Foundation of Shree Kashi Math Samsthan
A small vatu entered the yajna mantapa of the emperor Bali of danava vamsha, the traditional enemies of devatas. When the emperor asked him what he wanted, he said he had come there to receive the land covered by his three steps. Shukracharya, the priest of danavas, smelt danger and forewarned the emperor that the vatu was none other than Lord Vishnu in disguise, who had come there to deceive him. In spite of the warning from the priest, the emperor felt so happy that Lord Vishnu had come to his doors as a beggar and promised him to donate the land he had asked for. Right at that moment the small vatu grew to unimaginable proportions and assumed virat rupa. He measured the entire world with one step, the rest of the universe including the sky was measured by his second step and asked the emperor as to where he should keep the third step. Bali offered his head, on which the virat purusha placed his foot, thereby sending him to patala loka. It is recorded that during the measurement of the sky, the toe of the virat purusha (V amana) reached Brahma loka where, Lord Brahma was pleased to receive Vamana (the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and washed the toe with sacred water, which then flowed down the sky and became the river Ganga, who is thus considered to be a daughter of Lord Vishnu and hence became very sacred.
Varanasi, situated on the bank of the river Ganga, is considered as a sacred city through its association with the sacred river. It is also famous because the great Vishveshwara Temple is situated in this city. It was (and still is) a centre of Sanskrit study, where many pundits study and/or teach Hindu Dharma Shastras. One of the Swamijis, Shrimath Varadendra Thirtha Swamiji of Shree Kashi Math Samsthan had spent ten years in this city for the study of Dharma Shastras.
Kashi has been a sacred city for Vaishnavas and Shaivas alike. It has also been a repository of knowledge for the scholars, having a thirst for Sanskrit literature. Scholars who had learnt in Kashi are revered all over India. It is from this city that the present Shree Kashi Math Samsthan got its name.
Shri Vyasaraja was the Rajaguru of the Vijayanagara Empire. Krishnadevaraya (1509-1530) was its famous emperor. Once Shri Vyasaraja happened to visit an old Brahmana couple in their home, where he was treated as an honoured guest. Being pleased with their service, he blessed them, “Let a worthy son be born to you”. With tears in their eyes, the old Brahmana pleaded, “Oh Righteous Swamiji, we are sinners and we are not fortunate enough to have that blessedness. Perhaps it is not in our destiny to have a son born to us. We have already grown old and our clan (vamsha) might get extinguished”, and fell at the Swamiji’s feet. The Swamiji felt sorry. He thought for some time and pondered, “Lord Moola Gopalakrishna made me utter those words and it is up to Him to see that the words come true”, and remembering the Lord, the Swamiji addressed the couple, “Do not worry any more. Lord Krishna spoke through me. With his grace nothing is impossible. You will be blessed with not only the son, but two. However, you have to offer the elder son to me. Lord Hari will bless you”. The couple’s joy knew no bounds. The Swamiji departed.
Some years later, the Swamiji visited them again. Now as predicted, two sons were born to the couple and as promised, they offered the elder son, Vittalacharya to the Swamiji. The younger son, Guruprasada, remained with the parents.
Vittalacharya is believed to have been born in A.D. 1517. Nothing more is known about his parentage and the place where he was born. It is known with certainty that his father was a Brahmana.
The young Vittala accompanied Shri Vyasaraja to his headquarters in Vijayanagara, where he was looked after well. This happened around 1522, when Vittala was barely five years old. After performing chowla and upanayana ceremonies, the Swamiji himself taught him Tarka, Vyakarana, Mimamsa, Vedanta etc. Recognizing the development of Bhakti and Vairagya in the child prodigy, the Swamiji initiated him in 1525 into sanyasa and named him Shri Vishnu Thirtha. This happened when he was eight years of age. (Early in this century, the Swamijis of the eight Mathas of Udupi, founded Shri Madhwacharya, used to initiate young boys into sanyasa. These were balasanyasis).
