Preceptors of Advaita

by T. M. P. Mahadevan | 1968 | 179,170 words | ISBN-13: 9788185208510

The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself — as Śrīman-Nārāyaṇa or as Sadā-Śiva. The supreme Lord revealed the wisdom of Advaita to Brahma, the Creator, who in turn imparted it to Vasiṣṭha....

59. Śrī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha and Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya



N. Ramesan

M.A., I.A.S.

Kāñchī, the famous city of temples, known from times immemorial as one of the seven Mokṣapuris of India, is intimately connected with the life and works of the great Advaitic teacher Śrī Śaṅkara. Almost all the works which deal with the life and doings of Śrī Śaṅkara, called Śaṅkara-vijayas, refer to Śrī Śaṅkara’s consecrating Śrī Kāmākṣī and Śrīchakra in Kāñchīpuram. Thus, the Mādhavīya Śaṅkara-vijaya in chapter 15 says that Śrī Śaṅkara reached Kāñchī after worshipping Rāmanātha at Rāmeśvaram. The Ānandagiri Śaṅkara-vijaya, which is recognised by orientalists as the authentic biography of Śrī Śaṅkara, refers to Śaṅkara’s visit to Kāñchīpuram, the establishment of his Maṭha there, his giving the Yogaliṅga to Śrī śureśvara as well as his siddhi at Kāñchī itself. The Chidvilāsīya Śaṅkara-vijaya says that Śrī Śaṅkara v i sited Kāñchī and himself drew and consecrated the Śrīchakra with his own hand in the temple and ascended the Sarvajñapīṭha at Kāñchī after satisfying the various opponents. These traditions have continued in other works like the Patañjalicharita by Rāmabhadra and the Śaṅkarābhyudaya by Rājachūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita. The great Itīhāsa Śiva-rahasya in the chapter dealing with the life of Śrī Śaṅkara refers to Kāñchī as Śaṅkara’s final place of resort. These literary evidences tend to prove that Śrī Śaṅkara established his monastery at Kāñchīpuram, ascended the Sarvajñapīṭha there also attained his siddhi there. This Maṭha of Śaṅkara which has been adorned in a continuous line by the great Ācihāryas of Śrī Kañchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha is still serving as a beacon light for the spiritual guidance of all devotees who turn to it with devotion and sincerity.

Kāñchīpuram which is thus the seat of the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha from times immemorial, is also well known to us from other sources. Literary references to Kāñchī can be traced back to the centuries before Christ, the earliest being that made by Patañjali (C 150 B.C.) in his Mahābhāṣya. The Chinese records mention about an embassy sent from China to Kāñchī (Houang. Techi) in the 2nd Century B.C. The Saṅgam age literature of the Tamils which also belongs to the same period furnishes us glimpses of the city of Kāñchī or Kacchi. Tradition has it that Karikāla Choḻa, one of the illustrious rulers of Saṅgam period enlarged and beautified this town. Toṇḍaimān Ilandiraiyan,[1] the famous contemporary of Karikāla, 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 Kāñchī.[2] The Perumpānātruppaḍai of Rudran Kannanar describes Kāñchī 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 author.[3]Maṇimekhalai, a Buddhist epic written by a Śāttanār of Madurai, a Kulavaṇigan or grain merchant, gives us a graphic description of Kāñchī, in the post-saṅgam period (e. 5th Century A.D.). The city was said to be then afflicted by a famine and Maṇimekhalai went to the town to offer relief to the affected.[4] She is said to have visited the Buddhist Chaitya built by Iḻankiḻḻli, the brother of Chola Toṇḍukalarkiḻḻi, and stayed in the Dharma-davana ārāma located in the south-west of the city.

