Sharda Peeth: Last Puja Performed in 1948; Demands and Solutions
Sharda Peeth in Kashmir (PoK) is one of the Maha Shaktipeeths; Sati’s right hand is believed to have fallen here. The shrine is completely in ruins at present. It once flourished as one of the biggest temple universities in ancient India and Asia. Kalhana, historian and author of ‘Rajtarangini’ , Shri Adi Shankaracharya, Vairotsana (Tibetan translator), Kumarajiva (Buddhist scholar); Thonmi Sambhota (Tibetan scholar who invented the Tibetan script) and many scholars were students of Sharda Peeth Temple University.
There is no access for devotees from India to Sharda Peeth / Sharda temple. Through my registered organization ‘Save Sharda Committee Kashmir’ I have been urging the governments of India and Pakistan to facilitate pilgrimage to Sharda Peeth. A demand to the Pakistani government to open a corridor to the ancient shrine is still not met.
The region is also known as Sharda Desh and the Sharda script owes its development from this temple university. The dialect of Sharda oftenly called Sharda lipi (a form of Hindi) was the fundamental dialect of Brahmin scholars for a long time, till Hindi (Devnagiri) took over, finally Kashmiri Pandits are not naive to this seat of learning.
In the post partition era we see Swami Nand Lal Ji as one the Saints of Kashmir who carried some of the Moortis during the war of partition and salvaged some of the whole lost. In fact, at the time of partition Swami Nand Lal Ji migrated on horses carrying idols from Sharda to Tikker and a few of these stone idols are lying at Devibal in Baramulla besides Tikker in Kupwara. The pilgrimage those days would be organised by Mela Ram a renowned forest lesse in Kupwara for Swami Lal Ji of Kashi- Mathura fame. Recently, a Pakistan based scholar Ms Rukhsana Khan has undertaken the archaeological part of it and tried to go deep into the historical facts. It takes us back to Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s era and the fact that Jammu Havelis still exist there besides other temples and natural carvings like Ganesh Ghati.
The year 2015 was marked as rewriting of history when Rukhsana Khan and her team unearthed antiques and has ever since worked on preservation of culture on Sharda Project. Although it is not clear as to when the construction of this temple was done. However it is believed to be built during Emperor Lalitaditya’s period around 724 AD.
After Vajpayee-Musharaf meeting at Islamabad during SAARC conference from 4 to 6 January 2004, a number of CBMs between the two parts of Kashmir were initiated to normalize the situation, create friendly relations and encourage the peace process. These include the cease fire on LOC, opening of two roads across the LOC via Poonch-Rawalakote and Uri-Srinagar, meeting of divided families, and start of trade ventures etc. Accordingly, Kashmiri Pandits and other religious organizations of state demanded for the opening of Sharda Shrine of POK for religious tourism so that they could have Darshan of this ancient temple and annual yatra of the Shrine could be revived as it was conducted before partition in the month of August. The then president of Pakistan Parvaiz Musharaf accepted the demands of the minorities of J&K in principle and sanctioned Rs. 8 crores in 2006 for creation of infrastructural facilities near the Shrine so that pilgrims could be allowed to visit. As per the information received through internet, POK government constructed some tourist huts, community centres, youth hostel and cafeteria near the Shrine but no attention was paid towards the revival of the Shrine, which is in deteriorating condition.
The Muslim natives of the village Sharda and adjoining areas still call the monument as Sharda Mai (Sharda Goddess). Dr. Ghulam Azhar, a noted historian of POK writes in one of his research article that Sharda Shrine is the oldest monument of POK which needs preservation and restoration. The Shrine was an important pilgrim centre in the past. The ruins of the old monuments are sufficient to narrate the old glory and glamour of this Shrine.
Sharda Shrine is located about 207 kilometers in the north of Muzafarabad in PoK, near the confluence of Kishan Ganga river (Neelam river) and Madhumati stream. It is linked with motorable road leading from Muzafarabad via Neelam valley, Kundal Shai, Jagran Valley, Athmaquam, Neelam township and Dwarian. Nature is at her best her in green foliage and flowers surrounded by snow clad peaks of Sharda and Narda hills of Nanga Parbat range which divides POK from Galgit-Baltistan.
The annual Yatra of Sharda Temple has been celebrated since ancient times until Independence. During Dogra rule after 1846 this Yatra had become a regular feature. The Yatra of Sharda Devi was started on Shukal Pakash during the month of August (Bhadun). The devotees would start their yatra on 4th Bhadun and on 8th take a dip in the Sharda Kund on the bank of Madhumati River. After giving Sharad of their Pitras (ancestors) they would have Darshan of Sharda Goddess. Mostly, Kashmiri Pandits conducting the Yatra after traveling hundreds of miles on foot.
