The beautiful little town of Sringeri, an ancient seat of religious learning, is situated at a distance of about 90 kms. west of Chickmagalur in Karnataka state, on the left bank of river Tunga. It is hallowed by the sacred memory of Adi Shankara, the great exponent of Advaita system ofphilosophy. The sweet watered Tunga, the elevation of the land, the richly wooded highland around the eastern slopes of Western Ghats lend more charm and grandeur to this region and provide a natural scenery in the background, creating an atmosphere of extreme tranquility and serenity.
In the middle of this town, on the northern bank of river Tunga, is the fifteenth century temple of Vidya Shankara, which is a unique specimen of the temple architecture where the Hoysala and Dravidian styles have been blended. It was in the 14th century that Sringeri saw one of the greatest Gurus on the ‘Peetha’, the profound sage and scholar, Swami Vidya Shankara or Vidyatirtha, who was the 11th in the order of pontiffs that adorned the Sharada Peetha from Adi Shankara downwards. He was consecrated in 1228, and attained ‘samadhi’ in 1333 A.D., after serving as the head for more than hundred years. According to tradition, it is believed that the pious Vidya Shankara gave up his body through ‘Lumbika Yoga’. He entered an underground cellar which was to be opened after twelve years, when his body would be transformed into a Shiva-linga; but the curious disciples opened after three years, when they found only a ‘linga’ in formation.
It is said that in sacred memory of his Guru Vidya Shankara, Bharathi Tirtha, a true and devoted disciple, started construction of this temple with the assistance and patronage of Harihara and Bukka of the Vijayanagar dynasty. Later, the minister sage Vidyaranya completed the temple and arranged for the ‘Kumbhabhishekam’ in 1356 A.D.
The temple of Vidya Shankara is a rare specimen of the combination of Hoysala and Dravidian styles, and is apsidal at both ends. It is built on a platform with a high basement having a number of cornices and sculptured bands offering a pleasant contrast of light and shade, typical of Hoysala school. The temple faces east and consists of a ‘sanctum’ with a ‘mandapa’ in the front. Surrounding these two structures is the ‘pradakshinapatha’. The navaranga’ is about eighteen feet in height. The hall bears a ceiling, the centre of which is eight feet square in the middle, and two feet deep having a lotus bud of five tiers of concentric petals, with pecking parrots on the four sides, pointing their heads downwards. There are three entrances to this hall, on the east, south and north.
Against the entrances facing the outer walls of the ‘sanctum’ are three niches having in them idols of Brahma with Saraswati on the south, Lakshminarayana on the west, and Uma-Maheshwara on the north. On all sides of the outer walls of the temples, a number of finely carved images are enshrined in niches with ornamental towers. There are idols representing the ten incarnations of Vishnu, various forms of Shiva and Shakti, including a miniature Gomateshwara. Above these rows of idols, there are smaller idols representing Gandharvas. The friezes contain various idols of the animal kingdom. Chains of stone rings hang from the eves at the corners of the temple.
The ‘navaranga’ is supported by twelve sculptured pillars bearing on them the figures of lions along with riders. Stone balls are placed in the mouths of the lions, and these can be rolled about, but not taken out. Each of the twelve pillars bear on their back a sign of the zodiac, and the pillars are so planted that the rays of the sun fall on them in the order of the solar months. Each pillar has, similar to the Zodiac arrangement, the various ‘navaranga’ over them, the sun being shown on the top panel. On the right of the ‘Mahamandapa’, in place of Ganapathi, is now placed a miniature idol of Saturn fashioned out of steel. The ‘linga’ in the ‘sanctum’ is named ‘Vidyashankara Linga’, erected in the reverent memory of the great Guru Vidya Tirtha Swami.
The tower over the ‘sanctum’ and the roof of the western portion of the temple is a fine structure with an embankment in front, decorated by a ‘kirthimantapa’. It has three storeys and a metallic ‘kalasha’ on the top, a characteristic of the Dravidian style.
Sringeri can be reached from several routes, and is well connected by good motorable roads. Regular bus services run from Mangalore, Chikmagalur and Birur at frequent intervals. Direct buses run from Bangalore, Shimoga, Mysore and a few other places. There are a number of well maintained choultries, rest houses and guest houses for the convenience of the pilgrims and visitors.