The education of Shri Vishnu Thirtha was spread over the period 1522-1535. In the meantime (around 1530) Shrimath Surendra Thirtha of Shri Kumbakonam Math visited Vijayanagara to see Shri Vyasaraja (both were brothers in their Purvashrama). Shrimath Surendra Thirtha was very much impressed by the young shishya-Swami, Shri Vishnu Thirtha. At his request, Shri Vyasaraja offered Shri Vishnu Thirtha to Shrimath Surendra Thirtha after making him go through the ceremony of danda parivanana, and renamed him Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha.
Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha stayed with Shri Vyasaraja for the next five years and then went to Kumbakonam to join his new Guru, Shrimath Surendra Thirtha (in 1535).
A reference to the offerring of Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha to Shrimath Surendra Thirtha can be found in a kirtana of Saint Purandaradasa (1484-1564)
“Vyasarajara charana kamala darshana dhareyolu Vijayendra Vadirajaremba parama shishyara padedu merede keeruthiyalli Surendraru putra bhiksheya bede Vijayeedranna karunisi matavanuddharisi …………. “
The kirtana composed in praise of Shri Vyasaraja (the Swamiji had given Dasa deeksha and had named him Puradaradasa) says, “You became famous by having great disciples like Vijayendra and Vadiraja. When Surendra (Surendra Thirtha of Kumbakonam Math) begged for a son (a disciple-shishya), you offered him Vijayendra and saved his Mata”.
Later in 1545, a Veerashaiva Mathadhipati of Kumbakonam challenged Shrimath Surendra Thirtha to argue with him in Dharma Shastras if he dared. He further stipulated that whoever was defeated should be the servant of the winner. The Swamiji had to accept the challenge. By then Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha had mastered many Shastras and got the titles like Vidyaratnakara, Vidyabdni (Ocean of Vidya), Vidyanidhi (treasure of Vidya) etc. So Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha easily defeated the challenger. As per the terms of the challenge, the Veerashaiva Math property was handed over to the Kumbakonam Math of Shrimath Surendra Thirtha. A reference to this is found in Epigraphia Indica (Vol. 12, 1913-14, p. 340) as follows:
“Vijayendra Thirtha was one of the most famous of the Madhva Acharyas. Nothing is known of his parentage or his birth place. Surendra Thirtha of the Purvadi Math or Sumatindra Math, the twelfth guru from Shri Madhvacharya, was the spiritual guru of Vijayendra Thirtha. He also succeeded him on the pontificial see as the thirteenth guru. But Vijayendra Thirtha, like Vadiraj Thirtha of the Sode Math, received all his education in philosophy from the great Vyasaraja Thirtha of the Vyasaraja Math.
“In his purvashrama, he was known by the name of Vittalacharya. He is said to have held the pontificate, according to the list preserved in the Mantralaya Sri Raghavendra Swami Math, for a period of 55 years, 5 months and 16 days from Saka 1461 to 1517 and to have died on Jeshta Bahula. He appears to have spent the last part of his life at Kumbakonam. He is said to have been the master of 64 vidyas (branches of learning), which he employed in vanquishing a great Veerashaiva Guru, who had a large following and who had his Math at Kumbakonam. The condition under which this philosophical wrangle took place was that if the Veerashaiva Guru succeeded, the Madhva Acharya should join him with all his followers; and if the Madhva Guru won, the other Guru should make over his Math with his belongings to Madhva Acharya and go away to the north, never after to return to Kumbakonam. After an eleven-day discussion, Vijayendra Thirtha came out successful. The Veerashaiva Guru was obliged to leave the place and retire to the north, making over his Math and all its belongings to his vanquisher, whose spiritual descendants still enjoy its possession. On the anniversary of this event the image of Vijayendra Thirtha is taken in procession to this Math even at the present day (1913-14). When Appayya Dikshita wrote condemning the Madhva philosophy, Vijayendra Thirtha wrote several refutations of his works. He also wrote commentaries on almost all important Madhva works, such as Chakra Mimamsa, Chandrikodahrita, Nyaya Vivarana, Nayayamrita Vyakhya, Appayya Kapola Chapetika, etc. “
