MYSORE-BORN SRINGERI PONTIFF
By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology,University of Mysore.
(Star of Mysore, 14.3.2010)
From the past 1,200 years, ever since Sri Adi Shankara established a Mutt at Sringeri, 36 pontiffs have adorned that Mutt without any break. Of these 36 pontiffs, it was a pleasant surprise that Mysore city has just contributed only one Swamiji for this great religious institution. That was the 33rd Jagadguru famous Sri Sachchidananda Sivabhinava Narasimha Bharati (1858-1912).
Kunigal Ramasastry was a great Sanskrit scholar patronised by Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. To him was born a boy by name Shivaswamy. After the death of Ramasastry, the boy was taken care of by his elder brother by giving good education. This boy attracted the attention the pontiff Ugra Narasimha Bharati, famous for austere meditation. The Commissioner Bowring wanted to test his capacity for mediation. One day at 1 am, he came to the temple without being noticed by the Swamiji and saw the pontiff immersed in deep meditation. He showed his respect to the monk by removing his hat and quietly left the temple.
The Swamiji decided to take Shivaswamy as the junior pontiff, but the elder brother did not agree to this proposal. But the Maharaja intervened in the matter and Shivaswamy became the junior pontiff of Sringeri peetha. Normally the rituals are held at Sringeri but in this case, it was done at the Lakshmi Venkataramana temple in the palace (where the priest had tried to poison King Raja Wadiyar 300 years ago), in 1867.
The Swamiji practiced Raja Yoga and became proficient in it. As per the tradition of Sringeri Mutt he undertook tours to various parts of the country preaching moral and spiritual values of this ancient land. On such an occasion, he visited Talacauvery in Kodagu and worshipped the goddess Cauvery with gold coins. He went to Travancore in Kerala and stayed with king Setupathi. The king brought to Swamiji's notice that during Dasara one thousand animals are being sacrificed to the goddess Rajarajeswari and he had failed to stop this obnoxious practice. Swamiji called the leaders of the city and explained to them that goddess cannot be propitiated by killing animals and in fact it is a sinful act. The people accepted this advice and took an oath of not sacrificing animals. The Swamiji achieved what the Maharaja could not.
It was known to everybody that Kaladi was the birth place of Sri Adi Shankara. But in these 1000 years, people had lost touch and familiarity with that holy place and hence some undesirable elements had usurped that area in the absence of proper claimant to the birth place of Shankara. Swamiji made a lot of exploration and research with the help of scholars and officers and identified the places where Adi Shan-kara lived with his mother, the spot where Poorna river took a turn at the behest of Adi Shankara, the place where Acharya Shan-kara cremated his mother etc.
Temples for Adi Shankara and goddess Sharadamba were built by him. Thus he rediscovered the birth place of Adi Shankara at Kaladi. In this connection, an incident may be narrated here. Half a century ago, a German lady by name Greiger wrote to the Indian Ambassador in that country asking for some details regarding Kaladi. The ignorant Ambassador's staff wrote a reply stating that Kaladi is near a petty Railway Station in Kerala.
People had confused opinion regarding the correct birthday (Jayanti) of Acharya Shankara. The Swamiji, after doing a lot of calculations with the help of scholars, fixed the correct date and asked the devotees to celebrate Shankara Jayanti on a particular day. This is being followed by all the institutions both in India and abroad.
Acharya Shankara is famous for the commentaries (bhashyas) on Vedic literature (Prasthanatraya). They was not easily available to the readers as they were not printed at all. Swamiji asked the famous Vanivilas Printers and Publishers at Srirangam to take up this great task. They agreed and for the first time in Shankara's commentaries were printed and made available to readers.
Swamiji was an educationist too. He started a Sanskrit school in Sringeri (Sadvidya Sanjivani) and also one at Bangalore. In addition, he built the Shankara Mutt at Bangalore which has completed centenary. Swamiji felt that the Sharadamba temple at Sringeri was inadequate for the ever-increasing devotees. Architects and sculptors from Chettinad came forward to build the new Sharadamba temple and it was built. That is the temple we see now at Sringeri. But the pontiff could not see its inauguration in 1916 by his successor Sri Chandrashekara Bharati.
Swamiji's name spread all over. Madanmohan Malaviya, architect of Banares Hindu University, requested the pontiff to lay the foundation stone for an arts college building at Kashi. Swamiji could not go but sent the wooden sandals (paduke) of his guru for that purpose. This is significant indeed ! Frazer, an Englishman who met this Swamiji, has said that it was his good fortune to have met him twice. Swamiji was adept in giving discourses in simple language to common people. He used to say, 'don't blame Britishers always for your failure,' 'don't blindly imitate the British but take whatever is good in them.'
In one of his discourses he called upon the people of higher castes to encourage the people of lower castes so that they can be equal partners in society. His another pet subject was to tell people to be content with whatever is available. Contentment makes our life happy. Swamiji attained mukthi in 1912.
Actually this Swamiji was born in old Agrahara where Shankara Mutt stands today. The Maharaja who was close to the Swamiji ordered that a temple be built which could be visible to him at all times. This Shankara Mutt with shrines for goddess Sharadamba, Adi Shankara and the Swamiji is like a mini Sringeri in Mysore. Thus an old Agrahara-born boy became a Jagadguru and brought laurels to Mysore city. He was a religious monk with a corporate culture.