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Sankara Acarya

Page 4–Monastic Tradition



The advaita tradition can be described in terms of two aspects – the textual/philosophical tradition of commentaries and sub-commentaries to thevedanta works, and the religious tradition of renunciation (sannyasa), which is emphasized to a great deal in Sankaracarya’s works. The two aspects are quite intimately related to each other – most of the notable authors in the advaitatradition were members of the sannyasa tradition, and both sides of the tradition share the same values, attitudes and metaphysics. The philosophical tradition is described in other pages at this site. This page is devoted to the sannyasatradition which continues to the present day. Sankara is traditionally said to have organized the Dasa-nami-sampradaya and established four mathas (monasteries) at Sringeri (in Karnataka), Puri (in Orissa), Dvaraka (in Gujarat) and Jyotirmath (in Uttar Pradesh). These mathas are representative of the geography of India, with one monastery each in the eastern, southern, western and northern regions. The successive heads of these and other advaita mathasare also called Sankaracaryas, after the original founder. In fact, Sankara is often called Adi Sankaracarya, or the first Sankaracarya, in order to distinguish him from his successors.

The dasa-nami sampradaya

The dasa-nami order is so called because of the ten (dasa) name (nama) suffixes which these sannyasis adopt. These names are – bharati, sarasvati, sagara, tirtha, puriasrama, giri, parvata, aranya and vana. These ten names are supposed to be distributed among the four mathas. However, the affiliation is nominal at best. The dasa-nami sannyasis do not have to be ordained at one of the mathas, nor do they have to reside at a matha for any period of time. On the other hand, they are supposed to be peripatetic (parivrajaka – monks who constantly keep traveling), with no fixed home, except for the period ofcaturmasya in the rainy season, when they stay put at one place. The heads of the mathas are also supposed to travel around the country for the better part of the year.

In northern India, the dasa-nami sannyasis are organized into a number ofakhadas – juna, niranjani, mahanirvani, atal, avahan, ananda and agni. Except for the agni akhada, which is is for brahmacAri initiates, the membership of all other akhadas is made up of dasa-nami monks. Theseakhadas have leaders known as mahamandalesvaras, who are usually elected during a kumbha mela [1,2,3]. The kumbha mela also offers an opportunity forakhadas to initiate large numbers of new sannyasis. The dasa-nami sannyasistend to have only a nominal affiliation with their mathas, but most maintain a closer relationship with their akhadas. Among the ten names, aranya, asrama, parvatavana and sagara are quite rarely seen nowadays. All dasa-namimonks belong to the tradition of ekadandi sannyasa. They carry a staff consisting of a single wooden stick, symbolizing the essential identity ofbrahman and atman.

It is important to remember that the advaita sampradaya is not a Saiva sect. The fact that both the prominent non-advaita schools of vedanta are Vaisnava leads to a confusion among many modern researchers, who uncritically talk of all dasa-nami sannyasis as being Saiva ascetics. In reality, advaitins are non-sectarian, and they advocate worship of Siva and Visnu equally with that of the other deities of Hinduism, like Sakti, Ganapati and others. Modern neo-vedantins, who are most strongly influenced by advaitavedanta, have no trouble accepting Moses, Christ and Muhammad also. Philosophically, classicaladvaita would disagree as much with the Saiva-siddhanta and the Saivavedanta schools, as with the Vaisnava schools of vedanta. On the other hand, the God Siva is the archetype of the ascetic, and advaitavedanta lays great emphasis on sannyasaSaiva schools also tend to be more non-dualistic in outlook than Vaisnava schools, and Sankaracarya himself is venerated as an incarnation of Siva. Hence, the contemporary Sankaracaryas do wield a larger degree of influence among Saiva communities than among Vaisnavacommunities, but that does not necessarily make them exclusively Saivaascetics. The famous Madhusudana Sarasvati was an ardent devotee of Krsna, while Prakasananda was a sakti-worshipper.

The major following of the gurus of the advaita tradition has been mostly among the smartas, who integrate the domestic Vedic ritual with devotional aspects of Hinduism. The traditional pancayatana puja scheme of smartaworship is offered to Siva, Visnu, Sakti, Ganesa and Surya, as aspects ofsaguna brahman. Skanda is sometimes added as the sixth important deity who is worshipped, especially in the south. The smartas also regard themselves as followers of Sankaracarya and his successors at the various mathas, but there is a lot of regional variation in this regard.

