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Sharada: Center of Learning

This ancient Tirtha Sharada Amrit Kund, one of the most important sacred sites of Kashmir, and famous far beyond its limits. As one of the Maha Shakti Peethas, Hindus believe that it represents the spiritual location of Goddess Sati's fallen right hand.

Sharada Peeth is one of the three holiest sites of pilgrimage for Kashmiri Pandits, alongside the Martand Sun Temple and the Amarnath Temple. Sharada Peeth translates to "the seat of Sharada", the Kashmiri name for Goddess Shakti. "Sharada" could be also related to the proto-Nostratic terms "sarv", which means "flow or stream", and daw (blow, tip or rock), because it was located at the confluence of three streams.

Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharda Peeth ) is located approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles ) from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and 130 kilometers (81 miles ) from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir in India. It is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from the Line of Control, which divides the Pakistani- and India-controlled areas of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is situated 1,981 meters (6,499 ft) above sea level, along the Neelum River in the village of Sharda, in the valley of Mount Harmukh, believed by Kashmiri Pandits to be the abode of Shiva.

The beginnings of Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth) , and the question of origins are difficult, because Sharada Peeth was both a temple and an educational institution. The earliest theory of its origins dates it to over 5,000 years in age, around the time of the earliest records of Neolithic sites in the flood plains of the Kashmir Valley. On this view, the site could not have been first constructed by the Indo-Aryan peoples, who are estimated to have arrived at the Ganges River around 1500 BCE. More conservative estimates suggest that it was built under the Kushan Empire (30 CE – 230 CE), and some others believe that its similarity to the Martand Sun Temple indicates that it was built by the Kashmiri king Lalit Aditya (724 CE – 760 CE). A third school of thought suggests that it was built not at once, but in stages.

The earliest reference to Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth) as a temple comes from the Nilamata Purana (6th – 8th century CE). It describes the confluence of two "holy" streams, where Sharada Peeth is located: the Madhu Mati (today known as the Neelum River or Kishanganga) and the Sandili (after the saint Shandilya, who is said to have built Sharada Peeth). According to the text, bathing in it gave one visions of Sudarshan Chakra) of Goddess Durga.

By the 8th century, the temple was a site of pilgrimage, attracting devotees from as far as present-day Bengal. By the 11th century, it was among the most revered places of worship in the Indian subcontinent, Described in Al-Biruni's chronicle of India. Significantly, it featured not in his description of Kashmir, but in his list of the most famous Hindu temples in the Indian subcontinent, alongside the Multan Sun Temple, the Sthaneshwar Mahadev Temple, and the Somnath temple.

A very curious account of a later phase in the history of the Sharada temple is found in Jonarajas Chronicle. The passage containing its reference belongs to those additions of the text with which Professor Peterson's recent edition (1896) has first acquainted us.

We read there in the narrative of the early portion of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin’s reign (A.D. 1420-70), of a visit which this king paid to the shrine of Sharada. The prince whose tolerant attitude towards his Brahman subjects is otherwise well-known, is represented as having accompanied the regular pilgrimage, apparently in the year 1422 A.D., in order to witness the miraculous manifestations of the Goddess. From the description in verse 1057 ( Rajtarangani ) it seems that these were ordinarily the appearance of sweat on the face of the image of the goddess, the shaking of the arm, and a sensation of heat on touching the feet.

After bathing and drinking at the Madhumati stream the king seated himself at the sacred spot which was thronged by pilgrims and temple Purohits. Owing to the baseness he witnessed in these people; the king is said to have displayed anger and to have lost faith in the Goddess. Having failed to see her manifest herself in a visible and material way which Jonaraja plausibly explains by a reference to the Kaliyuga and the want of faith in the worshippers, he then endeavored to obtain her sight in a dream. For this purpose, the king went to sleep on the night of the 7th Bhadrapada (the half month is not indicated) in the court of the temple." Sharada, however, refused to vouchsafe any sign of her presence to the king in his sleep either. From due regard for the prince's high personal qualities, the author is forced to ascribe this disappointment to the wickedness of his servants and the conflux of Mlecchas. Having thus disappointed the virtuous Zain-ul-'Abidin, the Goddess is then said to have, herself, crushed her image to pieces.

We see from this account that a miracle-working image of Sharada, probably the same of which Alberiini had heard, was yet in existence in the early part of the fifteenth century, and that its destruction, rightly or wrongly, was connected with a pilgrimage which Zain-ul- Abidin made to the site.

