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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

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Sarada-Mai : A Forgotten Cultural Link (Goddess Sarada)

by Dr. V. N. Drabu, Jammu

A painting of goddess Sarada assigned to the 19th century (Goswamy, 1998, pp. 142-143)1 corresponds to its iconographic description in Silpa-sastra. The five-headed goddess is seated cross-legged on a double lotus, resting against a huge bolster. The heads are arranged in tiers with lateral heads attached at various levels to a vertical column of heads. This reminds us of the polycaphalic figures seen in the Ladakh murals and painted book-covers as also of the gigantic stucco figures of Bodhisattvas inside the Seemtsek at Alachi. The central head is seen full face and others in three quarters. From the nimbus emerge golden rays. With an attenuated torso, the goddess is depicted holding a trisula, an ankusa, a pasa, a sankha, a cakra, a decapitated head and two full bloomed lotuses so placed as to appear like the sun and the moon. Usually in Kashmiri paintings multiple aruns are shown fanning out from the elbows instead of from the shoulders. Here they fan out slightly from behind the shoulders and appear stiff and schematic. The central pair of arms are crossed across the chest. Each of the heads has a third eye, vertically placed on the forehead. The goddess is adorned with pearls and golden necklaces. She wears a short choli and a long dhoti that covers her crossed feet. Her stylized vahana is shown with a pointed beak and decorative wings and tail. At either side stand the devotees, a couple, the male figure on the right wearing a dhoti and kantop and the female on the left dressed in a skirt that covers the upper part of her body and the back of her head. Their ethnic traits speak of some common lineage of our highly cultured race in the heart of Asia.

Legend has it that pleased with the austerities of `Sandilya, Saraswati, called `Sarada' responded to his prayers and descended on one of the mountain peaks facing the bank of Madhumati, joined on its course by the Krishan Gnaga in Kashmir, to ensure bhoga and moksa for the sadhakas. Perhaps no other place could be better suited for the descent of the goddess than Sardi, at the confluence of the Krsna-Madhumati, that commands a panoramic view of the alpine forests wending their way through the majestic mountains and the enchanting serpentive streams and rivers to the vast uplands of Central Asia and the Mansorovar beyond. Man and animal are so intertwined in the warm embrace of Nature as to fully comprehend the mystery of parapara (supreme knowledge or samvid) that is obtained through the five syllabled (pancaksari) Sarada. She is devadevi; she is mahavidya; she is paratattva. She is the goddess of learning, music and beauty. She is pure consciousness. She is the eventide energy of Gayatri. She grants rhythm, order and auspiciousness of knowledge. She is the seedbed of sixteen matrkas. To the true devotee she manifests herself as a white, a yellow and a green myna. Sometimes she may appear as sabda (nadarupa), the essence of a poem, on a Sardi stone slab adorned with the precious gems of poetry that verily establish the splendour and sparkling garland of varna mala (the rosary of alphabets). Both Bilhana and Kalhana wax eloquent in their ecstasy at the sight of saffron and the ever-flowing stream of Madhumati in the shape of the sweet speech (vani) of the poets. Vagdevi (the goddess of speech) thus signifies the creative sound of the Universe. She represents the ultimate reality in the form of sound (sabdabrahman). Often in our fantasy our unconscious minds tend to draw upon our common pool of archetypal images. We mirror our mental images in the image of the archetype of `Sarada' who may thus appear as a princess or protectoress. Our myths, beliefs, metaphors construct a reality which is vital to our life and living. The worship of Sarada assists us in getting into harmony with the Universe and stay tuned with it. With her grace we acquire a coherent sound that helps transmission of ideas, wisdom and culture. Such speech is not mere verbal expression. It is associated with rationality and refinement. Goddess Sarada enables her worshippers to be both creative and communicative, whereby they make a significant contribution to society and culture. In fact, like Athena of the Greeks, the goddess helps us in understanding the communication patterns of our culture in its religious and philosophical context. A badly mutilated image of Athena in the SPS Museum, Srinagar, would suggest how close contacts with the Greeks, since very early times, must have led to an interaction of far-reaching importance between the two cultures in the distant past.

The shrine of Sarada stands on a hexa-angular spring (19'X13') which is covered with a stone slab2. Now in Pak occupied Kashmir, the pilgrims approached it through two principal routes of Muzaffarabad and Kupwara in north Kashmir. The pilgrims from Kashmir took the most frequented route from Kupwara to Sarada, covering the whole distance of nearly 40 miles through Ladaarana, Jumgund, Navanagalle hill, Dudaniyal in different stages upto Kel. The other one from Muzaffarabad followed the upper course of the Krsna-ganga, the pilgrims from the plains coverning a distance of about 100 miles, from Titwal, Karnah, Keran, Dudaniyal to Sarada. The whole area from Jumgund to Kel was known as Drova (dwar or entrance) which would suggest that this whole belt of about 60 sq. miles opened negotiable passes for merchants and missionaries making their way to Kashmir and Central Asia and back to north west India3. Sarada obviously appears to have been an important centre in Drova, attracting the Greeks from Bactria and Taxila and artists and scholars from other parts of India. The explorations of Sir Aurel Stein would suggest that Ser India symbolized the effloresence of an indigenous culture with the stamp of Greek thought refined and sharpened by Indian aesthetics. Sarada as one of the centres, may have provided nourishment to the flowering of such aesthetics with its abstruseness.

