Sri Adi Sankara established Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham about 2,500 years ago. Jagadguru Sri Adi Sankaracharya was a great philosopher, mystic, poet and a religious reformer. Sri Adi Sankara is regarded as the incarnation of Lord Siva according to Sanatan Dharma. He was a great thinker, leader and a missionary. He consolidated the doctrine of Advaita- Vedanta (Non-Dualism) and restored the Vedic Dharma and the Advaita Vedanta to its pristine purity and glory. The great Guru toured the whole of India with the sole purpose of propagating Advaita philosophy through religious discourses and debates.
Since then, the Muth has had an unbroken lineage of 70 Acharyas in the Sankaracharya Parampara, upholding the Vedic traditions and Dharma Shastras as ordained by Sri Adi Sankara himself, till now.
Among the later Acharyas, the 68th Acharya of Kanchi, the world renowned Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati Swamiji became pontiff when he was barely 13 years of age. He shone as Acharya for nearly 87 years and was held in great esteem by all. His Holiness Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamiji was initiated into sanyasa and nominated as the 69th Acharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam in 1954. In 1983, the 69th preceptor gave sanyasa?diksha to His Holiness Sri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati and nominated him as successor Acharya. The 69th and the 70th Acharyas are adorning the Kanchi Sankara Muth at present.
The Peetam has been performing various activities to uphold Sanatan Dharma, and traditions. Additionally, various social activities and projects are being carried out for the welfare of society, as listed below:
Preservation of culture
In addition to renovating and rejuvenating old, dilapidated temples and cleaning of temples and temple tanks, the Muth has encouraged the construction and consecration of temples in remote and under developed areas, including, Sri Ekkavan Shakti Peeth Mandir in Ambaji, Gujarat where all the 51 Shakti Peethams are represented.
Assam Sri Poorva Tirupathi Balaji Mandir in Guwahati
The main deity of Lord Venkateswara is 11 feet high and is a replica of Sri Balaji of Tirumula-Tirupathi at Andhra Pradesh.
A similar temple for Sri Balaji was consecrated at Ponda in Goa. These temples attract a large number of devotees and the surrounding areas have seen tremendous development.
A unique Panchayata temple has been consecrated in Gangtok (Sikkim) in the year 2002. The presiding deities are Lord Shiva, Goddess Kanchaneshwara Maha Devi, Maha Ganapathi, Jyoti-Aditya (Sun God) and Maha Vishnu.
Sri Adi Sankara Vigraha has been installed in twelve Jyotirlinga Sthalas and also in Harkipudi, in Hardwar, and Kanyakumari in South. Makara Vahini, i.e. Ganga Mata temple is in Hardwar.
Archakas trust has been formed with the sole aim of identifying the needy Archakas and providing them support and life pension. This scheme is extended to village priests and to pujaris like Sivacharyas and Battacharyas (irrespective of the sect they belong).
Land has been acquired in the Andamans to open a cultural centre
The Uttakanita Vidyaaranya Trust, established under the Muth'sguidance, is engaged in the collecting, collating, translating ancient epigraphs and publishing them chronologically, in the last two decades. So far, matter on stone edicts belonging to periods from pre-Christian era to 700 AD running in all to 3,089 pages and four volumes have been published. The arduous task of translation to English was carried out by eminent Sanskrit scholars with expertise in deciphering stone edicts of various periods and different characters and assisted by the trust. The 2nd and 3rd parts of Volume 4 of the epigraphic collections was released recently in Chennai. In these present volumes, Sanskrit inscriptions dating 651-700 AD were covered and foreign inscriptions found in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Java, and Nepal etc, were also dealt with.
Several cultural programmes are organised at various places by the Muth. Eminent artists from various fields are honoured through annual awards, under the Muth initiatives.
