Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sharda Peetham ancient Seat of Learning in Kashmir

The word "Sharda" in Sanskrit denotes both Goddess "Saraswati", and Goddess "Durga". The Kashmiri Pundits, all of whom are Saraswat Brahmins, revere this Goddess Sharda as a symbol of their wisdom and strength. Hence also the name of the village "Shardi" situated at a height of about 3400 metres from the sea level and that lies in between Gurej and Karnah: the two places in what has now been named as Neelam valley in the Pakistan Occupied part of Kashmir. One can reach "Shardi" in about four hours from Muzaffarbad. Since old times, the village "Shardi" was renowned for the temple of Goddess Sharda, and Sharda Peetham or the Centre for Advanced Learning, in modern parlance. At Shardi, the remains of the temple and the University (if one may call it so) can still be seen. In fact, it is stated that just before the partition, an annual fair used to be held at village Shardi on the eighth day of the Shukla Paksha, of Bhadrapada, when devotees from all over India would flock to the place in thousands, for receiving the blessings of Maa Sharada. 

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dense forests, inhabited by wild beasts, Sri Sharda Temple, in its hey days, inspired travelers with a feeling of awe and strangeness. Far from the ignoble strife of the madding crowds, the spot was peculiarly divine with supreme peace. This part of Kashmir was a flourishing stretch of land, housing scholars and pundits of high Vedic learning 
Kalhan, the famous Historian, who wrote "Rajtarangini has given a reference to "Lalitaditya" of the eighth's century. He says, disciples of the Gaud King had come all the way from Bengal to Kashmir to pay a visit to this Sharda Mandir.

Alberuni, the famous traveller of the 10th century has made a mention of this "Sharada Mandir". Narrates he, "After traversing the interior portion of the valley of Kashmir, one reaches the Bolair Mountain, which is mid way between "Ladakh" and "Gilgit'. Many pilgrims come here for receiving the blessings of Goddess "Sharda". Albe-runi further states that this "Sharda Teerath is equally famous like Som Nath of Gujarat, the Vishnu Temple of Thaneshwar, and the Sun-Temple of Multan.

Bilhan, the famous author of the later half of the 11th Century has also made a mention of "Sharada Teerath". Though settled in South India for a long period, he dedicated all his literary works to Goddess "Sharda".

Historian Jon Raja has made a reference, as to how Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin of Kashmir visited this place in 1422 A.D.

Abul Fazal has also made a reference to this place. He narrates that the stone crafted Sharda Mandir, beautiful as it is, is situated on the bank of river Madhumti (Krishna Ganga). He also mentions that gold was often found in the river basin here. A fair is held here, on the eighth day of every month of the (Shukla Paksha) fortnight of the rising moon. 

Sharda Peetham was once a celebrated centre of learning headed by Kashmiri Pandits. It was also a famous centre of Buddhism and later Hinduism, Sharda script and Takri (from which Gurmukhi is derived). To fulfill his aim in life, the great Shankara, who traveled all over India, also visited Sharda Temple in Kashmir. There he reportedly vanquished many a learned pundit in the religious discourses and earned himself the right to sit on the Sarvanjnanapeetham (Throne of Wisdom). 

Between 1088 A.D. and 1172 A.D., an erudite, Shri Hemchandra had completed his "Prabhav Karta" a voluminous treatise under the auspices and patronage of King "Jay Singh" of Gujarat. He was required to compile a volume on "Grammar". So, King Jay Singh deputed his representative to Kashmir, and made available to Shri Hemchandra a manuscript on the subject of grammar, from the Library of Sharda Peetham. This enabled Hemchandra to complete his treatise called the Siddhahema. This amply proves how the name and fame of the library of "Sharda Peetham" was known in ancient India and how abounding was the Library of "Sharda Peetham".

