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The Saraswat Brahmins claim descent from a Brahmin caste mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures as inhabiting the Saraswati River valley, the geographic location of which is unknown. The actual origins of this community and the circumstances of its relocation to the areas that they now inhabit are shrouded in mystery.

Ancient Saraswati River

Saraswat brahmins are found in north and south-west India. The majority of the Brahmins of Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana are Saraswat Brahmins (pronounced as Sarsut Brahmin in north India). Other saraswat brahmins such as those found along the western coast of India also claim to be originally from Kashmir and through migration have settled in various parts of India.

Several distinct groups of Saraswat Brahmins exist; Goud Saraswats, Chitrapur Saraswats and Shenvis are all sub-groups of the Saraswat Brahmin community. The traditional religion of the Saraswats was evidently a strict Shaivism, i.e., Unique devotion to Shiva, with each sub-group being led by a different spiritual guru. In more recent centuries, the religious tradition has become more eclectic, with some Saraswats having even adopted the Vaishnavite dvaita philosophy preached by Madhvacharya. Most saraswats however, including those of the Chitrapur and the Gaud Saraswat communities, follow the liberal and non-partisan Smartha tradition.

There are four key "Mathas" or religious sects in the Saraswat tradition - the Kashi, Gokarna, Kavle & Chitrapur Mathas. Of these, the Kashi Matha is dominated exclusively by the Gowd Saraswats of Kerala & of the Dakshina Kannada / Udupi districts of Karnataka. The Gowd Saraswats of Uttara Kannada, Goa, and Southern coastal Maharashtra follow the Gokarn Matha as well as the Kavle Matha. The Chitrapur Matha is the preserve of the Chitrapur Saraswats. Each different saraswat group are usually endogamous.

There are four muths of Saraswat Brahmins in India.

Name Loacation Tradition Estd. Followers
Kavale Math Kavale, Goa Smarta 740 A.D. North Canara, Goa, Maharashtra
Gokarn Math Partagali, Goa Vaishnava 1476 A.D. Goa, Undivided Canara, Shimoga
Kashi Math Varanasi, U.P. Vaishnava 1542 A.D. Kerala, South Karnataka, Mangalore
Chitrapur Math Shirali, Karnataka Smarta 1708 A.D. North Canara, Maharashtra, Dharwar

Kavale Math

Shri Swami Sachidananda Saraswati

The Kavale Math is the oldest of the Maths of Saraswats. It follows the Smarta tradition and Shiva, Vishnu, Ganapathi, Suryanarayana and Shakti are the gods (called Panchayatana) being worshipped by this system.

After migration to Gomantak, due to lack of communication facilities, the Saraswats settled in Goa lost contact with their roots in saraswat desh. Being Brahmins, the Saraswats needed a spiritual leader, or Swami. In 740 A.D., at the request of the Saraswats of Gomantak, Swami Vivarananda of the Gaudapada tradition from Kashmir founded the Math at Kaushasthali and the whole Saraswat community in Goa and Konkan was the followers of this Math. This belonged to the Smarta tradition.

The original Gaudapadacharya Math founded at Kushsthali, was destroyed during the Portuguese rule in Goa in 1564 A.D. The 57th guru Vidyananda Saraswathi and his two successors stayed at Golvan in Ratnagiri and the 60th guru Ramananda Saraswati at Chindar. His successors Sadananda Saraswati and Bhavananda Saraswati stayed and attained samadhi at Varanasi and never visited Goa. The community members earlier approached Bhavananda Saraswati and pleaded with him to come back to Goa. Bhavananda Swamy (the 62nd Guru) sent his disciple Sachchidananda swamy (the 63rd Guru) to revive the math in Goa. The Swamy stayed at Sonavade in Ratnagiri till the time the Math at Kavale was ready. The math headquarters was then shifted to Kaivalyapura in 1630 A.D. and presently known as Kavale Mutt.

The present pontiff is Shri Swami Sachidananda Saraswati. He is the 75th guru of the math. He was initiated into sanyasa in 1950 at the tender age of 13.

Gokarn Math

Shri Swami Vidhyadhiraj Teertha

The group of Saraswats migrated along the sea shore were mainly Vaishnavas and acquired a reputation for trade and agriculture. There were large settlements at Manglore and Bhatkal and smaller settlements at other coastal towns. Ramachandra Tirtha of the Udupi Palimar mutt initiated a Saraswat boy as sanyasi calling him as Narayana Tirtha in 1475. Sri Narayana Tirtha (a Saraswat) of the Udupi Palimar Mutt during the 15th Century extensively conducted propaganda in Goa, that many Saraswats in Sasashti region became Vaishnavas. Though the Palimar Swamy, Ramacandra Tirtha wanted Narayana Tirtha to succeed to his Math, it was not liked by the Tulu Vaishnava brahmins who were followers of the Math, and hence a new Math for Vaishnava Saraswats was founded at Bhaktal in 1476 A.D. This Math enjoyed the patronage of the Keladi rulers and the Vaishnava Saraswats of Goa and most of those from undivided Canara were its followers. By fame and capacity of the third Guru, Swami Jeevottama Tirtha, the Math came to be also known as Jeevottama Math. His predecessor Purushottama Tirtha shifted to Gokarna where his samadhi is found and the math was called Gokarn Jeevotham Math. This Math headquarters was later (after the samadhi of Swamy Shrikanta Tirtha) shifted to Partagali village on the banks of the sacred rivulet Kushavati in Goa and thus came to be known as Gokarn-Partagali Math.