The Muth has established a number of Veda Pathasalas throughout India to impart Vedic education in different Shakhas of the Vedas. Several organisations have been promoted for carrying out study and preservation of Vedas and Shastras. The credit for existence of Atharva Veda today, is due to the unstinted efforts, guidance and perseverance given by the Acharyas in this regard. Special efforts are being made to preserve rare Veda Shakhas such as Maitrayani and Jaimini Sama Veda, through various means such as Sarva Shaka Sammelan. Traditional Shastras like Vyakarana and Mimamsa are being preserved by conducting Veda Sadas and seminars which are attended by pundits from various states at frequent intervals.
As an effort to preserve our traditional culture and arts, a Shilpa Sastra Pathasala is being run in the traditional method of teaching, under the auspices of Sri Chandrasekhaendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya, a university established by the Muth.
The Muth conducts Archaka training programmes atleast thrice a year, in which Archakas from different states take part. One such programme was conducted recently and about 60 members from Himachal Pradesh participated.
Recognising the need for imparting contemporary education blended with our rich traditions and culture, the Muth runs educational institutions at various places, including schools, oriental schools and colleges. Sri Chandrasekharendara Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya near Enathur (a village on the outskirts of Kanchipuram), now a deemed university, holds pride of place amongst these. The international library and research centre at Enathur needs a special mention for its efforts in supporting research studies of significance and being a treasure trove of rare Sanskrit books and ancient palm leaf manuscripts.
The Oriental School of Education has adopted training in English and Tamil languages in addition to the Sanskrit language.
The Muth has established Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Ayurveda College and Hospital at Nazarethpet, Poonamalle in Chennai for imparting training in traditional medicine through Sanskrit.
The Muth has also established the Kanchi Kamakoti Vidya Bharati School in Shillong.
Publications are brought out to supplement contemporary education with illustrations and ideas from our traditional texts and Puranas. Samskritasri, monthly magazine is published to propagate Sanskrit through Tamil.
Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam runs hospitals at different places, which include the Kamakoti Childs Trust Hospital at Chennai, Madhubani in Bihar, Rathura near Rudraprayag in Uttaranchal and many hospitals and clinics at many more places in Tamil Nadu. Free medicine and subsidised treatment is offered at clinics in Tirupati and Kanchipuram.
Apart from eye hospitals at Chennai, Coimbatore, Guwahati,Guntur (in Andhra Pradesh) and Gujarat, eye camps are organised at various places, especially in rural areas, to diagnose and treat patients. A short while after such camps are held, follow-up camps are organised to ensure completion of treatment. Free and subsidised treatment and operations are performed. Spectalces are given free of cost
Homely food is prepared and provided not only to cancer patients but also to friends and relatives who attend to patients afflicted with cancer, in the Chennai cancer hospital.
Aids like wheelchairs and crutches are distributed to the physically challenged, apart from educational aid.
Support for the aged
The Muth runs homes to care for the aged at Kalavai, Kalahasti and Poonamallee
Aged vidwans and pandits are honoured and provided with monetary benefits.
Other social activities
Nitya Annadanam (free food) is provided to devotees visiting Kanchipuram at the Muth and Sri Kamakshi Temple. The pidi-arasi thittam (handful of rice) scheme is running successfully at many places. Under this scheme every household sets apart, just a handful of rice everyday and this gets collected by a central agency once a week. The rice so collected is cooked in temples and offered as Naivedya to the deity and then distributed to the poor and needy.
The Muth also runs goshalas (cow shelters) at various places.
Economically weak people are given aid in the form of scholarships to pursue education, treatment at subsidised costs at hospitals, monetary support and aid to conduct marriages.
Help is extended to victims of flood, famine, earthquake and other natural calamities.
Keeping with the adage Vasudhaivakutumbakam, the Muth has been promoting our traditional virtues and knowledge and the classical Sanskrit language in carrying out activites in three focal areas?the 3Vs?Vidya, Vaidya and Veda.
(The author can be contacted at [email protected] Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham Srimatam Sansthanam No. 1, Salai Street, Kanchipuram-631 502.)