His Holiness Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati
Swamigal or the Sage of Kanchi was an Indian Saint. He is usually referred to as Nadamadum Deivam (The walking God), Sage
of Kanchi, Maha Periyaval or Paramacharya.
Swaminatahn (Purvashram name of His Holiness) was born on 20 May 1894,
under Anuradha star according to the Hindu calendar, into a Kannadiga Smartha family in Viluppuram, South Arcot District,
Tamil Nadu. He was the second son of Subramaniya Sastrigal, a District Education Officer. The child was named Swaminathan,
after the family deity, Lord Swaminatha of Swamimalai, near Kumbakonam. Swaminathan began his early education at the Arcot
American Mission High School at Tindivanam, where his father was working. He was an exceptional student and excelled in several
subjects. He won a prize for his proficiency in the recitation of the "Holy Bible". In 1905, his parents performed his Upanayanam,
a Vedic ceremony which qualifies a Brahmin boy to begin his Vedic studies under an accomplished teacher.
Incidents leading to Sainthood
During the childhood of the Acharya, his father consulted an astrologer
who, upon studying the boy's horoscope, is said to have been so stunned that he prostrated himself before the boy exclaiming
that "One day the whole world will fall at his feet." In 1906, the 66th Acharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham
performed the annual Chaturmasyam (a forty-day annual ritual performed by Hindu ascetics while remaining in one place), in
a village near Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu. This was Swaminathan’s first exposure to the Math and its Acharya. Later, Swaminathan
accompanied his father whenever he visited the Math where the Acharya was deeply impressed by the young boy.
In the first week of February 1907, the Kanchi Kamakoti Math had informed
Subramanya Sastrigal that Swaminathan's first cousin (son of his mother's sister) was to be installed as the 67th Peetathipathi.
The presiding Acharya was then suffering from smallpox and had the premonition that he might not live long. He had, therefore,
administered upadesa to his disciple Lakshminathan before he died. Sastrigal being away in Trichinopoly on duty arranged for
the departure of Swaminathan with his mother to Kanchipuram. The boy and his mother started for Kalavai (where Lakshminathan
was camping) to console his aunt who, while also being a widow, had just given up her only son to be an ascetic. They travelled
by train to Kanchipuram and halted at the Sankara Math. By then, Lakshminathan had fallen ill:
In the words of His Holiness:
I had a bath at the Kumara Koshta Tirtha. A carriage of the Math had
come there from Kalavai with the people to buy articles for the Maha Puja on the tenth day of the passing of the previous
66th Acharya. One of them, a hereditary maistry (mason) of the Math, asked me to accompany him. A separate cart was engaged
for the rest of the family to follow me. During the journey the maistry hinted to me that I might not return home and that
the rest of my life might be spent in the Math itself. At first I thought that my elder cousin having become the Head of the
Math, it was his wish that I should live with him. But the maistry gradually clarified matters as the cart rolled on. The
acharya had fever which developed into delirium and that was why I was being separated from the family to be taken to Kalavai...
I was stunned by this unexpected turn of events. I lay in a kneeling posture in the cart, shocked as I was, repeating "Rama...
Rama," the only prayer I knew. My mother and other children came some time later only to find that instead of her mission
of consoling her sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be consoled.
—T.M.P. Mahadevan, The Sage of Kanchi
The 67th Acharya also died, after reigning for a brief seven days as
the head of the Math. Swaminathan was immediately installed as the 68th head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam on February 13,
1907, the second day of the Tamil month of Masi, Prabhava year. He was given Sanyasa Asramam at the early age of 13 and was
named Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. On May 9, 1907 his "Pattabishegam" as the 68th Peetathipathi of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam
was performed at the Kumbakonam Math. Devotees including Shivaji Maharaja of Tanjore, government officials and pundits participated
in the event.
Even though there was not enough property in the mutt to be administered,
the court considering the benefit of the mutt, ordered the mutt to be administered under the “Guardian and Wards Act”.
Sri C.H.Venkataramana Iyer, an illustrious personality from Kolinjivadi (Colinjivadi) village near Coimbatore was appointed
as guardian by the court. The administration of the mutt was under guardianship from 1911 to May,1915. On the day of Sankara
Jayanthi in the year 1915, Swamigal took over the administration of the mutt on the completion of his 21st year. The administration
of the mutt was taken over in name, but the actual work was taken care of by an agent, one Sri Pasupathi Iyer. He was an able
administrator who volunteered to do the job without compensation and hailed from Thirupathiripuliyur. Swamigal does not sign
any document, instead Sri Mukham stamp is placed on documents.
Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati spent several years in the
study of the scriptures and dharma shastras and acquainted himself with his role as the Head of the Math. He soon gained the
reverence and respect of the devotees and people around him. To millions of devotees he was simply "Periyava" — the
revered one or Maha-Periyava. "Periyava" in Tamil means a great person, and conveys endearment, reverence, and devotion. "Mahaswami"
and "Paramacharya" are his other well-known appellations.
Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati was the head of the Mutt for
eighty-seven years. During this period, the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitam acquired new strength as an institution that propagated
Śankara's teachings. The devotion, fervour, and intensity with which the Paramacharya practiced what Śankara had
taught are considered to be unparalleled by his devotees. Throughout his life, the focus of his concern and activities was
rejuvenating Veda adhyayana, the Dharma Sasthras, and the age-old tradition, which had suffered decline. "Veda rakshanam"
was his very life breath, and he referred to this in most of his talks.
Remaining active throughout his life, the sage of Kanchi twice undertook
pilgrimages on foot from Rameshwaram in the far south of the Indian peninsula to Benares in the North.
Providing support through Veda Patashalas (schools teaching Vedic lore)
through the Veda Rakshana Nidhi which he founded and honouring Vedic scholars, he reinvigorated Vedic studies in India. He
organised regular sabhas ('conferences') which included discussions on arts and culture — these led to a renewed interest
in Vedic religion, Dharma sasthras, and the Sanskrit language. His long tenure as Pitadhipathi is considered by many to have
been the Golden Era of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. He attained samadhi on January 8, 1994 and was succeeded by H.H.Sri Jayendra