In the sixteenth century the temple of Sharada must have enjoyed a considerable reputation in Kashmir itself. This is proved by Abu-l-Fazal's notice of the site in his account in Ain-e Akbari. "At two days' distance from hayahamun is the river named Padmati which flows from the Dardu (Dard) country. Gold is also found in this river. On its banks is a stone-temple called -Sharda dedicated to Durga and regarded with great veneration. On every eighth Tithi of the bright half of the month it begins to shake and produces the most extraordinary effect. Here, hayahamun stands plainly for Hayhom “Hayaarama" mentioned above, on the old pilgrimage route.

Padmati is an evident clerical error for Madhumati. From the statement which makes this river come from the Dard country, it appears that there is some confusion here between the Madhu Mati and the Kishanganga which latter alone can be described as flowing from that region. It must, however, be noted that a not very clear passage of the Sharada Mahatmya seems to ascribe to the Kishanganga also the second name Madhumati.

The notice of gold being found in the river clearly applies to the Kishanganga which drains a mountain region known as auriferous to present day.

The story told of the Sharada temple shaking on the 8th Shukla of each month, is evidently a lingering reflection of the miracle ascribed to Sharada’s image in Jonarajas account.

The date indicated is that still observed for pilgrims' visits to the shrine, but present tradition, P. Sahibram in his Tirth Samgraha, it is true, notices the miracle in almost identical terms but it is scarcely doubtful that he has here, as more than once elsewhere, merely reproduced the information of Abu-l- Fazal.

Legendary Origins

Four-armed statue of the goddess Sharada from the late 8th century AD

A key source of mythological knowledge about the shrine is the Sharada Sahasranama manuscript, written in the Sharada script, and communicated by the last Purohit of the Sharada temple. It recounts the rishi Shandilya as performing a grand Yajna in the Sharda area, involving the local people and hundreds of worthy priests.

Shandilya was the Rishi and was the progenitor of the Shandilya gotra . The name derives from the Sanskrit words San (roughly, Full), and Dilam (Moon), thus meaning Full Moon, therefore implying Shandilya to be the priest (sage) of the Moon God.

Shandilya, the son of Devala and the grandson of Kashyapa, is associated with the Shatapatha Brahmana of the Shukla Yajurveda, with the Chandogya Upanishad associated with the Kauthuma shākhā of the Samaveda, and with the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which is the concluding part of the Shatapatha Brahmana. He was also known as "Udara- Śāṇḍilya", and the disciple of Atidhanvān Śaunaka who taught him about the greatness and the limitlessness of Brahman. He is one of the most prominent metaphysical philosophers. He concludes that the essence of the soul is consciousness.

Shandilya’s composed the Shandilya Upanishad. He has been credited with writing the Shandilya Bhakti Sutra. According to the Bhagavata Purana, he was instrumental in resolving certain metaphysical doubts of King Parikshit of Hastinapur and King Vajra of Dwarka.

The Muni Shandilya son of Matanga, was practicing great austerities in order to obtain the sight of Goddess Sharada who is a Shakti embodying three separate manifestations. Divine advice prompted him to proceed to the Syamala, Maharashtra. There at Ghusi, i.e., Gus, appears to him Mahadevi, and promises to show herself in her true form (as Shakti) in the Sharada forest. The goddess vanishes from his sight at hayasirsasrama, in which name we have an attempt to Sanskatise the name of the present village Hayehom, situated about four miles to the N.N.E. of Gus (Village near Kupwara).

The Muni next proceeds to the Kishanganga, a spring now usually known as Kishanganga, in which he bathes. There upon half his body becomes golden, emblematic of his approach to complete liberation from darkness. The Naga (spring) is situated above the village of Drang. This place is undoubtedly the Dranga mentioned by Kalhana. The place is nowadays usually designated by the local Brahmans as Sune Drang, the ‘Gold-Drang.’ It is this appellation which the Mahatmya wishes to reproduce by calling the place of the Muni's miraculous transformation Suvarnar Dhangaka.

From thence Shandilya ascends the mountain range to the north, on which he sees a dance of the Goddesses in a forest called Ranghavati. The place meant is, according to my informant, a high alpine meadow known as Rangvor, immediately below the pass by which the route leading from Drang towards the Kishanganga crosses the watershed.

He then passes the Gostambhana forest, i.e., the Marg Guthamman and arrives at Tejavana, the residence of Gautama, on the bank of the Kishanganga. The Mahatmya describes at some length the sacred character of the latter place which is identical with Tehjan, a small hamlet on the left bank of the Kishanganga. It then relates how the sage after crossing on the way a hill, on the east side of which he sees the god Ganesha, arrives in the Sharada Vana, i.e., at the present S'ardi. After a hymn in praise of Sharada in her triple form of Sharada, Narada or Sarasvati, and Vagdevi, an account is given how the Goddess at that sacred spot revealed herself to the Muni and rewarded his long austerities by inviting him to her residence on S'risaila .