The history of the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha is thus closely connected with the history of Kāñchīpuram itself since the Pīṭha was established there from the times of Śrī Śaṅkara. Apart from the literary evidences quoted above, the Maṭha itself is preserving a good number of copper-plate inscriptions which give us considerable insight into the antiquity of the Maṭha in historical times. The evidence of these copper plate grants is also supported by stone-epigraphs which we find in places like Kāñchīpuram, Ambi, etc. These are further supplemented by the evidence of contemporary records of the past 200 or 250 years in several archives like the Sarasvatī Mahal Library, the Madras Central Record Office, etc. The most ancient of all the copper plate epigraphs of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha is that of the Telugu Choḻa King, Śrī Vijaya Gaṇḍa Gopāla. (Vide p. 448). The grant purports to record the grant of the village Ambikāpuram by Śrī Vijaya Gaṇḍa Gopāla to Śrī Śaṅkarāya Guru of the Maṭha situated to the west of Śrī Hastiśailanātha 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 Karkaṭaka Rāśi, the tithi being Daśamī of Śukla Pakṣa, Anurādha Nakṣatra, 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 Ambikāpuram which was then granted are given in the grant as Gridhrapura to the west, Kāñchīpuram to the east, Kaidaduppur to the south, and Śīrnanni to the north. The village is said to be situated to the north of the river Vegavatī. These villages are still existing near Kāñchīpuram. Ambikāpuram 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 Śirunai which can be identified with the village Śīrnaṇni. This is the earliest copper plate grant of the Maṭha 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 Śrī Kṛṣṇadeva Rāya of Vijayanagara empire and signed by Chandraśekhara Sarasvatī. This epigraph is of Śāka 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 “Nammuḍaiya Maḍappuram Ambi”. The word “Madappuram” refers to villages given as grants to Maṭhas 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 Maṭha till the 16th century A.D. since it is referred to as Maḍappuram in one of the stone epigraphs of the village itself. It is pertinent to note that the Maṭha 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 Maṭha for nearly 800 years ever since it was granted by Śrī Vijaya Gaṇḍa Gopāla Deva in the 12th century A.D.

There are several copper plate grants in possession of the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha which gives us an insight into the influence of the Maṭha 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 Śāka 1429, Śrī Vīranarasiṃha Deva Mahārāja, the elder brother of the famous Kṛṣṇadeva Rāya of Vijayanagara empire, had granted to Śrī Mahādeva Sarasvatī, the disciple of Śrī Sadāśiva Sarasvatī a village called Kuṇḍiyāntaṇḍalam in the Valakuru Śīmā of the Padaivīḍu Rājya. (Vide pp. 449-450). A hamlet Śuruttial which lies on the border of Kuṇḍiyāntaṇḍalam is referred to as Śaṅkarāchāryapuram in an inscription in the Varadarājasvāmi temple at Kāñchīpuram.[5]

(2) Śrī Vijayaranga Chokkanātha, the Nāyak King of Madurā granted in 1708 A.D., cyclic year Vikṛti, some land situated in a number of places on the banks of the Akhaṇḍa Kāverī and Coleroon at the instance of the Svāmī of the Sāradā Maṭha for the maintenance of the feeding of Brahmins in the Maṭha at Gajāraṇya Kṣetra (Tiruvānaikkoil) in the island of Śrīraṅgam. (Vide pp. 451-452).

(3) The last grant is an exceedingly interesting one made by the Qutub Ṣāhi Muslim king, Tānā Ṣāh, issued on the first day of the month of Shawal 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 Qutub Ṣāhi King, Tana Ṣāh available in the Central Record Office, Hyderabad, shows that this method of using local scripts and several languages was quite common with this king. Tānā Ṣāh was a remarkably broadminded ruler and the fact that he made a grant to the Āchārya of the Śrī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha proves the influence and the high esteem in which the Maṭha was held by even kings of an alien faith in those days.

Coming now to the past 200 or 250 years, we have a wealth of deta i ls about the Maṭha and its history, preserved in the Moḍi records of the Madras Central Records office, the Sarasvatī Mahal Library and the archives of the Maṭha itself. Tradition has it that during the Carnatic wars on account of disturbed conditions, the Maṭha was transferred from Kāñchīpuram to Tanjavur and then later from Tañjāvūr to Kumbhakoṇam. The Mackenzie Manuscripts throw light as regards the inscriptions relating to Śrī Kāmakoṭi Maṭha.

