Preceptors of Advaita


T. M. P. Mahadevan M.A., Ph. D.


7.  Consolidation and Furtherance of Our Ancient Dharma

The twentyone years’ All-India tour had paved the way for taking concrete steps towards the consolidation and furtherance of our ancient Dharma.  In the years that have followed, the Acharya has given the lead in several directions for bringing together the different sections of Hindus, for the promotion of Vedic and Vedantic studies, for the due observance of religious ceremonies and rules of conduct as prescribed in the Sastras, for deepening the spiritual life of the people, for rendering service to the sick and the disabled and for universal welfare.
                        In 1939, the Acharya had an organization of Mudradhikaris set up, with a view to serve the people in a comprehensive way.  The Mudradhikaris are representatives of the Matha in the different places.  Among their functions are: to enlist the co-operation of the people in keeping the temples in good repair, to see to it that temple-worship is performed in the proper order, to arrange for popular expositions of the Puranas on Ekadasi days, to bring together all classes of people in such corporate activities as digging tanks and wells, dragging the temple-car on festival days, etc., and cattle-care.  In order to implement this programme and ensure the best possible results, the Acharya toured the villages in the Tanjavur District and other places several times and convened periodical conferences of the Mudradhikaris to instruct them personally.
                        Under the guidance of the Acharya, several of the old temples came to be renovated and kumbhabhishekams were performed.  The kumbhabhishekam for the temple of Sri Bangaru Kamakshi at Tanjavur, after renovation, was performed in June 1941.  In Tiruvanaikka (Jambukesvaram), the ancient temple of Panchamukhesvara (Linga with five faces) was in ruins.  When the Acharya visited the place in 1943, he had the accumulated rubbish and wild trees that had grown there removed, marvelled at the uniqueness of the temple, arranged for renovation and had the kumbhabhishekam performed in June that year.  There is an old Siva Temple in Tiruvidaimarudur on the banks of the Viracholan River.  It was in a state of utter disrepair.  The Acharya had it renovated and the kumbhabhishekam performed in 1943.  The renovation work of Sri Kamakshi Temple at Kanchi had been in progress for some years.  On the completion of the work, the kumbhabhishekam was performed on a grand scale on the 7th of February 1944.  In the temple itself that day, over fifty-thousand devotees had gathered to witness the ceremony.  To mark the occasion, the Muka-panchasati, a moving hymn of devotion to the Devi, was published by the Kamakoti Kosasthanam.
                        In order that the evils caused by the Second World War may not oppress the people and distort their minds, the Acharya suggested to the temple-authorities and managements of religious charities, in 1942, that the Sri-Rudra and Sri-Vishnu-sahasranama be recited and archanas performed in the temples.  Accordingly in many temples, this suggestion was carried out.  In April 1942 at Puvanur near Mannargudi, an Ati-Rudra-yaga was performed, in the immediate presence of the Acharya, for the purpose of securing the welfare of all people.  In September, the performance of the yaga was repeated at Nattam in Tiruchi District where that year’s chaturmasya was observed.  While touring in this District, the Acharya visited Sankara-malai which is at a distance of thirty miles to the west of Tiruchi Town; here is a Maha-Linga established on the hill here, similar to the one of the Sankaracharya Hill in Kashmir.  On the day of this visit––the 2nd of March 1943––the Acharya drew the attention of the people there to the striking similarity.  The next Ati-Rudra-homa was performed in February 1949, at Tiruvidaimarudur.  As on previous occasions, people in their thousands participated in the performance of this yaga and received the Acharyas blessings.  The navaratri also was performed at Tiruvidaimarudur.  After that, the Acharya stayed during October-November, 1949, at Kuttalam and went every day to Mayuram for Tula-snanam.
                        The Vedas constitute the basic scriptures of the Hindus.  It is through the preservation of the Vedas that Hindu culture has been preserved in spite of the vicissitudes of history.  In recent times, the cultivation of skill in Vedic recitation and Vedic studies have been neglected because of alien influence and conditions of modern life. In order to offset the forces making for deterioration, the Acharya caused to be organized the Veda-dharma-paripalana-sabha.  Under the auspices of this sabha, which was started in 1944, annual conferences of Vedic scholars are held in the various parts of the country, examinations are conducted in Vedic literature and prizes are awarded to successful candidates, maintenance is provided for selected Vedic scholars, institutions for teaching the Vedas are set up and run and every possible assistance is given for the preservation of Vedic culture.  In January 1955 at Kanchi where the Acharya was staying at the time, a conference of eminent Vedic scholars was convened and seventeen panditas in Rig, Yajus and Sama Veda were selected from all over the country and honoured with presents and awards.
