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Adi Shankaracharya is an advaita philosopher and wrote commentaries to the prasthāna trayi and composed many stotras on different deities.. It is believed that he established four mutts(denoting four vedas) in four directions of India. They are

  • East : Pooramnaya Shri Govardhana Peetham (Rigveda-eastern Monastery) located at Jagannadh Puri, Orissa.

  • West : Paschimamnaya Shri Sharada Peetham (samaveda-western Monastery)— Located At Dwaraka, Jamnagar, Gujarat.

  • North : Uttaramnaya Shri Jyotish Peetham (atharva Veda-northern Monastery)— Located At Badarinath, Uttarakhand.

  • South : Dakshinamnaya Sri Sringeri Sarada Peetam (yajurveda-southern Monastery)— Located at Shringeri, Karnataka.

The pontiffs of these monastery institutions are called as Shankaracharyas and recognised equal to Adi Shankaracharya.

But many people believe that Kanchi kamakoti peetham located at Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu is also established by Adi Shankaracharya. Kanchi Kamakoti peetham in its history states that Adi Shankara established 5 mathas rather than 4. The pontiff of this math is also called as Shankaracharya.

So how many monastery institutions did Adi Shankara establish in his lifetime? What do Shankara Digvijayas state about this?

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  • You might want to check this book: archive.org/details/…. I don't have any leaning towards any of the sankara mutts, but this book seemed to present a very detailed analysis in refuting the 5th mutt claim.
    – Ambi
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 13:26
  • @Ambi The item is now deleted. I faintly remember there is a book which refutes the claim the authenticity of 5th mutt. At the same time, there is a book which provides analysis that it is an authentic mutt of Adi Shankara. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 17:06
  • That is odd. I just downloaded that book last week. Yes, there are always for and against factions. Most people tend to get sentimental on such things. The reason I gave the link was the book analysed the issue from multiple angles - scriptural (digvijayas included) and historical.
    – Ambi
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 2:56

3 Answers 3

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If you want to know what Shankara Digvijayas say on the subject, the Kanchi Kamakoti site has a pretty thorough list of citations:

From Anantanandagiri (1119- 1199 A.D.) whose work is the earliest biography of Sankara, down to Mahamahopadhyaya lakshmana Suri (Author of "Bhagavatpadabhyudayam" -1917) of the last century, a number of reputed historians, distinguished scholars and researchers have candidly stated, in their works, that the Great Sankara established monastic institutions (mathas) at many an important and sacred places that he visited, during his digvijaya tours. Guhya-Sahasranama (Sanskrit) refers to five Sankaracharya Peethas (Mathas), -Kamakoti Peetha as presided over by Sankara himself, to four disciples, Suresvara, Padmapada, Totaka and Hastamala, to the places of the four other peethas and to five Sphatika lingas.

The Pracheena Sankara Vijaya refers to Sankara's residence in his own Matha at Kanchi, after ascending the Sarvajnapeetha.

The Keraliya Sankara Vijaya states that Sankara Desika staying in the Sharada Matha (The Sankaracharya Matha at Kanchi is known as Sharada Matha) and directing Suresvara to teach the Bhashyas to disciples. There is also the reference to the worship of the Yoga Linga to be performed by the sishyaparampara - continuous line of disciple Acharyas.

Sri Sadasiva Brahamendra in his Guru Ratnamala (Verse 31) indicates that the Bhagavatpada established the Sharada Matha at Kanchi, famous from the snow-clad Himalayas to the Southern sea, for the enforcement of Dharma. In Anantanandagiri's biography of Sankaracharya, it is said that Sankara established a Math at Kanchi fit for his own residence and his living there.

So all these sources apparently say that in addition to Adi Sankaracharya putting his four shishyas in charge of four Mathams, he personally established a 5th Matham in Kanchipuram. But the Madhaviya Shankara Digvijaya, the most famous biography of Adi Shankaracharya, doesn't mention a Matham at Kanchipuram. And the Sringeri Matham disputes the provenance of the Kanchipuram Matham.

In any case, all these biographies were composed centuries after the time of Adi Shankaracharya, so it's natural that there would be differences.

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  • Any other mathas, besides these 5? One of the Shankara digvijaya states that Adi shankara lived during BC time. Also there are different versions regarding his date of birth. Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 4:34
  • @Ajay Well, at least secular historians say they're lying. But secular historians doubt a lot of our traditional beliefs. The Kanchipuram Shankaracharya Matham provides a lot of quotes from traditional Shankara Digvijayas, so it looks pretty authoritative to me. Commented May 20, 2017 at 0:58
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Shankara established only 4 mutts for sure. If he did establish the fifth Kanchi mutt, the date of Shankara as claimed by them(509 to 477 BC) should be the true date of Adi Shankara. You can read my answer about date of Adi Shankara here.

