All you need to know about Sharada Peeth

TSL Staff

Talks are going on regarding the opening of The Sharda Peeth corridor. When opened, this will be the second religious tract after Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir that will connect India and Pakistan. Pakistan government recently approved a proposal to establish a corridor that will allow Hindu pilgrims from India to visit Sharda Peeth, according to a media report.

Established in 237 B.C. during the reign of Emperor Ashoka, the 5,000-year-old Sharada Peeth is an ancient Hindu temple and cultural site in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Sharada Peeth translates to “the seat of Sharada”, the Kashmiri name for the Hindu goddess Saraswati. Thus, the site is of an abandoned temple and ancient centre of learning dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning.

Kashmiri Pandits believe that Sharada in PoK Kashmir is a tripartite embodiment of the goddess Shakti: Sharada (goddess of learning), Saraswati (goddess of knowledge), and Vagdevi (goddess of speech, which articulates power).

History of Sharada Peeth

Between the 6th and 12th centuries C.E, Sharada Peeth was one of the foremost temple universities of the Indian subcontinent. It is also one of the three famous holy sites for Kashmiri Pandits, along with Martand Sun Temple in Anantnag and the Amarnath temple. For years now, Kashmiri Pandit organisations have been demanding the opening of the Sharda Peeth corridor.

In the year 1030 CE, the Muslim historian Al-Biruni visited Kashmir. According to him, there was a wooden idol of Sri Sharada Devi in the temple.  He compared the temple to the Multan Sun Temple, Vishnu Chakraswamin temple at Thanesar and Somnath temple.

In Rajatarangini the famous text describing Kashmir’s history, composed by Kalhana in the year 1148 CE, there is a mention of the temple and its geographic location. During the reign of Akbar in the 16th century, Grand Vizier Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, one of the famous Nava-Ratnas, wrote about the temple as being near the banks of river Madhumati, now known as the Neelum River, which is full of gold particles. Abu’l Fazl also wrote that one can experience miracles on every eighth day of the bright fortnight of the month here.

In the 14th century, the temple was attacked for the first time by Muslim invaders. After this attack, India started losing its contact with Krishanganga and Sharada Peeth. In the 19th century, Dogra king Maharaja Gulab Singh restored this temple.

Following the brief 1947-1948 Kashmir war in the region between India and Pakistan, the site came under the control of Pashtun tribesmen who invaded the region. Control was then passed to the newly formed government of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The site was heavily damaged in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake which struck the region and has not been repaired since.

This temple is also referred to in the Carnatic music song “kalavathi kamalasana yuvathi” by the famous composer Sri. Mutthuswami Dikshithar. The song set in the raga yagapriya, in praise of Saraswathi, describes her as “kashmira vihara, vara sharadha”, meaning “the one who resides in Kashmir, Sharada”.

Where is Sharada Peeth located exactly?

Sharada Peeth is about 150 kilometres from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir and 130 kilometres from Srinagar. It is about 10 kilometres from the Line of Control, which divides the area of Jammu and Kashmir. It is situated 1,981 metres above sea level, along the Neelam River in the village of Sharda, in the valley of Mount Harmukh.

Importance of Sharada Peeth

Sharada Peeth is said to be where the texts written by Pāṇini and other grammarians were stored. It is said in the Prabhavakacarita that when Jain scholar Hemachandra was commissioned by Jayasimha, King of Gurjaradesa (present-day eastern Rajasthan and northern Gujarat ) to write the Siddhahema,  Hemachandra visited Sharada Peeth for access to previous works on grammar, as it was the only place with a library known to have all such works available in their complete form.

It is at this temple that Sankaracharya received the right to sit on the Sarvanjnanapeetham or Sarvajna peetha (Throne of Wisdom ). The first verse of ‘Prapanchsar’ composed by Adi Shankaracharya is devoted to the praise of the temple’s goddess, Sri Śāradā Devi. The Śāradā image at Shringeri Sharadamba temple in South India was once said to have been made of sandalwood, which is supposed to have been taken by Sankaracharya from here.

The Vaishnava saint Swami Ramanuja travelled all the way from Srirangam to refer to Bodhayana’s vritti on Brahma Sutras preserved here, before commencing work on writing his commentary on the Brahma sutras, the Sri Bhasya .

It has been suggested that although the Sharada script did not originate in Kashmir, it was used extensively in Kashmir, and acquired its name both through Kashmiri veneration of the goddess Sharada and through its extensive academic use in Sharada Peeth. This has fed the popular belief that Sharada was developed in Kashmir.

Kashmir was once the centre of learning of Hindu Vedic works until the people dwelling in that region converted to Islam. Prior to this, Kashmir was sometimes called Sharada Desh because of this temple and Sharada was called Kashmira Puravasini ( resident of the city of Kashmir). The temple is so ancient that Kashmir State was earlier known as ‘Sharada Peeth’.