                        The consolidation of Advaita through his bhashyas and numerous Vedantic manuals and through teaching by example and precept, was the greatest gift Adi Sankara conferred on the entire humanity.  The central mission of any institution which owes its foundation to the great Teacher should be to spread the knowledge of Advaita.  The Jagadgurus of Sri Kamakoti Pitha have, in various ways, rendered invaluable service to the cause of Advaita.  An important measure designed to promote studies in Advaita was taken when the Parama-guru of our present Acharya inaugurated, in 1894, at Kumbhakonam, the Advaita Sabha.  Besides the annual conferences of Advaita scholars, award of studentships for the study of Advaita, arranging for courses in Advaita according to a syllabus, publication of works on Advaita and of a journal “Brahma Vidya”, are among the activities of the Advaita Sabha.  The first conference was held in 1895 in the immediate presence of His Holiness the Sixty-sixth Acharya; eminent scholars headed by Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Raju Sastri participated in the deliberations.  Learned discussions and vakyartha in Samskrit and popular lectures in Tamil form regular features of these conferences.  Examinations are held in Advaita-sastra and prizes are awarded to successful candidates.  Presents are given to them every year if they attend the conference.  The Golden Jubilee of the Sabha was celebrated in February 1945, at the Kumbhakonam Matha in the presence of our Acharya.  The Acharya commended the work of the Sabha and explained the essentials of Advaita-Vedanta: The basic truth of Advaita is that the Self (Atman) alone is real and that all else is mithya.  Not understanding the implication of the words mithya and maya, the critics find fault with Advaita.  Although ultimately the world of plurality is not real, it is not that it is not useful. Because the world of maya is useful until the onset of wisdom, it is vested with empirical reality (vyavaharika satya).  It is in this world and while living in it, that we have to strive for and gain release from bondage.  The true moksha is the attainment of all-selfhood, in this very life, by the removal of maya through knowledge.  The followers of the different religions think that their particular mode of worship alone is the true mode.  But we who follow Advaita believe that it is the same God that is attained through any of the religious modes and that devotion to God is essential for realizing the truth of Advaita.  In conclusion, the Acharya referred to the fact that teachers of Advaita have appeared at all times and in all the different parts of the country and have left behind immortal works on Advaita; and he declared that it was our duty to study those works and gain the wisdom that is contained in them.  To mark the occasion of the Golden Jubilee, a volume entitled “Advaita-akshara-malika”, containing fifty-one essays on Advaita written in Samskrit by various scholars, was published.  Two other books one in English and the other in Tamil, containing articles on Advaita were also published on the occasion.
                        Ten years later, in March 1956, the Diamond Jubilee of the Advaita Sabha was celebrated at Sivasthanam near Kanchi, where the Acharya was staying at the time.  Addressing the conference, the Acharya observed that the aim of the Advaita Sabha was to spread the light of the Self as revealed in the Upanishads, that those who adopted Advaita as their way of life should look upon all beings as they would on themselves and render some service or other every day to the afflicted and the distressed and that they should investigate the cause of dispute among religious cults and seek to eliminate it.
                        It is on the basis of Advaita that the conflicts among religious cults could be removed.  With sympathy and understanding, it will not be difficult to realize that, it is the same God that is worshipped under different names and forms.  The special contribution of Hinduism to the world’s history of religions is the truth that there are as many modes of approach to Godhead as there are minds.  And, yet, on account of misunderstanding and narrowness, the followers of the different cults of Hinduism have indulged in quarrels sometimes.  In South India, exclusive claims have been advanced, for instance, on behalf of Vaishnavism and Saivism.  While the Alvars and Nayanmars were universalistic in their outlook, their later followers introduced narrow distinctions and dogmatic partisanships.  