The portion relating to Śrī Śaṅkaracharya of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha, Kumbhakoṇam, is found on page cclxxiii and cclxiv (263 & 264) of the second volume of Mackenzie’s collection published by 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 Kumbhakoṇam, 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 Moḍi records from the Sarasvatī Mahal Library, Tañjāvūr. There is a petition where a number of people had made a complaint to the then king of Tañiāvūr about the alleged misdeeds of some Kāryastha of the Maṭha. This interesting document belongs to the time of Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī who ascended the Kāmakoti Pīṭha in the year 1851 during the time of the last king Śivāji of Tañjāvūr; and in this the petitioners in their introductory paragraphs give a brief but interesting account of the Maṭha, It is stated in the petition as follows :

“The Mutt of Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya Svamy at Kumbhakoṇam was a small Mutt[6] when it was at Kāñchīpuram. Raia Prataph Singh brought the Śaṅkarāchārya from Kāñchī and built a Mutt at Dabir Agraharam, granted Mohini lands, offered him his first honour and respect, etc., etc.

This clearly shows that the Maṭha was shifted from Kāñchīpuram to Tañjāvūr during the time of the reign of Rāhā Pratāp Siṃha of Tañjāvūr. We have fortunately enough of original documentary evidence of the Tañjāvūr Marāṭha rulers themselves to substantiate the above.

There is an order issued by King Pratāp Siṃa of the Tañjāvūr Marāṭha Rulers preserved in the Madras Central Record office as Record No. C-37/38-43 of the Tañjāvūr Palace Records. This is in Hemadipant Moḍi script. In this order the king had stipulated that the sambhāvanā to the Āchārya of the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha should be paid at some uniform specified rates. The Āchārya is mentioned as

Śrīmad Paramahaṃsa Parivrājakāchārya Śrīmad Pūjya Śaṅkara Bhagavad Pādāchāryāṇām Adhiṣṭhāne Siṃhāsane Abhiṣiktānām Śrī Chandraśekhara Sarasvatīnām Pūjyayoḥ Śrīpādayoḥ”.

In describing the Birudāvalī of the Āchārya the king used the following phrases:

Śrīmad Sakala Bhīmaṇḍalālaṅkāra Trayastriṃśat Koṭidevatā Sevita Śrī Kāmākṣī Devīsanāta Sākṣātkāra Paramādhiṣṭhāna, Satyavrata Nāmāṅkita, Kāñchī Divyakṣetre Śāradāmaṭha Sthitānām”, etc., etc.

From the above, it will be very clearly seen that the Birudāvalī of the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha which is existing today was used in full in 1748 A.D. by King Pratāp Siṃha of Tañjāvūr. There are a number of other Moḍi records of the same king and his successors, which go to reveal the great esteem and regard in which the Āchāryas were held by Marāṭha Rulers of Tañjāvūr.

The question as to why the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha shifted its headquarters from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam arises for consideration. That the Pīṭha was established by Ādi Śaṅkara at Kāñchīpuram, and that it has been continuing in an unbroken line of great Āchāryas is clear from the other evidence already shown here. As to why and when the Pīṭha shifted its headquarters to Kumbhakoṇam, we have clear evidence in another important public record. This is about a court case belonging to the times of the 64th Āchārya of the Pīṭha. In the year 1844 A.D., the authorities of Śrī Śṛṅgeri Maṭha filed a civil suit in the Trichi District Sadar Amin Court that the right for the Tāṭaṅka Pratiṣṭhā of Goddess Akhilāṇḍeśvari belonged only to that Maṭha. Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha 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 Śṛṅgeri Maṭha 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 Śṛṅgeri Maṭha’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 Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha about 120 years ago. This record contains an important point of reference. In the rejoinder of the Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha, para 20, the reasons for the shift of the Maṭha from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam 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 Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha was established at Kāñchīpuram by Śaṅkara and if Śaṅkara’s disciple was installed there, the first defendant should still be residing there only and the reason for his residence at Kumbhakoṇam has not been stated in the defendant’s answer. It is not stated in any authoritative text that the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhipati must necessarily live only at Kāñchīpuram and should not take up his residence in any other place. The first defendant’s disciples and other staff of the Maṭha are still living in the Kāñchīpuram Maṭha and are still carrying on the daily Pūjā to the Sarvajña Pīṭha 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 Kumbhakoṇam. He brought along with him the Yogaliṅga Chandramaulīśvara Svāmi, consecrated by Sureśvarāchārya. The local Rājāhs and other disciples afforded every facility and convenience to him and hence he used to alternate his residence between Kumbhakoṇam and Kāñchīpuram, etc., etc.”.