The Swamijis used to (and even now) visit various centers where their followers were residing, perform trikala puja (thrice a day), engage themselves in pravachanas (religious discourses), bless the disciples, etc. On receiving the binnahapatram (invitation) from the elders of the community residing in a particular city, inviting the Swamiji to observe the Chaturmas Vrita of a particular year in their city (such request come from many cities), the Swamiji accepts one. The Swamiji used to stay for four months (now it is reduced to two months or four fortnights) in the city. According to this custom, Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha of the Kumbakonam Math was invited by the Goud Saraswath Brahmanas of Kochi to observe the Chaturmas Vrita of the year A.D. 1539-40. The Swamiji had complied with their wished and had gone to Kochi. During his stay there he drew a plan, according to which he would select a boy form the Goud Saraswath Brahmana community an initiate him into sanyasa in Kashi, and found a Math with the young sanyasi as the head of the Math. The Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmana community and initiated him into sanyasa in Kashi, and found a Math with the young sanyasi as the head of the Math. The Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas agreed and the Swamiji selected a suitable boy from their community and after completion of the Chaturmas Vrita, took him to Kumbakonam with him for imparting the necessary training and instructions. With the permission of the Guru-Swami (Shrimath Surendra Thirtha), the Shishya-Swami (Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha) informed the Goud Saraswath Brahmana residents of Kochi to purchase some land in Kashi on the bank of the river Ganga. Accordingly, the required land was purchased and a building constructed to house the Math. It was decided that the shishya-Swami (and not the Guru-Swami who was old at that time) would initiate the Vatu into sanyasa and accordingly, Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha set on a long journey from Kumbakonam to Kashi with the chosen boy and a group of Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas. When the party reached Kashi, the other group, which had already been there, had completed the building for housing the Math.
On an auspicious day, the boy was initiated into sanyasa and named Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha. The entire group stayed in Kashi in the premises of the Math for some time and then returned to Kumbakonam, visiting various sacred places on the way. The new Swamiji was ceremoniously brought before Shrimath Surendra Thirtha, who presented him two deities, one of Lord Ramachandra (Raghupati) and the other of Vedavyasa as well as a shalagrama for the daily puja, along with other paraphernalia, required for different purposes on the same lines as those followed in the Kumbakonam Math Samsthan. Each and every Swamiji of the Kashi Math continued to worship Vyasa Raghupati and shalagrama from that day to the present one. The present head of the Math is also worshipping these even today.
When Shrimath Surendra Thirtha gave the deities and other things to the Kashi Math, he also authorized Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha to prescribe rules for conduct of all religious ceremonies and also the authority to enforce these rules, to imprint Mudras (mudra dharana vidhi) on the persons of Goud Saraswath Brahmanas and to instruct mantropadesha thereby authorizing them to utter certain mantras such as Om Namo Vasudevaya, etc. (These functions were earlier done by the Swamijis of the Kumbakonam Math Samsthan). This authorization, written on a copper plate and dated Magha Shuddha Panchami of Plava Samvatsara . Sh. Sh . 1463, Saturday 21st January, 1542) is in Devanagari script but in Kannada language. A free rendering of the contents of this copper plate, as reproduced in Saraswath Bhushana, a Marathi book written by Shri Ganesh Ramachandra Sharma (Pub. The Popular Book Depot, Bombay, 1950, pp. 506-507) is given below:
(The title of Shrimath Surendra Thirtha is given at the top).
