SHARDA PEETH…… Seat of learning for Hindus!!
Sharda Peeth or the Sharda Temple in POK, is considered to be the basic seat of learning of Hindus in India and across Asia. Sharda lipi (a form of Hindi) was the dialect of Sharda. It was the fundamental dialect of Brahmin scholars till Hindi (Devnagiri) eventually took over. Kashmiri Pandits are not naïve to this seat of learning. In the post partition era, Swami Nand Lal Ji, one the prominent Saints of Kashmir, carried some of the idols during the partition and salvaged some of those lost. He migrated on horses carrying idols from Sharda to Tikker, and a few of these stone idols are still found at Devibal, Baramulla. The pilgrimage was organized by Mela Ram, a renowned forest lesse in Kupwara for Swami Lal Ji of Kashi- Mathura fame. Recently Pakistan based scholar, Ms Rukhsana Khan, has undertaken an archaeological study on the temple and researched some interesting historical facts. Her study takes us back to Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s era and the fact that Jammu Haveli’s still exist there (along with other temples and natural carvings such as Ganesh Ghati). The year 2015 was marked as rewriting of history, when Rukhsana Khan and her team unearthed antiques and have ever since worked on preservation of culture for the Sharda Project. Historically, Adi Shakracharya had set up a university at this site. Although the date of construction of this temple is unknown; during Emperor Lalitaditya’s period the present style of temple was known to be built in 724 AD.
In the SAARC conference (4th to 6th January, 2004) held at Islamabad, the Vajpayee-Musharaf meeting resulted in a number of CBMs (between the two parts of Kashmir), that were initiated to normalize the situation, create friendly relations and encourage the peace process. These include the cease fire on LOC, opening of two roads across the LOC via Poonch-Rawalakote and Uri-Srinagar, meeting of divided families, and starting of trade ventures etc. Accordingly, Kashmiri Pandits and other religious organizations of state demanded the opening of Sharda Shrine of POK for religious tourism so that they could have Darshan of this old temple and annual yatra of the Shrine could be revived (as the yatra was conducted before partition during the month of August). President of Pakistan, Parvaiz Musharaf, accepted the demands of the minorities of J&K in principle and sanctioned Rs. 8 crores in 2006 for creation of infrastructural facilities near the Shrine so that pilgrims could be allowed to visit. As per the information received through internet, POK government constructed some tourist huts, community centers, youth hostel and cafeteria near the Shrine but no attention was paid towards the revival of the Shrine which is in deteriorating condition. The Muslim natives of the village Sharda and adjoining areas still call the monument as Sharda Mai (Sharda Goddess).
Dr. Ghulam Azhar, a noted historian of POK, writes in one of his research articles that Sharda Shrine is the oldest monument of POK, which needs preservation and restoration. The Shrine was an important pilgrim centre in the past. The ruins of the old monuments are sufficient to narrate the old glory and glamour of this Shrine.Sharda Shrine is about 207 kilometers in the north of Muzafarabad in POK. The Shrine is situated in between 340.48’latitude and 740.14′ longitude. The spot is linked with motorable road leading from Muzafarabad via Neelam valley, Kundal Shai, Jagran Valley, Athmaquam, Neelam township and Dwarian. The Sharda Temple is located near the confluence of Kishan Ganga river (Neelam river) and Madhumati stream in an open ground. It is a breath-taking spot with full greenery, multicolour flowers, springs, forest belt surrounded by snow clad peaks of Sharda and Narda hills of Nanga Parbat range which divides POK from Galgit-Baltistan.
Prior to independence, the annual Yatra of Sharda Temple was conducted since time immemorial. During Dogra rule after 1846, this Yatra became a regular feature. The Yatra of Sharda Devi was started on Shukal Pakash during the month of August (Bhadun). The devotees would start their yatra on 4th Bhadun and on 8th they were taking dip in the Sharda Kund on the bank of Madhumati River and after giving Sharad of their Pitras (died relatives) they were having the Darshan of Sharda Goddess. Mostly Kashmiri Pandits were conducting the Yatra after traveling hundreds of miles on foot. Mr. C.E Bats, the author of the Gazetter of the Kashmir, who had visited the spot in 1872 AD wrote “Sharda Tempe is situated in the confluence of river Madhumati and Kishan Ganga. The temple is approached by a stair case about nine feet wide of steep stone steps some 63 in numbers having on either side a massive balustrade. The entrance was through a double porch way at the south-west corner of enclosure. The walls of the enclosure are about 30 feet high. In the middle of the walls in the north side is an arched recess which contains Lingum. The Cella about 23 feet square stands on the elevated plinth about four feet from the present level of ground. The entrance is on the west side facing the porch way. On each of the other three sides of Cella, a single roof has y been erected over the building for the protection by the order of Colonel Gundu, the Late Zaildar of Muzafarabad. The interior of the temple is square and perfectly plain. On the ground lies a large rough slab of unpolished stone which is said to have been disturbed by Raja Manzoor Khan of Karnah in search of treasure. In those days the Shrine was venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. There was also a fort constructed by Dogras with 60 Dogra Constables stationing for the protection of Shrine and defence of the area. The ancient Shrine is about 400 yards in the south of the fort. The temple was also renovated by Colonel Gundu, the Zaildar of Muzafarabad in 1867 AD.”