The above dearly gives the reason as to why Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha was shifted to Kumbhakoṇam. This record belongs to the time of the 64th Āchārya, Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī V. He was the Lead of the Pīṭha from 1814 to 1851 A.D. His Parama Guru was the 62nd Āchārya, Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī IV who adorned the Pīṭha from 1746 to 1783 A.D. It was this Āchārya, who shifted his headquarters from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam 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 Kumbhakoṇam itself. The traditional accounts of the shift of the Maṭha from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam assign it to the period of King Pratāpa Siṃha, one of the Tañjāvūr Marāṭha Rulers who was a great devotee of the Āchārya. This has been clearly corroborated by the Moḍi document of 1750 A.D. mentioned above. This king ruled between 1740 and 1768 A.D. This traditional account of the shift of the Maṭha, 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 Maṭha was shifted from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam.[7]

There is another record of 1783 A.D. which was given by the Rājā of Śivagaṅga on September 10, in which the village Pulavacheri was granted to the Maṭha. This grant purports to give the village Pulavacheri in Śālīvāhana Śakābda 1705, Kalyabda 4884, cyclic year Śobhana, Āvani Māsa, 28th tithi , Śuklapakṣa, Bhauma Vāsara and Paurṇimavāsya day, to Śrī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha Siṅghāsa-nābhiṣikta Śrīmad Śrī Mahā Bhagavatpādāchārya Svāmi Maṭha situated in Śrī Kāñchīpuram Divyakṣetra, for Svāmi Pūjā, Dīpārādhana, brahmin feeding, etc., etc. We know from other evidence that the 63rd Āchārya came to the Pīṭha on 20th January 1783 A.D., and on 10th September of the same year, the Pulavacheri record dearly establishes that the Pīṭha was situated in Kāñchīpuram. We have already seen that the Pīṭha had been shifted from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam only a few years ago and hence it can be safely deduced that the 63rd Āchārya, Mahā-devendra Sarasvatī IV must have come to Kāñchīpuram immediately after ascending the Pīṭha probably on tour. This also fully bears out the statement mentioned in the Court document that the Āchāryas used to live alternatively in Kāñchīpuram and Kumbhakoṇam and that the worship at the Maṭha at Kāñchīpuram was being continued by the disciples, since only a few years after the shift of the Maṭha, the grant clearly mentions that the Maṭha was situated in Kāñchīpuram.

Though the Maṭha was thus shifted to Kumbhakoṇam in the latter half of the 18th century, still in all the records of the Maṭha the Āchāryas were still being mentioned only as Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhipatis. For example, a Firman of the Nawab of Arcot of 1792 A.D., mentions that Śrī Kāmakoṭi Śaṅkarāchārya should be given all facilities while going to Tirupati, river Kṛṣṇa, 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 Śaṅkarāchārya Gossain of the village of Ponnambalam (Poonai) in the Karṇāṭaka 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 Āchārya, Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī in the Ādi Kumbheśvara Svāmī temple in Kumbhakoṇam. Here also, the Āchārya is referred to as:

śrī āchāryasvāmibhiḥ nirmita
śrī mahādevendrayati ubhayam

Another stone epigraph in Grantha characters of the same Āchārya is found in that temple itself which is as follows:

Salivahana Sakabdam 1722, Dunmati varṣam, Kumbhesvarasvami 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 Kumbhakoṇam itself, in the beginning of the 19th century, the Āchārya is referred to as Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhipati only.

