Shankaracharya Order

(est. seventh century C.E.)
   The Shankaracharya Order is an order of renun-ciants said to have been founded by the great seventh-century VEDANTA philosopher SHANKARA (also known as Shankaracharya). It is formally known as the Dashanami (10 Names) Order, because its renunciants or SANNYASIS all take one of 10 names: Aranya, Ashrama, Bharati, Giri, Parvata, Puru, Sarasvati, Sagara, Tirtha, and Vana. They also add the affix ANANDA (transcendent bliss). Examples would be Brahmananda (he who has realized the bliss of BRAHMAN) Sarasvati and Agehananda (he who has realized bliss in home-lessness) Bharati.
   Shankaracharya’s aim was to establish a rigor-ously disciplined, intellectually capable group of mendicants who could challenge and defeat the Buddhists of his time and who would debate the theistic Hindus who clung to Vedic orthodoxy. He established four centers or MATHS in four parts of India for this purpose: the Vimala Pitha at Puri in Orissa, the Jyoti Matha in BADRINATH in the HIMALAYAS, the Kalika Pitha in DVARAKA in Gujarat, and the Sharada Pitha in Shringeri in Karnataka.
   It is still said that the Dashanamis of the Shan-karacharya Order are the most respected group of religious mendicants in India. They are highly learned in SANSKRIT and VEDANTA philosophy and often are educated in English as well. The order is devoted to noninjury and nonviolence; however, they hired militant mendicants carrying tridents to defend them against attacks by militant Vaish-navite SADHUS or mendicants. Battles between these groups are famous for their carnage. There are currently six “regiments” of Dashanami NAGAS, special naked renunciants who defend the faith.
   The heads of the four maths are all named Shankaracharya. They oversee extensive organiza-tions with schools and social outreach centers. These schools rely on a network of locally trained Sanskrit pandits, experts who train students in the traditions of Hinduism, making these maths a valuable cultural resource.
   Further reading: Austin B. Creel and Vasudha Naray-anan, eds., Monastic Life in the Christian and Hindu Traditions: A Comparative Study (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990); Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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