In the ancient times Sharda was famous all over India. The historic facts reveal that near the Shrine, there was a Budhist University established during the period of Emperor Ashoka (273BC) known as Sharda Peeth, to spread the teachings and thoughts of Budhism in Kashmir and other hilly regions. The foundation of Sharda Peeth was laid on the bank of Madhumati River. The fourth Buddhist council was summoned at this place by Emperor Kanishka in 141 AD. In Sharda University, a Sharda script was invented by the Budhist monks and scholars which was the amalgamation of local dialects and understandable to the common people. Therefore, with the help of this script Budhism was spread in Kashmir, Himachal, Tibet and Nepal. However, with the downfall of Budhism in India, the glory and glamour of Sharda Peeth also vanished and it became a part of history.
Kalhana, wrote in “Raj Tringani”, that in 11th century AD it was a temple of Sharda Goddess. Historian Belhana, wrote in “Vikrama Chiriter” that he was educated only due to the blessings of Sharda Goddess whose crown was formed with the glittering gold collected from the river Madhumati. Al Bruni, who had visited India in 1036 AD, wrote in his book “India”, that there is a great image of Sharda and devotees assemble here for the pilgrim. Abu-ul-Fazal in “Aain-e-Akbari”, wrote that on the bank of Madhumati in Drava area of Muzafarabad there is a stone temple of Sharda Devi. Every month on the Shukal Pakash the image of the Sharda starts showing miracles. The temple is respected by a large population. Therefore, it appears that until 16th century AD this temple had great religious importance.
Juna Raj the writer of “Raj Tringani Juna Raj” written during the rule of Sultan Zain-ul-Ab Din of Kashmir (1420-1472 AD) records in his book that Sultan Zain-ul-Ab Din was undertaking religious pilgrim to Hindu Shrine and participating in Hindu rituals. Juna Raj also recorded that Sultan had visited Sharda temple in 1422 AD along with the Yatris. After taking bath in Madhumati stream he entered the temple but he felt annoyed on the wickedness of the priest and devotees and lost faith in the Goddess Sharda. The Goddess Sharda did not manifest herself. Sultan also slept in the temple during the night hours. But he could not see the miracles of the Goddess.
C.E Bats writes that during his visit of Sharda Devi in 1772 AD, there was a Lingum and not an image of Goddess Sharda. Maharaja Gulab Singh, renovated the temple during 1846-1856 AD. He had also appointed a Brahmin priest to look after this historic temple, constructed a fort near the temple and posted 60 constables for the protection of Sharda Shrine and the area. Therefore, the devotees started visiting the Shrine regularly and the ancient Yatra was revived. The devotees start their Yatra on 4th Bhadun and on 8th Bhadun they were taking dip in the Sharda Kund in the Madhumati stream and have the Darshana of the temple. This Yatra carried on during the Dogra period until 1947. After the turmoil of 1947, when Kashmir was divided into two parts, this important Shrine had gone under the occupation of Pakistan. For the last 62 years the Shrine remains unattended and is now in ruins. But now there is a great demand from the minority population of Jammu and Kashmir state for the restoration of Sharda temple and start of the Yatra. This will be another CBM between the two parts of the Kashmir.
