The little known Matha of Kanchipuram

Related imageKanchipuram has always been one of the most important religious cities of the world. Housing over a hundred temples, all at least a 1000 years old, it has been a confluence of Shiva, Vishnu and Shakta tracts of Hinduism. The capital of the Pallava dynasties for centuries, the city is sacred to many as one of the most potent centers for spirituality. It is one of the Sapta Puris or Seven Cities (Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kashi, Kanchipuram, Ujjain and Dwarka). These cities are the select places of high spiritual elevation and spiritual masters have time and again been born in these places. On one warm summer afternoon, I visited the matha (an institute of asceticism usually started by a spiritual master) of one such exalted masters, Upanishad Brahmendra.

Walking in such a historical and culturally rich place such as Kanchipuram, sometimes I am taken aback at the lack of importance that this city receives. It would take months to see all the history in this place. When a city has a piece of ancient history in every street, it is very easy to look past this nondescript matha. One can easily walk past it on the street and miss the greatness of this place. Upanishad Brahma is called so because he has written his commentaries on 108 Upanishads back in the 18th century. The ashrama that he was housed in is also called “Agastya Ashrama” referring to the ancient great sage Agastya. It is believed that the sage received the divine teachings of the Lalitha Sahasranama from Lord Hayagreeva in this very matha which is now called Upanishad Brahmendra Matha.

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The humble entrance to Agastya ashrama or Upanishad Brahmendra Matha, Kanchipuram

It is also said that Upanishad Brahma had correspondence with the great musical prodigy Muttuswamy Dikshitar who even set tunes to some of the ascetic’s compositions on Lord Rama (sadly lost) . The great composer Saint Tyagaraja is also said to have stayed in this ashrama for a period of time on the behest of the ascetic. However, whether the two musicians met at any time is not very clear. How electric would the atmosphere have been when these stalwarts used to frequent at the matha!

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The sacred temple of Lord Hayagreeva where the divine Lalitha Sahasranama was expounded to the learned sage Agastya

As for the matha itself, it is extremely cool and peaceful inside. It would tame the most agitated of minds. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with positivity and spent a long time just sitting in the courtyard where it is said that the great seer Chandrashekhara Saraswati of the Kanchi matha used to spend hours and days in meditation here. There are beautiful Shaligrama of various deities in the sanctum sanctorum and a lovely tank in the matha.

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Temple inside the Ashrama
The Sarva Theertham Tank where the Samadhi of several Sanyasins lay (Image credit: Tamil Nadu Tourism)

If anything, I wish the place be better preserved. We have had such great spiritual masters who have spent lifetimes preserving and propounding our rich culture, heritage and spirituality which cannot be a single man’s efforts. We are a gifted land and we seem to be just throwing it all away. I hope more people understand the value of the land we tread on and help preserve it. Once lost, it will be lost forever and we would be the biggest of fools to lose it all.

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