  • So, his life history clearly says he lived in 8th century AD. So, the first and foremost claim of Kanchi mutt that it was 2500 years old(!) becomes false.

The mutt claimed that a structure seen nearby the Kamakshi temple premises the tomb of Adi Shankara. But when it was investigated, we came to know that it was an old Devi temple. Immediately Kamakoti Peetam renamed it as Shankaracharya Sannadi from Shankaracharya Samadhi. As there is no tomb identified in Kanchi, so Shankara never died in Kanchi.

  • Picture of real tomb of Shankara in Kedarnath is below. Except Kanchi mutt, all other mutts say that Adi Shankara died and has a tomb in Kedarnath.

enter image description here

Another claim of the Kanchi mutt is the Kumbakonam mutt established in 1820s was a branch of Kanchi mutt. But the fact is the kumbakonam mutt was a branch of Sringeri mutt.

  • The seal of the mutt is in Kannada language, and it also referred itself as Sarada mutt. Since Sarada is worshiped only at Sringeri and Kannada language was never used in Tamil Nadu, this mutt is of Kannada origin. These are all prove that Kumbakonam mutt was a branch of Sringeri mutt.

So, what is the real history of Kanchi Kamakoti mutt?

  1. Kumbakonam mutt asked separation from Sringeri. It not only denied the historical truth that Kumbakonam mutt is a branch of Sringeri mutt, but also distorted the history by claiming that Kumbakonam mutt is a branch of Kanchipuram mutt and increased the antiquity of Adi Shankara over 1000 years.

  2. Then this mutt was shifted to Kanchi by using this fake story. It established a new branch in Kanchi in the early 1840s. Meanwhile, Kumbhabhisekam of Kamakshi temple was held with the permission of the British.

  3. The headquarter of this Kanchi branch continued to be at Kumbakonam but the sannyasi head would periodically visit Kanchi to assert his rights over the Kamakshi temple for some long years. Then only Kanchi mutt emerged as a solo mutt established by Shankara in the early 20th century AD after disintegrating it from Kumbakonam mutt.

Further Reading

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THE FOUR MATHAS:

After having chosen four disciples, Adi Shankaracharya gave the title of Shankaracharya to each one of them; he established four Shankaracharya Mathas in four corners of Bharat and made each of his disciples chief Acharya of each of the Mathas respectively. For the purpose of maintaining the unbroken tradition and prohibit any confusion from taking place about which are the original four Shankaracharya Mathas, Adi Shankaracharya wrote the Mathamnaya Setu which is a work dealing with the rules, description and other details of the four original Shankaracharya Mathas established by him. The Mathamnaya Setu verses 1-37 deals with the details of the four Shankaracharya Mathas stating their areas, names and other such information.

A) SHARADA MATHA: The Mathamnaya Setu verses 1-8 deals with the details of the Dwarka Sharada Matha. Sharada Matha has been stated to be the first Shankaracharya Matha situated in the western part of Bharat in Dwarka of the state of Gujrat. Realm of this Matha is Dwarka, denomination of its sanyasis is Keetwar which is defined as the sanyasi who always bestows mercy upon creatures and guides everyone on path of Dharma, it's natural glories (ranks of sanyasis) are Teerth and Ashram, presiding deities are stated to be Siddheswhar and Bhadrakali, first Acharya of this Matha is Vishwarup, sacred stream is Gomati, Gotra is Avigat, and Bramhchari is Swaroop the definition of which has been stated to be one who has knowledge of the self, carries out Dharma properly and and is always in bliss. This Matha has been given the responsibility of the Sama Veda and the associated Mahavakya is "Tat Tvam Asi" which is from the Chandogya Upanishad Chapter 6 Section 8 verse 7 which means that thou art. The sanyasis who are steadily dedicated to sanyas ashram and free from being subject to life and death is called Ashram and the sanyasi who takes a holy dip chanting the Mahavakya of this Matha in confluence of sacred rivers is called Teerth. The territories situated in the western direction bounded by Sindhu, Sauvir, Saurashtra and Maharashtra falls under the administration of this Matha.