 

Mythological origins

Kashmiri Pandits believe that rishi Śāṇḍilya prayed to the goddess Sharada with great devotion, and was rewarded when she appeared to him and promised to show him her real, divine form. She advised him to look for the Śāradā forest. His journey was filled with miraculous experiences. On his way, he had a vision of the god Ganesha on the eastern side of a hill. When he reached the Kishenganga, he bathed in it and saw half his body turn golden. Eventually, goddess revealed herself to him in her triple form of Sharada, Saraswati and Vagdevi, and invited him to her abode. As he was preparing for a ritual, he drew water from the Mahāsindhu. Half of this water transformed into honey and became a stream, now known as the Madhumatī stream.

A Sanskrit text Sharada Mahatmya regarded to be a part of the Bringhisha Samhita, gives a mythological account of how the Sage Shandilya did tapa at the banks of the Madhumati river, and how goddess Sharada established here presence there. It also gives an account of the nearby sites and pilgrimage (to be undertaken on Bhadrapada Shukla Ashtami).

A separate account holds that during a fight between good and evil, the goddess Sharada saved a mythical container of knowledge and hit it in a hole in the ground. She then transformed into a structure to protect this container. This structure is now Sharada Peeth.

The pilgrimage

The Sharada Peeth pilgrimage parallels Muni Śāṇḍilya’s mythological journey. Bathing in the confluence of the Kishenganga River and Madhumatī stream is said to cleanse the pilgrim of their sins.

During the Dogra rule, the temple emerged as a regular pilgrimage site for the Kashmiri Pandits. In 1947, Swami Nand Lal Ji of Tikker Kupwara moved the stone idols from Sharda to Tikker, some of which are preserved in Devibal in Baramulla and in Tikker in Kupwara.

In 2007, a group of Kashmiri Pandits who were permitted to visit Pak-Occupied Kashmir were denied permission to visit the temple.

In September 2009, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies recommended increased cross-border religious tourism between India and Pakistan, including allowing Kashmiri Pandits to visit Sharada Peeth, and Pakistani Muslims to visit the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar.

There is a demand from a certain section of Indian politicians that Pakistan should renovate this temple, in the same manner, that it renovated the Katasraj Temple in Punjab.

Pakistani Hindus rarely visit the temple, preferring to visit sites farther south in Sindh, Balochistan, and Punjab provinces. As such, restoration of the temple is not considered a priority in the manner that Katasraj Temple was regarded by the Pakistani government.

In 2018, the Pakistan government opened the Kartarpur Corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims in India to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur across the border. This has prompted calls by Kashmiri Pandits to the Pakistan government to open a corridor to Sharada Peeth site (Neelum valley, 30 km from Kupwara). On 25 March 2019, the Government of Pakistan approved a proposal aimed at allowing Hindu pilgrims from India to visit Sharada Peeth.

The Temple as a “Shakti Peeth”

Shakti Peethas are shrines or divine places of Shakti formed due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi when Shiva carried it and wandered throughout Aryavartha in sorrow. There are 51 Shakti Peeth linking to the 51 alphabets in Sanskrit. Each temple has shrines for Shakti and Kalabhairava. Sharada Peeth is one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peetha. Devi’s Right hand is said to have fallen here.

The Shakti worshipped here is the goddess of knowledge and education, Saraswathi otherwise known as Sharada. The mythology of Daksha yaga and Sati’s self immolation had immense significance in shaping the ancient Sanskrit literature and even had a cultural impact in India during olden times. It led to the development of the concept of Shakti Peethas and thereby strengthening Shaktism.

Enormous mythological stories in puranas took the Daksha yaga as the reason for its origin. It is an important incident in Shaivism and Shaktism.

Structure of the temple :

The temple is currently abandoned and lies in ruin. The length of the temple in classical Kashmir style is 142 feet and width is 94.6 feet. The outer walls of the temple are 6 ft. wide and 11 ft long. And there are arches with 8 ft. height. The structure is damaged and it is likely that a significant part of the material has been reused in nearby residential buildings.

Significance:

Kashmiri Hindus remain highly devoted towards this deity, and by extension, to the Sharada Peeth temple. As part of their daily worship, Kashmiri Hindus and Sarasvat Brahmins in South India utter the phrase

नमस्ते शारदे देवि कश्मीरपुरवासिनि। त्वामहं प्रार्थये नित्यं विद्यादानं च देहि मे।।

“namas te śārade devi kaśmīrapuravāsini. tvām aham prārthaye nityaṃ vidyādānaṃ ca dehi me”

(Salutations to you, O Sharada, O Goddess, O one who resides in Kashmir. I pray to you daily, please give me the charity of knowledge). It is also recited by other students hoping to do well in studies.