“We present this copper plate to our beloved Yadavendra Thirtha of Kashi Math of Konkana residents on Magha Shuddha Panchami of Plava Samvatsara. We are very much pleased with your visit to our Math. By the very sight of our Deities you have earned our grace. We had given to you free of cost the following:
One deity of Lord Rama, one deity of Vyasa, one shalagrama , one palanquin, one white umbrella (shveta chhatra), two chamaras , two asanas (seats), two deevatigas (torches lighted by burning oil), one dhavala shankha (white conch), nagari (big drum), patakas , talas, etc. We hereby allow you to make use of all these titles when you and your heirs hereafter will be engaged in tours in the country and also delegate to you the right to imprint mudras on the person of all the Brahmanas of your community. Let this tradition be followed now and in future. If per adventure any disputes arise in any matter in your community, we undertake to settle them. Our heirs will also follow this custom in future. Anyone violating these injunctions will be deemed to have committed treachery to the preceptor ( Guru droha ). You Math should owe allegiance to the Guru Parampara of our Math alone and to none else. When you observe Chaturmas Vrita, if one of the four months happens to be Adhika Masa (additional month), your followers should treat you well. Since you also worship Shri Raghupati and Vedavyasa, we have come to the conclusion that you belong to us in all respects. You have to deal with us with due regards and with respect. Our lineage shall have no right whatsoever to demand back whatever we had given to you.
This is our solemn promise, with meditations on Lord Narayana”.
It has been mentioned in Saraswath Bhushana that this copper plate was presented in Sh. Sh . 1403. This date may not be correct. It is known that the recipient of the copper plate Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha passed away on Ashada Bahula Panchami of Keelaka Samvatsara , Sh. Sh . 1530, i.e., 127 years after receiving the copper plate, if it was really presented in 1403. From this it follows that the Swamiji must have lived for about 140-150 years, taking into account that the boy, who later became Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha, might have been about 15 years of age at the time of initiation into sanyasa in Kashi. It is hard to believe that he lived up to an incredible age of about 150 years. If, on the other hand, it is assumed that the Plava Samvatsara mentioned in the copper plate is of 1463 and not of 1403 as reported in Saraswath Bhushana (every Samvatsara repeats after sixty years or multiples of sixty years, the total number of Samvatsaras being sixty), the life span of the Swamiji amounts to 80-90 years, a more credible value. Thus it may be said that the copper plate was written and presented in Playa Samvatsara of 1463.
This copper plate was in the possession of Shrimath Bhuvanendra Thirtha Swamiji (17th Swamiji of the Kashi Math Samsthan). Reference to this was made in a rare book, entitled Dasha Prakarana written in Sanskrit with Marathi commentary and published in 1872 and printed in Nirnayasagara Press, Bombay. The author was the illustrious Kota Lakshmana Narayana Kini Shastri, who had seen the copper plate, and retained a certified copy with him. Subsequently, this book with the Sanskrit original and Kannada translation of the commentary translated by Shri P. Narayana Prabhu, Manager, Prabhakara Press, Udupi was published by Kundapur Narasimha Bhat in 1923 (printed at the Prabhakara Press, Udupi). The copper plate is reproduced partly on pages 230-231 of the Kannada edition. The present author has a copy of the Kannada edition.
Soon after presenting the copper plate to Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha, Shrimath Surendra Thirtha of the Kumbakonam Math Samsthan issued letters (these are called rayasapatrams ) to Goud Saraswath Brahmanas residing in various places under his jurisdiction, informing them that they have to obey the orders and instructions of Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha and of his successors of Kashi Math Samsthan. One such letter dated Magha Bahula Triteeya of the same year ( Plava Samvatsara ) corresponding to Friday 3rd February, 1542 is available today in the records of the Kashi Math Samsthan. This letter is also written in Devanagari script and is in Kannada language.
