Guru Charitra – Sri Sacchidananda Sivabhinava Narasimha Bharati Mahaswamiji

Sri Sringeri Guru Charitra

Sri Sacchidananda Sivabhinava Narasimha Bharati – 33rd Acharya ( 1879 – 1912 )

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During the greater part of the 19th century the matha at Sringeri was presided over by Sri Narasimha Bharati VIII (1817-1879). In a vision that appeared to him a voice arose saying “make room”. He interpreted it to mean that he should nominate a successor and rear him properly. The Acharya sent for horoscopes and had them scrutinized. After an eight-year search, he finally found the horoscope that he was satisfied with.

The horoscope that the Archarya had identified was that of a nine-year old boy Shivaswami, son of Kunigal Ram Sastri, the Court Pandit of Mysore. Shivaswami was being reared and educated by his elder brother Lakshmi Narasimha Sastri. When they both came to pay respects to the Acharya, he called the boy to his side and asked him what he wanted to do in life. The boy quoted a Sanskrit verse. It was a prayer to Shiva, appropriate to the occasion and in harmony with the Upanishadic doctrine that the guru was God himself in human form. The boy wanted nothing but steadfast devotion to the guru. This prompt reply greatly pleased the Acharya. He had repeatedly prayed to God for a worthy disciple and he felt that his prayer has been heard.

An auspicious day was selected for the sannyasa grahana of Shivaswami. The ceremonials connected with it were duly performed, the Acharya as the guru initiating the boy. The rites were exacting and took up the whole day. The guru taught him the Mahavakya and named him Sacchindananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati.

At dark, the guru put him through the evening rite, made him have a light meal and ordered him to lie down beside him on a deer-skin and take rest after the fatigues of the day. The boy soon fell asleep and was heard to murmur in his sleep-sarvoham, sarvoham, “I am all, I am all.”

The guru now wished that the young Swami should get accustomed to the tradition of the matha and the responsibilities of touring. Constant touring throughout the extensive jurisdiction of the matha was required to teach people Vaidika dharma as laid down in the scriptures and impart the higher Upanishadic vidya to such as were competent.

The guru was now 82 and nearing his end. In 1879 his soul left for eternal bliss. The young Swami Sri Sacchindanada Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati was duly installed as the new Acharya. He keenly felt the separation of his guru. For the next six years he stayed at Sringeri. In spite of his heavy daily schedule, he  always made time to visit the samadhi of his late master, worship and receive inspiration from communion with him.

Early Ministry

He now decided it was time to go out and fulfill the mission for which the matha had been established, one which the older Acharya had instilled into his heart both by precept and example. A Jaghidar from northern India came to pay his homage to Swami. It was he who had provided the tower of the Vidyasankara shrine in the matha with five gold pinnacles. He now requested the Swami to visit north India, offering to accompany him and look after all of his and his retinue’s needs. This tour lasted four years.

The next two years, the Swami stayed at Sringeri studying the sacred scriptures and teaching the disciples who came to him for instruction in the Vedanta. He then left for a tour of the southern districts.

The practice in the southern districts was to conduct the consecration and the daily service in the shrines in accordance with agama, and not vaidika methods. The Swami wished to make a departure from this practice and had the consecration performed according to vaidika prescriptions (Vide Baudhayana Grihya-sutra for the details of vaidika pratishtha). He arranged that worship in the shrines should be performed in the vaidika style.  

The southern tour lasted for over four years from 1891 to 1895. During this tour, a great many received upadesa from him. His very presence was an education. In the words of the editor of the Swami’s work Bhakti-sudha-tarangini, “No one was ushered into his holy presence who did not go back full of noble resolve to lead thenceforward a purer and more exalted life. To see him was a privilege, to speak to him was a real blessing. His wonderful personality has a magnetic force.” His learning was colossal; he was simple as a child. The Ramayana was his favorite poem which he was never tired of reading. He had unshaken faith in the efficacy of sincere prayer.

He started a pathasala named Sadvidya-Sanjivini at Sringeri in 1895 for the resuscitation of Sanskrit studies. He resolved to spend his time in study and teaching. During the three years after his return from the southern districts tour, he took advanced students through a complete course of prasthanatraya and Sankara’s  bhashyas.

Turn of Mind

A portion of the forest to the south of the Tunga River in Sringeri had been cleared for tapas and was named NarasimhaVana in the memories of his guru. He moved to a temporary shed on an auspicious day in 1897. Another portion of the forest was cleared to build a permanent accommodation and few hermitages.

Great princess and wealthy noble men used to come to the Swami, with large sums of money for the matha, which they respectfully laid at his feet. Poor people came to him in great numbers for help. People who were suffering from maladies sought his aid. Scholars came to display their learning and get rewards.