The symbol representing the spiritual movement carried on by the math for over 500 years is one of the few huge ancient 'Vatavriksha' (Banyan tree) which is about 200ft. x 22 ft. and is considered a Tapasya Kshetra for over a thousand years. Vatavriksha and the Ishwar linga in front of the math at Partagali are worshipped by the people of Partagali and the adjoining area. This place is popularly known as Bramhasthan.

The Gokarn-Pratagali Math for Vaishnava saraswats has Vira Vittala as the worshipped deity. After Swamy Jeevottam Tirtha the Math is also called Jeevotham Math.

Present pontiff Vidhyadhiraj Teertha succeeded to the Peetha in 1973. Shri Swamiji was initiated into sanyas in Mumbai in Feb 26, 1967 by his illustrious preceptor Shrimat Dwarkanath Thirtha Swamiji. The Math has its headquarters at Partagali, Poinginim, Canacona, Goa.

Kashi Math

Shri Swami Sudhindra Tirtha

Shri Kashi Math, was founded in 1542 A.D. and the first Swamiji Yadavendra Tirtha was given Deeksha by the celebrated Shrimat Vijayindra Tirtha Swamiji of Kumbhakonam Math. A copper plate charter issued by Surendra Tirtha on 21-1-1542 A.D. and received by Yadavendra Tirtha defines his jurisdiction over the Saraswats.

The saraswats were Vaishnavas and were followers of the Uttaradi math of Jayatheerth. During the 15th century, Sri Ramachandra Tirtha of Uttaradi math initiated two to sanyasa - Vibhudendra Tirtha and Sri Vidhyanidhi Tirtha. The latter became head of Uttaradi math and Sri Vibhudendra Tirtha founded a new Math at Kumbhakonam which came to be known as Purvadi Math (later became Raghavendra Swamy math since, great saint Raghavendra of Mantralaya fame belonged to this math). Saraswats of South Kanara and Kerala were transferred to this Math. When Surendra Tirtha was head of the Math at Kumbhakonam, one of his disciples, Vijayindra Tirtha (a Saraswat Brahmin) was invited by Cochin Saraswats to undertake Chaturmasya at Cochin in 1539–1540 A.D.

They requested Him to initiate a Saraswat boy among them to Sanyasa. In 1541, Sri Hanumantha Bhaktha was selected and taken to Kumbakonam. The new Sanyasin was named Yadavendra Tirtha who eventually became head of the new Kashi Math at Varanasi established in 1542 A.D. Shri Kumbhakonam Math gave two idols of Lord Raghupati (Rama) and Vyasa to Shrimat Yadavendra Tirtha along with the rights to guide the Saraswat Samaj in spiritual matters.

Shrimat Sudhindra Tirtha Swamiji the present pontiff and 20th in the lineage of Shri Kashi Mutt Samsthan was given sanyas deeksha by his preceptor, Shrimat Sukrateendra Tirtha Swami in Mulki on 24th May,1944.

Chitrapur Math

Shri Swami Sadyojat Shankarashrama

The group of Smarta Saraswats who migrated to Karnatak at the time of the Muslim invasion in the 1400’s were mostly the educators and administrators. This migrant group moved a little inland to North and South Kanara. Their intelligence and generations-old experience as administrators, allowed some of them to secure prominent positions as accountants in the courts of the Hindu rulers of the time. One such Hindu king of the Keladi kingdom, was so impressed by the diligence and skills of his Saraswat accountant, that he decreed that each village in his kingdom, be administered by a Saraswat. Eventually these Saraswats took on the name of the village as their last name. Once they had migrated to the Kanara district, the Shenvis were not able to sustain their unity with the Saraswat Brahmins they had left behind in Goa. Eventhough they continued to believe in Smarta tradition, their connection with the Kavale math was cutoff since the Kavale math at Kushathali was destroyed in 1564 A.D. and Swamijis shifted to Varanasi and were not available locally.

Although the Saraswats were well respected as accountants, they were not readily recognized as true Brahmins by the local Brahmins (due to jealousy), accusing that the Saraswats have no spiritual guru in reality. Therefore, the Shenvis felt that it was necessary to seek a spiritual preceptor for their community. They pleaded with a Saraswat Sanyasi, Parijananasharma Swamy, visiting from North India, to become their Guru. He consented to guide the community and established a new Math for them in Gokarn in 1708 A.D. The people of Gokarn sent letters to the members residing in Mangalore and Vithal to notify them about the guru. Sringeri Shankaracharya math in the Kanara district was asked for their consent of the new guru which was granted. This firmly established Parijnanashram Swami as the guru of the community.

Shri Shankarashram Swami was ordained by Shri Parijnanashram Swami in 1720 A.D. as the second guru. In 1739 A.D., the ruler Basavappa Nayaka II donated land in Gokarn to build a math in reverence to their primary deity, Shri Bhavanishankar. Shri Shankarasharm Swamy when in his advanced age, was on his way from Udupi to Gokarn and while in Chitrapur, at the residence of Nagarkattikars an ardent devotee, he fell seriously ill and attained Samadhi in 1757 AD. When the question of location of His Samadhi came up, the Nagarkattikars readily offered their house for the Samadhi and a temple. A math was erected there at Chitrapur near Shirali in Uttara Kannada and soon it became headquarters of the Mutt. The worshipped deity of the Chitrapur Mutt is Bhavani Shankar and follow the Smarta tradition.

The last Swamiji Parijnanashram-III attained Samadhi in Bangalore in 1991 without appointing a successor. On February 27, 1997 Swami Sadyojat Samvit Giri was ordained as the reigning Guru of Chitrapur math and was named Shrimat Sadyojat Shankarashrama. The coronation ceremony was attended and blessed by H.H. Jagadguru Shankaracharya.

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