A free rendering of this rayasapatram is as follows:
“With meditations on Lord Narayana we bless our most beloved disciples belonging to different gotras such as Angirasa, Brihaspatya, Bharadvaja etc., who have undergone the sixteen samskaras (religious rites) according to the rules prescribed in the Shastras and residing in the Parashurama Srishti , including Kundodari, Kushasthali, Mathgrama, Shankhavali, Banavali etc. of Sasashti, Anthruji and Konkan and those scholarly Konkana Brahmanas or Kochi, Mangalore, Barkur, Bidnur, Bhatkal, Ankola, Sode, Beligi, Gomantak etc., including vaidikas (priest class) and grihasthas . By the grace of our Gurus and of the Math Deities we are engaged up today, the Magha Bahula Triteeya of Playa Samvatsara in daily routines such as bathing, Japa , worship of the deities, religious discourses etc. and keeping in mind your welfare, we are praying Shri Raghupati Vedavyasa to that effect. We are doing well. Keep us informed about your affairs. When we visited your districts, we had imprinted mudras on your persons and also instructed some mantras. Subsequently, we had donated the following to Yadavendra Thirtha, a Brahmana of your community – palanquin, two chamaras, shveta chhatra , two asanas, deevatige , dhavala shankha, talas etc. similar to the titles used in our Samsthan and authorized him to conduct mudra dharana vidhi, mantropadesha etc. in your community. Do avail of these facilities. If we or our heirs, in future, come to your region, we will conduct these vidhis . But when we are touring other regions, this Swamiji and his heirs will perform such rites. If any disputes arise in this respect, we hereby undertake to settle them. This shall be observed in the case of our heirs also. You are worshipping Shri Raghupati and Vedavyasa. We do not wish to write more to those who have great regard for us.
We are enclosing herewith gandha, prasada and mantrakshata for you. With meditations on Lord Narayana. Sd/-.”
On the authority of this rayasapatram and the copper plate mentioned above it may be said that Shree Kashi Math Samsthan was founded around A.D. 1542 and that Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha was the first Swamiji of the Samsthan.
By founding Shree Kashi Math Samsthan, Shrimath Vijayendra got the title Saraswath Dharma Peetha Sthapanacharya. Since he had founded Shri Shree Kashi Math Samsthan the Goud Saraswath Samaj of Kochi, Mangalore, Mulki etc. (formerly attached to Shri Kumbakonam Math) might have considered him as Kashi Matheeya Vijayendra Thirtha out of regards.
A history of Shri Venkataramana Temple, Mulki, throws some light on the life of Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha. In this temple, Lord Venkataramana, Lord Narasimha, Lord Bindu Madhava and Lord Vittala are worshipped. The stuti recited during deepa namaskara every evening (even now) is as follows:
In the Shri Ugranarasimhashtaka, Shri Vasudeva Ganapati Bhat says,
The other deity of Lord Bindu Madhava was installed in the Mulki temple by a Swamiji of Goshripura (Kochi), obviously of Kashi Math Samsthan. This God was also being worshipped by the two gotras ( Atri and Vatsa ). Poet Venkanna of Mulki refers to these deities used for processions, in one of his Kannada kirtanas, “Bindu Madhava Namo”. Giving a list of vahanas for the utsava, he says there are Shesha, Garuda, Hanuman, Hamsa, lalki ( mantapa ) etc. for this purpose. Colored flags, chhatra, chamara , silver poles, musical instruments, Veda ghosha etc. were the other accompaniments.
Another Kamlada kirtana, Sri Volalankeshaya Namah , mentions all the idols. First comes that the Vittala , installed by a Swamiji (name not mentioned) in Mulki for the benefit of Goud Saraswath Brahmanas, who had come from Bhatkal. Then comes Lord Narasimha, installed by Vijayendra of the Kashi Math. The third is Lord Venkataramana from Karkala. The fourth one is Lord Bindu Madhava, which a Swamiji (name not mentioned) of Varanasi (Kashi) found in the holy river Ganga while taking a bath. The temple has two statues of Jaya and Vijaya (dwarapalakas of Vaikuntha) near the door of the garbha griha . In the four corners outside the garbha griha are Hanuma (South-East), Ganesha (South-West), Lakshmi (North-West) and Garuda (North-West). The Brahma Rathotsava is being celebrated on Chaitra Shuddha Navami (Rama Navami ). The famous anniversary of installation of Lord Narasimha is being celebrated on Marghashira Shuddha Purnima.