The Vaishnava saint Swami Ramanuja traveled all the way from Srirangam to refer to Bodhayana's vritti on Brajma Sutras preserved here, before commencing work on writing his commentary on the Brahma sutras, the Sri Bhasya The image at Shringeri Sharadamba temple made of sandalwood, is supposed to have been taken by the Shankaracharya from here.
After the Mughals, the Dogra regime assumed power in Kashmir and the then Collector of Muzaffarabad, Col. Gundu, repaired the temple and provided a new ceiling made of wood. He got fixed an annuity for the priest of the temple, under the orders of Maharaja Gulab Singh. 

Prior to the 1947 partition, many Kashmiri Pundit families were settled in "Shardi". Those professing as priests and traders had their shops and establishments in the near vicinity of the Sharda Teerath. Besides, it was home to many saints, ascetics and their associates/disciples and their servants.

Sadly the glory of Sharda Peetham was lost to fundamentalists and terrorists, who ruthlessly ravaged its heritage. Burning of books and manuscripts and looting of cultural heritage apart, even the Buddhist centres of learning were burnt and razed to the ground.

On the total destruction of treasure-trove of books by vandals led by Sikander Butshikn, Jia Lal Kilam writes thus: "Even in their miserable plight they (Pandits) did not forget their rich treasures which linked them with their past. They felt that they were custodians of their past cultural heritage-the illuminating treatises on the stupendous Shaiva philosophy and other great works on literature, art, music, grammar, and medicine-works which have excited the wonder of an admiring world and wherever they went they carried these treasures with themselves. Judging from the depth of thought displayed in these works that have been preserved, their high literary merit, their insight into the depth of nature, their poetical flights, their emotional devour coupled with an incisive logical treatment of the subjects dealt with in them, one can easily imagine the colossal loss the world has been subjected to by the acts of vandalism which resulted in the destruction of hundreds of works which contained the labours of more than two thousand years." 

It is high time that on the pattern of ancient Nalanda University, the Government of India takes up with the Government of Pakistan, the revival of this ancient seat of learning, to highlight lofty ideals of Hinduism like "Sarvadharma Sambhav" against the terrorism of its own creation, if only to save itself from the scourge it has plunged itself into. 

Celebration of Shivratri Festival

Like other states of India, Lord Shiva is also worshipped throughout the Himalayan terrain including its lower, middle and upper ranges from Jammu to Nepal and onwards with great devotion and folkloric beliefs during Shivratri. Shivratri is a festival which represents the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Uma.

Shivratri festival commences from the first day of dark fortnight of the Phaguna month of Bikrami era, which usually falls during February-March in accordance with Christan era.

Legends of Shivratri : According to Hindu mythology Shivratri, which falls on 20th February 2012, is the night, when Lord Shiva performed the "Tandav Nritya'' the dance or primordial creation, preservation and destruction.

During the Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison, emerged from the ocean, terrified the Gods and Demons as this poison was capable of destroying whole of universe. Hence, they went to Lord Shiva for help and He drank the same to protect the world. Lord Shiva, however, held this poison in throat instead of swallowing. By this act, his throat turned blue and as such the Lord Shiva was given the name as Nilkanth. Shivratri is, thus, the celebration of this event.

There is a common belief among the Dogra folk that from Shivratri, the winter season totally departs and an advance party of Gods return to the mother earth from the Nether world (Patal Lok). Another belief linked with the Shivratri festival is that, that during the winter season forces of God proceed to Netherland to fight a battle with demons and they start their return journey on Shivratri. The main body of the divine contigent, however, comes on Baisakhi day.

Dogras also believe that on Shivratri the God Pashupati throws away all of the poisonous snakes scorpions and other stinging insects out of his bag. These creatures of class reptiles and insects quite often become visible after Shivratri. Their crawling and buzzing is a proof of their coming to active life from the hibernation period.

Lord Shiva is considered the quintessence of existence and is present in all living and nonliving things. The followers of Lord Shiva cult particularly ascetics after preparing a heavy sweeetish bread known as "Rot" on Shivratri day greet their great Master for celebrating on the earth.

Rituals : Of the many rituals, a few observed essentially by the Dogras on the Shivratri day are as follows :
* Taking bath early in the morning on Shivratris' day is essential and, thereafter, reciting of Panchakshri mantra Om Namah Shivaya atleast for 108 times.