During the close of the 18th century Āvaṇi Śṛṅgeri mutt had sent a Śrīmukham to the then Āchārya of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha. The Avaṇi Śṛṅgeri Mutt is one of the sub-divisions of the Śāradāpīṭha each having religious jurisdiction over specified areas of the Karṇāṭaka region; the others being Śṛṅgeri on the Tuṅgā, Virūpākṣa Śṛṅgeri, Śivagaṅgā Śṛṅgeri and Karavīr Śṛṅgeri. The Āvaṇi Śṛṅgeri 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 Akhaṇḍa Kaveri and when it was brought to its notice that it has encroached upon the traditional rights of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhām in that locality, the mutt forwarded a Śrīmukham to the Kāmakoṭi-pīṭham 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 Travancore.[8] The Āchārya of Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha is referred to in this letter as:

Śrīmad Śaṅkara bhagavatpādāchāryāṇām adhiṣṭhāne
Siṃhāsanābhiṣiktānām Śrī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhipati
Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī.
(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 Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha. These letters have been written by His Highness Bāla Rāma Kulaśekhara Varma the then Mahārāja of Travancore and have been addressed to His Holiness Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī who was the disciple of His Holiness Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī of the Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha. The first epistle contemplates the sending of an young elephant to His Holiness as an offering to Chandramoulīśvara; 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 Devanāgari 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 Bāla Rāma Varma, the first (Aviṭṭam Tirunāl) who flourished between the years 1798-1810. There were three sovereigns of the Travancore ruling dynasty bearing the name of Bāla Rāma Varma. Bāla Rāma Varma I (Aviṭṭam Tirunāl) flourished between 1798-1810. During his period, the pontiff at the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha was His Holiness Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī (1783-1814). Bāla Rāma Varma II (Svāti Tirunāl) flourished between 1829-1847 A.D. And, during this period the pontiff at the Kāmakoṭī Pīṭha was His Holiness Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī (1814-1854 A.D.) Bāla Rāma Varma III (Mūlam Tirunāl) flourished between 1885-1924; and during this period the pontiffs at the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha were His Holiness Śrī Mahadevendra Sarasvatī (1857-1891), His Holiness Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī (1891-1907), His Holiness Śrī Mahadevendra Sarasvatī (1907), and His Holiness Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī, the present Head of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha.

The two epistles were sent to His Holiness Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī, by the king Bāla Rāma Varma. These could not have been sent by Bāla Rāma Varma II (1829-1847) because the pontiff at Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha then was His Holiness Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī. Both the letters bear the signature of the court which tried the suit of 1847. Hence they could not have been sent by Bāla Rāma Varma III (1885-1924). Therefore they must have been sent by Bāla Rāma Varma I to the pontiff of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha His Holiness Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī towards the close of the 18th Century or the early years of the 19th Century.

In these two epistles the Āchārya is referred to as follows:

Śrīmad Kāñchīdivyāyatana-nalinakara-mahāmandana-śāradā-mathasarasijarājahaṃsānām........ Śrīmad Śaṅkarabhagavadpādā-chāryānām adhiṣṭhāne siṃhāsanābhiṣikta........ Mahādevendra-sarasvatī Pādāravindayoḥ”.

In 1808 A.D. Chatrapati Mahārājā Serfoji had sent a letter of invitation to the 63rd Āchārya in which the Guru is referred to as follows :

Śrīmad Paramahaṃsa Parivrājakāchā yavarya Śrīmad śaṅ kara Bhagavatpādāchāryāṇām Adhiṣṭhāna Simhāsane Abhiṣiktānām Śrīmad Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī Samyamīndrāṇām antevāsivarya Śrī Mahādevendra Sarasvatī Śrīpādānām,” etc. etc. (Vide pp. 461-463).

In 1839 A.D., the 64th Āchārya, Śrī Chandraśekharendra Sarasvatī performed the Kumbhābhiṣekam of Śrī Kāñchī Kamākṣ! temple. There is a stone epigraph in the temple which mentions this in Telugu characters as follows:

Svasti Śrī Vijayābhyudaya Śālivāhana Śakābda 1761 (1839 A.D.), Vikārī Nāma Saṃvatsara.... Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhipatulaina, Śrī Chandraśekhara Svāmulavaru, Kumbhakoṇamununchi Kāñchikivachchi, etc., etc.”

