What is spiritual ? A beautiful serene moment, a togetherness with the divine, a blissful solitude , a positive vibration that cannot be felt anywhere else, a belief that goes deep within you that this is it, a complete abandon of all things material , including your ego, your anger, your hatred and even your identity … Or is it something surreal, an inexplicable abstract feeling, when the body and mind is lost even though the senses are awakened..It is a word that means many things to many people and yet, cannot be fathomed.
If I were to ever recollect my spiritual experience -just one word comes to my mind. Sringeri. I have been there many times , first as a young child, when we learn to experience emotions but cannot explain, and later on now, when we still grapple with words to express our experience.
As a child, we used to go to Sringeri several times in a year.I remember the long curvy roads, the green and brown mountains, the heavy rains and the squalls, the the beautifully carved temples, the rhythmic chanting, the various rituals. I loved the Tunga river, the huge fish there, feeding them chaffed rice and then running across the river in a bridge to the other side to offer our prayers and obeisance to the Shankaracharaya .
I have never been the overtly religious or the ritualistic kind. And as we grow up, day to day life took over and our visits reduced . After a gap of almost three years , I finally made this trip .
The first thing that beckoned me was the River Tunga . A flight of steps leads you down to the river where the fish swim peacefully as the evening sun gracefully lit the waters.Some people were immersed in their evening rituals, while a few others were simply enjoying the sun set .
However I was quite shocked to see that this had become a tourist destination of sorts what with people screaming and even washing clothes.A few kids like me were feeding chaffed rice, but unfortunately their parents were not like mine who had told me not to pollute the river as its sacred. So pieces of paper, along with plastic were floating in the serene waters. I paused a moment recollecting my childhood and remember my mother telling me the story of Sringeri .
This is where Adi Shankaracharya set up his first Peetam or Mutt to teach and establish his Advaitha Doctrine . More than twelve centuries ago,he had come to Sringeri in search of a location . He saw an unusual sight on the banks of the Tunga that made him realize that this place was sacred . A cobra was seen spreading out its hood over a pregnant frog protecting it from the scorching sun.
He was struck by the sanctity of the area which could bring two enemies together and infuse love between them . The Acharya chose this very location to establish His first Mutt .The first Guru of the Peetam was Sureshwaracharya and this led to a tradition of having spiritual masters or Acharyas who represent Adi Sankaracharya and his doctrines. The present Acharya, Sri Bharati Tirtha Swamigal is the 36th in the line of Guru Parampara and is a renowned scholar
There are several temples in the mutt including the Sharadambal temple, which is that of the presiding deity . Adi Shankaracharya had invoked the Goddess of Knowledge , Sharada , consecrated an idol of her and even named the Peetam after her. It is said that the idol was initially made of sandalwood and “installed over the Chakra that Sri Adi Shankara carved on a rock.” Later on many Acharyas embellished the temple and it became what it is today. Sculptures adorn the walls of the temple as each pillar invokes the spirit of the deity .
The Vidyashankar temple built in the 14th century is one of my personal favourites and I will dedicate a separate post for it . The other shrines include several deities like Kodandarama, Malayala Brahma, Thoranam Ganapathi,Stambha Ganapathi Janardhana Swamy,Balasubramanya, Chandramouleeswara Linga and each has its own story.
One of the most divine experiences is to watch the puja in the night where the Acharya worships the Chandramouleeswara Linga. It is a surreal like experience as one crosses the Tunga on a star lit night and walks across rich vegetation in silence , listening to the crickets ,enters the portals of the shrine as the invigorating chants fill the air and vibrates across the river..and then I realize that this is not just another pilgrimage . It is what one calls spiritual in the true sense of the word .It is something that needs to be imbibed and internalized.