* To pay a visit to nearby Lord Shiva's temple for his "Dev Darshan'' and worshipping is regarded an essential part of Shivratri celebration. Water containing milk is poured upon Shiv Lingam and thereafter, the floral rosaries and bael patri are placed on it. Besides, flowers of Ak, Akdatura and Dubgrass, are also mounted on the Shiv Lingum as a part of holy act.

* Bringing a new Shiva idol alongwith Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesha to home is regarded to be a propitious omen. The deriving force behind the purchase of Shiva image is an ancient faith that by doing so it will usher a phase of prosperity. People generally prefer to purchase idols of Shiva, Goddess Parvati and Ganesha made of clay although metallic idols are also available.
Embodiment of well being  and selfless deity.

Lord Shiva is described as personification of total well being (Kalyana). He is considered to be the most auspicious, micracious and powerful amongst the Trinity, the others two being the Lord Brahma and the Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva has been narrated by many sages as creator, controller and destroyer of the universe. The Goddess Parvati is the fountain head of His powers. She is in the form of "Matrika Shakti'', imparts a unique and significant meaning to the Master, who otherwise is "Shav'' (the lifeless corpse). This is why the people, believe that worship of Lord Shiva without the Goddess Parvati and Ganesha amounts to supernatural wrath upon house holders. The "Grahastha'' people, therefore, always venerate Him along with his consort Goddess Parvati as well as Ganesha.

Lord Shiva is the only God who always thinks for the benefits and comforts of others. He has imparted costly clothes and ornaments to his consort Goddess Uma, sons Lord Ganesha and Kartika, and all human beings of the universe. He himself puts on only a tiger's skin around his waist and neckless of snakes around the neck. He gives delicious diets to all but his own food comprises only of "Aak Datura'', "Bhang''.

Celebration of Shivratri Festival : Shivratri festival is celebrated by the Jammuites with great religious ferver and gaiety. It is amidst chanting of religious hymns and slogans "Har Har Mahadev'', "Om Namah Shivaya''. In Jammu city, thousands of followers of Lord Shiva throng the Shiva temples since early in the morning for offering special prayer to Lord Shiva. The temples are fully white washed and decorated. Devotees are seen standing in queues for hours early in morning before Jamavant cave of Lord Shiva in Pirkho, Rupon Wala Panj Baktar temple, Ranbireshwar temple at Shalamar, Aap Shambu temple at Roop Nagar and other temples in the city.

Thousands of devotees not only visit to the aforesaid Shiva temples but also go to Uttar Beni, Purmandal and Kameshwar temple in Akhnoor to pay their obeisance there to Lord Shiva. Men, women and children reach in colourful dress and offer special prayers to Lord Shiva. It is a sort of festivity and jubiliation look at Pir Kho, Panch Baktar and other Shiva temples where thousands of people old, young and children assemble to hold holy Shivratri people of other religions- Muslims, Sikh, Jains, Christans and other brethren come forward on this festival to join Hindus for felicitating them. Heavy rush of devotees from different parts of Jammu region is witnessed at Roop Nagar Aap Shambu temple. Various social, political and other organisations set up stalls and langars for devotees.

The Shiv Khori Shrine Board makes elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims like additional yatra slip counters, transport, drinking water, electricity, security, blankets besides clock room is also set up at Ramsoo and at cave to meet the requirement of the visiting pilgrims. To ensure quality and fixed rates of various essential commodities at the base camp and enroute Shivkhori, the District Development Commissioner makes the special squads.

