[Advaita-l] Sureshvaracharya

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Wed Sep 2 16:43:28 CDT 2009

> Dear Vidyasanakarji,
> I have not come across any original Digvijaya texts with claim related to Adi
>Sankaracharya's establishing the  Dashanami tradition. The Samadhi-sthal
>in the Himalayas may be that of a later-day Sankaracharya, unless the
>original Digvijaya texts confirm that Adi Sankaracharya indeed established
>that tradition.


Dear Sri Bhattacharya,


I have to be blunt here. If you are interested in questions of history, you cannot rely on suppositions and arbitrary claims such as these. Yours is absolutely faulty methodology. Pray, tell me, which original Digvijaya texts mention the establishment of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham as a monastic institution by Adi Sankaracharya himself? We can have a separate discussion about such a text or texts if you can give me what references you are relying on. And how do you know that the shoe is not on the other foot - namely that the supposed samadhi-sthal in Kanchipuram is not that of a later-day Sankaracharya? So why disregard the Sannyasi tradition that has had a historical presence from Kabul in Afghanistan (yes, Kabul) to Kamarupa in Assam and from Gangotri in the Himalayas to Kanyakumari at the peninsular tip of India? 


>My feeling is that we should rely more on the records of the four main Mathas
>and that of the Kanchi Kamakoti Matha than on those of the Dashanami tradition.

Again, feeling is no substitute for solid historical research. For you to substantiate your feeling, you need to first address why there has been such a controversy over the history of the Kanchi Kamakoti Matha for two centuries or so now. Is it a massive conspiracy by everyone else to deny due credit to that institution? Or is it that Kanchi Matha is in reality only about 200 years old? How would you go about addressing that in the first place? Your feeling and my feeling and someone else's feeling on the matter are purely subjective. One needs more solid ground than that, if you want your conclusions to be sound. After all that, you need to verify the authenticity of the so-called records. It is a well-known fact that throughout history, Indian institutions and leaders have not been the best at preserving material records. The general Dasanami traditions, maintained across a large network of big and small institutions, are no less important for such matters than the records of the big Mathas.


> Secondly who was the commentator of the 17th commentary to Sringeri Matha's

>Guruvamsakavya, whose views on Adi Sankaracharya's Samadhi have not been
>given any merit by the Sringeri Math? 

Sorry, I meant to say 17th century commentary, not the 17th commentary. There is only one known commentary, by a Lakshmana Kavi. I believe he was one of the Pundits associated with the Sringeri Matha and the Mysore court at the time. In any case, it has been published along with the Guruvamsakavya by the Vani Vilas Press in Srirangam. Not sure if copies are still generally available, but it shows up in the catalogs of many libraries in the world.


> Similarly regarding the case of the Samadhi of Sureshvaracharya we have to go
>by the same standard and give more credence to the official views of the Kanchi
>Kamakoti Math. 


Why? Why not give equal or more credence to the official views of the other Mathas? And when the Sankaracharyas of Dwaraka and Puri do not hesitate to deny the history and the tradition that the Kanchi Matha claims for itself, how do you handle that? Are you aware that many publications of the Dwaraka Matha also trace their lineage to Suresvara? Surely, Dwaraka tradition, as one of the four main Mathas, deserves to be taken into account. The high visibility of the leaders and followers of one institution in contemporary public and political life does not make its claims and traditions any more valuable than another institution which is not as visible, but is in fact much more ancient.


>If the Kanchi Kamakoti Math does not recognise the views of Sushmaa then these
>views of Sushamaa too do not deserve any merit.


So, do you mean to say that the currently held opinions of the Kanchi Kamakoti Matha are more valuable than the opinion held by the same Matha a century or two ago?!! After all, Sushama was supposedly written by a direct Sannyasi disciple of one of the Mathadhipatis at Kanchipuram, not by some general Pundit associated with the Matha.


>But one thing appears to be common that the Kanchi Kamakoti Math as well
>as the writer of Sushamaa agree that Sureshvaracharya did visit the Kanchi
>Kamakoti Math, thus establishing the link between the Kanchi Kamakoti math
>and the Sringeri Math undisputably. 


That completely misses the point. sureSvara may or may not have visited Kanchipuram; one does not and cannot know for sure. The link between Kanchi Kamakoti Math and Sringeri Matha cannot be traced back to such an ancient time at all. You have to ask yourself, will your attempt to find a via media be valid in any way? You talk of four main Mathas and the Kanchi Matha. On the other hand, Kanchi Matha followers reject the very concept of four main Mathas; they want the number to be five. Meanwhile, followers and pundits and heads of the four main Mathas reject the very concept that Kanchi Matha has such an ancient history as claimed. Finally, why only Kanchi Matha as the fifth? If you did your research properly, you will find that the Karavir Matha in Kolhapur and the Sumeru Matha in Varanasi both have claimed a status of "fifth Matha established by Sankara himself" too. Why not include these also?!! 



>Sureshvaracharya obviously did not die in Sringeri as, to my understanding,
>his Samadhi has not been located in Sringeri, as per Sringeri record.


