Goddess Saradamba was originally installed by Adi Sankaracharya, as a Sriyantra carved on a rock, with a sandalwood image of the Goddess. According to tradition, preserved in most Sankara-vijayams, the origin of the Sarada temple in Sringeri is traced to the debate that Sankaracharya had with Bharati, the wife of Mandana Misra. Bharati is considered to be an incarnation of the Goddess Sarasvati, who challenged Sankaracharya to debate.

After he had answered all her questions, She gave him the boon that She would stay on at Sringeri, where Sankaracharya established his first monastery.

Goddess Saradamba represents the Saguna Brahman as Jaganmata, the Great Mother of the universe. She is also guru-rupini, as She showers Her grace on the devotees through the person of the Jagadguru. She is worshipped as Gayatri, Savitri and Sarasvati, the Goddesses of the Gayatri Mantra, and is also identified at various times with Mahesvari, Mahalakshmi and Mahasarasvati, the Great Goddesses of Puranic Hinduism.

She is most often worshipped as Brahmavidya, the personified Goddess of Brahman Knowledge, and as Vagdevi, Ila, Bharati and Sarasvati, the ancient Vedic Goddesses. She holds in Her four hands, a jar containing amrita, the nectar of immortality, a book, signifying Knowledge, a rudraksha-mala, and the Chinmudra, signifying the advaita-tattva.

Thus, She represents Brahmavidya, and is conceived as not different from Brahman Itself. Interestingly, these adornments in Her hands are identical to those that Dakshinamurti, the eternally youthful, silent Guru, holds. Both Devi Sarada and Guru Dakshinamurti are sometimes also pictured holding a Veena in their hands.

All forms belong equally to the essentially formless Brahman.
— Swami Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati