In various traditional sources, the history behind the origin of the matha is described. This includes the 'Sankara Vijaya' of Madhava. It is believed that Sankara have lived here for twelve years. To this legendry definition, Sankara and his four disciples, reached Sringeri on an exceptionally hot noon. They were accompanied by Bharati who was an incarnation of Goddess Sarasvati.
While banging on the river side of Tunga for their washings, they saw a frog contending in the blazing sun to deliver its egg. The twist of the story is that the natural enemy of frogs, a cobra had raised its hood to provide the frog shelter and protected it from the depredations of the tropical sun. Experiencing this awe-inspiring sight, Sankara was greatly moved. The mutual amity and peace between the lion and the lamb, the tiger and the cow, the cobra and the frog made the place paradise on earth.
Also assuming the name of Suresvaracharya, Sankaracarya inducted Vishwarupa, here as the successor. It is said that he toured to found his three pithas at Puri, Dwaraka and Badrinath. Thus the matha's lineage traces from Suresvaracharya. From the 8th century onwards, the tradition of the Sringeri matha is being recorded. Since the period of Sri Bharathi Tirtha (I) and Sri Vidyaranya (14th century), the history of the Sringeri Matha has been extensively documented onwards.
From the Sringeri lineage, most of the names are also found up to Vidyaranya in the 'Sri Guru Charitra'. It was a 15th-century Marathi work by Gangadhara Saraswathi. According to the Sringeri matha sources report, Sankara was born in the fourteenth year of the reign of Vikramaditya. While others believe this Vikramaditya to be the Vikramaditya II of the Western Chalukya Dynasty. Vikramaditya or the Vikramaditya II ruled from Badami in Karnataka. To other sourses the Vikramaditya is from the 1st century BCE.
The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta is being followed by the matha gurus. the matha is in charge of the Yajur Veda (the Krishna (Black) Yajurveda is more prevalent in South India, over which the matha has authority in the Smarta tradition), following the tradition initiated by Sankara. What the gurus of the matha teaches is that, all the demigods (devas), are quotidian manifestations of the same one 'cosmic spirit', called Brahman as accounted in the Vedas and the Puranas. Furthermore, the innermost self of the human being is also similar to the notion of 'Brahman'.
The Vedic phrase "Aham Brahma Asmi" to which they subscribe to that means: "I am the Universal spirit". The gurus of this matha wear 'ochre robes', 'smear their forehead with sacred ashes or vibhuti', and worship God for many hours every day. With the practice of intense self-mortification and meditation, they strongly believe that they help them to keep the control of the mind.
On an optimum diet and minimal sleep they sustains themselves . They worship Shiva Linga and meditates on the Rudraksha beads. Shiva is Vishnu and Vishnu is Siva according to an Advaitin. According to the advocation of the Sringeri gurus, it is not necessary for the individual to idolize the Gurus and listen to his teachings. What they can do is absorb the good habits of the guru in their own life.
Some of the things advocated by the gurus are:
1. Satvic habits which include vegetarianism, cleanliness, discipline, etc.
2. Regular worship of God and development of bhakti.
3. Giving importance to learning and knowledge.
4. Good conduct, honesty, generosity, and adherence to scriptures.
5. Austerity and simplicity.
6. Love, respect, and responsibility towards one's family or community.
7. Destruction of pride and ego.
For the the 'material world' is 'maya', or temporary, like a dream. According to their believe, in order to fulfill one's responsibility only, individual should be involved in the material world. In spite of the fact that they carry out to the teachings of Sankara, they read other secular and religious works as well. Every one of the gurus at Sringeri within the recorded history of the last two centuries, has been a 'polyglot' and a scholar with knowledge of a wide range of subjects. Religious conversion usually are not advocated by them as they believe that individuals must follow the religion of their own birth but that should be in its proper and correct form.
Especially among the Vedic community, the matha has a huge following. From all over India, people of all castes visit the matha. Smartha Brahmins of South India and Maharashtra are the majority of followers. The existing Sankaracharya conducted the succession to the Sankaracharya title by disciplic selection. Among the Vedic Brahmana community at a very young age, the successor to the matha is usually named. The Matha maintains a number of Vedic schools and temples. As well, the matha also runs a hospital and a few colleges. In many parts of India, it has established branches. The Sringeri matha also managed the Sharada Temple at Sringeri and a library, with rare Sanskrit volumes, also managed by the matha. The matha has also played an important role in preserving the natural beauty of Sringeri.
Many kings and rulers gave patronage to the matha. Sage Vidyatheertha was contemporary with the founders of Vijayanagar Empire. Matha heads had also served as the advisor to the Kings like Vidyaranya another matha head, was himself the advisor to the Vijayangar King. The renowned Muslim ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, also respected the Sringeri Acharyas, and helped it to sustain itself. In modern times even the matha has good relations with the State and Central Governments. The mathas has always been politically neutral and non-controversial.
The relationships between this matha with the three other mathas is being maintained in a good manner. All these four mathas are believed to have been founded by Sankara. They are located in Puri, Dwaraka, and Badrinath.
The process by which the head of the matha is chosen is: the head is selected as a Brahmachari who is educated in the Vedas. After the approval of the existing head of the matha upon a worthy disciple, initiates him as a sannyasin, and appoints him as the head. It was initiated with Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati (1872-1912) and followed by Chandrashekhara Bharati (1912-1954), Abhinava Vidyatirtha (1954-1989), and Bharati Tirtha (1989- present).
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