Pitrs also approach there Shandilya asked them to perform their Shraddhs. On his taking water from the Mahasindhu for the purpose of the Tarpana rite, half of its water turns into honey and forms the stream hence known as Madhumati. Ever since baths and Shraddhas at the Samgama of the Sindhu and Madhumati assure to the pious complete remission of sins, etc.

The mention of this confluence leaves no doubt as to where the Mahatmya places the site sacred to Sharada. By Sindhu can be meant only the kishanganga which, as in Kalhanas days, is still locally known merely as Sindh, the river. Madhumati is the name which local tradition gives to this day to the stream that joins the Kishanganga at S'ardi from the south.

The name Sadri, now the designation of the little village and fort near which the temple of Sharada stands, is undoubtedly derived from the name of the Goddess to whom the site was sacred. It is due to the fact that popular language in Kashmir retains hieratical names and terms like Sharada, Siva, Santa, etc., in their Kashmir forms as Tatsamas. The local name was always felt to be connected with that of the deity presiding over the shrine.

The remainder of the Mahatmya recapitulates the several stages of the pilgrimage which agree with the sites described in the legendary narrative, and mentions the fourth Shukla paksha of Bhadrapada as the time when special holiness accumulates at the Tirtha. A similar distinction is claimed, however, also for the fourth day of each bright half month and the 14th Shukla paksha .

As a peculiar feature of the pilgrimage it deserves the notice that the Mahatmya as well as the actual practice, prescribes the offering of 'Pasuhoma', a at Sharada shrine as obligatory even for Vaishnav’s. This injunction is clearly due to the worship to Sharada as a Shakti.

In Kalhana’ s 12th century epic, Rajatarangini, Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth) is identified as a site of popular veneration. There, the goddess Sarasvati herself is seen in the form of a swan in a lake situated on the summit of the Bheda hill, which is sanctified by the Ganga source. There, when visiting Goddess Sharada, one reaches at once the river Madhumati, and the river of Sarasvati worshipped by poets.

Kalhana points out other events of political significance involving Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth). During Lalit Aditya’s reign (713 – 755), a group of assassins from the Gouda Kingdom entered Kashmir under the guise of a pilgrimage to Sharada Peeth. Kalhana also describes a rebellion during his own lifetime. Three princes, Lothana, Vigraharaja and Bhoja, rebelled against King Jayasimha of Kashmir. These princes, pursued by the Royal Army, sought refuge in the upper Kishanganga Valley, in the Sirahsila Castle. Kalhana believed that the Royal Army took refuge in Sharada Peeth, because it had the open space required for a temporary military village, and because the area surrounding the Sirahsila Castle was not large enough to host a camp for a siege without the siege force being vulnerable to archers.

Brahmans from the neighboring districts and across India who still perform the pilgrimage to Sharda, since 1947 Brahmins of Kashmir have for several years avoided the difficult pass behind Drang and the equally difficult gorges through which the route, debouches into the Kishanganga Valley. Starting on the pilgrimage on the 4th Shukla paksha of Bhadrapada, they satisfy themselves by bathing in the rivulet which comes from Drang, instead of visiting its source at the Kishanganga. They then proceed to Gus, where they visit a little grove of walnut-trees and Chinars situated by the side of the Kamil (Kaveri) River, and known by the name Rangvor as a substitute for the Ranyavati. From there they march by the ordinary route to Dudnial on the Kishanganga via Aura, Zirhom and the Sitalvan Pass. Ascending the river on its left bank they reach Tejavana and finally Sharada on the fourth day.

This route, was also used for the supplies, etc., of the small garrison in Sardi Fort and was practicable for baggage-carrying coolies. It is so difficult that one could easily realize the hardships to which the pilgrims must be exposed on the even more trying orthodox route.

They show that in old times this portion of the Upper Kishanganga Valley, once the scene of the events related by Kalhana, and now part of Drava may have supported a larger population, And hence have been of greater importance. Separated by a great natural barrier, it can scarcely ever have formed part of the proper territory of Kashmir, though its petty chiefs in Hindu as well as in later times seem to have acknowledged the suzerainty of the Kashmir rulers. The present inhabitants are closely allied to the Pahari population of Karnaha and show only a small admixture of Kashmiri settlers and Dard’s. If these ethnological conditions prevailed also in earlier times, the inclusion of the Sharda Tirtha among the most sacred sites of Kashmir must appear all the more curious.

