Serenity at Sringeri

Travel

Serenity  at Sringeri

My earliest memory of Sringeri goes back to my childhood, when I was probably five years old.

It starts with an old black and white photograph, with me in pony tails standing next to my grandparents, posing against the backdrop of the temples in the Sringeri Math.

It was probably around the same time that I had heard about the story of Sringeri from my mother. 

More than twelve centuries ago, exponent of Advaitha philosophy Adi Shankaracharya saw an unusual sight on the banks of the Tunga in Sringeri, that made him realise that this place was sacred.

A cobra was seen spreading out its hood over a pregnant frog protecting it from the scorching sun.  He was struck by the sanctity of the area which could bring two enemies together and infuse love between them.

The Acharya went on to establish his very first Math here and dedicated it to Goddess Saraswati. He had invoked the deity and had consecrated an idol of her, which was initially made of sandalwood. He later established the Guru-Shishya tradition that follows till date as pilgrims flock here to seek the blessings of the current Shankaracharya, the 36th in line.

As a child, I had made several trips to Sringeri and slowly the word “spiritual” seemed to become synonymous with it. The journey was long and arduous then. It was the long route from Bangalore via Tumkur and Arasikere to reach Hassan and then Chikmagalur.

The winding roads of Malnad painted a carpet of green coffee estates as we continued our journey to Sringeri from the hills. Sometimes, we would take the picturesque Agumbe route, just to take in the views of the forests and sunsets. And every time, I used to lose myself in the journey.  

Even today, I am lost as I drive through Malnad, drenched in monsoons.  Sringeri brings to mind images of the long roads snaking across the green mountains, the heavy rains and squalls, the richly-carved temples, the fish swimming in the serene Tunga and the rhythmic chanting from the various rituals. 

My first stop in Sringeri is always on the banks of the River Tunga. Sitting on the steps and watching the fish nibble at the feet of people who are performing their evening rituals, I take in the scene. The sun lights the scales of the fish as they whisk their fins in and out of water. The forests border the banks of the river, while two temple elephants cross over to the other bank on the bridge.  

Temples galore
The temples are not crowded. I stop by at the Sharadamba temple adorned with massive sculptures. It was reconstructed in the South Indian Dravidian style, after the earlier wooden temple had given way. After visiting several smaller shrines dedicated to various deities like Malayala Brahma, Torana Ganapathi, Kodandarama, Janardhana, Subramanya and other guardian gods and goddesses, I enter my favourite shrine - the Vidyashankara temple, which is standing tall at the entrance to the River Tunga. 

Looking up in awe at every sculpture on the outer walls, I watch the sun shine on them. The twelve zodiac signs are carved on the pillars and it is believed that the first rays of the sun grace the specific sculpture that coincides with the zodiac sign of the month. It is indeed an architectural marvel in stone, built in the fusion of Hoysala, Vijayanagar and Chalukya styles in the 14th century.

Dedicated to deities Vidya Ganapathi, Vidya Shankara, Durga and the Trimurthis, it was built by pontiff Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha Acharya, as a tribute to his Guru, the 10th Acharya, Sri Vidyatirtha. Another temple is said to be buried beneath this temple and there is a story around it.

Sri Vidyatirtha was the reigning Acharya in the 13th century when two brothers from Ekasilanagaram or today’s Warangal came to meet him. As the Guru wanted to meditate, he built an underground chamber and explained to one of the brothers Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha not to disturb him for twelve years. However after three years, when the pontiff  was away, the attendants out of curiosity opened the chamber only to see that the body was replaced by a linga.  

Sri Bharati Krishna Tirtha then received a divine message from his Guru to build  the Vidyashankara temple near the river. He later became the next Jagadguru and was followed by his brother, Sri Vidyaranya, the founder of the Vijayanagara empire and the Guru to the brothers, Harihara (Hakka) and Bukka.  

The Hampi connection
The connection between Hampi and Sringeri is something I learnt afresh here. It is believed that seer Vidyaranya was meditating on Matanga Hill in Hampi, when he met two brothers, Harihara and Bukka.

Under his guidance, the brothers built a new capital Vidyanagara and designed it in the form of a chakra with the Virupaksha temple in the centre and nine gates surrounding it. The town soon became known as Vijayanagara or ‘town of victory,’ as the brothers established a new dynasty by defeating Delhi Sultans and the various rebelling feudatories. 

It was already night fall as the stars came out and the moonlight drenched the waters of the Tunga. Hordes of devotees were crossing the bridge to reach the other side of the bank in time for the night puja at the Chandramouleeshwara temple, performed by the Shankaracharya. It is a surreal experience as one crosses the Tunga on a star-lit night and walks across the rich vegetation in silence, listening to the crickets , as the invigorating chants fill the air and vibrates across the river. 

It is at the moment that I understand the essence of spirituality. It may just be a serene moment, a togetherness with the divine, a surreal experience, a blissful solitude - it may mean many things to different people and yet can neither be articulated nor fathomed.

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