The above stuti refers to Lord Venkataramana (Venkatesha), residing in Mulikapura (Mulki), worshipped by the good Konkana Brahmanas. Lord Narasimha of this temple was installed by Vijayendra Thirtha of the Kashi Math. This is corroborated further by another shloka inscribed on the mirror situated in the Vasanta Mantapa of the temple. It reads as follows:-
The three shlokas state that Vijayendra Thirtha of the Kashi Math (Vidyaratnakara Thirtha, Vidyabdhi Thirtha) installed the deity of Sri Ugra Narasimha in Mulki. The Swamiji, who initiated a vatu in Banaras around A.D.1540 and called him Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha, was Vijayendra Thirtha.
In such shlokas, there was a tradition of quizzically indicating the year (in Shalivahana Shaka ) of installation. Thus the names of animals and objects are mentioned to indicate the digits (from unit’s place onwards) of the number. The following are common:
|Dyu (Akash, Shunya)
|Abja (Lotus, the seat of Brahma)
|Sharat(4th Ritu in the six Ritus of a year)
|Ishu (arrow – Panchabana)
|Naga (elephant – Ashta diggaja)
|Ibha (elephant – Ashta diggaja)
While decoding the above shloka (in 1974) I had concluded as follows:
Shalivahakhya Bhubhrit (Bhubhrit, King; Shalivahakhya Shalivana by name) indicates Shalivahana Shaka; Vara Kara (great hand; though man has two hands, one, usually the right, is more important and hence this indicates the number 1); Sharadam (since Sharad Ritu is the fourth among the six Ritus of a year – Yasanta, Grishma,Yarsha, Sharat, Hemant and Shishir) indicates thf; number 4; and finally lndu (moon) indicates 1. Hence the first line of the shloka indicates the number 141. The next Manakramena indicates to be added to. The second line clearly mentions 1346 (this is given in actual number – Shatchatwarimsha-thri-shata-sahasra). So the actual year in Shalivahana Shaka works out to be 141 + 1346 = 1487 and this is equivalent to 1487 + 78 = A.D. 1565. Hence 1 had concluded that the year of installation was A.D. 1565. Subsequently, I came across an article by the late Rashtrakavi Manjeshwara Govinda Pai, in which he had placed the date as Wednesday, 23rd November, 1569. He had not mentioned how he arrived at this date. Perhaps he too had decoded the shloka mentioned above. So there is a difference of four years between our versions. Then r had a second lo()k at the shloka (actually r was pondering over it during a bus journey). Now I split the first line differently! Shalivahakhya indicates Shalivahan Shaka; Bhubhrit Vara Kara indicates the number 5. (Bhubhrit is Yaraha Avatara, who had killed Hiranyaksha and brought Mother Earth from the depths of the ocean by holding her on his lone tusk. Since he had held her on his tllsk, this also may be considered as one hand and Varaha ha~ four regular hands, making five in all). Sharad and /ndu indicate 4 ami 1 respectively and the number in the first line works out to be 145. When this is added to 1346 of the second line, we get 1491 in Shalivahana Shaka or A.D. 1569. This year appears to be correct. Whoever had composed this shloka mllst have been very intelligent and perhaps wanted to test the ability of later scholars in decoding it. We ·salute that unknown great scholar.
The copper plate and the rayasapatram issued in A.D. 1542 by Shrimath Surendra Thirtha to Shrimath Yadavendra Thirtha and Goud Saraswath Brahmana community referred to earlier has been challenged on the supposed ground that Shrimath Surendra Thirtha had passed away in A.D. 1539. This issue has been conclusively settled, placing this year as A.D. 1575 by Shri Raja S. Gururajacharya in his monumental Kannada book, Ajeya Vijayendraru (Pub. Shri Parimal Samshodhana and Prakashana Mandira, Nanjanagudu, Mysore, in 1978-11 reprint). In the author’s Introduction on the times of Shrimath Vijayendra, he puts the life span as 1517-1614. He refers to a copper plate of 1575 issued jointly to Shrimath Surendra Thirtha and Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha regarding a donation of a village by Shri Rangaraya (ruled 1572-1586), a king of the Vijayanagara. The same king donated another village to Shri Sudhindra Thirtha of Kumbakonam Math in 1576. Again the same king donated a village to Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha as per another copper plate of 1577.
