Grant by Sri Vijayaranga Chokkanatha (iv) & (v)
4. Grant by Tana Shah (vi) & (vii)
5. Firman of the Nawab of Arcot (viii) & (ix)
6. Stone epigraphs in the Kumbhesvara Svami temple (x) & (xi)
7. Srimukham of the Avani Sringeri Matha (xii)
8. An epistle from the Maharaja of Travancore (xiii)
9. A letter of invitation from Maharaja Serfoji (xiv), (xv) & (xvi)
10. An inscription in the building in Madras dedicated to Kamakoti Acharya (xvii)
11. Srimukham from the Sringeri Acharya to Pandipeddi Krishnaswami Ayya (xviii)
12. A letter from the Sringeri Matha to Visuddhananda Bharati (ix) & (x)
HOMAGE TO HIS HOLINESS
SRI SANKARACHARYA OF KANCHI KAMAKOTI PITHA
Dr. Fernand Brunner
Professor, Neuchatel University,
Bern University, (Switzerland)
The most impressive moment of my last stay in India from September to December 1966, was undoubtedly my visit to Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha. On a sunny October day, Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan’s car was driving us, Dr Veezhinathan, my wife and myself, towards Tirupati. Past the endless outskirts of Madras, the road climbs through a striking landscape of bare hills and dislocated rocks, then stretches down to a table-land equally overwhelmed with heat and light overlooked by a hill ascended by a huge flight of steps and crowned by temples. At the foot of this hill, not far from the busy Tirupati, the Sankarachaya’s camp was located. No more imposing setting was ever offered by Nature to the admiration of men and consecrated by the faithful ones to the Divinity. Let not however the unprepared European expect in the Sankaracharya’s camp the ostentation of some Maharaja’s palace. And yet, the one who is here is the Jagadguru, the guru of the world: a regal title too. But his kingship is spiritual and he lives in the most complete simplicity. The brahmans, the cows, the elephants which surround him are symbols of his function; but no other ornament signals his court: he sits under a tree, clothed like a mendicant monk; to meet him, one treads the grass of a field that his cattle grazes all around him. But people present him with offerings fit for the gods and prostrate before him. He gives them leave to get up with a boundless modesty. One understands that all his life has been directed towards the attainment of this perfect self-detachment. He takes interest in his visitors, their origin, their problems with the spontaneity and sincerity typical of absolute unselfishness. There shines in his look the light of a knowledge which transcends everything finite. This is the type of a spiritual master. Everlasting India can always present him to the world. The greatness of India lies in her acknowledging the true greatness which takes the form of such a pure simplicity.
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