Opposite to the hamlet of Tehjan there is a spot where the pilgrims perform the ablutions prescribed for Tejavana. It is at the point where the hill-stream of the valley debouching here from the S.E. falls into Kishanganga. Higher up, when arrived at the village of Kherigam There is only a short way from Sardi, on the opposite bank a narrow and high ridge, which falls off with precipitous cliffs into the river, as the hill of Ganesha (Ganes hgiri) mentioned in the Mahatmya. It is known as Ganesh Ghatii. While reaching on the spot one can reveal the reason why this ridge is held sacred to the elephant-faced God, and also enables one to identify it with the long-searched-for site of the Sirahsila Castle.

Above Kherigram the valley becomes less confined. At a turn of the path the fort of Sardi and the ancient temple of Sarada come conspicuously into view, with a magnificent Amphitheatre of high peaks behind them.

Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth) has appeared in various historical and literary texts. Its earliest mention is in the Nilamata Purana (6th – 8th century CE). The 11th century Kashmiri poet Bilhana describes both the spiritual and academic elements of Sharada Peeth. He describes Kashmir as a patron of learning and Sharada Peeth as the source of that reputation. He also says that Goddess Sharada "resembles a swan, carrying as her diadem the glittering gold washed from the sand of the Madhumati stream, which is bent on rivalling Ganga. Spreading lustre by her fame as her diadem, and rivalling the Ganges River. Spreading lustre by her fame, brilliant like crystal, she makes even Mount Himalaya, the preceptor of Gauri, raise higher his head referring to his peaks in pride of her residence there.

Sharda Script

Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth) is a ruined Hindu Temple and ancient center of learning located in present Pakistan occupied Kashmir. It was among the most prominent temple universities in the Indian subcontinent. Known in particular for its library, stories recount scholars travelling long distances to access its texts. It played a key role in the development and popularization of the Sharada script in North India, causing the script to be named after it, and Kashmir to acquire the moniker "Sharada Desh", meaning "country of Sharada".

Sharada Amrit Kund (Sharada Peeth ) is referred to by various historians, detailing its mythological status and prominence in ancient India. Its historical development is traced through references made to it by various historical sources. Although the Sharada script did not originate in Kashmir, it was used extensively in Sharada Peeth, and acquired its name from the institution. This has fed the popular belief that the script was developed in Kashmir.

The Sharada Peeth was considered as the center of learning and was prominent by at least the 4th century CE. Around that period, Buddhist scholars such as Kumarajiva, Thonmi Sambhota and Rinchen Zangpo were associated with Sharada Peeth. This coincided with the period that Buddhism was prevalent in Kashmir (3rd – 8th century CE). Kumarajiva (344 – 413 CE) was born to a Kashmiri father, Kumārāyana, and a Chinese mother from Kucha. He was sent to Kashmir at a young age to gain a grounding in Buddhism, where he studied under a Kashmiri scholar of the Sarvastivada school. Thonmi Sambhota (7th century CE) was sent on a mission to Kashmir to procure an alphabet for the Tibetan language. There, he learned various scripts and grammar treatises from learned pandits, and then devised a script for Tibetan based largely on the Sharada alphabet. Other associated scholars include the Kashmiri historian Kalhana Pandit and the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara.

Sharada Peeth was also valued by scholars across the Indian subcontinent for its library, and stories detail long journeys they would take to consult it. In the 11th century, the Vaishnava saint Swami Ramanuja travelled from Srirangam to Sharada Peeth to refer to the Brahma Sutras, before commencing work on writing his commentary on the Brahma sutras, the Sri Bhasya. The 13th century CE (1277 – 78) text Prabhāvakacarita contains a story of the Śvētāmbara scholar Hemachandra. As Sharada Peeth was the only place with a library known to have all such works available in their complete form, Hemachandra requested King Jayasimha Siddharaja to send a team to retrieve copies of the existing eight Sanskrit grammatical texts preserved there. These supported his own text of Sanskrit grammar, the Siddha-Hema-Śabdanuśāśana.

Bilhana, the Kashmiri poet, whose literary career falls into the second half of the eleventh century, is our next witness in order of time. In his panegyrical description of Pravarapura or Srinagar ,"written when he was in the Dekhan, far away from his home, he ascribes the patronage of learning, claimed for this city, to the favor of Sharada. The Goddess is said to resemble a swan, carrying as her diadem to the glittering gold washed from the sand of the Madhumati stream which is bent on rivalling Ganga. Spreading luster by her fame, brilliant like crystal, she makes even Mount Himalaya, the preceptor of Gauri.

