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Sharda Mata Temple

Repository of Faith; Legend And Love

By Upender Ambardar

Sarada Mata Temple, dedicated to the Goddess Sarada, is located at Dhrov region  in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Inspite of being out of bounds presently for the worshippers to faith allegiance to the temple has in no way.  The strong emotional bonds associated with the temple which stretch back to the age old times continue to remain alive. The temple represents the spiritual and religious soul of Kashmir as the Goddess Sarada is regarded as the presiding deity or Kuldevi of Kashmir.

As Goddess of speech, intellect and exalted thoughts, Sharda Mata is believed to be present wherever speech and communication exist. Goddess Sharda is also known by the name of Vaksavitri, the Creater of all kinds of communication and knowledge, particularly the spiritual one.

Prior to 1947, the holy pilgrimage  would start from Tikar (Kupwara). The next halting stops were Batergham and Hiri villages. From Hiri, one could proceed either via Trehgam or through Liderwan. Liderwan, at a distance of about six kms. from Kupwara used to be the base camp for the yatris coming from Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir.

The arduous journey commencing from Liderwan had halting spots at Zurhome, Marhome (Marhama), Budan Pathar and Ganesh Pael. The area of Ganesh Pael  was also known by the name of Bandook Pael by the native Gujjars. Ganesh Pael owed its' name to the striking resemblance of a huge boulder to Lord Ganesh's appearance.

The area of Ganesh Pael would also serve as the resting place for the pilgrims.  Next to it was Pothkhagali, which was also used as halting place by those yatris', who would not prefer to make a stopover at Ganesh Pael. Pothkah Gali was followed by the destinations of Mirwali Naar, Dunaar (Dunari), the village of Jumgun and Katchban. The village of Kanthawali was the next stop, which was followed by small villages of Shawlbouth, Baensawali, Andher Bela and Dudhniyal. Dudhniyaal had a narrow suspension foot-bridge. The pilgrims and travellers would unload their horses here as the narrow  foot-bridge  would not permit the loaded horses or horses with the riders to cross it. After taking the path along the bank of Kishanganga the travellers would reach the village of Bella Mohammed Khan, followed by Sheikh Bella and Mundkar villages.

Dusuth was the next village, followed by Khowaja Seeri and Kharigham villages. Kharigham was the nearest village on the route to Sharda temple. Upto 1947, the village of Liderwan had a lone Kashmiri Pandit household of two brothers namely Sh,. Tika Lal Thusoo and Sh. Nand Lal Thusoo. Both jointly ran a grocer's shop at Liderwan. Smt. Rekhmaal, wife of late Sh. Nand Lal Thusoo, Smt. Teezmaal, wife of Late Sh. Tika Lal Thusoo and Smt. Dhanwati, wife of Sh. Sona Lal Thusoo, the elder son of Late Sh. Tika Lal Thusoo apart from doing their house hold chores would also manage the free community kitchen (langar) for the devotees proceeding on pilgrimage to Sharda temple. They would prepare rotis, Cook dry vegetables and pack them with pickles for the yatris. A free kitchen run by them at the village Dudhniyal would also provide meals to the pilgrims. They also owned water driven mills at Katchban and Shardi villages. Late Sh. Thoker Pandit Thusoo was the first Kashmiri Pandit, who built a house at Laiderwan. He alongwith his wife late Smt. Sokhded and their two sons Sh. Tika Lal and Sh. Nand Lal and their extended families would reside there. They had also constructed a dharamshalla for the pilgrims at Dudhniyal.

A primary school built by them at Dudhniyal catered to the educational needs of Gujjar children residing there and in the adjoining areas of Dudhniyal. As such they were pioneers in the introduction of primary education in this remote region. Apart from being owner of residential houses at Dudhniyal and Shardi villages, they also had shops at these places. Thusoo brothers would also make arrangements for horses and palanquins for old and infirm pilgrims.

According to Sh. Puranji Thusoo, the grandson of late Sh. Nand Lal Thusoo, a densely foliaged upland area in close proximity of Sharda temple was known by the name of Ganesh Ghatti. As divulged to him by his elders, it had a cave, the narrow opening of which would allow the entry of a single person at a time. The open space inside the cave was said to be big enough to accommodate about dozen people. The inside of the cave on one of it's side resembled the image of Lord Ganesh, on which water drops would trickle down from a naturally formed Sheshnag like configuration located above. As per local lore, a Kashmiri Pandit of religious disposition posted at Shardi village during Maharaja's rule was once directed in a dream by Lord Ganesh to come to the said cave to have his darshan there. It resulted in the discovery of the cave and subsequent naming of the cave area as Ganesh Ghati. According to Sh. Puran Ji Thusoo, a hill side elevated area in close proximity of Sharda Mata Temple was also known by the name of Amarnath. It was in the form of a massive boulder over which water from the adjoining mountain would flow down in a 'havan-kund' patterned natural enclosure below.