Mr. C.E Bats, the author of the Gazetter of the Kashmir who had visited the spot in 1872 AD writes that the Sharda Tempe is approached by a staircase about nine feet wide of steep stone steps some 63 in numbers having on either side a massive balustrade. The entrance was through a double porch way at the south-west corner of enclosure. The walls of the enclosure are about 30 feet high. In the middle of the walls in the north side is an arched recess which contains Lingum. The Cella about 23 feet square stands on the elevated plinth about four feet from the present level of ground. The entrance is on the west side facing the porch way. On each of the other three sides of Cella, a single roof has been erected over the building for the protection by the order of Colonel Gundu, the Late Zaildar of Muzafarabad. The interior of the temple is square and perfectly plain. On the ground lies a large rough slab of unpolished stone… In those days the Shrine was venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. There was also a fort constructed by Dogras with 60 Dogra Constables stationing for the protection of Shrine and defence of the area. The ancient Shrine is about 400 yards in the south of the fort. The temple was also renovated by Colonel Gundu, the Zaildar of Muzafarabad in 1867 AD.
In the ancient times, Sharda was famous in all over India. The historic facts reveal that near the Shrine, there was a Budhist University established during the period of Emperor Ashoka (273BC) known as Sharda Peeth, to spread the teachings and thoughts of Budhism in Kashmir and other hilly regions. The foundation of Sharda Peeth was laid on the bank of Madhumati River. The fourth Budhist council was summoned at this place by Emperor Kanishka in 141 AD. In Sharda University, a Sharda script was invented by the Budhist monks and scholars which was the amalgation of local dialects and understandable to the common people. Therefore with the help of this script Budhism spread in Kashmir, Himachal, Tibet and Nepal. However with the downfall of Budhism in India the glory and glamour of Sharda Peeth also vanished and it became a part of the history.
Kalhana writes in Rajtarangini that in 11th century AD it was a temple of Sharda Goddess. Historian Belhana writes in Vikrama Chiriter that he has been educated only due to the blessings of Sharda Goddess whose crown was formed with the gliterring gold collected from the river Madhumati. Al Bruni who had visited India in 1036 AD writes in his book ‘India’ that there is a great image of Sharda and devotees assemble here for the pilgrim. Abu-ul-Fazal in Aain-e-Akbari writes that on the bank of Madhumati in Drava area of Muzafarabad there is a stone temple of Sharda Devi. Every month on the Shukal Pakash the image of the Sharda starts showing miracles. Juna Raj, the writer of Raj Tringani Juna Raj written during the rule of Sultan Zain-ul-Ab Din of Kashmir (1420-1472 AD) records in his book that Sultan Zain-ul-Ab Din was undertaking religious pilgrim to Hindu Shrine and participating in Hindu rituals. Juna Raj also recorded that Sultan had visited Sharda temple in 1422 AD along with the Yatris. C.E Bats writes that during his visit of Sharda Devi in 1772 AD there was a Lingum and not image of Goddess Sharda.
After the turmoil of 1947 when Kashmir was divided into two parts this important Shrine had gone under the occupation of Pakistan. Since then the shrine has remained unattended and is in ruins. But now there is a great demand from the minority population of Jammu and Kashmir state for the restoration of Sharda temple and start of the Yatra. This will be another CBM between the two parts of the Kashmir.
APMCC organised a seminar on 8th Jan’2016 at Press Club of India, New Delhi and held deliberations with Rukhsana Khan, a researcher from PoK, on video conferencing – for first time a POK researcher appeared. Other participants spoke on Sharda Re-opening were Retd. Lt. Gen. Ata Hasnain, Journalist Awadhesh Kumar, Utpal Koul Historian, Vinod Pandit Chairman APMCC and the seminar was anchored and moderated by me. Many protests for re-opening at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi and Jammu and other parts of country have been held for last decade. In this regard I also met Central Cabinet ministers and requested their intervention for Re-opening of Sharda and allow a pilgrimage on the lines of Nankana Sahib, where Sikhs are allowed to take a jatha every year in Lahore. Several seminars, protests in this regard were held in New Delhi and other places to highlight this demand.