The Amnaya Mathas

The four mathas established by Sankara are known in the tradition as theamnaya mathasSankara is said to have assigned one of the four vedas to each of these mathas, and the AcAryas and paNDitas of these four mathas continue the tradition to this day. Accordingly, the Puri maTha is associated with the Rg veda, Sringeri with yajurveda, Dvaraka with sAma veda and Jyotirmath with atharva veda. The ten daSanAmI suffixes are distributed among these fourmathas – according to most traditions, puri, bharati and sarasvati with Sringeri;tirtha and asrama with Dvaraka; sagaraparvata and giri with Jyotirmath, andvana and aranya with Puri. Many notable post-Sankaran authors, including Suresvara, Jnanaghana, Jnanottama, Anandagiri, Bharati Tirtha, Vidyaranya and others, can be found among the heads of these mathas. Of these four, Sringeri is the only institution that has had an unbroken line of succession fromSankara. Among the other three mathas, the succession has been interrupted at one time or the other, for a variety of historical reasons. The longest hiatus in the line of succession was in the case of Jyotirmath, where the seat lay vacant for around 165 years. In the recent past, the Sringeri matha has been involved, directly or indirectly, in stabilizing the line of succession in the other threemathas.

From L to R: Sri Svarupananda Sarasvat(Jyotirmath), Sri Abhinava VidyaTirtha (Sringeri), Sri Niranjana Deva Tirtha (Puri), Sri Abhinava Saccidananda Tirtha (Dvaraka) – Meeting at Sringeri in 1979.

The successor to the title in a matha is usually nominated by the presidingSankaracarya of that matha. It is quite normal to see Sankaracaryas who have become sannyasis directly from the student life, without ever having beengrhasthas. This is especially the norm in the Sringeri lineage. Thus, aSankaracarya can be a very young man, sometimes barely out of his teens, when he takes charge at his mathas. On the other hand, the Puri lineage has seen many heads who have become sannyasins quite late in their lives, after passing through the grhastha stage. In cases where a Sankaracarya passes away without nominating a successor, or if there is a dispute about the succession, the head of one of the other mathas is consulted to resolve the issue. Within this century itself, there have been instances where theSankaracaryas of Sringeri, Dvaraka, and Puri have been called upon to resolve succession issues in one of the other mathas. The Sringeri lineage names thirty-six successors to the Sankaracarya title, while Dvaraka has about seventy. The Puri list of Sankaracaryas has more than 140 names to date. The larger number of names in these two lists is probably because many of the presidingSankaracaryas have been former grhasthas, who took charge at a comparatively older age and consequently held charge for shorter periods. The line of the Jyotirmath has many gaps in it, an unfortunate circumstance of history.

The position of the Sankaracaryas in modern Hinduism has often (quite wrongly) been compared to that of the Pope in Roman Catholicism. The fourSankaracaryas do not issue catechisms for all Hindus, nor do they claim sole right to decide on doctrinal issues. Sri-mukhams issued by the mathas are very different in nature from papal bulls or encyclicals, and unlike the Vatican City , the four mathas do not enjoy sovereign status. Rather, they are governed by the federal and state laws on religious and charitable trusts and endowments in independent India, and are often answerable to governmental bodies.

However, this should not be construed to mean that the Sankaracaryas are insignificant or that their importance is overrated. They are held in high respect by almost all sections of Hindus, but they also tend to get blamed by the modern media, somewhat unfairly, for everything that goes wrong in Hindu society! For all that, however, the Sankaracaryas generally lead quiet, secluded lives, as befits monks, and tend to avoid media attention. There are, of course, exceptions to this norm, and recent developments in India, especially the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, have forced all of them to take more active roles in public life.