"In a more legendary light the temple of Sharada figures in curious story related to the great Jaina scholar Hem Chandra (AD 1088-1172), in the Prabhavacarita. It has been reproduced and discussed by Prof. Buhler in his classical account of Hemachandra’ s life and labours."

The story is that when Hem Chandra was commissioned by King Jayasimha of Gujarat to compose a new grammar, he requested to be supplied with the necessary materials in the shape of the eight older grammars, which could be found complete only in the library of Goddess Sarasvati, in Kashmir.

Jayasimha sent at once high officials to Pravarapura to obtain the manuscripts. After arriving there they proceeded to the temple of the Goddess and offered their prayers. Pleased by their praises, the Goddess appeared and commanded her own attendants to transmit the desired works to her favorite Hem Chandra. The manuscripts were there upon delivered to the king's envoys and brought by them to Hemachandra, who, after perusing them, composed his own great grammatical work, the Siddhahemachandra.

Other sources and an examination of the work itself, show that Hemachandra’ s literary materials had been collected from various countries. Professor Buhler was, therefore, undoubtedly right when he treated the statement of the prabhavakacarita that all manuscripts had come from the temple of Sarasvati, in Kashmir, as an exaggeration due to the author's too high notion of the scientific greatness of the country of Sharada. But the legendary character of the story becomes still more evident on a consideration of the details. There can be no doubt that by " the temple of Sarasvati" is meant the shrine of Sharada, the two names being ordinarily considered designations of the identical deity. Yet the author of the Jaina text places this temple at Kashmir, where we know from the ample historical materials available to us, that such a shrine did not exist either in Hemachandra’ s time or ever thereafter.

The origin of the prabhavakacarita story can be traced with great probability. Given the fact that Hemachandra was believed to have obtained literary help in the form of manuscripts from the distant Kashmir, the land of Sharada, it was only natural to embellish the account by connecting it with that temple of the Goddess of learning. This as a chief pilgrimage place of Kashmir had, as we have seen, become known in distant parts, long before the time of the composition of the Prabhavakacarita (middle of thirteenth century). That the author imagines this temple to be situated in Pravarapura then, as now, the only center of learning in Kashmir, is exactly what we should expect in view of the character of his narrative.

The last discussed reference to Sharada's temple is of interest because it loads us also to the probable reason for the far-spread renown of this particular Tirtha. Kashmir has claimed from early times to be the land beloved by Sarasvati-Sharada and such designations as Sharadapitha, Saradamandala, etc., have been, and are still, in common use for it. Without examining here how far the Valley has earned this proud title as a home of scholarship and refuge of learning, it will be recognized that such designations must have helped to attract special attention abroad to the Tirtha which bore the name of Sharada.

Adi Shankar a Visit to Sharda Temple

Adi Shankaracharya, a great philosopher is believed to have visited Kashmir in the first quarter of 9th Century (788-820 A.D). According to writer of ‘Sankara Digvijaya’ Shankara visited Kashmir after giving a final blow to Buddhism in the rest of India. A research scholar of repute, writes in ‘Shankaracharya Temple and Hill’ that Shankaracharya visited Kashmir with the intention of advancing Vedantic knowledge. That time Kashmiris were culturally and spiritually much advanced and believed strongly in the greatness of both Shiva and Shakti. Shankaracharya, when he visited Kashmir, did not believe in Shakti cult.

Shankaracharya with his party camped outside the city of Srinagar, without any boarding and lodging arrangements. Seeing the plight of visitors, a small girl was sent to meet Shankara. She found the party uneasy and frustrated because of not being able to cook as no fire was made available to them. The first glimpse of Shakti was exhibited to Shankara by this girl, when Shankara expressed his inability to make a fire, in reply to girl’s question that 'you are so great, cannot you make fire'. The girl picked up two thin wooden sticks (samidhas) into her hand, recited some mantras and rubbed the sticks and fire was produced to the surprise of Shankara. Later a Shastrarth (religious discourse) was arranged between Shankara and a Kashmiri woman. This discourse continued for 17 days. Shankaracharya yielded before the woman in discussion and accepted the predominance of Shakti cult (greatness of Devi).

After accepting predominance of Shakti cult, Shankara wrote 'Soundarya Lahari', in praise of Shakti, at the top of the hill, known till then as Gopadari Hill. Pandit Gopi Krishan writer that Panchastavi -- gamut of Shakti Shastra a priceless gem a peerless hymn of praise addressed to Kundalini. The work has been cited as source book by several eminent scholars, but the name of the author has remained undisclosed. According to him the only other work in whole gamut of Shakti Shastra in the country, comparable to Panchastavi is Soundarya Lahari. it is acclaimed as master-piece in Sanskrit literature.

