Jagadguru Chandrashekarendra Saraswati Swamigal (May 20, 1894–January 8, 1994) or the Sage of Kanchi was the 68th Jagadguru in the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. He is usually referred to as Paramacharya or MahaSwami or Maha Periyavaal.
Maha Periyavaal was born on 20 May 1894, under Anuradha star according to the Hindu calendar, into a Kannadiga Smartha Hoysala Karnataka Brahmin family in Viluppuram, South Arcot District, Tamil Nadu as Swaminatha. He was the second son of Subramanya Sastri, a District Education Officer. The child was named Swaminatha, after the family deity, Lord Swaminatha of Swamimalai, near Kumbakonam. Swaminatha began his early education at the Arcot American Mission High School at Tindivanam, where his father was working. He was an exceptional student and excelled in several subjects.He won a prize for his proficiency in the recitation of the "Holy Bible". In 1905, his parents performed his Upanayanam, a Vedic ceremony which qualifies a Brahmin boy to begin his Vedic studies under an accomplished teacher
During the childhood of the Acharya, his father consulted an astrologer who, upon studying the boy's horoscope, is said to have been so stunned that he prostrated himself before the boy exclaiming that "One day the whole world will fall at his feet." In 1906, the 66th Acharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham performed the annual Chaturmasyam (a forty-day annual ritual performed by Hindu ascetics while remaining in one place), in a village near Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu. This was Swaminathan’s first exposure to the Math and its Acharya. Later, Swaminathan accompanied his father whenever he visited the Math where the Acharya was deeply impressed by the young boy.
In the first week of February 1907, the Kanchi Kamakoti Math had informed Subramanya Sastrigal that Swaminathan's first cousin (son of his mother's sister) was to be installed as the 67th Peetathipathi. The presiding Acharya was then suffering from smallpox and had the premonition that he might not live long. He had, therefore, administered upadesa to his disciple Lakshminathan before he died. Sastrigal being away in Trichinopoly on duty arranged for the departure of Swaminathan with his mother to Kanchipuram. The boy and his mother started for Kalavai (where Lakshminathan was camping) to console his aunt who, while also being a widow, had just given up her only son to be an ascetic. They traveled by train to Kanchipuram and halted at the Sankara Math. By then, Lakshminathan had fallen ill:
I had a bath at the Kumara Koshta Tirtha. A carriage of the Math had come there from Kalavai with the people to buy articles for the Maha Puja on the tenth day of the passing of the previous 66th Acharya. One of them, a hereditary maistry (mason) of the Math, asked me to accompany him. A separate cart was engaged for the rest of the family to follow me. During the journey the maistry hinted to me that I might not return home and that the rest of my life might be spent in the Math itself. At first I thought that my elder cousin having become the Head of the Math, it was his wish that I should live with him. But the maistry gradually clarified matters as the cart rolled on. The acharya had fever which developed into delirium and that was why I was being separated from the family to be taken to Kalavai... I was stunned by this unexpected turn of events. I lay in a kneeling posture in the cart, shocked as I was, repeating "Rama... Rama," the only prayer I knew. My mother and other children came some time later only to find that instead of her mission of consoling her sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be consoled —T.M.P. Mahadevan, The Sage of Kanchi
The 67th Acharya also died, after reigning for a brief seven days as the head of the Math. Swaminathan was immediately installed as the 68th head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam on February 13, 1907, the second day of the Tamil month of Masi, Prabhava year. He was given Sanyasa Asramam at the early age of 13 and was named Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. On May 9, 1907 his "Pattabishekam" as the 68th Peetathipathi of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam was performed at the Kumbakonam Math. Devotees including Shivaji Maharaja of Tanjavur, government officials and pundits participated in the event.