Our Acharya wanted to give a concrete form to the movement for unity and co-ordination as between the Vaishnavas and the Saivas in Tamil Nadu; and accordingly, the idea of TiruppavaiTiruvembavai––Shadanga––Conference was hit upon in 1950.  Andal’s Tiruppavai and Manikkavachakar’s Tiruvembavai are sung in the Vishnu and Siva temples respectively in the month of Margali (Margasirsha).  The Acharya had a conference of scholars in these sacred texts organized at Tiruvidaimarudur in December 1950.  It was a unique experience to listen to the Vaishnava and Saiva scholars speak from the same platform.  On the last day of the conference, the Acharya spoke explaining how the goal of all the cults was the same, even as the end of all the rivers was the sea.  He declared:  “The redeeming Reality is one and the same.  We may seek to reach God through several ways.  But while marching on these diverse paths, we must not forget the fundamental unity of Godhead.  If we are obsessed with diversity, there is no happiness”.  The Acharya further showed how it is the state of plenary happiness and freedom from fear that is the significance of the images of the dancing Nataraja and the reclining Vishnu and concluded saying that in realizing this truth the recitation and study of Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai would be supremely helpful.
            On another occasion speaking on the same theme, the Acharya observed:
                        “Because two people worship different manifestations of One Supreme Being, there is no warrant for their quarrelling with each other.  The Siva-puranas extol Siva and the Vishnu-puranas extol Vishnu.  But a proper understanding will remove the misconception.  The praise of a particular manifestation in a Purana is to be understood in its context and not as absolute.  How can there be a higher or lower, superior or inferior when in reality there are not two, but it is only One God manifesting differently?  We must not forget that there are works which proclaim the oneness of Siva and Vishnu, of Hara and Hari.  It has been declared that the enemies of Siva are the enemies of Vishnu too and vice-versa.
                        “Among us there is the concept of the ishta-devata, of the particular form of God which one chooses for his worship and meditation.  To get at the One Supreme, you must start from some manifestations of It and you choose it as your ishta-devata.  Another man may choose some other manifestation.  As each progresses in his devotion and concentration, he will be led on to the One where the differences disappear.  That has been the experience of great sages and saints.  A true Siva-bhakta has no quarrel with a true Vishnu-bhakta.
                        “In this connection it is good to remember two devotional hymns one in praise of Vishnu and the other in praise of Siva sung by devotees of the different persuasions.  They are the Tiruppavai of Andal and the Tiruvembavai of Manikkavachakar.  Both of them deal with awakening the sleeping devotees of God from their slumber before dawn.  The language and the substance of the two hymns show a remarkable similarity bringing forcibly to our minds that, in the ultimate analysis, from the point of view of the devotee and his devotion there need be no difference in respect of Siva or Vishnu.  A devotee of one manifestation is a devotee of every other manifestation.  That is the way to establish devotional harmony.   All the theistic schools of our religion have stemmed from the Vedic religion which proclaimed:  ‘That which exists is One; the sages speak of it variously’.  The substance is ultimately one; its shape and name may be as various as you please.”9
                        The unity-movement has been gaining in popularity since its inception.  Encouragement is given for children to learn to recite the two poems.  In the month of Margali, the two poems are broadcast from the temples.  All India Radio has also been cooperating by arranging for the singing and exposition of these two moving hymns.  In the different parts of Tamil Nadu Tiruppavai-Tiruvembavai meetings are held during the month.  At the meeting held in Mayuram in front of Sri Dakshinamurti Shrine, on the 8th of December 1952, the Acharya pointed out that recent research has brought to light the fact that in distant Thailand (Siam) the Tiruppavai––Tiruvembavai festival is still celebrated, although the people there do not seem to be aware, now, of its significance.  The festival is being observed to propitiate both Vishnu and Siva.  The festival occurs there at the time of Ardra-darsana and the swing-festival is also observed, as here, in connection with it.  Here, in Tamil Nadu, we do not call the Ardra by the name TiruppavaiTiruvembavai, but the Thais call it so.  Only, the name occurs there in a slightly mutilated form–Triyembavai-Tripavai.  Drawing a lesson from the Thai festival for our people, the Acharya observed that we should revive and popularise the tradition which we have forgotten and which the Thais still observe, having received it from us.