Smt. Arundati Dass, wife of Sh.Dina Nath Dass of Bomai (Sopore) is the daughter of Late Sh. Nand Lal Thusoo of Liderwan. Despite advanced age, she retains memories of her formative years spent at Liderwan and Shardi.

According to Smt. Arundati Dass, before Liderwan, the first major pilgrimage designation in the earlier times was the village of Jumagund. It is at a distance of 30 kms from Liderwan. She recollects that those on horse backs would proceed on journey at the crack of down from Jumagund. They would reach Dudhniyal in the afternoon. The horses were driven on the hilly track by their owners called 'markbans' locally. Jumagund village had then only a few scattered Gujjar dwellings. At Jumagund, most of the travellers would cook rice and vegetable preparations usually of 'hak' and potatoes in earthen pots (laej) on make-shift ovens in the open. Reminiscing further about those days, she said that life was simple and unostentatious, devoid of any competitiveness.

She revealed that the turban in those days was part of identity and culture for Kashmiri Pandits.  Kashmiri Pandit ladies in addition to sporting traditional ethnic dress of 'Pheran' and head dress of 'Targa' would also wear a veil (burka) over it while moving out of their homes. In contrast to the black coloured veil worn by Muslim women, Pandit ladies would wear white coloured 'burka'. The burka clad Pandit women were referred as a 'Setra Khatoon'. 

Mrs. Arundati  Dass said the peculiar ambience combined with spectacular picturesque surrounding around the temple would arouse spiritual ecstasy in all and sundry.  The stone steps leading to the temple  at the start were smaller in size, . The staircase was called 'Pandav Haer' in their times.

According to her, on chiselled stone steps of 'Panda Haer' four to five devotees could climb up together at a time. Before entry into the temple, there stood a huge 'Bren' tree on  the left side of the plain area. It had a stone idol of Lord Ganesh at its base, which was smeared with 'sindoor'. Before making an entry into the temple, the devotees would perfom puja of Lord Ganesh.  The enclosure of the temple was spacious enough to accommodate two dozen devotees at a time. Smt. Arundati recounted that a huge 'Shila' about six feet long and same width and half a feet thick was the holy sanctum sanatorum of the temple. The 'Shila' is regarded as the manifestation of Goddess Sharda. It was in the middle of the inner enclosure of the temple. As per belief a spring of divine nectar (amrit kund) exists underneath the holy 'Shila'.

A streamlet, which flowed in the courtyard of the temple was believed to have its' origin from the divine 'Amrit Kund'. It was known by the name of Madhumati. A traditional belief says that the devotees could hear the sound of the underground water flow if one put his ears on the Shila surface. According to a native folklore, Goddess Sharda is believed to have taken shelter inside the divine spring beneath the sanctified 'Shila' after having come-out from the nearby mountainous area of Narda on account of the displeasing and annonying pursuits of the demons there. Narda is a towering and giant mountain about 6-7 kms. away from Sharda Mata Temple. According to the same lore, Narda is regarded as the manifestation of the Goddess Sharda in the virgin form. Interestingly, Goddess Narda is one of the 'Kul Devis', of some of the Dogra Rainas of Jammu region. The temple lore believes that Goddess Sharda draped in the celestial attire and wearing divine gold and jewel ornaments resides in the 'Amrit Kund' underneath the holy 'Shila' of the temple. The same lore also says that the consecrated embellishments, accompaniments, divine garments and eating untensils like 'thali' of Sharda Mata are also sheltered in the sanctified spring of the Amrit Kund'.

As per local legend, a Kashmiri Pandit lady belonging to Gulgam, Kupwara was an ardent belover of Goddess Sharda. Driven by acute poverty, she came all the way from Gulgam to Sharda Mata temple and reverentially prayed to the Goddess to be redeemed from the deprivations. Pleased with her devotion, a divine 'thali' is a believed to have emerged from the sacred spring underneath the holy 'Shila'. It was believed to provide food whenever the said lady desired but on the condition that none other than her could make use of it. However, once the said lady  is said to have utilised the divine thali to offer food to her brother. The divine thali is believed to have broken into pieces at that very moment and simultaneously the thali is said to have vanished from the sacred spring. Another Sharda temple lore says that ferocious frontier tribals raiders, locally called 'Baemb' (Bamboos) once attacked the temple in order to grab the 'gold' and 'diamond' ornaments and other precious stones' supposed to exist in the  spring beneath the holy Shila.