Recent history of the four Amnaya Mathas


Sri “Ugra” Narasimha Bharati (1817 – 1878) was well-known throughout India as a very saintly personality. He travelled far and wide, and had disciples all over India and even in Sri Lanka. He was succeeded by Sri SaccidanandaSivabhinava Narasimha Bharati (1878 – 1912), who rediscovered Kaladi, AdiSankaracaryas birth-place, and instituted Sankara Jayanti celebrations all over India. He also arranged for the publication of a comprehensive collection ofSankara’s works, and initiated the practice of having the various Sankaracaryas meet for informal discussion and decision making. Following his lead, meetings took place at Kaladi, Hardwar, Prayag etc. His successor, Sri Candrasekhara Bharati (1912 to 1954), was an acclaimed jivan-mukta . He wrote a commentary to Sankara’s Viveka-cudamami. The first meeting of all fourSankaracaryas ( caturamnaya-sammelanam ) in the 1200 year old tradition of post-Sankaran advaita, took place at Sringeri, in 1979, under the leadership ofSri Abhinava Vidya Tirtha (1954 – 1989). Sri Bharati Tirtha, the presidingSankaracarya of Sringeri, succeeded to the title in 1989. The Sankaracaryas of the four amnaya mathas and the head of the Kanci matha held another conference at Sringeri in 1993, following the events of December 1992 at ayodhyA, to express their concern at the politicization of religious issues, and resolved to lead a non-political effort to solve the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue amicably.

Contact Address: Swami Bharati Tirtha, Jagadguru Sankaracharya, (or Sri V. R. Gowrishankar, Adminstrator), Sri Sringeri Math, Sri Sringeri Sarada Peetham, Sringeri, Karnataka 577 139, INDIA.


Sri Trivikrama Tirtha was the head of the Dvaraka matha till the year 1921. He was succeeded by Sri Bharati Krsna Tirtha, who had a very interesting career. Beginning as a student of vedAnta at Sringeri, he became a sannyAsin underSri Trivikrama Tirtha of Dvaraka, and succeeded to the Sankaracarya post at Dvaraka, in 1921. Soon after the first world war, he was >prosecuted along with the Ali brothers and other Muslim leaders, by the colonial British government for treason, in connection with his involvement in the Indian Independence movement, and his support of the Khilafat movement. He is also said to have discovered some ancient sutras of basic arithmetic, which have been published as a book, under the title “Vedic mathematics”. He was asked to take over the Puri matha in 1925, when that seat fell vacant. Accordingly,Sri Svarupananda Tirtha and Sri Yogesvarananda Tirtha followed at the Dvaraka seat. In the year 1945, Sri Abhinava Saccidananda Tirtha was nominated as the Sankaracarya of Dvaraka, with Sri Bharati Krsna Tirtha performing the installation ceremonies. Before taking over at Dvaraka, SriAbhinava Saccidananda Tirtha was the head of the Mulabagal Matha in Karnataka. This was an old branch of the Dvaraka matha, established in the 17th century, and with his appointment to the Dvaraka seat, the collateral lineage of Mulabagal matha was merged with that of Dvaraka. In later years, he was called upon to mediate the succession issues at both Puri and Jyotirmath. He also renovated the samadhi site of adi Sankara at Kedarnath with assistance from the government of Uttar Pradesh. He passed away in 1982, following which Sri Svarupananda Sarasvati of Jyotirmath assumed charge at Dvaraka. Sri Abhinava Vidya Tirtha of Sringeri consecrated his appointment, and Sri Svarupananda has held dual charge at both Dvaraka and Jyotirmath since then.

Contact Address: Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati, Dvaraka Peeth, Dvaraka, Gujarat 361 335, INDIA.

(or) Sri Rajarajeswari Mandir, Paramhansi Ganga, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh 482 002, INDIA.


This matha is historically connected with the famous Jagannatha temple in Puri. It is also called the Govardhana matha, and has an important branch in Puri itself, called the Sankarananda matha. In the beginning of the century, the head was Sri Sankara Madhusudana Tirtha. Sri Bharati Krsna Tirtha, who was then at Dvaraka, took over as the Sankaracarya of Puri in 1925. Sri BharatiKrsna Tirtha visited the USA in the 1950’s, at the invitation of the Self-Realization Fellowship. During this time, Sri Sankara Purusottama Tirthasupervised the Puri matha on his behalf. After Sri Bharati Krsna Tirtha passed away in 1960, he was succeeded by Sri Yogesvarananda Tirtha, whose period was quite short, as he passed away in 1961. This lead to a brief period of uncertainty during which the succession at the matha was being litigated. In 1964, Sri Niranjana Deva Tirtha, who was one of the nominees named in SriBharati Krsna TirthaÕs will, was consecrated at the Puri seat by Sri abhinava saccidAnanda Tirtha of Dvaraka. SrI niranjana deva Tirtha is known for his unpopular political views on volatile issues affecting Hindu people, like sati and cow protection. In 1992, he stepped down after nominating SriNiscalananda Sarasvati as his successor, who is currently in charge at Puri.