After the visit of Adi Shankaracharya to Kashmir, he became a staunch believer of Shakti-Shri Chakra – the symbol of Devi (Goddess) as mentioned in ‘Shankara Digvijay’ Life history of Shankaracharya. Thus, we know that even, a very knowledge philosopher, a Saint of greater order-- Adi Shankaracharya -- gained further depth in spiritualism and mysticism in Kashmir.

Kashmiri Pandit – highly appreciative of knowledge (which has at time proved undoing for them), awarded a degree of the Sharda Peetha, the highest honor conferred on any dignitary of knowledge when Shankaracharya visited Sharda, a famous temple, Shrine of Goddess Sarasvati and a famous university of learning.

In the text of Madhaviya Shankara Vijayam, there is a test, unique to Sharada Peeth, known as the Sarvajna Peetham, or Throne of Omniscience. These were four thrones, each representing an entrance of the temple corresponding to one of the points of the compass, which only a learned man from that direction could symbolically open. Adi Shankara, being from South India, took it upon himself to pass this challenge, because although the other doors had been opened, no one from the south of Kashmir had yet been successful. He was said to be welcomed by the common people, but challenged by the scholars of the region. As he approached the southern door, he was stopped by various learned men from the Nyaya school of philosophy, Buddhists, Digambara Jains, and the followers of Jaimini. Engaging with them, he managed to persuade all of them of his proficiency in philosophy, and they stood aside to let him open the entrance. He emerged as a winner and was conferred to sit on Sarvanjnanapeetham or Sarvajna peetha (Throne of Wisdom). In his Honour, the southern gate of Sarda temple was closed for ever. Finally, as he was about to ascend the throne, he heard the voice of Goddess Sharada challenging him. The voice said that omniscience was not enough if one was impure, and that Shankara, who lived in the palace of King Amaruka, could not be pure. Shankara replied that his body had never committed a sin, and the sins committed by another could not blemish him. Goddess Sharada accepted his explanation and permitted him to ascend.

Architecture of Sharada Temple

The temple of Sarada rises in a prominent and commanding position above the right bank of the Madhumati on the terrace-like foot of a spur which descends from a high pine-clad peak to the East. Immediately below this terrace to the N.W. is the spot where the waters of the Madhumati and the Kishanganga mingle. There on a small sandy beach the pilgrims perform their Sraddhas. From the height of the staircase, which forms the approach to the temple from the West, an extensive view opens.

To the S.E. the valley of the Madhumati is seen narrowing gradually into a gorge between precipitous spurs through which passes the direct route to Kashmir via Kroras. In the N.E. from where the Krishan Ganga issues, successive ranges of barren steep mountains with snowy peaks behind them, seem to close all passage To the North. a narrow chasm in the rocks marks the debouchure of the Sargan River, the Kankatori of the map, which flows from the mountains towards Cilas and falls into the Kishanganga a short distance above the Madhumati. It is the Sarasvati of Kalhanas description, still known by that name to local tradition.

To the West. the view extends to the high ranges which rise in the direction of Khagan. The ruins, which mark the ancient shrine of Sharda, deserve here all the more a brief description, as the only account I have been able to trace of them, is contained in Major C. B. Bates 'Gazetteer of Kashmir’, a quasi-confidential government publication 'for political and military reference,' not generally accessible. Major Bates' notice of Sardi which is detailed and accurate account of the site.

Major C. B. Bates states the temple is approached from the lower slope of the hill in the West. by an imposing stone staircase, now half decayed, which leads up in sixty-three steps to the main entrance of the quadrangular court enclosing the temple. It is about 10 feet wide and rises rather steeply between two flanking walls of massive construction, broken in six steps or flights. The entrance to the court is through a gateway, provided with the usual double porch of Kashmarian architecture. The gateway forms now the south-west corner of the court. Whether it occupied this position also in the original structure cannot be decided with certainty, as the whole of the south face of the enclosures is now in ruins, owing to the foundation-walls on the steep slope towards the Madhumati having given way.

Major C. B. Bates 'Gazetteer of Kashmir’ writes if the court formed originally an exact quadrangle without the indenture now observed in its south-western corner, this gateway would have occupied exactly the middle of the west face. Owing to the cause already referred to, the south or right side of the gateway has fallen. On the north there are still remains of the columns, one on each side of the middle doorway which supported the trefoiled arches of the porches. The total depth of this gateway is about 12 feet.