It is significant to note that Shrimath Surendra Thirtha’s name appears in the first copper plate of 1575 and in the subsequent ones of 1576 and 1577, his name is omitted, indicating that he might have passed away in 1575 itself. In any case, he was alive in 1575.
Some more details of the above copper plates are as follows:
The first one, of Monday, Ashadha Shuddha Dwadashi of Yuva Samvatsara, Sh. Sh. 1497 (corresponding to 20th June, 1575) mentions that king Rangaraya had donated Navalur alias Ramachandrapura jointly to Shrimath Surendra Thirtha and Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha. Further, the king praises Shrimath Surendra Thirtha for donating the village to twenty famous panditas.
The second one, dated Magha Krishna Trayodashi of Yuva Samvatsara, Sh. Sh. 1497 (corresponding to 28th January, 1576), describes the donation of five villages to Shrimath Sudhindra Thirtha.
Thus, it is certain that Shrimath Surendra Thirtha passed away in 1575 so that there cannot be any objection in his issuing the copper plate and rayaspatram (referred to above) in 1542.
The propriety of choosing Kashi as the founding place of the Math Samsthan by Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha Swamiji of the Kumbakonam Math Samsthan and of advising the Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas to purchase land in Kashi, have been questioned . by. Shri Ananta Vaikunta Bhat of Kumta in his Kannada book Asato Ma Sadgamaya or Satya Marga Darshana (published by him in 1973, pp. 127-128).
He even considers the whole episode as totally baseless. This is how he argues (p.130) (translation, mine) –
“What is the distance between Kochi and Kurnbhakonam? How far is Kashi? Kashi is 1900 miles away from Kochi. To cover this distance by walking in those days would require at least six months. An equal period of time would be needed to return to Kochi. Why did Shrimath Vijayendra select Kashi for initiating the boy into sanyasa, which would entail the troubles of travel of one year? Did the yatis of Kumbakonam Math not perform shishya sveekara vidhi at other places? Did they select it with the sole intention of causing inevitable and unbearable troubles to the boy and Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas? Even if it was true, why should the residents of the region extending from. Mangalore to Kochi get a Math in Kashi 1900 miles away? Did they not get a suitable place in the region itself? Perhaps they wanted that meeting of Guru-shishya should take place only after a tir~some journey and the Kochi residents approved of this”.
There cannot be any doubts about the propriety of the selection of Kashi as the Math headquarters, because, as explained earlier, Kashi was one of the sacred places of Vaishnavas, with the presence of the divine river Ganga close by.
Secondly, let us consider the time element raised by Shri Ananta Bhat. Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha was observing the Chaturmas vrita in Kochi in 1539-40 and the copper plate was issued in 1542, leaving a time interval of two-and-a-half years between these two events. As soon as it was decided to select Kashi as the city for founding the Math a group of Goud Saraswath Brahmanas of Kochi could start on a journey to Kashi, which on the argument of Shri Ananta Bhat, could reach Kashi in six months. They would then have at least one year to purchase land and construct a building to house the Math. Was this time not enough for the purpose? In the meantime another group of Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas could accompany Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha along with the chosen vatu and could reach Kumbakonam within a few months (obviously less than six months). This group (also comprising people of the priestly class) could stay in Kumbakonam during the period of training of the vatu. He could easily get about one year for the purpose. There could then be ample time for the vatu, the Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas, already staying in Kumbakonam and Shrimath Vijayendra Thirtha to proceed to Kashi, reach Kashi, perform the shishya sveekara ceremony, stay there for some time and return to Kumbakonam well before 1542 to receive the copper plate from Shrimath Surendra Thirtha of the Kumbakonam Math Samsthan. The question, which Shri Ananta Bhat has raised in his book was that whether there was enough time for all these events to take place. As shown above it is perfectly logical for all these events to take place within a period of two years and a half.