But to argue that Sarada was a university par excellence, specializing in certain branches like the six systems of Indian philosophy, is to stretch our imagination too far. For certain we don't know when and how Gauri-tritiya came to be celebrated here and what kind of degrees were awarded by a university the like of which never existed in Sarada. But what seems to be more plausible is the fact that the Sarada based on the bija-mantras of Sarada varnamala proved quite rewarding and was successfully used by Adi Sankara. Such a tantric was sadhana defined as matrka or Malini. As such the Sarada script came to be known as Siddhamatrka and is even now called siddham in Bali. It became quite popular with the Baudha-tantric sadhakas in Japan.

On the confluence of the Madhumati-Krsna, pilgrims would offer oblations to their manes (pitris) in the bright fortnight of Bahadrapada on Ganga satami followed by animal sacrifice of goats on the 9th (naumi).

This reminds us of the legendary king Mankan of Kupwara (Mallapura) who is said to have been defeated and who got killed in one of the battles by his enemy. His minister is stated to have carried his dissected body to Telyan where he stopped to get some food. In his absence birds of prey settled on the mutilated body and set it afloat in the river. Dismayed, the minister continued his march to Sarada where he was astonished to see his master Mankan alive and in full armour, offering prayers to Goddess Sarada. Mankana next wanted to make an offering of his whole treasure of jewels and pearls as a mark of thanks giving for being restored to his principality. The Goddess dissuaded him from doing so; instead she desired that the spring be covered with a stone-slab. Does this anecdote imply that the Raja who might have been badly wounded in battle found a safe refuge in Sarada, the miraculous healing powers of the spring having restored his vigour, courage and determination to fight back the enemy with success? One thing is clear. She is not only a city or river goddess, but may be identified as the goddess of warriors too who sought her refuge in wars and battles. Sarada, therefore, assumes the form of Athena or Roma - a young woman, wearing a helmet and carrying a spear. Some of these attributes of the goddess are mentioned in the Rudoayamala tantra. If the iconography of this goddess dates back to the second century of the Christian era, it would seem reasonable to assume that our goddess Sarada had by that time established her reputation not only as a goddess of war but also of learning and wisdom. She is not only the embodiment of ten vidyas (dasavidya); she is also the slayer of daityas or Candi. It is in this form that our benign and benevolent goddess appears in Sarada sahsranama in the Rudra yamala tantra. Obviously our goddess affirms the strength of the warrior community who were more attracted by its martial aspect than by the austere side of the tantric sadhakas or dry logicians. Metaphorically the sacrifice of goats on naumi would imply how the true spirit of worship is sacrifice (sariram havi) which, in the final analysis, leads to attainment of psychic energy (parasakti).

Except the remains of a fortress and a rampart 15' high and 35'X30', there are practically no remains other than a few terracotta tiles scattered in the vicinity of the shrine. The enclosure of the shrine contains a number of cells, most probably meant for sadhakas interested in tantric lore. There is nothing to suggest the existence of spacious halls or a well-equipped library of manuscripts within the precincts of the shrine or any evidence of degrees having ever been conferred on those who came to Sarada more as aspirants in quest of spiritual fulfilment than as students. The tirtha did not advocate any monastic life nor have any colossal ruins survived as to bear any mute testimony to the energy and creativity of the early centres of learning in India like Taxila or Nalanda. The universally accepted form of address was Sarada Mai, the mother, which denoted a `relation', an emotive attitude of the devotees to the creative sphere of nature and the self-fulfilment of the sadhaks in a certain pattern of martka-worhip in a region which was designated as Sarada-mandala of Sarada desa4.

Notes and References

1. Karuna Goswamy, Kashmiri paintings, 1998, Delhi.

2. I owe all this information and what follows to my brethren from Batargam, Sarvashree Pt. Niranjannath, Kashinath, Amarnath who were visibly moved while describing the shrine of Sarada to me and their close association with its adjoining area, collectively known as Drova ().

3. Trade in wool, kuth, crocus was carried on an extensive scale, bringing the merchants and missionaries together on their way to the marts of Rome and trading stations in Central Asia upto far off China in the month of Asvina (Asu).

4. Interestingly several other pilgrimages can be spotted to exhibit a Kashmiri Pandit's love for spiritual attainment through a highly advanced form of sadhana. Goosi in Kupwara, Tikar near Kanihama, Bhedagiri (Budabrar) in Kelar-Pulwama may be cited as a few instances. At all these places we find Gojars taking an equal interest in offering sacrifices to the Goddess to increase their flock of sheep.
 

Reproduced from Patrika-Bhagauaan Gopinathji Trust.

The author is a veteran scholar, historian and teacher.

Mailing Address : 504 New Plots, Sarwal Morh, Jammu-180007

Source: Vitasta

 

 

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