The court to which it gives access, forms an oblong accurately orientated and enclosed by a massive wall 6 feet thick. The north side of the enclosure, which is intact, measures 142 feet, and the equally well-preserved east side, 94' 6". This gives for the longer and shorter sides of the quadrangle the proportion of 3 by 2. The height of the enclosing walls proper is 11 feet from the level of the court to the projecting rim at the foot of the coping. The latter rises in pyramidal form to a height of about 8 feet above the top of the wall, and is particularly well preserved on the east side. Seen from outside the walls of the enclosure appear still more massive and imposing, As they are raised on basement walls, built with a view to equalize the different elevations of the ground.

Those substructure-walls vary in height from 5 to 12 feet, and raise in some places the total height of wall visible from outside about 30 feet. In the center of the northern wall there is a small recess, about 3' 3" square inside, opening by a trefoil- arched door towards the interior of the court. It contains now two ancient Linga’s of moderate size and was no doubt also originally intended for the reception of some image or Linga. There is a similar small cella on the east side of the enclosing wall, and about 5 feet to the south of it a square postern, 3 feet broad. It gives access to the terraces on the hillside rising behind the temple, and to a spring called Amarakunda, somewhat higher up.

The temple, which occupies center of the quadrangle, forms a square cella conforming in plan and elevation to the usual features of Kashmirian architecture. It is raised on basement 24 feet square and 5' 3" high. The walls of the cella proper recede about 2 feet from the edge of the basement.

They are adorned on the north, east and south by trefoil arches supporting pilasters both projecting in relievo. Below these arches small trefoil headed niches covered by double pediments. The walls are still intact up to a height of about 20 feet above the basement, and nearly to the topmost point of the great trefoil arches. There are scarcely any traces of the usual pyramidal stone roof.

From the absence of any debris, which such a massive roof when destroyed could not have failed to leave in and around the cella, I am inclined to doubt whether it ever existed. At present the cella is covered by a low shingle roof, probably the same which Major Bates (1873) notices as having been recently erected by Colonel Gundu, the late Zillahdar of Muzaffarabad."

The entrance to the interior of the cella is on the west side, and is approached by stairs 5.5 feet wide with flanking side walls. There is an open portico in front of the door projecting about 4 feet beyond the pilasters on each side of the doorway. It is supported on the outside by two pillars, 2 feet 4 inches square, and about 16 feet high. The interior of the cella forms a square of 12 feet 3 inches, and has no decoration of any kind. The only conspicuous object in it is a large rough slab on the ground which measures about 6 by 7 feet, with a thickness of about half a foot.

This stone is believed to cover a Amritakunda, or spring cavity, in which Sharada appeared to Shandilya, and is the object of the pilgrims' special veneration. At the time of my visit a red cloth canopy with plenty of tinsel surmounted the sacred spot. Conches, bells, and other implements of worship filled the remainder of the interior space. it is raised on to equalize the uneven elevations of the ground. The north side of the wall contained a small recess, in which two ancient Linga could be seen.

The whole of the cella is built of a somewhat friable sandstone, and with blocks by no means remarkable for size or careful dressing. In regard to the material used and solidity of construction, the temple appeared to me decidedly inferior to the enclosing quadrangle. Traces of plaster found in sheltered recesses of the walls lead me to suppose that the whole central shrine was originally covered with that material.

The whole appearance of the cella and certain peculiarities in its dimensions and decorative features prevent me from attributing to this structure any great antiquity. In style it presents some resemblance to the ruined cellas at Kapateshvara, Kother, which may be ascribed with great probability to the time of King Bhoja or the eleventh century. It is evident that a shrine erected at a site so popular and renowned from early times would be sure of continued attention, and hence repeated restorations.

The very fact that a building in no way distinguished for solidity of construction and massiveness of material, surpasses in its present state of preservation many of the most famous monuments of Kashmir architecture, seems to indicate a comparatively late date.

