THE SMALL SETTLEMENT of Sringeri, tucked away in the forested ranges of the Western Ghats, is today an important pilgrimage centre and one of the most powerful seats of orthodox Hinduism in South India. This was where Shankaracharya, the great 9thcentury philosopher and social reformer, established the first of his four mathas the other three are at joshimath in the Himalayas Puri to the east and Dwarka to the west. Today, his successors (also known as Shankaracharyas) wield tremendous influence in both religious and temporal matters, while the matbas still function as centres of spiritual learning.
Standing on a paved terrace are two temples overlooking the Tunga river, crammed with sacred fish. The smaller temple, dedicated to Sharada, a popular form of the goddess Saraswati, is the principal destination for local pilgrims. Next to it is the 16th-century Vidyashankara Temple, where the Shankaracharya is worshipped in the form of a linga. This stone structure, which stands raised on a high platform, is laid out on an almost circular star-shaped plan. Friezes depicting the many forms of Shiva and Vishnu embellish the faceted walls. The hall that precedes the inner sanctum has massive piers carved as rearing yalis (mythical leonine beasts).