Chandrashekarendra Saraswati was born on 20 May 1894, under Anuradha nakshatra according to the Hindu calendar, into a Kannadiga Smartha Hoysala Karnataka Brahmin family in Viluppuram, South Arcot District, Tamil Nadu as Swaminatha. He was the second son of Shri Subramanya Sastrigal, a District Education Officer and his devout wife, Smt Mahalakshmi. The child was named Swaminatha, after the family deity, Lord Swaminatha of Swamimalai, near Kumbakonam. Swaminatha began his early education at the Arcot American Mission High School at Tindivanam, where his father was working. He was an exceptional student and excelled in several subjects. In 1905, his parents performed his Upanayanam, a Vedic ceremony which qualifies a Brahmin boy to begin his Vedic studies under an accomplished teacher.
His brother was Sadasiva Sastrigal, popularly known a as Sivan Sir. Sadasiva Sastri was born on 3 October 1903 in Viluppuram, South Arcot District, Tamil Nadu. He has written a magnum opus based on Hindu philosophy in a Tamil book titled "Yenippadigalil Maanthargal". He attained moksha at Kancheepuram on 8 January 1994 (Dhanur, Krishna Dwadasi) in his Centenary year.
Acharya spent several years in the study of the scriptures and dharma shastras and acquainted himself with his role as the Head of the Math. He soon gained the reverence and respect of the devotees and people around him. To millions of devotees he was simply "Periyavar"—the revered one or Maha-Periyavar or Periya-Periyavar. "Periyavar" in Tamil means a great person, and conveys endearment, reverence, and devotion. "Mahaswami" and "Paramacharya" are his other well-known appellations. He was the head of the Mutt for eighty-seven years. During this period the Kanchi Kamakoti peetham acquired new strength as an institution that propagated Adi Sankara's teachings. The devotion, intensity,and fervour with which the Paramacharya practised what Adi Sankara taught is considered to be unparalleled. Throughout his life, the focus of his concern and activities was rejuvenating Veda adhyayana, the Dharma Sasthras, and the age-old tradition, which had suffered decline. "Veda rakshanam" was his very life breath and he referred to it in most of his talks.
Remaining active throughout his life, the sage of Kanchi twice undertook pilgrimages on foot from Rameshwaram in the far south of the Indian peninsula to Benares in the North. He organised several sadas(seminars) on Indian culture, Vedas, Veda bhashya, Agamas, Natya shashtra, archaeology and sculpture. He sent scholars and indologists to many South East Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia etc. to discover the cultural links between India and those countries . This way, he traced back the origins of the royal Giant Swing ceremony of Thailand to the Thiruppavai, Thiruvampavai festival held in the month of margazhi in South India.He observed that the last 2 verses of thiruppavai were recited at the occasion.
The site of the Giant Swing ceremony in Thailand, which was traced back to its origins in South Indian culture by the Mahaswami.
He is credited with the rediscovery of several ancient temples like the Panchamukheswara temple at Sri Kalahasti, which were thought to be lost. He traced the sthala purana of Srikalahastiswara and Gnanaprasunamba to the story of the Yaksha and celestials in the Kenopanishad. He found out temples dedicated to Yaksha, Indra, Vayu and Agni during the circambulation around the main shrine.This led him to identify Srikalahastiswara with the Yaksha (Brahman) and Gnanaprasunambika with the Uma of the upanishads. He also identified the samadhi of Sadasiva Brahmendra at Manamadurai.He was responsible for the renewed interest in Indian sculpture and Agamas, through the Vyasa Bharata Agama silpa sadas he held regularly.At such seminars he also promoted the display of Thai and other south east Asian art forms.He asked his devotee, Padma Subrahmanyam a renowned classical dancer and research scholar to design 108 Karana forms of the divine couple parvathi parameswara to be sculpted at Uttara Chidambaram Nataraja Mandir at Satara . She later discovered nearly 50 karanas in the famous Prambanan temple complex at Java, belonging to the 9th A.D. A remarkable feature is that these sculptures exactly tally with her designs.
Providing support through Veda Patashalas (schools teaching Vedic lore) through the Veda Rakshana Nidhi which he founded and honouring Vedic scholars, he reinvigorated Vedic studies in India. He gave a new lease of life to several ancient sakhas (recension) of the Vedas which were thought to be lost for ever, by identifying scholars in remote areas who knew them and sending students to learn the respective sakha from those scholars. In turn, these students popularised the sakha by teaching it to their pupils.This way he saved the Saunaka sakha of the Adharva Veda and Ranayaniya sakha of the Samaveda from extinction.Interestingly, Saunaka sakha is now the only extant one out of the 50 sakhas of the Adharva Veda. A scholar at Sinor, Gujarat was conversant with this sakha. The Acharya sent some of the vedic pundits of Kanchi kamakoti peetham to learn this sakha from the Gujarati scholar. Ranayaniya sakha is the one of the 3 remaining sakhas of Samaveda.
He was the guiding spirit behind the Sri Venkateswara Veda Parirakshana Scheme launched by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. While camping at Satara, he asked P.V.R.K Prasad, the then Executive Officer of the T.T.D to start a scheme to help protect the Vedas in their pristine purity. He felt that the Tirumala devasthanams, a prosperous organisation had the responsibility of protecting the Vedas, since the very purpose of incarnation of the lord is to protect the vedic way of life. Sri Venkateswara had an epithet 'Dharma samsthapaka' which means protector of dharma and dharma in turn was dependent on the Vedas.
He composed a song Maithreem Bhajata, which was rendered at the United Nations on October 23, 1966 on the occasion of UN day, by the Nightingale of India, M.S. Subbulakshmi. The song received a standing ovation.
The Mahaswami had great devotion to Adi Sankara Bhagavatpada, whom he fondly referred to as "Our Acharya" in his discourses.He perpetuated the memory of Sri Sankara by constructing suitable memorials at important sacred places connected with the latter's life story like Kalady, Srisailam, Prayag, and Rameswaram . At Kalady (the birthplace of Sankara), Adi Sankara Keerthi Sthambha Mandapam, an eight-storey memorial symbolic of the fame of the great philosopher was built. It houses the padukas (holy sandals) of Sri Sankara and framed relief paintings that depict his life. It was declared open on the occasion of Sankara jayanthi celebrations by the then President of India, Sri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy.
Adi Sankara Keerthi Sthambha Mandapam at Kalady, the birthplace of Adi Sankara
At Enathur near Kanchipuram, a majestic 60 ft tall statue of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada was inaugurated by President of India, Sri Shankar Dayal Sharma.
His long tenure as Peetadhipathi is considered by many to have been the Golden Era of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. He attained Mahasamadhi (died) on 8 January 1994 at the age of 100 .A never ending stream of people filed past the same Dias where they had been having his darshan all these years.