fter the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor to allow visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, the chorus is now growing for the opening of the Sharada Peeth, a shrine for the Kashmiri Pandits in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Sharada Peeth, an abandoned temple close to the Line of control (LoC), sits in PoK’s Sharda village in the Neelum Valley (at a distance of around 140 km from Muzaffarabad and 30 km from Kupwara) and has been out of bounds for Indian pilgrims since Partition.
Sharada Peeth (also spelt as Sharda and translates to the seat of Hindu Goddess Saraswati’) was once regarded as a major centre of higher learning of Vedic works, scriptures and commentaries. Sharada Peeth, one of the 18 highly revered temples across South Asia, was once at par with the ancient seats of learning at Nalanda and Takshila.
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The story behind the foundation of the Sharada Peeth goes back to the time when the Kashmiri Pandits transformed their land of scenic beauty into an intellectual centre, known as Sharada Peeth or Sarvajnanpeetha. Goddess Sharada was also referred to as Kashmira-Puravasani. The temple has been completely deserted since Partition in 1947. Travel restrictions on Indians also discouraged the devotees from visiting the shrine.
Sharada’s story is that of a survivor. Devoid of devotees the shrine in Sharda village stands tall. One of the accounts of construction of the temple says that it was built during the rule of Kushans (early 1st century). While many other accounts say that Buddhists had a strong involvement in the Sharda region, the researchers have not been able to find evidence to support the claim.
The temple has close resemblance with the Martand temple (another religious site in Anantnag) in architecture, design and construction style. According to A Case Study of Sharda Temple by Faiz ur Rehman, academics believe that Raja Lalitaditya had built the Sharada Peeth for containing the religious and political influence of the Buddhism. The claim is supported by the fact that Lalitaditya was a master of building massive temples.
The Kashmiri Pandits consider the temple as important because of their cultural heritage and glory of their land from the ancient times. I strongly felt the spirit of my forefathers there who have visited the shrine for thousands of years and it is difficult to put in words the time I spent at the shrine, Ayaz Rasool Nazki said in his Cultural Heritage of Kashmiri Pandits, published in 2009.
The demand to visit the temple gained momentum after Nazki visited the shrine. Nazki says that one of the legends associated with the shrine is that once, during the fight between good and evil, Goddess Sharada saved the container of knowledge and hid it in a hole in the ground. She then turned herself into a structure to cover the pot. The structure now stands as Sharada Peeth.
Besides the temple, the ruins of one of the country’s oldest universities, called Sharada University also stand there. The university had its own script known as Sharada and it is said that it once had over 5,000 scholars and the biggest library. Despite the fact that Goddess Sharada or Saraswati is the principal deity of the Kashmiri Hindus, it is one of the centres for the bustling intellectual community is also why the shrine is significant to its devotees.
The shrine reportedly doesn’t have a deity but large stone slabs. It is said that a Shivling (symbolic idol of Lord Shiv) once rested just outside the shrine. The interiors of the temple are unadorned. The stairway leading to the shrine is around 10 feet in width and each step is more than a foot in height and 2 to 3 feet deep.
The main temple continues to stand in its own strength. Its three walls are in good condition although the door and the roof are missing. I could imagine that the door and the roof were made of wood and hence perished with age, Nazki writes. “There were no signs of encroachment over the complex and the place was neat and clean.
The temple is also regarded as a Shakti Peeth a shrine built on places where body parts of Sati Devi had fallen while being carried by her husband Lord Shiv.