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. 

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