Thirdly, let us consider the troubles the people had to take for meeting the Swamiji because of the long distance existing between Kashi and Kochi. It may be pointed out that unless compelled by specific reasons such as study of the Dharma Shastras, renovation of Math Bhavans or temples, illness, 011 age, etc., the Swamijis used to tour all the places where their followers resided. The Swamijis were not staying at any place for a long time. Since they were touring all the time the meeting between the Swamijis and the followers (shishya varga) could take place without the followers travelling long distances. Further, when a Swamiji camped in a particular city, say for observing Chaturmas vrita, the followers residing in perhaps the whole district could visit that city and meet the Swamiji. If they cannot take this trouble, it is only their misfortune. Even considering the long distance (1900 miles) between Kochi and Kashi, is it not worth visiting Kashi, the sacred place for Vaishnavas and Shaivas alike? Don’t the devotees go there for pilgrimage? Don’t the devotees climb the giri to have a darshana of Lord Venkatesha of Tirupati? Long distances and steep cliffs do not deter the devotees in their pursuit of having a darshana of God in temple or Swamiji in Math.
There is a legend about the he.dquarters of the present Shree Kashi Math Samsthan in Kashi. It is said that the original building had been built with the help of a king of Varanasi. According to the legend (Saraswath Bhushana of Shri Ganesh Ramachandra Sharma, 1950, p. 238), the king accompanied by his family members, had been to the Brahma Ghat for bathing in the holy Ganga on an auspicious day. The princess lost one of her bangles in the river while bathing. They could not trace it. She returned to the river bank and was pleased to see a Swamiji performing the daily religious rites. She approached the Swamiji, fell prostrate at his feet and told him about the lost bangles. Filled with compassion, the Swamiji prayed to Goddess Ganga, who being pleased with his prayer, raised her hand from the river and returned the bangles to the princess. The king and his family members became very happy and as a token of gratitude, the king built a huge building on the Brahma Ghat and donated it to the Swamiji. This was the original Math building of the Kashi Math. If this version is accepted as correct then the choice of Kashi as the initiation place by Vijayendra Thirtha can be easily explained. Since the sanyasis of Kashi Math prior to Yadavendra Thirtha were wandering from place to place without paraphernalia, it is likely that they were away from their building in Kashi for a long time. In the meantime, others might have claimed ownership of the plot. It might be that the Kashi Math sanyasis might have lost the ownership of the building donated by the king mentioned earlier and Vijayendra Thirtha might have advised the Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas to purchase a part of the land on Brahma Ghat so that a permanent Samsthan could be built. Considering the fact that some of the Swamijis of the Math were inter-related and that the Swamijis donated a plot of land with structures thereon to their former kith and kin it appears that some families of Vaidikas (they were all Bhats) from Kochi Goud Saraswath Brahmanas were invited to settle in Kashi. Vijayendra Thirtha must have thought that if a permanent settlement of his community members was not in Kashi, the Math premises would again be lost, for the Swamijis would continuously be engaged in wandering from place to place. Unless they were provided with land and houses, no one would migrate from Kochi to Kashi. Further, these Vaidikas were needed to perform the pujas in the temples situated in the Math premises. And this could be done more easily if the former kith and kin of the Swamiji himself were invited, and provided with accommodation. With this foresight Vijayendra Thirtha selected Kashi as the headquarters of the new Kashi Math Samsthan. In fact, he converted the Kashi Math of wandering sanyasis into Shree Kashi Math Samsthan with permanent settlements and branches. After making all the arrangements for the stay of Yadavendra Thirtha in Kashi, Vijayendra Thirtha continued his itinerary and visited various places including Mulki where he installed the idol of Shri Ugra Narasimha in 1569.
Thus Vijayendra Thirtha may rightly be called the founder of Shree Kashi Math Samsthan, and he is rightly described as Goud Saraswath Dharmapeetha Sthapanacharya.