Bates states, "According to Kashmiri Pandit’s relation the temple had been almost deserted during the time preceding the Sikh invasion, when the Muhammadan Rajas of Karnav ruled as practically independent chiefs in the Kishanganga Valley. Under one of them the shrine is said to have been used for the storage of gunpowder, the explosion of which blew off the original roof. This story, if true, would confirm our surmise as to the temple never having possessed a stone roof. Because the collapse of such a superstructure would have, in all probability, implied the destruction of the side walls also. The temple was subsequently repaired by Maharaja Gulab Singh. He also settled a small bounty of seven rupees 'Chilki' per mensum on the family of Gotheng Brahmans, to which Chandra Pandit belongs, and which claims the hereditary guardianship of the temple. Quite as much as to the intermittent ministrations of these appointed guardians, the shrine owes its present comparatively fair state of repair to the presence of a little Hindu community in the garrison of the neighboring fort of Sardi. The latter, a square rubble-built structure which stands almost opposite to the temple, on the left bank of the Madhumati, was erected in Maharaja Gulab Singh time, to guard the valley against the inroads of maranding cilasis who, in the Sargan Valley, had a convenient route to descend by. I found there a small garrison of Dogra’s and Sikhs, some forty men, belonging to the irregular so-called Killahdar troops."

These brave fellows quartered for years at this solitary spot, and cut off for a great part of the year from all intercourse with the outside world, seemed to take an intelligent interest in the sacred shrine entrusted, as it were, to their care. They kept it clear of the luxuriant forest vegetation around, which threatens to overgrow it, just like the ruins of Butsher “Bhutesvara”. They also maintained a Hindu mendicant from the plains as an attendant of the goddess.

Bates states, “According to the information of Kashmiri Pandit Purohit confirmed by subsequent inquires, the pilgrimage to the shrine takes place regularly in the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada. The pilgrims start on their journey on the 4th sudi ( Shukla Paksha )from Gus and perform the visit to the Sharada-kunda and the Sraddhas ,by the Madhumati, on the 8th of Shukla paksha. The dates here indicated are exactly those prescribed for the popular pilgrimage to the Ganga Lake on the Haramukuta mountain.

This circumstance accounts for a curious connection which has arisen between the two yatras. This visit to the sacred Ganga Lake can be made only in those years when the sun at the date above indicated, stands in the zodiac sign of Leo. As this is not the case in years when an intercalary month (adhikamasa) falls near Bhadrapada he pilgrimage to Mount Haramukuta falls into abeyance at regular intervals of three or four years

It is in these particular years that the custom has established itself of visiting Sharada in place of the Ganga Haramukuta. Though the great flux of pilgrims has for a long time back been diverted from the ancient shrine of Sharada to the modern substitute sites to be noticed below, yet two or three hundreds of pilgrims still proceed in such years to the sacred sites by the side of the Kishanganga. They are recruited almost exclusively from among the Brahman population of the nearest parts of Kamraz, The Temple of Sharada being, as already stated, practically unknown to the Brahmans of Kashmir. In ordinary years the pilgrimage to Sharada attracts only a few solitary devotees.

The politically disturbed condition of the Upper Kishanganga valley during the later Mughal, Pathan rule and since 1947, has had much to do with the neglect into which the shrine of Sharada has fallen. Karnav and Drava were then in the hands of petty chiefs of the Bomba clan, independent of the government of the Kashmir Valley, but unable themselves to maintain order among the warlike and turbulent hillmen of their territory.

The colonies of Afridi’s, found at Zirhom and Drang Hayhom, were originally established during the Durani rule with a view to guarding the passes against raids from the Kishanganga Valley.

"Conditions improved but little during the Sikh rule, and even as late as 1846 Kashmir was raided as far as Srinagar by bands of the restless Bombas. It is evident that during this long period the pilgrimage to the distant shrine on the Krishan Ganga could have no attractions for peaceful Brahmans of Kashmir. According to the traditions of the Gotheng Purohits, it was only since the establishment of the Doga rule and the suppression of the Bomba troubles that the route to S'ardi became once more open for regular pilgrim-visits.

These political circumstances combined with the natural difficulties of the route, explain sufficiently the development of quite a series of substitutes for the ancient Tirtha within the Valley itself.

The best known and most popular among these is the spring called Shardakunda, at the village of Tsatsa, close to Harvan, and about one and a half miles from the north-east corner of the Dal Lake. Owing to the place being so near to the city and easily approached by boat, large crowds of pilgrims assemble from Srinagar to pay their devotion to Sharada thus brought within convenient reach. The spring is visited exactly on the day prescribed for the real Sharada pilgrimage, and only in the years when the Yatra to the Ganga Lake on the Haramukuta does not take place.

Reference taken from various authors: Major Gates ‘Gazetteer of Kashmir’ , Rajtaranjani , Cowie 1867, Percy Brown (1959) , Ain-i-Akbari mentions it as a Durga Temple (Blochmann1873). Nilamata Purana and Māhātmyas (Stein 1900)

(Kindly reach out to Satish Mahaldar for any feed Back email: [email protected],HP 9818099625)

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