He received everyone with a smile and kindness, showed equal solicitude for the rich and the relief of the distressed. For little children, especially, he showed extraordinary kindness. When great scholars, yogis and jnanis came, he could talk with them on most abstruse subjects of philosophy with and ease and flow that were marvelous.

For twelve years from 1895 to 1907 the Swami lived at Sringeri, all the while thinking of what should be done to check the drifting away of the people of the land from their old moorings. The Swami prayed and sought the help of Sankara, the great master. The great master’s murti in the matha was placed in a conspicuous shrine. He arranged for an annual festival in his honour, commencing on the sukla pratipad of the month of Vaisakha and ending on the fifth day, the anniversary of the master’s birth.

In the mornings, special adoration and archanas to the murti of the master were held with recitation of his great bhashyas. There were lectures by Swami himself in the evenings in simple easy style on the teachings of the master. The program concluded at night with a procession in the streets of Sringeri with musical recitals of the master’s life. This movement has since spread to other parts of the land.

Shrines at Kaladi

The Swami wished to revive the spirit of the great master, Sankara, for righteousness to be re-established in the land. Why not build a shrine at the birthplace of Sankara and place his murti there? The very birthplace had become dim memory; still it could be identified by the description given of it in Madhava’s Sankara Vijaya.

The Swami knew that nothing great was achieved without difficulties. He simply bided his time. At this juncture came the Act of the Governor-General of India for preservation of antiquities and conservation of ancient monuments. Similar enactments came into force in the Indian states and it was now easy for the Maharaja of Travancore to acquire all the lands known as the Kaladi Samketa and place it at the disposal of the Sringeri matha. The Swami saw that the times were propitious for carrying out his long cherished object, ordered that preparations might be speedily made for a tour to Kaladi.

A day in February 1910 was fixed for the consecration of the shrines at Kaladi. Two shrines of compact, strong and beautiful design were constructed. One for Saradamba was built near the spot which, according to local folklore was the place where the great master, Sankara’s mother was cremated. Another was built for Sankara, a little further to the west along the banks of the river Purna. The access to the temple was steep, so a spacious flight of steps, 32 in number, made of granite slabs, was put up. To the east of these shrines a matha was built for the residence of the Swami.

The preliminary ceremonies including the sanctification of the murtis were performed in regular course, as laid down in the sastras. The murtis were installed on the date originally fixed. The Swami then came to the shrines and by his own magnetic vibrations quickened the murtis with 64 essences, which constitute their life. The atmosphere of the place breathed peace, fervor and culture.

In due course of time, the Bangalore matha, where Sankara’s idol was installed by the Swami himself in 1907, was completed with a grand and imposing structure. The idea in building the matha was to make it the center of advanced Sanskrit studies and to establish a Sanskrit College under the title of Bharatiya Girvana Praudha Vidya Abhivardhani Pathasala.Provision was made for free boarding and education of advanced students in the Purva and Uttara Mimamsas.

The Closing Days

One thing remained to be done; a successor to the Sringeri matha had to be appointed before the Swami could quit the world. For several years past he had his eye on a promising youth of Sringeri. The sole surviving son out of 13 children of his parents, the boy was very intelligent and well-behaved. The boy was admitted to the Sanskrit School at Sringeri, which was maintained by the matha. His name was Narasimha. The Swami now sent the youth to the matha College at Bangalore to study Purva Mimamsa, as preliminary to the study of Vedanta.

In March 1912 the Acharya’s soul left the body. He had given orders while living that his body should be interred in his favourite retreat, Narasimhavana, and that the Narmada linga which he had been worshipping every day before he retired for the night should be installed over the spot. This was accordingly done.

Literary Contributions

His Holiness Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati was not only a realized soul and a highly venerated saint, but also a profound scholar who took a keen interest in scholastic debates, philosophic exposition and devotional writing. A sufficient number of his devotional compositions were collected together and published in 1913 under the title, Bhakti-sudha-tarangini.

Of all hymns he wrote, the greatest and the most moving are on Goddess Sarada, Acharya Sankara and his own guru, Sri Narasimha Bharati. In these hymns he appears to be writing not on absent entities but actually addressing living persons. It was also due to him that the collected works of Adi Sankara were published under the title, Sankara Granthavali.

He is considered by many to be an reincarnation of Adi Sankara who established Sanatana Dharma in the land, and initiated works designed to spread the Dharma.

Article excerpted from : The Greatness of Sringeri, A Sringeri Sarada Peetham Publication

Transcribed by : Vijay Kompalli

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