It was by my efforts under Save Sharda Committee Kashmir with Civil society of Neelum Valley and Sharda residents that flowers were offered on 2 nd . November’2016 at the the revered shrine with the help of locals – the first time since 1947. Photo of Mata Sharda was installed on 3rd March’2017 – a historic moment since partition. Mohammed Rayees, Tanveer Ahmed, Khawaja Abdul Ghani, Khawaja Farooq, Zahoor Ahmad, Arif Khan, Khwaja Shabbir, Khwaja Shafi, Haji Shafiq, Maqbool Haidri, Bashir Khan a local Sarpanch and Principal Sharda School and hundreds of locals have been instrumental in getting us the lost glory of ‘Sharda Mai’ commonly known and called by local populace. This effort between 2 civil societies will go a long way in confidence building, interaction and preservation of culture. The soil and flowers received from Sharda were displayed at Abhinav Theatre Jammu on 8th January during Annual APMCC awards function. It was a poignant and a emotional scene that Sharda soil has been received and obeisance paid first time after the partition. The soil and flowers have been taken to Shankracharya mutts in Kanchi, Sringeri Mutt, Dwarka Mutt, Joshi Mutt, Kashi mutt, Gokarna Mutt and other religious shrines of Adi Shankracharya throughout India by SAVE SHARDA COMMITTEE KASHMIR ( Regd.).
In 2018, Save Sharda Committee Kashmir wrote to Chief Justice Supreme Court of Pakistan and hailed the landmark judgement taking suo moto cognizance on renovation of Katas Raj temple in Chakwal, Punjab Pakistan and requested to pass a judgement on similar lines on Sharda Peeth in PoK too. Save Sharda Committee Kashmir has obtained a judgement from Supreme Court of POK ( AJK )Pakistan on preservation of Sharda amongst other minorities sites in POK. The committee came in touch with Cabinet minister for minorities Sh. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and requested him to take up the matter with his counterpart in Pakistan for diverting funds and setting up committees for renovation of Sharda and other minorities temples and shrines in PoK and whole of Pakistan. The PoK Govt. issued a circular No : 3949-59/2019 dated 27.06.2019 under which 57 temples and shrines located in PoK have been transferred to Deptt. Of Archeology AJK Govt for their preservation. Save Sharda Committee has been in touch with the deptt. of Archeology and Tourism and on its request the department issued necessary Circular No : 9973-80 dated 31.12.2018 for maintaining sanctity of the Sharda Peeth.
The Committee has organized and participated in numerous programmes in the nation and abroad for spreading awareness on Sharda. A month long exhibition was organized during Prayagraj Kumbh melain 2019. A 2 day conference and exhibition was held at Pashupatinath temple in Nepal. In 2019, Save Sharda Committee in coordinated efforts with Pakistan Hindu Council was successful in getting the 5 member delegation reach Sharda Peeth to pay obeisance. This was the first ever delegation of Hindus to visit Sharda Peeth after 1948. Later a couple from Hong Kong Sh.Venkataraman and his wife Sujatha in coordination with Save Sharda Committee went to PoK and performed puja on the banks of River Keishenganga on 4 th Oct’2019 – the first ever puja near Sharda peeth in 72 years. The Committee is demanding ratification of LOC permit rules for facilitating travel of J&K Hindus, for an annual pilgrimage.
Chronology of Events
Year 2005 to 2015: Representations given by APMCC and Others to President Musharraf during his visit to India. AIKS ( All India Kashmiri Samaj ) representatives apply for LoC permit to visit Sharda Peeth. Fast for 9 days by Sh. Vinod Pandit at Jammu regarding Re-opening of Sharda, setting of Sharda University and other demands by APMCC. Indefinite fast at fast by APMCC Chairman Sh. Vinod Pandit at Porbander Gujarat for 6 point charter of APMCC. That included Re-opening of Sharda Pilgrimage in POK.
Year 2015: Prof. Rukshana Khan visited Sharda on archaelogical project and revealed latest findings and Research on Sharda. Earlier lot of research has been done and books written on Sharda but this latest research gears up a fresh momentum on re-opening of Sharda in POK.
8th Jan 2016: APMCC held a seminar and press conference in Press club of India, New Delhi in which Prof. Rukhsana Khan spoke on Sharda (first by a POK dignitary). Others included Lt. Gen. (Retd.)Ata Hasnain, Sr. Journalist Awadesh Kumar, Utpal Koul Historain and APMCC Chairman Vinod Pandit. The seminar was organised by Ravinder Pandita of Save Sharda Committee.
2013-2017: Various protests at Janta Mantar in New Delhi and Jammu demanding Re-opening of Sharda and Setting up of Sharda Univeristy in J&K by APMCC.
