Matha is a word that originated in the Sanskrit language which is regarded as one of the oldest languages of the world and even the language Hindi is said to be derived from it. It refers to a place of study which can either be an institute or college or school. In Buddhism and Jainism, it also refers to a monastery. These were established by Adi Shankaracharya who was an Indian guru (teacher), philosopher and theologist. He was born in 44 BCE in Chidambaram and he was the one who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta (non-duality). It is a part of Hinduism which refers to the attainment of the higher self of one’s true identity.
Mathas took time to grow and during the period of the second half of 1st millennium CE as proved by the archaeological pieces of evidence. In these institutes, sannyasis (monks) and gurus were led by Acharyas (teachers). The main purpose of these institutes was set for the attainment of “Moksha” which means free from the cycle of rebirth. These also taught the disciples about medicine, dance, art, etc. These ancient Mathas are mainly found in southern India for example in the states like Kerala, Andra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, etc.
Five major rules for students learning in Mathas which were later adopted by Jains and Buddhists are :
- To not injure living beings
- To be truthful
- To not take another’s property
- To practice self-restraint (continence)
- To be tolerant/liberal
The four Mathas are called Advaita Mathas and these were taken care of by disciples of Adi Shankaracharya known as Shankaracharya.
In each direction, there is one matha situated. In the north, it is in Badrinath, in the south, it is in Sringeri, in the east, it is in Jagannatha Puri, in the west, it is in Dwarka. These are as follows:
1) Govardhana Math, Puri, Orissa:
This is the eastern part of Advaita Mathas and it is present in the beautiful city of Puri in Orissa. It was formed around 483 BC. Swami Nischalananda Saraswati is the current Shankaracharya. This math has been connected to the Jagannath temple. Deities like Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Goddess Vimala are worshipped here. Ardhanareshwara Shiva and Krishna are put up by Adi Shankaraya. Its history goes back to its first holder or leader that was Padmapadacharya.
According to the legend, this matha also holds connections with the Jagannath temple which is also situated at Puri. Another matha that is regarded as its substitute was made around the same time and it is called Sankarananda Math. A tradition named Samudra Aarti also takes place. It was started nine years ago by present Shankaracharya. It is a prayer made to the sea on the day or special occasion of Paush Purnima. It is said to have a connection with Jagannath temple which is also located in Puri and thus it is regarded as Govardhananthatha. It does contain one more sub-matha which was built around at the same time and it is regarded as Sankarananda Matha. It covers all the eastern Indian sub-continent including stated like Mizoram, Tripura, Bihar, and countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc. Padmapadacharya preached the concept of ‘Prajnanam Brahma’ (Consciousness is Brahman) which formed based on Rig Veda.
2) Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka:
It is southern matha and is one of the four Advaita Vedanta present in the Chikkamangaluru district of Karnataka. This matha consists of two temples of great importance. One is the Vidyashankara Linga Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other one is Sharda Amba dedicated to Goddess Saraswati ( goddess of knowledge ). It was made around 800 AD in Sringeri. The Shiva temple was made during the reign of the Vijayanagara Empire. It is a famous Hindu matha with almost all major god deities being worshipped by people like Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, etc. This matha is eighty-five kilometers in size stretched across the south side of India.
Sureshwaracharya was the first leader of this matha. There are many stories behind the formation of the matha at this place. One is associated with Rishi (monk Rishyasringa) and the other one states that Adi Shankara saw a huge snake forming an umbrella to protect the frog from the hot sun. The current leader of the matha is Sri Vidhushekhara Bharati Mahaswami appointed in 2015. After the Vijayanagara era, came the Keladi era then the Maratha era but still, the matha has stood all this time with glory. It has also found its reference in Ramayana and Mahabharata (both are ancient Sanskrit epic). It was the basis of Yajur Veda.
3) Dwarka Matha, Dwarka, Gujarat:
This is the western Peeth or Matha. It is present on the coastal shore of Gujarat. This matha is also called as Kalika Matha. It was built during the eighth century CE. It represents the Sam Veda. It is present in the coastal city of Gujarat that is Dwarka. It is also known as Kalika Pitha. This matha is in the west and the Sharada Matha is in the southern side of India. Both of these are together called as Sharada Peeth. Shri Yogeshwarananda succeeded Shri Bharati who was invited to lead this matha in 1925 after the position was empty due to retirement of Shri Trivikrama Tirtha who was the head of the matha till 1921.
In 1945, Shri Abhinava Saccidananda Tirtha took the seat of this matha. Sam Veda is the third Veda amongst of the total four Vedas that have existed in the Hindu mythology. It was first headed by Hasta Malanka.
4) Jyotir Matha, Badrikashram, Uttarakhand:
This is the northern matha present in the Badrikashram village of Uttarakhand. It is also regarded as Jyotir Peetha. It is also one of the four Mathas established by Adi Shankaraya. It represents the last Veda that is Atharva Veda. It was established in 820 AD. During the 18th century, it was headed by Swami Ramakrishna Tīrtha but this seat remained empty for the next 165 years and then it was filled by Swami Bramhanada Sarswati in 1941.
It is the northern monastery. During the British period, all the words and texts were discarded by them but still somehow the work is present and the stories and the Vedic Sanatana Dharma has been passed by the native people from time to time to protect Hinduism and keep the principles of Adi Shankaracharya awake in the future generations to come. Tokakacharaya is regarded as the first head of this matha and he was also appointed by Adi Shankaracharya. On September 23rd, 2017 Shankaracharya stepped down and till now no one has been appointed as the next head of the Jyotir matha or peeth. It is the headquarter of Giri, Parbat, and Sagar sects of Dashmi monistic order.
These were the four major Mathas of India. But we know India is a country of many religions and at every corner, you will find any holy temple or building. Thus, some other major Mathas are Kanchi Matha in Tamil Nadu, Sri Samsthan Dabholi Math in Goa, Chitrapur Math, Karnataka, Shri Gaudapadacharya Math in Goa, Svarnavalli Matha in Karnataka, Belur Matha in West Bengal, Kashi Matha in Uttar Pradesh.
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