There is another interesting letter of 1858 A.D. written by the Garrison officer of Kumbhakoṇam to the Agent of the Maṭha 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 Āchāryas were described as ‘Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhi-patis’ only even after the Maṭha was shifted to Kumbhakoṇam.

A reference to the Inam lands and Inam titles of the Maṭha also shows that from ancient times onwards several lands in several villages round about Kāñchīpuram like Mādhavaram, Ambi, Śivakāñchī, Seviliveḍu and Kunḍiyantanḍalam have been in the occupation and enjoyment of the Maṭha. In several of them, the original title of the grantee is written as “Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭham” or “Kumbhakoṇam śñ Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭham”, etc. This also clearly shows that the traditional title of Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha was continued undisturbed even though due to various reasons the Maṭha was transferred from Kāñchīpuram to Kumbhakoṇam.

Regarding the Mutt of Śaṅkarāchārya at Kumbhakoṇam Mr. Hemingway, I.C.S., records a tradition in the Tanjore District Gezeteer (p. 208) for the year 1906 thus:

“There is an important Smārtha religious Institution here in the Maṭha of Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya which is said to have been founded in the time of Śaṅkarāchārya 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 Kumbhakoṇam may be an auxiliary one to that at Kāñchīpuram. Kāñchī is one of the seven Mokṣapuris of India.

“Ayodhyā mathurā māyā kāśi kāñchī avantikā
purī dvāravatī chaiva saptaitāḥ mokṣadāyikāḥ”

In the same way Cauvery is one of the seven sacred rivers of India.

“Gange cha yamune chaiva godāvarī sarasvatī
narmade sindhu kāverī....

Both Kāñchī and Cauvery are in the southern region. In the 10th skandha of the Bhāgavata while describing the Tīrthayātra of Balarāma the following śloka occurs:

“Kāmakoṭipurīm kāñchīm kāverīm cha saridvarām”

The Pīṭha at Kāñchī 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 Kāñchī Pīṭha in other holy places such as Jambukeśvaram, Varanasi, Tiruvottiyur, Madhyārjunam etc.

The river Cauvery in Kumbhakoṇam dries up in summer and the northern branch of Cauvery, the Coleroon a perennial stream, flows within seven miles north of Kumbhakoṇam. On the banks of the Coleroon river there is a village Nīlattanallūr and there is a dilapidated pavilion which is recorded in village accounts as Śaṅkarāchārya Mutt.

The Āstikas of Madras who hud an organization or Sabhā for determining dhārmic 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 Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha at 119, Thambu Chetty Street, G.T., Madras, which was dedicated to Śaṅkarāchārya Svāmi for the grace of Chandramaulīśvara by one Vajrāla Thyāgarāyadu in the year 1742. (Vide p. 464). The Āstikas were represented by eighteen Jālādhipatis. who were the accredited heads of the different communities. The meetings were presided by an elected sabhāpati at that tune. The Śṛṅgeri Āchārya in the year Śukla in the last century (1870), issued a Śrīmukham to the then Sabhāpati of the Madras Mahājanas Śrīmān Pandipeddi Krishnaswami Ayya in which the Āchārya makes it clear that he has no intention to act against the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha. (Vide p. 465).

In the present century, the Hindu Message (Vāṇi Vilās Press) published at Śrīraṅgam under the editorship of Mi. T. K. Balasubramania Iyer, Gurubhaktaśikhāmaṇi (Śṛṅgeri) who brought out the Globe Edition of the works of Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya wrote in its editorial on May 10, 1923, describing the Tāṭaṅka Pratiṣṭhā 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 Śrī Jagadguru Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya of Kānchi Kāmakoṭi 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 Tevāram 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 Pratiṣṭa for the Goddess Akhilandēśwarī at Jambukēswaram. As many of our readers may not quite understand what it means by Tatanka Pratiṣṭa we will describe it a little in detail.