Nov 2016: First time since partition flowers were offered at Sharda temple by Civil Society of POK and later pious soil & these flowers were sent by Regd. Post to me (Ravinder Pandita), founder Head of Save Sharda Committee Kashmir.
2016 and 2017: Myself Ravinder Pandita, founder and head of Save Sharda Committee met MOS Home Sh. Haribai Parthabai, Gen V.K. Singh MOS External affairs , Dr. Jitender Singh MOS PMO, Sh. Ram Madhav General Secy BJP, Sh. Indersh Kumar RSS, Smt. Kavita Rao of TDP, Swami Chidanand of Mansarover fame, Sh. Vijay Sampla minister for social justice & Empowerment amongst other dignitaries.
Jan 2017: POK delegations from Sharda called on Ravinder Pandita in New Delhi which was on a religious tourism mission and exchanged views on Re-opening of Sharda pilgrimage. 8 th . Jan 2017 : The soil and flowers brought from Sharda Peeth in POK were displayed at annual awards function of APMCC at Abhinav Theatre in Jammu. Tilak of soil was applied on foreheads to Ministers and prominent dignatories, present at the function.
March 2017: A Portrait (Photo) of Mata Sharda is installed by civil Society Members of POK inside temple. Sharda Peeth temple is set alive again. This happened first time since 1948.
April 2017: Pious Stones from Sharda sent by civil society members of POK is refused by Deptt. Of Customs in Lahore, Pakistan and returned back to sender. The Regd. Parcel was addressed to me, founder Head of Save Sharda Committee in New Delhi.
June 2017: Save Sharda committee writes to National Security Advisor, External Affairs Minister , Prime Minister, Home Minister, MOS Home, etc. demanding re-opening of Sharda. I also meet High Commissioner of Pakistan and demand facilitation of visit to holy temple on the lines of Nankana Sahib Yatra.
September 2017: The pious soil of Sharda in POK is taken to Kashmiri bhawan in Bangalore, Golden Temple Nellore and Ramchandapuram Shankracharya Mutt for installation and darshan there.
October 2017: The pious soil and flowers taken to Kanchipuram Shankracharya Mutt and Tirupati and handedover to Saraswati Jyanendra and Saraswati Vijendra shankaracharya. Later met Swami Nischalanand ji, Head of Dwarka Puri Mutt.
November 2017: Presented memorandum to Cabinet minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minorities ministry for demanding restoration & repair of the Sharda Peeth & other minorities shrines in POK.
November 2017: Delegation of Save Sharda Committee meets Sh. Anant Kumar Hegde, Minister GOI and presented him the pious soil and flowers and the representation for re-opening of Sharda pilgrimage on POK. The Committee also called on NSA Sh. Ajit Doval in New Delhi.
December 2017: Save Sharda Committee meets former Minister of external affairs Salman Khursid in New Delhi and seeks guidance about the treaty on LOC trade and permit issues.
December 2017: Save Sharda Committee Kashmir meets Shankracharya Swaroopanand Ji in New Delhi on the issue. Swami ji writes letter on behalf of Mutt writes to PM and External affairs minister that J&K Hindus should be allowed to undertake yatra on LOC permit.
December’2017: Save Sharda Committee meets Shankracharya Vasudevanand of Prayag Raj Mutt and Jagadguru Ramanandcharya Hansdevacharya of Hardwar Mutt in New Delhi and presented the pious soil and flowers of Sharda Peeth of PoK.
January’2018: Save Sharda Committee writes to Chief Justice SC of Pakistan hailing the decision of restoration of Katas Raj temple in Chakwal, Punjab province of Pakistan and requests for similar judgement on Sharda Peeth. Similar request sent to SC of POK that acknowledges the application and passes an order for Preservation of the peeth. The order from Supreme court of POK (AJK) is received by me in New Delhi on 18 th January’2018.
May’2018: Programmes on awareness on Sharda held in Jammu, Gurgaon, Delhi and other cities of India.
June’ 2018: Detailed Meeting with Sh. Anant Kumar Hegde MoS Skill Development on Sharda mission.
September’2018: Programme on awareness on Sharda reopening and exploration held in Bangalore, supported by Nav Durga Trust for Indological Studies and Research. Meeting with Shankracharya of Sringeri Mutt and its CEO in Sringeri, Karnataka. Jagadguru of Shringeri mutt writes letter to Hon’ble PM for reopening of Sharda Peeth in PoK and appreciated Save Sharda Committee’s efforts.
October’2018: Meeting with Shankracharya of Puri and exploration of bringing all shankaracharya peeths on one platform to raise one voice – one demand on Sharda reopening from all parts of country.