APMCC (All Parties Migrants Co-ordination Committee), a frontline organization of Kashmiri Hindus has been well acclaimed for reclamation of Temples and shrines across the valley numbering about 600, besides reviving pilgrimages/yatras to Gangbal, Dineshwar, Kaunsar Nag etc. in the trouble torn valley. In its six point charter the first two demands are reopening of Sharda Pilgrimage and setting up of Sharda University in J&K state. APMCC organized a seminar on 8th. Jan’2016 at Press Club of India, New Delhi and held deliberations with Rukhsana Khan on video conferencing. Other participants that spoke on Sharda re-opening were Retd. Lt. Gen. Ata Hasnain, Journalist Awadhesh Kumar, Utpal Koul Historian, Vinod Pandit Chairman APMCC and the seminar was anchored and moderated by Ravinder Pandita. Some protests for re-opening at Jantar Mantar were also held later. In this regard Ravinder Pandita also met Central Cabinet ministers Dr. Jitender Singh, Gen. V K Singh, MOS Home Haribai Parthabai and requested their intervention for re-opening of Sharda and allow a pilgrimage on the lines of Nankana Sahib, where Sikhs are allowed to take a jatha every year in Lahore. Several seminars and protests in this regard, were held in New Delhi and other places to highlight this demand.
It was by efforts of Ravinder Pandita, Head APMCC Delhi with Civil society of Neelum Valley and Sharda residents that recently flowers were offered on 2nd. Nov, at the revered shrine with the help of locals for the first time since 1947. APMCC a frontline Kashmiri pandit organistaion has been demanding re-opening of the Shrine and setting up of Sharda University in J&K. The local Save Sharda Committee was approached by Ravinder Pandita and Photo of Mata Sharda will be installed there soon. Mohammed Rayees, Arif Khan, local Sarpanch and Principal Sharda School have been instrumental in getting us the lost glory of ‘Sharda Mai’.
This effort between two civil societies will go a long way in confidence building, interaction and preservation of the culture. The soil and flowers received from Sharda were recently displayed at Abhinav Thetre Jammu on 8th. January during Annual APMCC awards function. The function was chaired by ChanderPrakash Ganga, Hon’ble minister for Industries and commerce, Ms Priya Sethi Minister for tourism, Bollywood actress Preeti Sapru, Hon’ble MLCs Surinder Ambaradar and Ramesh Arora and Retd. Lt. Gen, Ata Hasnain. Ms. Laxmi Kaul a prominent activist of UK also attended the function. On this auspicious occasion, tilak was applied to all the participants of the soil brought from Sharda by Registered Post sent by Rayees Mohammed, a Kashmiri settled in POK. It was a poignant and an emotional scene; the Sharda soil was received and obeisance paid to the shrine for the first time since the partition.
Points to ponder:
Before indepenHindus and Muslims. There was also a fort constructed by Dogras with 60 Dogra Constables sta
FACILITATION OF DIALOGUE WITH PAKISTAN GOVT. FOR PILGRIMAGE TO SHARDA TEMPLE IN POK.
1. If a permit is valid for a Kashmiri to undertake trade, meet relatives and friends and vice-versa , why a VISA for Kashmiri Hindu to make a pilgrimage? It seems to be a clear discrimination with same nationals and state subjects.
2. APMCC has applied amongst various Kashmiri Pandit organizations for pilgrimage to Sharda Peeth , despite Pakistani Govt. having no objection in allowing the pilgrims, why does Govt. Of India have the objection?
3. Why hasn’t a pilgrimage been allowed since partition i.e, 1947, despite requests by Kashmiri Hindus to allow pilgrimage once a year, as allowed in the case of Sikh community, where a Jatha (group) is allowed a pilgrimage in the Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara in Pakistan.
4. Will the Govt. of India under the leadership of PM Modi allow such a pilgrimage, once Bus route to Lahore, Train via Wagah border near Amritsar and trade routes at five locations in J&K allow such facilitation.
SETTING UP OF SHARDA UNIVERSITY IN J&K
Two years ago, Govt. of India granted two Universities(one in Jammu and one in the Kashmir region). The work on setting up of these two universities is nearing completion. One is named Baba Ghulam Shah University in Rajouri-Poonch belt and the other is Islamic University in Avantipora in the Kashmir valley.Why will Govt. not allow setting up of Sharda University, considered to be fundamental seat of learning despite persistent demand by APMCC?
It may not be out of place to mention here that in the recently released ‘Vision Document’ by BJP after Ist. Polling the demand of setting up of Sharda University has been allowed. Is it an eyewash to please APMCC or is it to woo Kashmiri pandit voters? APMCC had last month opined for MOTA option, with regards to voting, if none of the national or regional political parties comes up cleanly with a blue print for rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, keeping in view their socio-religious and economic aspirations in mind.
Pics of the APMCC event at Abhinav Theatre Jammu (below)