When Ādī Śaṅkarāchārya incarnated in this holy land, he went round the whole of Bhāratavarṣa several times and in the course of his Vijaya Yāthra established several Yantras in different big temples. Of such temples, Jambukeśwaram is an important one. It appears the Goddess here was very fierce and with her ugra kala used to bum 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 Śaṅkarāchārya who came to this kṣetra 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, Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya prepared two Śrī 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 Kānchī Kāmakoṭi Peetha, and put up again on the ears of the Goddess after due Pratiṣṭa. In accordance with this time-honoured rule, the present occupant of Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Peetham deemed it part of his duty to repair the Tatanka and perform the Pratiṣṭa while fixing it up again on the ears of the Goddess. With this object in view, His Holiness started from Kumbakonan 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 AM, 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 Akhilāndēśwarī (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 Holmess to enter the temple. After ail, when His Holiness got into the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Kumbham was brought in from the Yagasala and the Abhiṣekam 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 Pudukkottah refer to the institution as ‘Kāmakoṭi Pīṭhādhiṣṭhāna of Jagadguru’.

In the Śubhalekha (invitation) sent to this Mutt on the occasion of the coronation of the present Mahārājā of Mysore Śrī Jaya Chāmarājendra Wodayar, this Mutt is referred to as “Śrī Jagad-guru Kāñchī Śrīmat Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādāchāryāṇām adhiṣṭhāne siṃhāsanābhiṣiktānām”.

The authorities of the Śṛṅgeri Mutt in a letter dated 14-10-1942 to Śrī Viśuddhānanda Bhāratī who was residing in Kāñchī in the building belonging to Śṛṅgeri Maṭha have informed that Kāñchī is the seat of the great Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha and the building of the Śṛṅgeri Maṭha there was not to be given the status of a Maṭha. (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 Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha established at Kāñchīpuram by Ādi Śaṅkara has been functioning there in an unbroken line of Āchāryas. The Ambi grant, supported by the stone temple epigraph of the same place, clearly takes the antiquity of the Maṭha to the beginning of the 12th century A. D. Earlier to that we have the traditional accounts preserved in the Śaṅkara-vijayas and other literary works referred to. The later copper plate grants spanning nearly 5 to 6 centuries and the profuse Moḍi and other contemporary records of the past centuries clearly prove the continuity of the Pīṭha as a great and powerful spiritual influence on the people. The Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha has thus an ancient and illustrious history and has from the day of Ādi Śaṅkara been serving as a centre of dissemination of Dharma and spiritual knowledge. No wonder that Śrī Mūka Pañchaśatī mentions the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha as Ādima Para Pīṭha. The greatness of the Pīṭha lies not merely in its antiquity. It lies in the fact that the Pīṭha was established and consecrated by Bhagavatpāda Ādi Śaṅkara himself and the influence of the spiritual power of that great teacher is being continued in its pristine purity by a line of great Āchāryas who have adorned the Pīṭha down the ages. The sacredness and sanctity of the Pīṭha and the divine influence of the Āchāryas are more vital and important.

It is our good fortune that a Jīvanmukta, who is considered by one and all as an avatar of Śaṅkara himself, is guiding us from the Pīṭha. It is a great event that is being celebrated, viz., the 60th anniversary of his ascension to this ancient Pīṭha. 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.

jīvanmukto jagatyām nijūniyamatapaśśaktitaḥ pūjanīyaḥ
sad-dkarmasyoddhidhīrṣuh kaliyugajanuṣām bhāgyato bhāsate yaḥ
śrī kāñchī kāmakoṭi garurapi ca tadadhyāsyamānam hi pīṭham
dhāmnānyonyam dvayam tat prathayati nitarām naitadanyaira dṛṣṭam
— (Svakṛtam).

“The Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Guru who is a Jīvanmukta, 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 Pīṭha due to the good fortune of the people of this Kali age. This Guru and the great and illustrious Pīṭha adorned by him, these two. shed lustre on each other. This rare event is not seen anywhere else”.

