Title: The Rivalry for Jyotir Math
The Rivalry for Jyotir Math by Dana Sawyer 2001
High in the Garhwal Himalayas, near the border with Tibet, lies the sacred Hindu temple of Badrinath, one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the Uttarkand, the northern portion. Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims journey from the plains to worship Lord Badri, a form of Visnu in the shadow of the snow capped peaks. Tradition says that this temple was re-established (after having been desecrated by Buddhists) by Sankara himself, who retrieved the sacred murti of Badri from the Alakananda river just below the temple. Hagiographical accounts of Sankaras life also tell us that he then established one of his four primaryvidyapiths near there, and called it the Jyotir (Radiant) Math, installing one of his favorite disciples, Totaka, on its gaddi. Today, the Jyotir Mathvidyapith is located at Joshi, a small village 40 kms. south of Badrinath and the take-off point for tourist treks into the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
The history of the math is murky, having more to do with legend than fact, in part due to the circumstance that the math was closed, by all accounts, for more than a century and a half, and only reinstated in the middle of this century. Traditional accounts, kept by the present claimants for the abbottship, tell us that the last Sankaracarya before the lapse was Swami Ramakrsna Asrama, who presided there until 1833. (*footnote: Vidyasankar Sundaresan, at the Jyot-Shank web site, gives the Dasnami name as Tirtha and says he has this from official accounts, but all accounts Ive seen, e.g., Jyotispith-Parampara, Ek Anusilan , p.3, from Swami Svarupanandas press in Banaras, 1996, give it as Asrama) For various reasons, the math became vacant. Some say there was no properly qualified person to follow Swami Ramakrisna; others say that the Gurkha invasion from Nepal caused the lapse. Whatever the facts might be, it is only in the late 1930s that the story becomes clear. At that time, a Dandi swami from Banaras named Gyanananda Saraswati established a trust for the Jyotir Math, overseen by his organization, the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal, and began a search for a Dandi qualified to head the post, not wanting the position himself.
After a reconaissance mission to locate the site of the original math, which had become obscured over time, Gyanananda became satisfied that he had found the ruins of it on a hillside above Joshi, and on Aprl 11, 1941 the particluar spot was secured by deed and endowment. In the meantime, Gyanananda, the Mahamandal, and members of the Kashi Vidvat Parisad had decided to ask Swami Hariharananda Saraswati (popularly known as Karpatri Swamiji), a popular and powerful Dandi (*footnote: in fact, the most influential Dandi in India at the time, e.g., see Tripathi, pp.64 and 224), to accept the post. Karpatri, however, had, the year before, begun an organization called Dharma Sangh to fight for Hindu principles and so, being busy with other matters, he declined. However, before declining he offered his help in selecting a suitable candidate and recommended his own guru, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (later to become famous in the West as the guru of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, once guru to the Beatles and Mia Farrow). Given the influence of Karpatri, and the quickly acknowledged suitability of the candidate, Brahmananda was duly installed as Sankaracarya of Jyotir Math that same year.
Brahmananda, well respected by all, presided over the math until his death on May 20, 1953. Immediately after his death a succession dispute arose. Unfortunately, before his death, he had not made clear who should follow him on the gaddi. Some of his followers came forward with a will, saying that Brahmananda had made it just before his death. This will, published on June 8, 1953, stated that Brahmananda had actually nominated four persons as qualified for the position, and named them in order of preference, as: (1) Swami Santananda Saraswati, (2) Dwarka Pasad Sastri (who would first have to take diksa as an ascetic to become qualified), (3) Swami Visnudevananda Saraswati, and (4) Swami Paramatmananda Saraswati. In line with this will, the first respondent, who was installed on June 12, 1953 as head of the math, came into possession of the math properties and applied for a certificate of succession in the district court at Allahabad. This was eventually granted on Dec. 12, 1956 - that is, three years later. But this did not settle the dispute. Three allegations continued to be aimed by various parties at the acarya and his supporters:
(1) Questions regarding the authenicity of the will arose, for instance, why hadnt Brahmananda published the will while he was still alive? Why hadnt he made clear then who he wanted to follow him? Some believed the will to be a forgery, and sited that Mehesh Brahmacari, a ascetic from the Shudra caste, acting, as members of the kyastha subcaste often do, as a