Even though there was not enough property in the mutt to be administered, the court considering the benefit of the mutt, ordered the mutt to be administered under the “Guardian and Wards Act”. Sri C.H.Venkataramana Iyer, an illustrious personality from Kolinjivadi (Colinjivadi) village near Coimbatore was appointed as guardian by the court. The administration of the mutt was under guardianship from 1911 to May,1915. On the day of Sankara Jayanthi in the year 1915, Swamigal took over the administration of the mutt on the completion of his 21 st year. The administration of the mutt was taken over in name, but the actual work was taken care of by an agent, one Sri Pasupathi Iyer. He was an able administrator who volunteered to do the job without compensation and hailed from Thirupathiripuliyur. Sri Swamigal does not sign any document, instead Sri Mukham stamp is placed on documents. Maha Periyavaal spent several years in the study of the scriptures and dharma shastras and acquainted himself with his role as the Head of the Math. He soon gained the reverence and respect of the devotees and people around him. To millions of devotees he was simply "Periyava"—the revered one or Maha-Periyava. "Periyava" in Tamil means a great person, and conveys endearment, reverence, and devotion. "Mahaswami" and "Paramacharya" are his other well-known appellations
Maha Periyavaal was the head of the Mutt for eighty-seven years. During this period, the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam acquired new strength as an institution that propagated Śankara's teachings. The devotion, fervour, and intensity with which the Paramacharya practiced what Śankara had taught are considered to be unparalleled by his devotees. Throughout his life, the focus of his concern and activities was rejuvenating Veda adhyayana, the Dharma Sasthras, and the age-old tradition, which had suffered decline. "Veda rakshanam" was his very life breath, and he referred to this in most of his talks.
Remaining active throughout his life, the sage of Kanchi twice undertook pilgrimages on foot from Rameshwaram in the far south of the Indian peninsula to Benares in the North.
Providing support through Veda Patashalas (schools teaching Vedic lore) through the Veda Rakshana Nidhi which he founded and honouring Vedic scholars, he reinvigorated Vedic studies in India. He organised regular sadhas ('conferences') which included discussions on arts and culture—these led to a renewed interest in Vedic religion, Dharma sasthras, and theSanskrit language. His long tenure as Pitadhipathi is considered by many to have been the Golden Era of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. He attained Mukti (died) on January 8, 1994 and was succeeded by Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal.
Periyava stressed the importance of a Guru in one's life. He repeatedly preached about the importance of following the Dharmic path. His various discourses are available in a volume of books called 'Deivathin Kural' (Voice of the Divine) which have been compiled by R. Ganapathi, a devotee of Periyava. These books are available both in Tamil and English. A condensed form of these books is also available in English. These are available in any branch of the Kanchi math.
Though Periyavaa did not get directly into politics, he was interested in the happenings. At Nellichery in Palakkad (Present Day Kerala), Rajaji and Mahatma Gandhi met the Acharya in a cow shed. It was a practice in the mutt to wear silk clothes. But Acharya was the first one to do away with them and shifted to Khadi robes at Rameshwaram. He requested his devotees to do away with foreign/ non natural clothes some time earlier at Trichy. The day India became free, he gave the Maithreem Bhajata song, which was later to be sung at the UN by M S Subbulakshmi. He gave a speech on the significance of the flag and the Dharma chakra in it on that day.
Periyava's charm invited the rich and the poor, the old and the young alike to be his devotees. Some of his famous devotees include, their highness the King and Queen of Nepal, the Queen Mother of Greece, the Dalai Lama, M. S. Subbulakshmi, Indira Gandhi, R. Venkatraman and Atal Bihari Vajpayee among others. To the Acharya, the VIPs and the common man were one and the same. There were thousands of personal experiences to lakhs of his devotees, who still revere him, and pray to him as a messenger of the Supreme or an ultimate Guru.
The Kanchi matha is a Hindu monastic institution located in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, one of the five pancha-bhUta-sthalas (five "material" sites).It is known formally as Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. The head of the matha is referred to as a "Shankaracharya", a title that is also applied to the heads of the four Shankara mathas.
The Kanchi matha has been gaining prominence since the 18th century, when it was at Kumbakonam. Some accounts claim that it was founded there as a branch of the Sringeri matha, and branched out afterwards. Today it is one of the most important religious institutions of South India
The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (July 2009) The matha's official history states that it was founded by Adi Shankara of Kaladi, and that Jayendra Saraswati is its 69th head in succession, tracing its history back to the fifth century BCE.
Other, historical accounts state that the matha was established more recently (probably in the 18th century) in Kumbakonam, as a branch of the Sringeri Matha, and that it later declared itself independent. The heads of a matha in Kumbhakonam acquired control of the Kamakshi temple in Kanchipuram and moved their establishment to that city, between the years 1842 and 1863. This marks the origin of the Kanchi matha.
The Kanchi Matha claims to have been moved from Kanchipuram to Kumbakonam during the 18th century when Hyder Ali invaded the region. It is also claimed that archeological evidence in the form of stone architecture depicting the Shankaracharya and the epigraphy by the side situated in various temples in Kanchipuram indicate the 2500 year age of the Matha.
