A guest post by Anu Shankar from A Wandering Mind - Her blog title describes her perfectly. Always on the trail, she spends most of her time either traveling to some destination in India or at other times writing about the events and activities revolving around her 8 yr son, Samhith. A writer par excellence and an absolute wanderer at heart, she is one blogger on the Indian blogosphere who essentially needs no introduction. I am very happy to conclude our yatra guest post series with such a senior travel blogger and above all… my inspiration… Read the post and you will know why…
A young man was sitting on the banks of a river flowing through a lush valley, deep in thought. He had a mission to accomplish, and not too much time with him. He had walked across the Western Ghats, searching for a special place. His instinct told him that somewhere here, amidst these ranges, he would find the place he was looking for. What he had in mind was a place where he, and many others who would follow him, would find spiritual contentment. What he wanted to do was set up an ashram, where he could install his disciples, who would take his teachings further. He had trodden miles and miles across the thickly forested ranges and had stopped to rest on the banks of the river Tunga. The river was a sacred one, and many before him had found peace and contentment on her banks. The great sage Rishyasringa had lived here, and it was his gift of rain which kept the land so fertile. As the young man mused over the river and all the sages who had lived on these hills, his eyes fell upon a strange sight. The time was noon, and the midday sun was at its scorching best! On the bank of the river, was a snake, with its hood raised over a frog. At first glance it appeared as if the snake was about to devour the frog, but a closer look revealed that the snake was, in fact, protecting the frog from the harsh sun! Curious now, he continued to watch, and saw that the snake was indeed shading the frog, which was undergoing labour pains! The moment passed, and the creatures went their way. However, the young man was struck by the sight of a creature being protected by its deadly enemy. He knew then, that this was the place he had been seeking. This is where he would first set his base – a place which would grow in time to become a haven for seekers of the divine.
The young man was Adi Shankara, and the place he had found was Sringeri, in present day Karnataka. There, on the banks of the sacred Tunga, he set up the first of four ashrams or Mathas – the other three were later set up at Joshimath (north), Dwarka (West) and Puri (East).
That was somewhere in the 8th century. Centuries have passed since then, but Sringeri continues to attract seekers even today. Let me take you on a photographic journey through the ashram...
The River Tunga flows through the area, perennially supplying the town with plentiful water for its needs.
On the banks of the river stands a small shrine depicting the scene which so captivated the saint – the snake protecting the frog!
(Image courtesy: sringeri.net)
On the left bank of the river is the Sharada temple. Sharada is a form of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, and it was her that Adi Shankara invoked to watch over this temple of learning.
The Sharda Temple
Originally, this was a simple shrine with an idol of the Goddess made of sandalwood placed over a rock on which Adi Shankara had carved the Sri Chakra (a symbol of the goddess). Later, with the temple gaining popularity as well as royal patronage, it was rebuilt and a golden idol installed in place of the sandalwood one. The original idol has now been placed in another shrine in the ashram.
The most impressive temple in the math complex is the shrine of the sage Vidyashankara, the 10th pontiff of the Math.
Sage Vidyashakara Temple
Built in 1338 AD, it is a blend of Chalukyan and Dravidian architecture. While the temple looks beautiful even from the outside, inside, it is all the more beautiful and detailed. The specialty of this temple is its 12 pillared hall. Each pillar is decorated with a sign of the zodiac, and the pillars are arranged in such a manner that every month, the first rays of the sun fall on the pillar corresponding to the zodiac sign of that particular month! On the floor is a large circle with converging lines indicating the direction of the shadows!
Carvings outside the Sage Vidyashankara temple
Crossing the river to the other side, it is almost possible to believe that we are in another world, for here are no shrines and crowds thronging them, but a peace and calm which is almost spiritual in nature.
Other side of River Tunga
A path lined with palm trees leads us to a clearing where the present pontiff of the math has his abode. There are no people to tell us to keep quiet, yet silence comes naturally in such a place, and even when filled with people rushing to gain his blessings, there is never a clamor as in the temple!
Path leading to the abode of the math pontiff
This side of the river is where the actual ashram activities take place. Here, there are schools taking forward the teachings of Adi Shankara, where small children are taught the Vedas, and adult seekers from across the world come to study Advaita Vedanta. There are cowsheds housing the ashram cows, and even an elephant shed for the two elephants that live here. At one time, there were deer and peacocks too, but these have been removed to safety considering the crowd of local tourists who come here in droves!
Cowshed from a distance
The two resident elephants of the math
Adi Shankara, it is believed, continued with his travels once he set up the math at Sringeri. Once he had set up the four maths in the four corners of the country, it is said that he went on his last pilgrimage, and, at the young age of 32, disappeared somewhere in the Himalayas near Kedarnath. Centuries have passed since then, and times have indeed changed, but at Sringeri, it seems his presence lingers.......... in the peace and contentment which sweeps over us as we enter the ashram.......... in the chanting of the students who are learning the Vedas...... and above all, in the eyes of the pontiff as he patiently listens to us and blesses us.
Sringeri is about 360 Km from Bangalore, 110 Km from Mangalore, 80 Km from Udupi, 105 Km from Shimoga, and 100 Km from Chickmangalur. Frequent buses are available from all these places.
Other Temples in and around Sringeri:
The ashram is not the only place of interest at Sringeri. The temple of Rishyasringa at Kigga, about 10 Km away was built in memory of the great sage who gave his name to the area. Even older is the temple of Malahanikareswara, which commemorates the sage Vibhandaka, the father of Rishyasringa. These are even more ancient than the temples at Sringeri, and even more beautiful. Besides, there are also the guardian deities installed by Adi Shankara himself at the four corners of the town.
More Temples around Sringeri:
Around Sringeri are even more temples to visit.... Udupi, with its Krishna temple, the Mookambika Temple at Kollur, the Annapoorna temple at Horanadu, the Shiva temple at Kalasa, the Ganesha temple at Anegudde, the Manjunatha Temple at Dharmasthala and the Naga Subramanya temple at Kukke Subramanya, all are easily accessible from Sringeri.