In villages, women carry clay lingums called "Seo'' or "Shivji'' to every house hold for enabling them to perform worship. The household shares a part of their sweetish bread called "Babroo in lieu of lingum. These ''Scos'' are dried in sun well before the festival day. Performing of pooja is considered an essential part of Shivratri celebrations. Water containing milk and floral petals is poured upon lingum as a part of holy act. Listening to "Shiv Katha'' is too considered to be an act of high devotion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hora Ashtami Celebrations

As stated in Nilmat Puran ,being a historical survey of the festivals of Hindus in Kashmir,Hora Ashtami falls on the 8th day of dark fortnight of Phagon every year.This day is celebrated as the beginning of the spring season in Kashmir.This joyful celebration also takes place on account of birthday of Shree Sita Ji who was to Married to Shri Ramchandra Ji. This interpretation takes us to believe that from Hora Ashtami farmers begin to work of their fields after bidding farewell to the winter. 

A traditional aspect of the festival explains the topic in yet another way.Shri Sharika Chakreshwar Shrine situated on Hari Parbat hill in Srinagar is famous for celebration of this day throughout the valley.Thousands of devotees from far-flung areas assemble there and offer prayers,keeping awake in meditation throughout the night with composite program of devotional songs or music.They believe that on Hora Ashtami Shree Shrika ji bestows riches and distributes food among her devotees which suffice for the year to come. A more distinct explanation of the topic is derived from Joyotish,Hora is astro science as defined by Baskar in Surya-Sidhant means one hour or to be more accurate,in English the term "Hour" Connotes the same meaning as Hora.That is to say the Sun sets on Hora Ashtami one hour later than it used to get & there is a vivid increase evinced and calculated from Ashtami of dark fortnight of POH,in the day. 

There is a mythological story in this repect,most of the people believe that on Hora Ashtami Sharika Ji migrates from Kishtwar to Kashmir.There is also a Devi Shrine in Kishtwar known as Sarthal Devi.The shrine is loacted on the top of mountain and there is a temple at a height of 9000ft. Every arranagement for water and light has been made for facility of pilgrims ..Thousands of people gothere to get their ambitions fulfilled. There is one more respect of the matter connected with Hora-Ashtami.The Hindus draw horsoscopes i.e observations of planets at the time of birth by which astrologers predict the events of life and in every horoscope different daigrams are drawn.Hora being one among them.Hora-Chakra gives birds eye view of the entire span of life according to the gravity of the stars within one hour ofbirth,so much so,even horoscope is derived from Hora itself. Shivratri has a bearing on Hora Ashtami, as Hindus in particular begin to worship Lord Shiva from this day,observing fast and chanting his lore.The span of week from Hora Ashrami till Shiv Ratri is significantly meant for the devotion of the Lord.

In Kashmir, Hindus white wash their houses till Hora Ashtami using 'Hur' or a duster for doing so.They have a firm belief that Lord Shiva graces on the occasion or eve of Shiv Ratri in a liberal way when the House of a devotee is neat and clean.
Wishing all '' Herath -Mubarak '' 
By Mr. M.L. Wangnoo

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Moti Lal Kemmu

Born in the year 1933 at Fateh Kadal Srinagar, Moti Lal Kemmu was attracted to dancing in his early childhood. 'Dancing came to me naturally', says he. And because of this inclination towards dancing, the young Moti, (as he was fondly called by his parents), was introduced to stage at a very young age, where initially he would dance and latter was offered small roles too. 'The talented dancer of yester years late Gopi Nath from Anantnag , who was popularly called 'Gope Bache', had a tremendous influence on me', remembers he .

Parsi theatre was prevelant in Kashmir at that time and dramas that were being performed , particularly the Folk dramas like the Akanandun of Tarachand Bismil also influenced him.

'By the time I graduated in the year 1953 , I had developed a liking for painting as well. I even participated in a few exhibitions. This was the time when Cultural Congress Movement was very active in Kashmir.'

But despite this passion for the brush, young Kemmu wanted to be trained in Dance and drama. So after completing graduations, he got admissions at Baroda University to study drama and dance.

At Baroda Kemmu learnt drama and dance under the guidance of the great Guru Sh.Sunder Lal Gangani. It was the year 1957.However life at Baroda and back home was not smooth for him. He had to leave Baroda.

Back in Kashmir, he was overwhelmed by the desire to study. So he joined Hindi M.A.class after returning from Baroda. But had to leave University of Kashmir half way to fend for some livelihood.