B) GOVARDHAN MATHA: The Mathamnaya Setu verses 10-17 deals with the details of the Puri Govardhan Matha. Govardhan Matha has been stated to be the second Shankaracharya Matha situated in the eastern part of Bharat in Puri of the state of Odissa. Realm of this Matha is Puroshottam, denomination of its sanyasis is Bhogvar which is defined as the sanyasi who precludes humans from enjoyment of senses and such objects, it's natural glories (ranks of sanyasis) are Van and Aranya, presiding deities are stated to be Jagannath and Vimala, first Acharya of this Matha is Padmapad, sacred stream is Mahodadhi, Gotra is Kashyap, and Bramhchari is Prakash the definition of which has been stated to be one who is skilled in practice of yoga, has knowledge of the self, is luminous and enlightened. This Matha has been given the responsibility of the Rig Veda and the associated Mahavakya is "Prajnanam Bramh" which is from the Aitareya Upanishad Chapter 3 Section 1 verse 3 which means consciousness is Bramh. The sanyasi who roams in the forests without any shackles of hope or despair is called Van and the sanyasi who renouncing the world stays in the forest alone is called Aranya. The territories situated in the eastern direction bounded by Anga, Baga, Kalinga, Magadha, Utkal and Barbar falls under the administration of this Matha.

C) JYOTIR MATHA: The Mathamnaya Setu verses 18-27 deals with the details of the Chamoli Jyotir Matha. Jyotir Matha has been stated to be the third Shankaracharya Matha situated in the northern part of Bharat in Chamoli of the state of Uttarakhand. Realm of this Matha is Badrikashram, denomination of its sanyasis is Anandvar which is defined as the sanyasi who precludes humans from worldly pleasures, it's natural glories (ranks of sanyasis) are Giri, Parvat and Sagar, presiding deities are stated to be Narayan and Purnagiri, first Acharya of this Matha is Totak, sacred stream is Alokananda, Gotra is Bhrigu, and Bramhchari is Anand the definition of which has been stated to be one who knows the absolute truth who always thinks about knowledge and truth and infinite. This Matha has been given the responsibility of the Atharva Veda and the associated Mahavakya is "Ayamatma Bramh" which is from the Mandukya Upanishad Chapter 1 verse 2 which means the soul is Bramh. The sanyasi who roams in the forests and hills engaged in study of Gita, is sober and has firm prudence is called Giri, the sanyasi who renouncing the world stays in the mountain valley, who's knowledge is mature, and specifically quintessence is called Parvat and the sanyasi who picks the gem of knowledge from the deep sea of substance and never exceeds their limits is called Sagar. This Matha is also known as Shree Matha. The territories situated in the northern direction bounded by Kuru, Kashmir, Kamboj, Panchal and some other adjacent territories falls under the administration of this Matha.

D) SHRINGERI MATHA: The Mathamnaya Setu verses 28-37 deals with the details of the Shringeri Matha. Shringeri Matha has been stated to be the fourth Shankaracharya Matha situated in the southern part of Bharat in Shringeri of the state of Karnataka. Realm of this Matha is Ramesvar, denomination of its sanyasis is Bhurivar which is defined as the sanyasi who precludes humans from obsession of excessive material wealth, it's natural glories (ranks of sanyasis) are Swarasatti, Bharati and Puri, presiding deities are stated to be Adivarah and Kamakshi, first Acharya of this Matha is Hastamalak, sacred stream is Tungabhadra, Gotra is Bhur Bhuva, and Bramhchari is Chaitanya the definition of which has been stated to be the enlightened one who knows the universal spirit as pure, infinite, undecaying and un-perceiveable. This Matha has been given the responsibility of the Yajur Veda and the associated Mahavakya is "Aham Bramhasmi" which is from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter 1 Section 4 verse 10 which means the I am Bramh. The sanyasi who is always engaged in knowledge of Shri Vidya is called Saraswatti, the sanyasi who is full of bulk of knowledge and unaffected by distress is called Bharati and the sanyasi who has knowledge of the supreme reality and is always engaged in samadhi is called Puri. The territories situated in the southern direction bounded by Andhra, Dravida, Karnataka, Kerala, and other southern regions falls under the administration of this Matha.

Ps: The Mathamnaya Setu does not mention the kanchi Matha nor does the Madhaviya Shankara Digvijaya as pointed in an earlier answer. However the kanchi Matha is recognized as a Dharma Kendra but its presiding Acharya is called Parmachary and not Shankaracharya, the authority of being Shankaracharya belongs to the chaturamnaya mathas alone and not to kanchi nor can it overrule the Shankaracharya mathas however the present Shankaracharyas are of the opinion that Adi Shankaracharya did establish the kanchi Matha (u can check their videos on YouTube on this topic).

JAI VEERBHADRA JAI SHANKARACHARYA

Credits of the writing and compilation belongs to: Jalandhar.

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