They attempted to remove the sacred Shila, under which the divine spring exists. To their shock stinging wasps, poisonous snakes and deadly insects were believed to have emerged from the cracked corner of the Shila, which was slightly damaged in the process of uprooting. Frightened by this dreadful sight, 'Baemb' are said to have fled away without causing much damage to the holy Shila. The damaged corner of the Shila, which was seen even upto the year 1947 bore testimony to this belief. During the conversation, Smt. Arundati reminisced that a small idol of Mata Sharda also occupied a reverential place inside the temple those days. However, for the devotees, the hallowed Shila regarded as the manifestation of Goddess Sharda was the sanctum sanatorum and epitome of reverence. The devotees would pay obeisance to the Shila amidst chanting of hymns and sacred shlokas in praise of Mata Sharda. They would also undertake a circuitous walk around the holy Shila.

Part 2 missing???

Kashmir, a repository of an ancient culture, rich heritage and time tested traditions abounds in unequalled mysticism and piousness. The unsullied serenity and spiritual ambience of the holy land instantly unites us with itís illustrious past. Folklore, ancient stories, legends and mouth tell tales rooted in majestic traditions remind us of our exalted spiritual, religious and cultural past. They keep our hopes and faith alive and afloat.

Likewise, the famed Sarada temple situated in Krishanaganga Valley shares a history that stretches back into thousands of years old legacy. Sh. Janki Nath Dhar, an erstwhile resident of the village Bamhama, district Kupwara (Kashmir) visited Sarada Shrine in August, 1947. Despite his declining age and lengthy passage of time, he still retains the obsessive reverence for the Sarada Mata Shrine. Sharing the cherished moments of his visit with the author, Sh. Dhar  recounted that Goddess Sarada was the most revered, most talked about and one of the tallest indigenous deity of Kashmiri Pandits in the times of yore. The temple was also venerated as one of the most holiest shrines as faith in Goddess Sarada resonated down the ages transcending social, cultural and belief affiliations. During a long interaction with the author, Sh Dhar revealed that Sarada Shrine situated in now nondescript area of Drov. in Krishanaganga Valley in Pak occupied Kashmir was a religious heartland in the days bygone. The entire neighbourhood of Krishanaganga Valley was regarded as the holy domain of Goddess Sarada.

Recapping the fondest memories of his visit to the temple, Sh Janki Nath Dhar nostalgically recalled that pilgrimage route commencing from his native village of Bamhama would lead to the village of Laderwan, situated at a distance of about four kms. from Bamhama. It would take two hours to foot the distance from Bamhama to Liderwan, both villages lying on the Chowkibal road. He recollected that the pilgrims would make a night stay mostly at the village Zurhama, which is about 3 to 4 kms away from Liderwan, though some would prefer Liderwan for the same. The village Zurhama was wholly inhabited by Muslim households. At Zurhama, the devotees would commonly make a night stay near the village water-will. The pilgrimage trek from Zurhama village would take a steep ascent towards Bundookpal, which is about six to seven kms away from here. Bundookpal, also known by the alternative name of Ganeshpal is a dense forest populated by huge Pine and Deodar trees. Kashmiri Pandits identified the huge boulder of Bundookpal with the image of Lord Ganesh. They would accordingly engage themselves in performing pooja with the 'Roth' (sweetened home-made rotis) carried by them. Dudhniyal, the next village on the pilgrimage path was situated on the bank of the legendary Krishanaganga river. About twenty five to thirty Muslim households existed in the village at that time. Many pilgrims would prefer to spend the night at Dudhniyal, while others would move ahead. A three to four feet wooden foot-bridge held in position by suspended iron ropes, locally known as 'Zampakadal' would ferry the pilgrims across the Krishanaganga river. Marhom (Marhoma) was the next village ahead, which is at a distance of 10-11 kms. from Dudhniyal. About three kms. ahead of Marhom, was the village of Khargam. A lone Kashmiri Pandit, native of Seerjagir, Sopore owned a shop at Khargam. On the last leg of the pilgrimage was a small 'Zampakadal' type wooden foot-bridge, locally known as 'Sarada Kadal', which would lead to the village Saradi.

The village Saradi has a plain area in the beginning, which would extend gradually towards an upland elevation. Recapitulating further. Sh. Dhar recounted that shopkeepers comprising both Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, had their shops situated on the left side of the approaching shrine path. The temple was situated on a small hillock, which overlooked the surrounding Saradi village. The temple is said to have occupied an area of about four kanals of land. Sarada temple was intermediately positioned, located about thirty feet from the last stone-step of the staircase. An appreciable area of the temple courtyard had a lavish spread of chisselled stones,. The inside enclosure of the temple was somewhat arched occupying an area of about fourteen feet. The holy 'Shila' comprising the sanctum sanctorium occupied a central place inside the temple. The temple built of massive rock stone blocks had a wooden roof with a heavy double panel wooden door laced with a stout fastening iron chain on the outside. The devotees with overriding devotion would pay obeisance to the holy 'Shila' amidst sacred chants, bhajans, tolling of bells, burning of incense sticks and dhoop. Flowers and milk usually mixed with saffron were offered to the holy 'Shila' accompanied by vermilion application.