Contact Address: Swami Niscalananda Sarasvati, Puri Govardhan Math, Puri, Orissa 752 001, INDIA.

Jyotirmath: Also known as Joshimath, it is located near Badrinath in the Himalayas, because of which it is also known as the Badrinath matha. After a long hiatus of 165 years, this matha was revived in the year 1941, under SriBrahmananda Sarasvati, a disciple of Sri Krsnananda Sarasvati, who was originally from Sringeri. The appointment was made by a committee of pundits from Varanasi, and Sri Brahmananda’s accomplishments helped re-establish the Jyotirmath as an important center of traditional advaita teaching in northern India. When he passed away in 1953, Sri Santananda Sarasvati succeeded him at this seat, according to the terms of a will. However, there was a dispute regarding the capacity of Sri Santananda for the title and also about the validity of this will. This resulted in a major controversy that remains unresolved.

Karapatri Swami (Hariharananda Sarasvati), a well-known disciple of SrI brahmAnanda, was asked to take over the Jyotirmath title, but he declined. To resolve the dispute, another committee of pundits from Varanasi was formed, under the guidance of Karapatri Swami and Sri Abhinava Saccidananda Tirtha of Dvaraka. Sri Krsnabodhasrama was appointed as the new head of thematha. When he passed away in the early 1970’s, he nominated SriSvarupananda Sarasvati, another disciple of Sri Brahmananda, as his successor.Sri Svarupananda continues as the Sankaracarya of Jyotirmath, and has also been in charge of Dvaraka since 1982.

Some people consider the rightful succession of the Jyotirmath title to be along the disciple line of Sri SantAnanda Sarasvati. He is said to have retired in 1980, in favor of his disciple, Sri Visnudevananda Sarasvati, who has since passed away. Sri SantAnanda also passed away in December 1997, and has been succeeded by Sri Vasudevananda Sarasvati. Thus, there are at least two separate lineages at Jyotirmath currently, although it is Sri Svarupananda Sarasvati who is endorsed by the other Amnaya mathas.

There is a third ascetic, named Sri Madhavasrama , who is another claimant to the Jyotirmath title, who contests both the claims of Sri Svarupananda and SriVasudevananda. Sri Madhavasrama is a disciple of Sri Krsnabodhasrama, who was nominated to the Jyotirmath title in the 1960’s. His contention is that SriSvarupananda cannot be accepted as the head of two different amnaya mathas(Dvaraka and Jyotirmath), so that the Jyotirmath title has to revert to another disciple of Sri Krsnabodhasrama. According to publications supporting his claim, he was anointed in 1993 or 1994, under the guidance of Sri Niranjana Deva Tirtha, the former Sankaracarya of Puri. Thus, the dispute between two parties for the title of Jyotirmath Sankaracarya has now become a dispute among three different parties.

Contact Addresses: Sri Sankaracharya Math, Joshimath, Badrinath, Uttar Pradesh 246 443, INDIA.

Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati: Sri Rajarajeswari Mandir, Paramhansi Ganga, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh 482 002, INDIA.

Swami Vasudevananda Saraswati: Shankar Math, Allope Bagh, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh 211 001, INDIA.

Swami Madhavashrama: Sri Keshav Ashram, Haridwar, Uttar Pradesh 249 401, INDIA

Other mathas: Other than the four amnaya mathas, there are a number of well-known mathas owing allegiance to advaita and the Sankaracarya lineage. Many of them were originally branches of one of the four amnaya mathas, established officially by the parent matha, and which grew into more or less independent institutions over time. Notable among these are the branch mathasat Kumbhakonam (now based in Kancipuram, Contact Address: No. 1, Salai Street, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu 631 502, INDIA ), Sankhesvar, Kudali, Virupaksha (Hampi), Kolhapur (Karavir pITham), Sivaganga, Sakatapuram etc. In recent times, the matha at Kancipuram has been very active. Sometimes, notable sannyasis of the dasa-nami order start their own mathas, to cater to the spiritual needs of their followers. An example is the famous Upanisad Brahmendra matha at Kancipuram, which was founded in the 18th century by Ramacandrendra Sarasvati. Sometimes, succession controversies (as in the present Jyotirmath) also leads to the establishment of separate mathas. A fewmathas of the nambudiri community in Kerala also trace their foundation toSankara himself, as do the sumeru and paduka mathas in Varanasi. However, the Kavale matha of the gauda sarasvata community in Goa traces its origin in 740 CE not to Sankaracarya, but through another disciple of Govinda Bhagavatpada.

