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The Early Acharyas

Sri Nityabodhaghana (834-848 A.D)

अनाद्यविद्यामुत्सार्य प्रज्ञानघनरूपताम् ।
यो बोधयति सच्छिष्यान् तं बोधघनमाश्रये ॥

He who imparts to worthy disciples the Truth – ‘Thou art the wakeful conscious Inner Self’ And thus removes the deeply ingrained delusion, I bow at the feet of that Sage Bodhaghana!

Sri Bodaghana and his successors shed the lustre of their exalted mood instilling in their disciples true bhakti by conducting the daily worship of Sri Sharada and Sri Chandramoulishwara and by their precepts leading them to the path of righteousness.

Sri Jnanaghana (848-910 A.D)

सिताघनादिदृष्टान्तैर्यत्स्वरूपं श्रुतिर्जगौ ।
प्रज्ञानघन एवेति तं ज्ञानघनमाश्रये ॥

His clear wisdom extracts insightful analogies From the ancient delightful Srutis, And sets ablaze the knowledge of the Self. I adore the Saint of such a quality, Sri Jnanaghana!

Sri Jnanaghana was the author of Tattvasuddhi. Tattvasuddhi, which is held in high esteem by Sri Appayya Dikshita, the famous Vedantin of the 16th century, is probably a record of the Acharya’s exposition to his disciples. According to Guruvamsakavya, he worshipped Pinakin (Lord Shiva) and Janardana. This fact being the earliest reference to Lord Janardana in Sringeri, the consecration of the ancient Janardana temple in present-day Sringeri is attributed to Sri Jnanaghana.

Sri Jnanottama (910-954 A.D)

ज्ञानानामुत्तमं ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनामुत्तमो यतः ।
ज्ञानोत्तम इति ख्यातं गुरुं तमहमाश्रये ॥

Jnanottama, the foremost among sages, The Knower of the Supreme Knowledge of the Self The world honours Him as the exalted One To that adorable Master, I bow!

A Gauda in his purvashrama (previous stage of life) settled in the south, Sri Jnanottama succeeded Sri Jnanaghana. His work ‘Vidya Sri’ is a sub commentary on Sri Adi Shankara’s ‘Brahma sutra bhashya’. One of the Acharya’s disciples was Vijnanatman or Vijnanashrama, the author of Tatparyadyotini and a vritti on Narayanopanishad, which is a section of Taittiriya Upanishad. Another prominent disciple of the Acharya was the prolific writer Chitsukha popular for his work on Advaita, called Tattva-Pradipika (also known as Chitsukhi). Chitsukha pays homage to his Guru, Sri Jnanottama as the effulgence that was Dakshinamurti, Vyasa and Shankara.

Sri Jnanagiri (954-1038 A.D)

ज्ञाननिश्रेणिमालम्ब्य ब्रह्माख्यं गिरिमुन्नतम् ।
आरूह्य कृतकृत्यो यस्तं ज्ञानगिरिमाश्रये ॥

He scaled the mount of wisdom step by step and climbed the peak of transcendent Brahman His life was fulfilled in that, lofty Truth To Sage Jnanagiri, Salutations!

Sri Simhagiri (1038-1098 A.D)

दुर्वीदिदुष्टमातङ्गविदारणपटीयसे ।
नमः श्रीसिंहगिरये गुरवे दिव्यचक्षुषे ॥

Whose lion-like inner strength rips asunder Mad elephants and wrangles over stubborn foes; Salutations to that Divine Sage Simhagiri Whose divine vision beams with true wisdom!

Sri Ishwara Tirtha (1098-1146 A.D)

ईप्सितार्थप्रदो नित्यं प्रणतानां च देहिनाम् ।
यतिरीश्वरतीर्थाख्यः तं नमामि गुरुं शिवम् ॥

Just as the Great Shiva, He grants with gracious heart The boons that pure beloved souls aspire for; I salute and solemnly adore That saintly Master Ishwara Tirtha!

Sri Nrisimha Tirtha (1146-1229 A.D)

श्रुतिमस्तककूटस्थमज्ञानद्विपभेदिनम् ।
श्रीमन्त्रराजमूर्तिं तं नृसिंहं गुरुमाश्रये ॥

The Light effulgent up the Vedic Hill The Power that kills the mammoth Ignorance The royal sage of Mantras I humbly surrender to that Master Nrisimha!

Sri Jnanottama’s successor was Sri Jnanagiri. Then reigned Sri Simhagiri, after whom an agrahara (locality for priests) near Sringeri has been named. The next two Acharyas were Sri Ishwara Tirtha and Sri Nrisimha Tirtha. All of them were great polemics. Independent works on Advaita, elucidations of Sri Shankara’s bhashyas and Sri Sureshwaracharya’s vartikas, glosses representing both the Bhamati and the Vivarana schools, polemical works and works of the class entitled ‘siddhi’ (books like Ishta Siddhi, Advaita Siddhi..), that sum up the vast literature on Advaita during this period, can be said to have set the norm for future writers. The Sharada Peetham was the fountain head of all this expansion of Vedantic knowledge, in the pursuit of which were engaged sages and scholars from all parts of the land – Karnataka, Chola (comprising a major part of Tamil Nadu), Andhra, Maharashtra, and Gaudadesa (Bengal). It was not long before other places of learning were influenced and Vedanta was added to the curriculum of studies.

Sri Vidyatirtha (1229-1333 A.D)

Idol of Sri Vidyatirtha Mahaswamiji at Simhagiri in Sringeri. Also seen flanking him
are his two foremost disciples – Sri Bharati Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya Mahaswamigal

अविद्याच्छन्नभावानां नृणां विद्योपदेशतः ।
प्रकाशयति यस्तत्वं तं विद्यातीर्थमाश्रये ॥

His message brings about the Light of Wisdom To men that are immersed in ignorance He holds the torch of Truth for the entire world Homage to the holy Vidyatirtha!