The stone staircase was braced by stone-walls on both sides with an accompaniment of a decorous entry gate-way. The temple was approachable both from Muzaffarabad town now in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and also by Chokibal road along the west bank of Krishanaganga river branching from the frontier district of Kupwara (Kashmir). Amongst the temple priests, Pt. Nand Lal Laderwani was the lone priest, who was permanently settled at Saradi village along with his family. He owned a house and a piece of cultivation land, where he would raise maize plantation. A few dharamshallas numbering 5-6 also existed on the left side of the temple courtyard, where the pilgrims would stay. According to Mr Dhar there were two 'Havan-Kunds' of about 4x4 feet dimensions, which were 10-12 feet away from the dharamshalla and were used for offering sacrificial oblations. A water flow believed to have its' origin from the celestial 'Amrit Kund' beneath the holy 'Shila' could be spotted on the left side of the approaching path of the temple.

It would eventually mingle with the meandering Krishanaganga river after ascending down. A little away from the temple courtyard on the right side was the imposing fort. A small pathway from the temple courtyard would also lead to the fort, though it remained mostly in disuse.

About 200 feet away from the temple premises overlooking the enthralling Saradi village, a few nomadic settlements could be spotted. Maize cultivation and cattle rearing were their main stay and source of sustenance. Their belief in the Goddess Sarada, popularly remembered as 'Maie' was steadfast as they had unwavering faith in Her. The native Muslims spoke of Her as bestower of success, prosperity, good luck, nourishment and bounteous crops. During unsavoury situations and troubled times, they would prey and petition Her for protection and shelter. Sh Janki Nath Dhar also revealed that the native Muslims would also offer a part of their maize crop to 'Sarada Maie' as an offering of thanks after harvesting crops. They also held a strong belief that Sarada Maie would never let them down and would steer them through tumultuous times and hardships. The trust and sureness in the Goddess Sarada was so enormous that Muslim shopkeepers selling milk would refuse to accept money from Kashmiri Pandit pilgrims once they would become aware that the milk offering was for the Goddess. Ganga Ashtami also known as Sarada Ashtami falling on Bhadrapada Shuklapaksh Ashtami, locally known as Bhaderpeth Zoona Pach Athum, was the most enthusiastically looked forward festival. The festival would last six to seven days. The temple teemed with devotees and would buzz with religious activities and fervour. The pilgrims would immerse themselves in heartfelt and meaningful prayers and would get blessed and spiritually rewarded in entirety. The sacrificial offering of a male sheep performed on Bhadrapada Shuklapaksh Navami, a day after Ashtami was a part of Sarada temple festival. It was effected in a space reserved for the said offering in the backyard spot below the temple staircase. The offering of 'tahar charvun' (rice cooked with turmeric powder and oil and mixed with cooked sheep liver) was also a part of the temple ritual on Bhadrapada Shuklapaksh Navami. The temple priest would invariably get the shoulder blade meat portion of the sacrificial  offering on the said day. Many of the devotees would also prefer to make vegetarian offering of halwa and kheer. As per a popular folklore widespread in Krishanaganga Valley and it's neighbourhood in not too distant past, Lord Krishna is believed to have made a sojourn to the said area to meet Pandvas during their wandering in exile.

In commemoration and remembrance of the said memorable and monumental event, the native river Ganga is believed to have been renamed as Krishanaganga in honour of Lord Krishana by the residents of the land. In addition to it, the visit Lord Rama, Mata Sita and Lakshmana to the said region during their exile also formed a part of the centuries old native legend.

Suffice to say that Sarada Mata is a part of our native identity and collective faith asset of thousands of years old civilisational heritage. Irrespective of the social and cultural diversity and beliefs, the reverence and faith for Her is integrated fully into our local culture and folklore. The numerous legends, stories, oral narratives and myths woven around Her have not only immortalized but also historicied Sarada Mata Shrine. Unquestionably the Goddess Sarada's sovereign authority and hold over the entire region extending from Krishananga Valley to Kashmir constitutes a sort of our folklore emblem. It is due to Her overpowering and overbearing presence that Kashmir is known as 'Sarada Mandal', 'Sarada Desh', 'Sarada Peeth', the native language as ''Sharada' and forest, in the vicinity of Sarada Shrine as 'Sarada Van'. 

 --To be continued

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 

 

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