In general, the various mathas in India operate quite independent of one another. The Sankaracarya of the four original mathas do not normally interfere with one another, nor do they seek to exercise any control, administrative or spiritual, on any of the other advaita mathas in India, unless specifically requested to do so. Although their heads are sannyasis who lead completely detached lives, the advaita mathas are not immune to contemporary social and political pressures. Some mathas deal with these pressures better than others. Manifestations of these pressures can be seen in the sometimes acrimonious rivalries between followers of two different mathas, as also in the recurrent succession disputes in some of them. Such succession disputes sometimes lead to protracted litigation and the establishment of independent mathas elsewhere.

Modern Institutions: In addition to the more traditional advaita mathas andakhadas, various sannyasis of the dasa-nami order have established some of the more well-known modern institutions, like the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (Swami Vivekananda), the Self-Realization Fellowship (Paramahamsa Yogananda), the Divine Life Society (Swami Sivananda), Yoga Vedanta Center (Swami Vishnudevananda), the Chinmaya Mission (Swami Cinmayananda), and others. Among these, the founders of the Ramakrishna Mission, the Divine Life Society and the Chinmaya Mission trace their spiritual descent through the Sringeri parampara. The Self-Realization Fellowship has links to the Puri parampara. These organizations usually teach some variant or the other of advaitavedanta, generally combined with yoga practice, or an acceptance of the prophets of the Semitic religions, and/or an emphasis on social service. These modern institutions tend to have as much a presence in the West as in India, and their ideologies have come to be called by the generic name of neo-vedanta. It remains to be seen whether these institutions will be the catalysts for the growth of a truly universal philosophy/religion that has been a dream of most of their founders.

There have been countless other nameless, realized masters over the centuries, who have realized the non-dual brahman. As a living tradition of philosophy and religion, advaita is not always restricted to dasanami sannyasis in the lineage of Sankaracarya. For example, within the 20th century CE, one has the example of the famous mystic Sri Ramana Maharishi (1879 – 1950), who did not formally take sannyasa, but was nevertheless a jivanmukta, who taught pure advaita.



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LC Call No.: n.a.

G. S. Ghurye (with L. N. Chapekar), Indian Sadhus , Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1st ed., 1953 , 2nd ed., 1964 .

LC Call No.: Microfilm BUL-ENG-111 (B)

Haripada Chakraborti, Asceticism in ancient India in Brahmanical, Buddhist, Jaina, and Ajivika societies, from the earliest times to the period of Sankaracharya , Punthi Pustak, Calcutta, 1973 .

LC Call No.: BL2015.A8 C47

Swami Sadananda Giri, Society and sannyasin – a history of the Dasnami sannyasins , Kriyayoga Asrama, Rishikesh, 1976 .

LC Call No.: BL1245.D27 S2

William Cenkner, A tradition of teachers: Sankara and The Jagadgurus Today, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1983 .

LC Call No.: B133.S5 C44 1983

Yoshitsugu Sawai, The faith of ascetics and lay smartas: a study of the Sankaran tradition of Srngeri , Sammlung de Nobili, InstitŸt fŸr Indologie der Universitþt Wien (Institute of Indology, University of Vienna), 1992 .

LC Call No.: acquisition in progress (as of September 9, 1997)

Maulana Mohammed Ali ,The historic trial of Ali brothers, Dr. Kitchlew, Shri Shankaracharya, Maulana Hussain Ahmed, Pir Ghulam Mujaddid and Maulana Nisar Ahmed , “New Times” Office, Karachi, 1921 , with a foreword by Mahatma Gandhi.

Wade Dazey, Tradition and Modernization in the Organization of the Dasanami Sannyasins , in Monastic life in the Christian and Hindu traditions – a comparative study , Austin Creel and Vasudha Narayanan (eds.), Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston (NY), 1990 .

LC Call No.: BL631 .M65 1990

Wade Dazey, The Dasanami Order and Monastic Life , Ph. D. dissertation, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, 1987.




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