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?

  • 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 Dec 31 '18 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. – Sarvabhouma Dec 31 '18 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 Jan 1 '19 at 2:56

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.

  • 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. – Sarvabhouma Apr 12 '17 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. – Keshav Srinivasan May 20 '17 at 0:58

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.

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