The Matha's published materials also claim that the present structure at Sannidhi Koil Street at Kanchipuram has been established there centuries before, which claim is however contradicted.
The Kamokoti Peetam however, traditionally refers to Sri Kamakshi referred popularly as Kamakodi. 'Kamakodi' is of Tamil origin, referring to Goddess Durga. 'Kodi' refers to Durga in the ancient Tamil Sangam literature. Kanchipuram is referred to as Kachi. The Vyakarana Mahabhashya of Patanjali uses the word 'Kanchi' and it can be thus understood that the word Kanchi also has a Sanksrit base. However, KamakOti is a latter Sanksrit form taken from the original Tamil form of Kamakodi. Tamil literature also refers to Kamakodi as Kamakanni.
The Original Kamakoti Peetam, in which Sri Adi Shankara established the Sri Chakra Yantra during the latter period of 8th century and the beginning of the 9th century' is at present known as "Adi Peeteshwari Ambal' and this temple is near the present famous shrine of Kamakshi. The form of the deity here is with ankusa, pasa, sugarcane bow and five flower arrows' 'respectively in each of the 4 hands. This matches precisely with Girvanendra Saraswath's Prapancha Sara Sara Sangraha. It is noteworthy that the Sri Chakra in the present day Kamakshi Amman temple was installed by one Nrusimha Advari during the 16th century, which is evidenced by a stone inscription in the vicinity. The Present day Kamakshi was originally a Budhist temple, and the present Kamakshi was perhaps Tara Devi. The process of conversion of the present temple from a Budhist temple into the Hindu Pantheology was complete perhaps by the 12th Century AD.
Thiruthondar Puranam of Sekkilar Perumal written during the 12th Century mentions the old & original Kamakoti Peeta as Kamakottam. It also mentions about the new shrine which is the present day kamakoti Peetam. Arunagiri Nadar also refers only to the Original Adi Peeteswari with four hands as described above. He mentions that she is kumaran's mother and that she resides very near to Kumarakottam It should be noted that the Original Kamakoti temple is just adjacent to Kumarakottam. Arunagirinathar has obviously taken no notice of the present day Kamakshi temple. In recent years the institution of Shankaracharya at the matha has come under increased stress. In 1983, when Jayendra Saraswati was already junior Acharya, the widely revered and popular Chandrasekharendra Saraswati appointed 13-year-old Vijayendra Saraswati as Shankaracharya as well, possibly owing to his differences with Jayendra. "Three Shankaracharyas for a single math was unprecedented", and Jayendra Saraswati abandoned the math and disappeared, and the Paramacharya anointed Vijayendra Saraswati as the math head. After about two weeks, Jayendra Saraswati returned, and a compromise was reached.
Sankararaman, son of an ex-employee of the Kanchi matha, Managing Trustee of the Lord Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kancheepuram, was murdered on September 3, 2004, allegedly at the behest of the Shankaracharya, police charged the Shankaracharya and several of his close associates with the murder. The murdered person, Sankararaman, had pointed out issues such as the Shankaracharya's trip to China crossing the seas by air, which according to him Hindus were forbidden to make.
Investigators alleged that calls to the assailants had been made from the matha mobile phone, and charges have been filed against Jayendra Saraswati as well as the junior acharya Vijayendra Saraswati.
On November 11, 2004, Jayendra Saraswati was arrested from Mehboobnagar, Andhra Pradesh. The arrest initially caused a tremendous uproar among the Hindu laity across the nation, and Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu groups started canvassing widely for his release. During the bail hearings, Justice R. Balasubramanian of the Madras High Court observed: "materials relied upon by the prosecution... would prima facie constitute reasonable grounds to believe' that the petitioner is shown to be guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life.
However, in a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court, bail was granted, with the court observing that: No worthwhile prima facie evidence apart from the alleged confessions have been brought to our notice to show that the petitioner along with other accused was party to a conspiracy
The Supreme Court also agreed to shift the trial to Pondicherry, after the defence argued that the media attention and other factors in Tamil Nadu made a fair trial impossible there.
In March 2006, both Jayendra as well as Vijayendra Saraswati, as well as a number of others, were charged on 14 counts, including murder and conspiracy. The police have not yet provided substantial evidences against the Shankarcharyas involvement in the case. It has been believed that the cases were slapped due to vindicative actions by the former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu J.Jayalalitha. The validity of the case, and the truth behind still remains a mystery.