'The job was more important than the studies as it guaranteed our sustenance, says he. It was 1958'. Kemmu moved from one department to another. Starting from a monthly salary of 60 odd rupees he earned about 250 per month within a span of two years.
A regular salary could not kill his passion for Dance and drama . With this inner haunt, he felt incomplete. Till he ultimately got a national scholarship and landed again at Baroda. 'The national scholarship changed the course of my life', says Kemmu with some satisfaction, looking back today.

Having studied drama and dance at Baroda with the legendary Gujarati playwright Chandravadan Mehta, he returned to Kashmir to study and experiment with the popular folk form of Kashmiri drama called 'Band Pather'.

Kemmu made 'band pather' ( Folk drama)his medium of narrative, where he combined the folk technique with the modern art form and used this synthesis to reflect the contemporary issues.

In the initial period Moti Lal Kemmu wrote in Hindi. "I wrote my first Drama at Baroda in the year 1962. It was called 'Darpan Antpur Ka.'" My second drama was titled 'Sandhya beeti'. My third play, that I wrote while I was at Baroda University was titled 'Nangee'. The Play 'Nangee' was staged and presented by the department of Drama in the early part of 1964."
'Back in Kashmir he shifted to kashmiri language and wrote his first Kashmiri plays 'Trinov' and then wrote 'Tshay' in the year 1965.In 1968 he wrote 'Manzil Nike' (Toddler in the cradle).Upto 1975, Kemmu had published four Drama collections. These are 'three one act plays', 'Trinov' , 'Lal be drayas lo-lare' and 'Tshay.'(Shadow).

Tshay (Shadow) written in 1972 was probably the first play that reputed him as a dramatist. The drama is based on human tragedy where in a human being loses his faith and all that he believes in. Kemmu sahib told me in an interview some time back that the idea of this drama occurred to him from the closure of Jammu Srinagar national highway. The passengers stranded at Banihal during winters gradually lose faith in the state administration and the Beacon that is unable to keep to keep the road open. Finally they even stop praying to God as they lose faith in the entire system.Kemmu synchronized this idea with the historical plot where the Kashmir king Lalitaditya met a horrible end.

He interlaced Lalitaditya's tragedy with the difficulties being faced by a common man in today's times. He depicted how faith is lost. When the king could just not do anything to save his soldiers, who while praising their master had termed his toe nails as the mirrors.

From history Kemmu moved to folk and wrote another drama woven through the thread of folk tale Hemaal Naegrai and Band Duhai. In Band Duhai the contemporary issue of militancy is tackled with sensitivity. This play is based on folk tale Aknandun. The drama depicts the helplessness of a common man is Kashmir. The story goes like this. A particular child is killed by militants . The mother does not mourn the killing, as she believes that the father who plays the character of a Jogi in the play Akanandun and brings back to life the killed Akanandun, will resurrect his own child as well. But the Jogi(The husband) explains to the lady that what he does in the drama is a piece of fiction. It is not possible in real life. The lady is shattered and becomes hysterical.She lectures the audience to convey how downtrodden people like the folk performers in Kashmir have suffered during militancy.

Other than writing dramas Kemmu sahib also contributed in establishing folk theatres Kashmir. In 1964, he along with Late Mohmad Subhan Bhagat established the Bhagat Theatre Akingam and Arnimal theatre, that is dedicated to the memory of great poetess Arnimal in her native village Palhalan .

With 18 full length drama books to his credit and the coveted Sangeet Natak Academy award and many state awards in his kitty, other than the just announced coveted Padma shree award, Sh. Kemmu today is a living legend.

This octogenarian dramatist has dedicated his entire life to folk theatre in Kashmir, both its writing as well as staging. His greatest contribution is that he writes in his native language Kashmiri that not only enriches the language and drama in it and preserves a tradition but also brings esteem for other writers of Kashmiri prose and poetry.
A trained graduate from the Baroda University, Sh Kemmu , who is in his late seventies, has dedicated his entire life to folk theater in Kashmir, both its writing.