[Verse by the Author]


List of Illustrations

1. Grant by Sri Vijaya Ganda Gopala .. 448
2. Grant by Sri Viranarasimha Deva .. 449-50
3. Grant by Sri Vijayaranga Chokkanatha .. 451-52
4. Grant by Tana Shah .. 453-54
5. Firman of the Nawab of Arcot .. 455-56
6. Stone epigraphs in the Kumbhesvara Svami temple .. 457-58
7. Srimukham of the Avani Sringeri Matha .. 459
8. An epistle from the Maharaja of Travancore .. 460
9. A letter of invitation from Maharaja Serfoji .. 461-63
10 . An inscription in the building in Madras dedicated to Kamakoti Acharya .. 464
11. Srimukham from the Śrīngeri Acharya to .. 465
  Pandipeddi Krishnaswami Ayya
12. A letter from the Sringeri Matha to Visuddhananda Bharati .. 466-67


Copper plate grant of Vijaya Ganda Gopala

Copper plate grant (I-II) of Sri Vira Narasimha Deva of Vijayanagar dated 1429 Saka Era recording the grant of the village of Kuṇḍiyantandalam in North Arcot Dt. on the Magha Punyakala Day to Sri Mahadeva Saraswati

A Copper plate grant (I-II) executed by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha, the Nayak King of Madura, 1708 A.D.

SCALE 0. 7.


A Firman (1-II) issued by the Qutub Shahi Muslim King Tana Shah in 1677 A.D.


A Firman (I-II) of the Nawab of Arcot of 1792 A.D.

Stone epigraphs (I-II) in the Adi Kumbhesvara Svami temple in Kumbhakoṇam

Srimukham from the Avam Sringeri Mutt (1797 A.D.)

The second epistle from the Maharaja of Travancore

A respectful Communication (I-III) from Maharaja Serfoji of Tanjore to the then Acharya requesting a visit to Tanjore (1808 A.D.)

An inscription found in the building at 119, Thambu Chetty Street, G. T. Madras, dedicating the same to Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Acharya

Srimukham from, the Sringeri Acharya (1870 A.D.) to Sri Pandipeddi Krishnaswami Ayya

A letter dated 14-10-1942 from the authorities of the Sringeri Mutt to Sri Visuddhananda Bharati





Dr Fernand Brunner

Professor, Neuchatel University,
Bern University,

The most impressive moment of my last stay in India from September to December 1966, was undoubtedly my visit to Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya of Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha. 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 tableland 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 Śaṅkarāchārya’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 Śaṅkarāchārya’s camp the ostentation of some Mahārāja’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 8 pure simplicity.

Footnotes and references:


Mediaeval Telugu Chola records are all unanimous about Karikāla ruling from Kāñchī while the Tiruvālaṅgāḍu plates of Rājendra Choḻa I say that Karikāla renovated and beautified its structures with gold.


Kadiyalur Rudran Kannanar ‘Pattuppattu’.


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 Vishu as an Anantaśāyī in the Tamil literature.


The ruling king is said to have welcomed her and constructed at her request a Pīṭha for Buddha and shrines for the Goddesses Dīpatilakai and Maṇimekhalai.


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.


In the report of Babu Rao to Col. C. Mackenzie reference is made to the Mutt’s discontinued Jāgirs and the request to their restoration. Probably it was in this stage that the institution is described as a small mutt.


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 Śaṅkarāchārya of Kāmckoṭi Pīṭha from Udayarpalayam whither the latter had shifted from Kāñchī on account of the increasing Muhammadan trouble in the City’ By K. R. Subramanian, The Maratha Rajas of Tanjore, Chap. vii, p. 48.


The Mackenzie manuscript, this Śrīmukham of the Āvani Śṛṅgeri Mutt, the firman of the Nawab of Arcot, the manual of Pudukoṭṭah state ( Vol. I, Chapter 3 ) referring to the large following of the peoples and the ruling family towards the Kāmakoṭi-pīṭha tend to show that large portions of Andhra, Tamil and Kerala regions were offering their allegiance directly to Śrī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha.

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