Sringeri – A seeker’s paradise
I was in beautiful Sringeri the last few days and I wanted to share my experiences there. The chaturmasya vrata of His Holiness the Jagadguru Shankaracharya concluded on the 12th of this month. The Sringeri matha has a 116 year old tradition of organizing a vidwat sabha, an assembly of scholars in various areas like vedanta, nyaya, mimamsa, vyakarana etc. Starting with the Ganesha chaturthi (the special day when we pay obeisance to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God) – which was on the 1st of September this year – the assembly takes place for 12 days. This year over 50 scholars across the country were invited and discussions on various topics were held under the direct guidance of His Holiness The Jagadguru Shankaracharya Sri Sri Bharathi Theertha Mahaswamiji. It was an absolute treat to sit and watch the proceedings.
Before I proceed let me share a bit about Sringeri for those who haven’t been there. It is the first among the four centers established by Adi Shankaracharya twelve centuries ago. He installed Sureshwaracharya as the first Shankaracharya of Sringeri and starting with Him, there has been a succession of Acharya-s who were not only jivanmukta-s but also scholars of the highest order. The Sringeri town is an overnight’s trip from Bangalore up in the western ghats in South India. The serene setting and environment is most conducive for contemplation and other spiritual pursuits. There are many shrines present there that are on everyone’s must-visit list. Travellers to Sringeri may want to check this link here.
The Sharada Peetham complex houses many temples. The primary deity is the Goddess Sharada. Details of all the temples can be found here. All these come on the northern side of the Tunga river which is filled with water due to the rains. There is a scenic walk bridge connecting the northern and southern banks of the Tunga.
On the southern bank is the Nrisimha vana (the forest of Nrisimha) – where the shrines of the previous three Acharya-s and the residence of the present Jagadaguru is housed. This side of the river, to me, is a veritable haven of peace. The vibrations of austerities and penance reverberate here and no one can leave without experiencing it in some form or the other. It is very quiet and you can hear birds chirp and various insects making all sorts of noises. There is also a huge hall where His Holiness performs His puja which can be watched by devotees. As one passes this hall, you will find a Gaja Shala – Elephant shed to the far right. Straight down is the ancient vedic patashala and the Shankara Advaita Research Center which houses manuscripts that are centuries old. It also has a library and the publications unit.
These last four days marked the closing of the chaturmasya and the vidwat sabha. I had the occasion to sit – in absolute awe – and watch traditional scholars talk. An average day went like this: Get up around five AM, have a hot bath, finish prayers and visit the temples. Around 9:30 walk across to the southern bank of the Tunga river and sit in a Brahma Sutra bhashyam class of the eminent scholar Sri Mani Dravid Shastrigal. The class itself was being attended by the other visiting scholars. The entire class was in sanskrit. Well, I don’t know sanskrit but vedanta shravana itself is purifying in all forms and hence I derived benefit. Its amazing to see and hear people converse in sanskrit like we do in our native languages! They even crack jokes in sanskrit!
Around 10:30 AM His Holiness the Jagadaguru comes out to give darshan to devotees. This goes on till lunch which is served on the northern side in a very modern set up. Post lunch a small break in the room and then head back out at 3:30 to the vidwat sabha. This goes till nearly 8 pm. There are multiple speakers each day covering various topics. The discussions were lively and moderated under the benign guidance of His Holiness Himself. Whether it was vyakarana or vedanta, His Holiness gave the stamp of His authority to the proceedings by clarifying the points made by the scholars. The scholars walk to the river in small groups and perform their evening sandhya worship in the river. Post 8 pm, retire to the room.
On the last day the scholars were honored with awards. Three of them were chosen and presented with golden rings. Two books were also released by His Holiness. The previous year’s vidwat sabha discussion are brought out in the current year. I think, if I am not mistaken, it was titled ‘Vidwat Prabha’. Another book on Brahma Sutra bhashyam was also relased.
Interspersed through out the day were interactions with wonderful people. Sat sangam elevates a person and Sringeri draws to itself so many wonderful seekers. Interacting with them makes the days pass by blissfully in a blink of the eyelid! I had the occasion to see seekers from Europe and America and of course various parts of India. I met very young scholars who had advanced degrees from American universities or who had worked for large multi national corporations. These people had left it all and settled in Sringeri to pursue their spiritual pursuits full time. There was no gossip. I did not read the newspaper or the watch TV for four days! That by itself was conducive to great bliss!
What could be more wonderful? The gurgling river flowing nearby, the chirping of the birds and sounds of the insects, the serene atmosphere and the presence spiritually elevated people. You see people congregating for prayers. You see some other sitting quietly in meditation at the numerous shrines. Else you may see scholarly discussion on various scriptural topics. And above all the wonderful vibrations of centuries of austerities done by Jivanmukta Acharya-s of the illustrious Sharada Peetham itself…Sringeri is truly a seekers paradise!