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Sharada Tirtha

Dr. Subhash Kak, Louisiana State University, U.S.A. 

Subhash KakHere are some facts about Sharada, the most famous and sacred of all the Kashmiri pilgrimage centers:

1. The ancient temple of Sharada is located in Neelam (Kishanganga) valley just beyond the line of control in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The temple is located in a small village called Shardi near the confluence of Kishanganga and Madhumati rivers. As far as I can gather from my maps, its location seems to be 74.2 E and 34.8 N. It is located northwest of the Wular lake about 40 miles as the crow flies. Another way of getting an idea of its location note that Kishanganga and Vitasta (Jhelum) meet in Muzzafarabad. Shardi and Sopore are about the same distance from Muzzafarabad along two different rivers.

2. It was important not only as a temple to Sharada in her triple form as Sharada, Sarasvati, and Vagdevi, it was also a centre of Kashmirian learning. The main pilgrimage used to be conducted on the 4th shudi of Bhadrapada. Shradha used to be performed by the Madhumati.

3. The famous chronicler Al-Biruni (1130 AD) names Sharada, together with Somnath, Multan, and Thaneshvar, as one of the most important temples of Hindus in north India. In the 16th century, Abul Fazl, the author of Ain- Akbari, similarly describes this as a temple dedicated to Durga which is regarded with great veneration. He adds, "On every eighth tithi of the bright half of the month it begins to shake and produces the most extraordinary effect."

4. If you would like to read details about the temple see pages 279-290 in the second volume of RAJATARANGINI translated by M.A. Stein, who visited the temple in 1892. Stein has extensive notes regarding the temple and his own description of it.

5. It is curious that during the fighting of 1948, the Indian army made no attempt to control this region. I presume this was because the memory of the Sharada temple was not very strong in the minds of the main actors in the drama.

Remember the fame of Sharada was so great that the word became synonymous with learning. Also remember that the native script for Kashmiri is a script called Sharada. Some of you would remember the zataks written in it. Sharada is somewhat similar to Devanagari but not identical.

PART II: THE SHARADHA SCRIPT

 Here I summarize current knowledge on the Sharada script:

Sharada, like other Indian and southeast Asian scripts, is derived from Brahmi which was in use in India at least as early as 500 BC if not earlier. New theories suggest that Brahmi, in turn, evolved from the ancient Indus (or Sarasvati) script that was in use in India in 2500 BC.

The earliest records in Sharada have been dated to about 800 AD. You find them all over northwest India. Incidently, Gurumukhi, the script that was designed by one of the Sikh gurus for Punjabi, used Sharada as its model. The widespread usage of Sharada has been interpreted by scholars to mean that Kashmiri Pandits in ancient times, as now, were fond of travelling outside the valley. The script of the Dogras, called Takari, is also derived from Sharada.

PART III: MORE ON THE SHARADA TEMPLE

This information is abridged from Stein's account:

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 63 steps to the main entrance of the quadrangular court enclosing the temple. The staircase is about 10 feet wide and rises rather steeply in six flights between two flanking walls of massive construction. The entrance to the court is through a gateway with a double porch of Kashmiri design.

The court of the temple forms an oblong accurately oriented and enclosed by a massive wall 6 feet thick. The north side of the enclosure measures 142 feet whereas the east side measures 94 feet and 6 inches. Thus the quadrangle has proportion of 3:2. In the centre of the northern wall is a small recess 3 feet 3 inches square inside which opens by a trefoil arched door towards the interior of the court. This recess contained two ancient lingas.

In the centre of the quadrangle is the temple raised on a basement of 24 feet square and 5 feet 3 inches high. The entrance to this inner temple is from the west side and is approached by stairs five and a half feet wide with flanking side walls. The interior of the inner temple is a square of 12 feet and 3 inches and it has no decoration of any kind. The only conspicous object inside is a large slab which measures about 6 by 7 feet with a thickness of about half a foot. This slab is believed to cover a kunda, or spring, in which goddess Sharada appeared to the sage Shandilya. This kund is the object of the special veneration of the pilgrims.

The main Sharada temple 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 northwest is the spot where the waters of the Madhumati and Kishanganga mingle. The view from the staircase to the outer temple is magnificent. Not only can you see the valleys of Madhumati and the gorge of Kishanganga but also a stream now called Sargan that falls into Kishanganga.

The location of the Sharada temple in the village of Shardi is beyond the mountains, immediately surrounding the valley north northwest of Bandipur. It is beyond Lolab valley and beyond Drang so reaching it must take a few days. Although it is only about 35 miles or so from the northern reaches of the Wular, the journey in ancient times must have been carried out entirely on foot. I suppose now it should be possible to complete it rather quickly starting from Bandipur.

I am assured by the account that it has a beauty more dramatic than that of Yosemite!

 

 

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