“His message brings about the Light of Wisdom To men that are immersed in ignorance He holds the torch of Truth for the entire world Homage to the holy Vidyatirtha! ‘Verily Vidyatirtha, the Lord of ascetics, excels the sun; the latter dispels the darkness around us only by day, while the former dispels the darkness both within and without, both by day and night” – this tribute paid by Emperor Harihara II of Vijayanagar is a measure of the greatness of Sri Vidyatirtha.

The tenth Acharya of the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, Sri Vidyatirtha Mahaswami, was a eminent Guru well-versed in all the shastras and Vedas, and was also called , “Maheshwara  whose breath was the Veda”, by His disciple, Sri Sayanacharya in his commentary to the Vedas.

A number of scholars flocked to Him and became his disciples. Besides Sri Shankarananda and Vidyaranya, Sri Satchidananda, Sri Advaita Brahmananda (Bharati Tirtha), Sri Sandrananda, Sri Advaitananda Shevadhi, Sri Mahadeva Siva, Sri Advaita Sukhananda, Sri Sivayogi and Sri Pratyagjyoti were eight other eminent disciples of Vidya Tirtha. Vidya Tirtha is said to have installed these eight disciples as the heads of the eight mathas established by him. Among his disciples, Sri Bharati Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya were the foremost. All these have invoked Vidya Tirtha in one work or other composed by them.

Always absorbed in the bliss of self-realisation, he spent many years in Simhagiri in the company of numerous disciples, who by his grace became adepts in mantra, tantra, yoga and meditation. The royal brothers, Harihara and Bukka visited him and proceeded with him to Sringeri. To the great sage, came a Brahmana lad, young in years but advanced in the practice of the virtues of a mumukshu, from Ekasilanagaram (Warangal). Finding him worthy, the Acharya admitted him into the order of Sanyasa (1328) under the name of Sri Bharati Tirtha. Three years later in 1331 came another learned Brahmana, who was the elder brother of Sri Bharati Tirtha in His purvashrama. He also received Sanyasa under the name of Sri Vidyaranya. Sri Bharati Tirtha stayed with the master, while Sri Vidyaranya went on long tours. Jagadguru Sri Vidyatirtha also toured over South India. In Simhagiri, there is still preserved a strange sculpture, with figures sculpted on its four faces. The front face depicts Sri Vidyatirtha flanked by his two chief disciples Sri Bharati Tirtha and Sri Vidyaranya. The figures on the other three faces are Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. Above them is a figure of Lakshmi Narasimha and on top is a Shiva Linga. When the Acharya got this strange multiple image, called Chaturmurti Vidyeshwara made, he explained to Sri Bharati Tirtha that his body would assume a shape similar to that after twelve years of yoga in an underground chamber. The chamber was excavated on the northern bank of the Tunga, and while the Acharya sat there in yoga, it was closed over him. Three years elapsed. When Sri Bharati Tirtha was temporarily away from Sringeri, the curiosity of the attendants got the better of their duty to their Guru and they opened the chamber. The sage’s body had completely disappeared and they saw only the form of the linga on the top of the model in Simhagiri. Sri Bharati Tirtha, who was completely upset by this act of indiscretion on the part of the attendants, received a cheering message be known as Sri Vidyashankara and the Acharya constructed a magnificent temple within the next few years. It is believed that effulgence of the sage continues to manifest itself shedding subtle spiritual influence about the place. To this day the seal of the Mutt bears the name of Sri Vidyashankara.

Sri Bharati Tirtha (1333-1380 A.D)

अज्ञानां जाह्नवी तीर्थं विद्यातीर्थं विवेकिनाम् ।
सर्वेषां सुखदं तीर्थं भारतीतीर्थमाश्रये ॥

That Ganga which is the sin-removing refuge to the ignorant, That esoteric knowledge that is the refuge sought by the wise, That refuge which is good for all who seek Bliss, Unto that Bharati Tirtha, I bow!

Sri Bharati Tirtha a native of Ekasilanagaram (present day Warangal, Andhra Pradesh) and younger brother of Sri Vidyaranya, in his purvashrama, ascended the throne of transcendental wisdom as the 11th Acharya by succeeding his Guru Sri Vidyatirtha. He occupied the throne for 47 years until 1380. The Acharya’s reign was one of the most momentous periods in the history of India. It was under the guidance of his successor-designate, Sri Vidyaranya, that the great Hindu Empire of Vijayanagar was founded in 1336. The Acharya knew that the sacred religion of the land could be preserved only if the temporal powers were retained by the Hindu rulers. In order to prevent the minds of the public from drifting away from spiritual goals and also to retain the influence of the Mutt on the common man for spiritual good, he consecrated a golden image of Sri Sharada in the place of the sandalwood image installed during the time of Sri Adi Shankaracharya. He took up the task of renovating the temple and Mutt buildings. During the time of founding of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, the Vidya Shankara temple also was built. King Harihara’s brother Marappa and son-in-law Ballapa went to Sringeri in 1346 under the direction of the King to present nine villages to His Holiness for the undisturbed performance of His tapas and the support of forty Brahmin attendants. On the occasion of the consecration of Sri Vidyashankara temple, the Jagadguru divided lands yielding 600 pagodas into 120 vrittis of five pagodas each and gave them away to 120 learned Brahmins who thus settled near the Mutt. This was the beginning of the present town of Sringeri. Scholars proficient in the Vedas and Sastras were honoured with titles and gifts. The Acharya is noted to have endowed one hundred and twenty scholars proficient in the Vedas and Sastras with vrittis or small holdings of land.

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