Again, you need to do your research properly. In 1970, the adhishThAna of sureSvarAcArya in Sringeri was renovated and a commemorative souvenir was published. This also shows up in the catalogs of libraries around the world. The adhishThAna is a small structure preserved through the centuries, right outside of the main Sarada temple in Sringeri. However, Sringeri authorities do not have an avid publication wing to supply populist stories about their greatness and their traditions in the general media.


>Moreover Gaudapadacharya wrote books on Sreevidya and Adi Sankaracharya
>also wrote the bhashya on the Laita Trishati, a book of Tantric (Samayachara)
>tradition. I understand that accorsing to purana one takes to Sreevidya towards
>the end of the life-cycle and
> if this is so it is no wonder if Adi Sanakaracharya went to Kanchi the well-

>acknowledged seat of Mothet Kamakshi, also called Shodashi or Tripurasundari
>and preferred to leave his mortal frame there.


None of this matters. Nobody disputes that Adi Sankara went to Kanchipuram and worshipped Goddess Kamakshi there. This is mentioned in all texts. What IS disputed is the claim that he also established a Matha there. There is a vast difference. After all, Adi Sankara certainly visited thousands of places and temples all over India. Did he establish monastic centers in all these places too? Obviously not. So why should the claims of an institution in such a highly acclaimed pilgrimage center as Kanchipuram be so disputed within the tradition? With all due respect to the heads of that institution, this is obviously because Adi Sankara did not establish it himself! Its origin is to be found in a much much later period of history, within the period of the post-Vijayanagara break up of the south Indian states ruled by various Nayaks and Nawabs.


For someone like Adi Sankara who became a Sannyasi directly from Brahmacarya, the Puranic considerations do not apply. The notion of taking up Srividya initiation towards the end of one's life is meant for regular householders. It is only meant to be an alternative to the Vedic tradition of going through Vanaprastha and Sannyasa in stages. 


There are 51 well-acknowledged Shakti Peethams all over India, as also 12 Jyotirlinga locations, as also numerous seats sacred to Vishnu and to Subrahmanya and Kartikeya and Dattatreya and even one sacred to Brahma (Pushkar in Rajasthan). Adi Sankara could have preferred to leave his mortal frame in any one of them. We do not know, except through traditional accounts.


I will not even get into the unsubstantiated claims masquerading as legend with respect to Kudali. The place is called only Kudali. It is not generally called Kudali-Sringeri. Only the Advaita matha there uses the name "Kudali Sringeri Matha". (In Kannada and Tamil, the word kUDal means confluence or coming together. There is another famous place called Kudalsangama in Karnataka, which is a Virasaiva center.) To think of it as "Sringeri at the confluence of Tunga and Bhadra" as opposed to "Sringeri on the Rishyasringa mountain" is extremely far-fetched. There is even a Matha of the Dvaita tradition in Kudali and they certainly would not want the Sringeri name generally attached to the entire place! As such, the term Kudali Sringeri Matha is as good as saying Bombay Sringeri Matha, to refer to the one in Chembur, Bombay, or Stroudsburg Sringeri Matha for the one coming up in Pennsylvania, USA. The only difference is that the Kudali branch goes back to the 16th century or so, while the Bombay and Stroudsburg branches were born a few decades ago.


I will again mention that if you are interested in these kinds of questions, you need to research more carefully. The room where Swami Vidyasankara went into meditation is pointed out to this day in a place called Simhagiri, also called Hale Sringeri (meaning old Sringeri, in Kannada), which is barely a few miles away from the present site of the Vidyasankara temple in Sringeri. It is within walking distance up a forest trail. It is nowhere near Kudali, which is a good three to four hour drive away even by modern automobiles. Simhagiri used to be called Hale Sringeri because that was where one of the early pre-Vidyaranya Gurus in the Sringeri lineage is said to have spent a lot of time in tapasya. All such details are found in the book by A K Shastry that I mentioned in my last email. The current site of Sringeri naturally became the center of the Matha after the construction of the Vidyasankara temple during the times of the first two kings of Vijayanagara. It was only a small move of a few miles to a new clearing within a dense forest in the 14th century

> My interest is not to enter into the rival claims of the Mathas 


Unfortunately, if you are interested in these sorts of questions, there is no way you can avoid talking about the rival claims of the Mathas. And once you get into the details, there is no way you can separate the Matha traditions from general Dasanami traditions about Sankara and post-Sankaran history. There is also no way you can come up with a consistent history if you concede as much as possible to all sorts of contrary and sometimes self-contradictory claims. There is no way you can avoid coming to the conclusion that one tradition deserves more weight than others, because it is the most honest one, the most consistent one and also the one most well corroborated by independent sources of historical information.


If the real underlying doubt behind all this has to do with a 5th century BCE versus 8th century date for Adi Sankara, then I would advise getting into the topic with a very open mind. If, somehow, it appeals to you that Kanchi Matha's records supposedly go back to 500 BCE, I wish you the best of luck in finding historical veracity in them.


Best regards,


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