                        Religion is the basis of Hindu culture; spirituality is its backbone.  What are considered elsewhere to be secular arts, such as sculpture and dancing are here in India regarded as sacred.  Hindu culture in all its aspects spread far wide in the past.  The evidences of its influence are even now to be found in widely distant countries from Egypt in the West to Java and Bali in the East.  Speaking about the pervasiveness of Hindu culture at a meeting at the Kumbhakonam Matha in January 1947, the Acharya dwelt on the need for the resuscitation of the traditional arts and crafts.  These should be revived and popularized, bearing in mind that all of them serve the purpose of strengthening faith in God, faith in spiritual values.  The temple is the centre of the ancient arts and crafts.  Architecture, sculpture and iconography go into the building of temples and the making of images.  The directions for these arts are to be learnt from the Agamas–-Saiva, Sakta, Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra.  It is from the same sources that the archakas have to know the correct procedures of temple-rituals and worship.  Popular discourses on the Epics and Puranas used to be given mainly in the temples and on occasions of temple-festivals.  The folk-songs, dances, etc., have for their themes the religious stories as related in the Epics, etc.  The Acharya wanted to institute an organization which would work for the revival––leading to a renaissance––of the ancient skills and arts relating to the temples.  He had a sadas arranged for, for the first time in 1962, during the chaturmasya at Ilayattangudi––the Akhila-Vyasa-Bharata-Agama-Silpa-Sadas.  Scholars and specialists in the various fields covered by the wide scope of the Sadas are invited to present papers and give expositions at the annual sessions of the conference.  Besides the traditional panditas in the Agamas and experts in Silpa, some foreign scholars also take part in the Sadas.  The archakas are asked to discuss and settle points relating to rituals and worship.  Arrangements are made for cultural programmes consisting of puppet-show, shadow-play, ottam-tullal, yaksha-gana, burra-katha, villup-pattu, kathaka, etc.  The Sadas has become now a permanent annual feature.  It was held at Narayanapuram (Madurai) in 1963, at Kanchi in 1964, at Madras in 1965 and at Kalahasti recently in 1966, where the Acharya observed his sixtieth chaturmasya.
                        One of the most significant achievements in the last few years is the bringing together of the Heads of the Dharma-Pithas in South India in periodical conferences with a view to formulate and execute concerted measures for the safeguarding and furtherance of Hindu institutions and practices.  This has become possible through the initiative and leadership of our Acharya.  In this endeavour, the Hindu Religious Endowments Board is offering its whole-hearted co-operation.  The objectives of the conference of the Heads of the Dharma-Pithas are to strengthen the forces that make for astikya, to project before the people the true image of Hindu-dharma, to work for the consolidation of the Hindu society and to persuade its members to follow the path of virtue.  Despite minor doctrinal differences, there is much that is common to the various Hindu denominations; and it is good that the Heads of the different sampradayas have come together to remind the people constantly of their common heritage, fundamental duties and the final goal of spiritual freedom.
                        The ‘rice-gift’ scheme formulated by the Acharya is being implemented in several areas.  According to this scheme, in each household, everyday before starting to cook rice, a handful of rice along with a paisa should be put into a pot kept for the purpose.  Once a week the rice and coins should be collected by the Association in each street or locality constituted under the scheme.  The rice thus gathered should be handed over to the temple in the neighbourhood for being cooked and offered to the deity as naivedya.  The cooked rice that has been consecrated should be sold in packets to the poor people of the place at a nominal charge of 10 paise per packet.  The amounts collected thus and the gift-coins gathered from the charity-pots should be utilised towards meeting the cost of fire-wood and for paying the temple-cook for his services.   This scheme will benefit those who give as well as those who receive.  Those who give will have the satisfaction of having made their daily offering to God and their less fortunate brethren; and those who receive will have their hunger satisfied and thoughts purified through partaking of the consecrated food.
                        One of the most distressing phenomena is the crude way in which Corporation or Municipal servants dispose of the dead bodies of Hindu destitutes.  The Acharya has repeatedly exhorted the well-to-do Hindus to do their duty by those who are unfortunate in life and unfortunate in death also.  Arranging for the proper cremation or burial of the dead bodies of destitute is of the greatest importance.  By such service, as the Acharya points out, one obtains the merit of performing the Asvamedha sacrifice (anatha-preta-samskarat asvamedha-phalam labhet).  This is one of the functions of the Hindu-mata Jivatma-kainkarya Sangha organised at the instance of the Acharya.  The members of the Sangha have to arrange for the last rites of the destitutes who die in hospitals or prisons or on the streets.  Among the functions of the Sangha are:  weekly visits to hospitals for distributing the Acharyas prasada (vibhuti and kunkumam) to patients and making them thing of God who is the Great Healer; offering the Tulasi leaves, Ganga-water, etc., to those who are on the verge of death and performing Sri-Ramanama-japa staying by their side; going to the villages one day every week for explaining to the people the essentials of Hindu-dharma; and arranging for frequent talks on ethical living and spiritual disciplines for the benefit of those who are behind prison-bars.
                        Some of the other activities and institutions which owe their inception to the Acharya, in recent times, are: the institution of “Weekly Worship” enabling the Hindu community of each place to visit the local temple collectively once a week and perform bhajana; the setting up of Amara-bharati-pariksha-samiti for arranging for instruction in Samskrit for beginners, conducting periodical examinations and awarding certificates and prizes; the starting of the Madras Samskrit Education Society at Nazarethpet near Madras for the promotion of studies in Samskrit; the publication of Advaita-grantha-kosa compiled by a yati of the Upanishad Brahmendra Matha, Kanchi, who has been serving the Acharya for a number of years in many a way; and the building of Adi-Sankara Memorial Mantapas at important places of pilgrimage, to which we shall refer later.