October’ 2018: Meeting with Maha kumbh organizers and U.P officials for arrangements and preparations for highlighting Sharda issue during Kumbh. Save Sharda Committee participate in month long Kumbh mela at Prayagraj (U.P).
November’ 2018: Crucial meeting with various leaders including Mehbooba Mufti to press for response to Pakistan Prime Minister’s admission for allowing Sharda Yatra. Ms Mehbooba Mufti writes to Narender Modi Hon’ble PM to consider the demands of Save Sharda Committee Kashmir and appreciated the committee’s efforts in this regard.
December’2018: After reopening of Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims on the instance of PM of Pakistan Imran Khan, hopes of reopening of Sharda Peeth as well have rekindled. I held a press conference at Press club in Jammu to urge all regional political parties, social and religious organisations to speak in one voice for reopening of Sharda pilgrimage.
February’2019: Save Sharda Committee organises a month long Kumbh summit at Prayagraj (U.P). On 6 th Feb.2019 a unanimous resolution is passed on reopening of Sharda pilgrimage by all Shankracharya Mutts. On 8 th Feb. the committee organises a Holy bath on ‘Sharda divas’ – firstever bath by Kashmiri Hindus at any Maha Kumbh Mela.
June ‘2019: First Pakistani Hindu Council delegation led by Dr. Ramesh Vankwani visits Sharda Peeth. This was the first Hindu delegation to go there after 72 years. Civil society members of PoK met him and Save Sharda Committee also coordinated.
July’ 2019: A seminar on Sharda Civilization was organised at William Barry Theatre, West London University in UK in which Save Sharda Committee also participated. First time Sharda event was thus organised abroad.
October ‘ 2019: For the first time in a coordinated move a hindu couple of Indian origin performed puja on the banks of Kishenganga near Sharda Peeth in coordination with Save Sharda Committee. The Hindu couple is denied NOC to go to Sharda Peeth during their 4 day stay in PoK.
November’2019: I visit Kartarpur Gurudwara and handed over a memorandum to Kartarpur Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee to press for reopening of Sharda Corridor also, on the lines of Kartarpur corridor.
December’ 2019: Save Sharda Committee participated in a 2 day conference and held an exhibition on Sharda at Pashupatinath Temple Nepal in which delegates from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Jersey took part.
January’2020: Save Sharda Committee holds a felicitation event in New Delhi for Venkataraman and Sujata , a Hong Kong based couple with Chinese nationality, who performed puja near Sharda Peeth in Oct’2019, the first puja in last 71 years.
July’ 2020: On the invitation of VHP, Save Sharda Committee Sends soil of Sharda Peeth to Ayodhya for Foundation laying of Ram Mandir.
August 05’2020: Pious soil of Sharda Peeth got from POK through Civil society members of Save Sharda Committee sent to Swami Nrityanand and Dinesh Chandra through a follower and used by Hon’ble Prime minister in Shilanyas of Ram Mandir.
FACILITATION OF DIALOGUE WITH PAKISTAN GOVT. FOR PILGRIMAGE TO SHARDA TEMPLE IN POK.
1. If a LOC permit is valid for a J&K resident is undertaking trade, meeting relatives and friends and vice-versa , why J&K Hindus cannot undertake a pilgrimage to Sharda. Restricting LoC permit to meeting relatives only on both sides makes the document discriminatory, as Hindus do not have any relative in POK excepting religious sites mainly Sharda Peeth. It seems to be a clear discrimination with same nationals and a particular community. If one national can visit Kartarpur, why not Sharda Peeth.
2. Save Sharda Committee has applied amongst various Kashmiri Pandit organizations for pilgrimage to Sharda Peeth , despite Pakistani Govt. having no objection in allowing the pilgrims, why does Govt. of India have the objection.
3. Why hasn’t a pilgrimage been allowed since partition i.e, 1947, despite requests by Kashmiri Hindus to allow pilgrimage once in a year as allowed in the case of Sikh community , where a Jatha ( Group) is allowed to do pilgrimage in Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara in Pakistan. Kartarpur Corridor reopening is yet another recent example.
SETTING UP OF SHARDA UNIVERSITY IN J&K
Setting up of Sharda University in J&K on the lines of Baba Ghulam Shah University in Rajouri- Poonch belt and Islamic University in Avantipora in the Kashmir valley. Why will Govt. not allow setting up of Sharda University, considered to be fundamental seat of learning despite persistent demand by APMCC and Save Sharda Committee Kashmir Regd.
Featured image courtesy: Pinterest.