Jyotir Math or Jyotir Pitha is a monastery located in the city of Jyotirmath, India. Sometimes called uttarāmnāya matha or northern monastery, it is one of the four cardinal institutions established by Adi Shankara in the 8th century CE and its appointees bear the title of Shankaracharya. After its occupation by Svāmī Rāmakṛṣṇa Tīrtha in the 18th century it was leaderless for 165 years until the appointment of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati in 1941. Since Brahmananda's death in 1953 there have been several disciples and gurus who have been appointed, occupied or claimed to be the rightful occupant and leader of the monastery.
Jyotir Math is the uttaramnaya matha or northern monastery, one of four cardinal institutions established by Adi Shankara (c. 8th century CE), the reviver of Vedic Sanatana Dharma. Shankara's four principal disciples, Padma-Pada, Hasta-Malaka, Vartika-Kara and Totakacharya were assigned to these four learning centers in the north, south, east and west of India. The subsequent leaders of each of these four monasteries have come to be known as Shankaracharyas in honor of the math's founder, Adi Shankara. As such they are the leaders of the Dasanami Saṃnyasins who are considered to have custody of Advaita Vedānta These four principle seats of learning are located in Purī (Orissa), Shringeri (Karnataka) and Dwarka (Gujarat) with the northern (Uttaramnaya) monastery being located in the city of Jyotirmaṭh.
1900 to 1940
Jyotir Math was occupied by Swami Ramakrishna Tīrtha in the 18th century but the monastery was inactive for 165 years following his death. During that time a number of gurus made claim to the Shankaracharya title and lawsuits representing the claimants and their representatives date back to the 1900s. For a time the head priest, Raval, of the Badrinath temple was thought by some to hold the Shankaracharya title there. However, the formal occupation of the matha only officially began when the leaders of the other three mathas convinced Brahmananda Saraswati to accept the position.
1941 to 1953
The appointment of Brahmananda in 1941 was made by a group of monks and pandits based in the city of Varanasi with the endorsement of Swami Bharati Krishna Tīitha, the Shankaracharya of Puri and Swami Chandrasekhara Bharati the Shankaracharya of Shringeri. Respected supporters of religious institutions, such as the rulers of the cities of Garhwal, Varanasi and Darbhanga, also endorsed Brahmananda and their recognition helped overcome opposition from previous claimants to the title. Brahmandanda was also perceived by his supporters as the embodiment of the qualifications mentioned in Vedic texts and this assisted in his unhindered ascension to the position at the age of 70.
Brahmananda was charged with reconstructing the temple and institution at Jyotir Math. Through the assistance of the local Deputy Commissioner and parties responsible for his nomination, Brahmananda reclaimed the surrounding land that had been encroached upon by local farmers. Under his leadership a two-story, 30-room building was constructed to serve as the Peeth Bhawan of Jyotir Math. He also supervised the final construction of the Shrine of Purnagiri Devi about 100 yards in front of the new monastery which "the Darbhanga ruler" had begun, but not completed, just prior to his death. Brahmanda's leadership was instrumental in re-establishing the Jyotir Math as "an important center of traditional advaita teaching in northern India" and the monastery was visited by the president of India, Rajendra Prasad in December 1952.
1954 to present
After the death of Brahmananda in 1953, Swami Hariharananda Saraswati, a now deceased disciple of Brahmananda, was offered the title but refused to accept it. Later it was revealed that five months before his death, Brahamananda had made a will and registered it with the District Registrar in Allahabad. The will named his disciple, Swami Shantanand Saraswati as his successor and Swami Dvarakesananda Saraswati, Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati and Swami Paramatmananda Saraswati as alternate choices. As a result Swami Shantanand Saraswati assumed the Shankarcharya-ship but his authority was disputed by several of Brahmananda's disciples and followers who did not feel that Shantanand met the requirements described in the Mahanusasana texts. Meanwhile others claimed that Brahmananda's death was due to poisoning, and that his will was not authentic, causing civil lawsuits to be filed by concerned parties. Relevant organizations involved in reviving Jyotir Math, including a committee of pundits from Varanasi, proposed Swami Krishnabodha Asrama as the Shankaracharya despite Shantanand's claim and occupation of Jyotir Math. Asrama died in 1973 and nominated his disciple Swaroopananda Saraswati, a disciple of Brahmananda who had taken Swami Krishnabodha Ashrama as his guru after Brahmananda's death, as his successor. However because Shantananda still occupied the Jyotir Math ashram built by Brahmananda, Swaroopananda took residence in a nearby building or ashram, said to be located near the former cave of Adi Shankara disciple, Trotakacharya.
During his tenure, Shantanand was "supportive" of another Brahamananda disciple Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and "often appeared with him in public". However, in 1980, Shantananda vacated the Shankarcharya position in favor of Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati, an additional disciple that was named in Brahmananda's will as an alternate choice for the Shankaracharya-ship. Author Williamson writes that Shantanand was removed by the other Shankarcharya's due to his "incompetence" and speculates that his relationship with the Maharishi may have been a contributing factor. However, Shantanand's successor, Vishnudevananda, also spoke well of the Maharishi and publicly demonstrated his support by presiding over one of the Maharishi's publicized events in New Delhi in July 1986. Vishnudevananda died in 1989 and Swami Vasudevananda Saraswati succeeded him. Former Shankaracharya, Shantanand, then died in 1997.
Another claimant is Madhava Asrama who disputes the lineage of Vasudevananda and Swaroopananda and who was appointed leader of Jyotir Math in the 1960s. He contends that Swaroopananda cannot accept the title of Shankaracharya for both the western and northern mathas in which case the title reverts to a subsequent disciple of Krishnabodha Asrama. Madhava Asrama was reportedly appointed leader of Jyotir Math under the auspices of Shri Niranjana Deva Tirtha who was the Shankarcharya of Puri at that time.
These events have resulted in three separate lineages at Jyotir Math despite Swarupananda being endorsed by other Adi Shankara mathas. These lineages include Swaroopananda Saraswati, the leader of the Dvaraka Math in the West and Madhava Asrama (both disciples of Krishnabodha Asrama) as well as Vasudevananda Saraswati who occupies the monastery built by Brahmananda in 1941.
- Pasricha, Prem C. (1977) The Whole Thing the Real Thing, Delhi Photo Company, p. 59-63 Cite error: Invalid
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- Mason (1994) p. 57 Note: "On Tuesday, 30 May 1961, eight years to the day after his master's death, the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Shantanand Saraswati graced the teacher training course with his presence and was received with all due ceremony. Arriving at the site where the new Academy was being built, he addressed the Maharishi and the gathered meditators . . . . He commended the practice of the Maharishi’s meditation, describing it as a 'master key to the knowledge of Vedanta' and added, 'There are other keys, but a master key is enough to open all the locks.'
- Williamson, Lola (2012) New York University Press, Transcendent In America, page 87
- Coplin, J.R. (1990) p. 62-63 Note: "Swami Vishnudevanand (the current Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math) speaks very highly of Maharishi and sees his teaching as a reflection of their master's. Both he and Shantanand (his immediate predecessor) were frequent guests of the Maharishi and personally endorsing his mission."
- Unknown author (July 26, 1986) Yogic Flying Demonstration, Press Trust of India
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