One of the major causes for our cultural decline was foreign domination.  This cause was removed when our country gained political independence from British rule on the 15th of August 1947, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.  But political emancipation cannot be an end in itself; it must lead on to a new flowering of the Soul of India.  In a message issued on the day of Independence, the Acharya said:  “At this moment when our Bharata Varsha has gained freedom, all the people of this ancient land should with one mind and heart pray to the Lord.  We should pray to Him to vouchsafe to us increasing mental strength and the power for making spiritual progress.  It is only by His Grace that we can preserve the freedom we have gained and help all beings in the world to attain the ideal of true happiness. . . . For a long time our country has striven for freedom; by the Grace of God, by the blessings of sages and by the unparalleled sacrifices of the people, freedom has come to us.  Let us pray to the all-pervading God that He may shower His Grace so that our country will become prosperous, being freed from famine-conditions and the people will live unitedly and amicably without any communal strife.”  The Acharya also appealed that the people should cultivate the cardinal virtues, ridding themselves of passions and violent desires and that they should by inward control and spiritual knowledge seek to realize the Self.                        


9.  Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, Aspects of Our Religion, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1966, pp. 42-44.


Sage of Kanchi - Other Parts:

Early Life
Ascension to Sri Kamakoti Pitha
The First Tour of Victory (Vijaya-yatra)
Study and Training
All-India Tour (1919-1939)
Consolidation and Furtherance of Our Ancient Dharma
At Kanchi
Since 1957

Sixty-One Of The Many Blessings Conferred By His Holiness On The World


Sage of Kanchi

Preceptors of Advaita