April 23, 2024

History of Sharda Temple

Since olden times, the village Shardi was renowned for the following two things: temple of Goddess Sharda, and Sharda Peetham (Centre for Advanced studies)

Before independence, a significant population of Hindu Pandits resided in the northern regions of Kashmir. Among these areas was Shardi, a small village known for its ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Sharada. The Thusu family, led by Thusu Ladarwani, was one such Kashmiri Pandit family settled in this village. Forced to migrate from Pakistan-Administreated Kashmir (PaJK) to Srinagar, they were once again compelled to relocate, this time to Jammu, due to the activities of terrorists, where they stayed in a transit camp.

Currently, Shri Shambhunathji Thusu, a ninety-four-year-old member of this family, possesses an extraordinary memory. Fluent in Urdu and Kashmiri, he provided me with a map in Urdu that he had prepared himself, detailing the Sharda Temple. His recollection of memories regarding the temple dates back to 1920 A.D. According to Shri Shambhunathji, the temple did not house an idol of Goddess Sharda; instead, there was only a stone plinth measuring six feet long, seven feet wide, and one and a half feet high. Adjacent to the temple, not far away, stood a Shivaling, a symbolic idol of Lord Shiva, where devotees also offered their worship.

Born and raised in Shardi, Shri Shambhunathji spent his youth there, where his family owned a business. He vividly remembers the annual fair held in Shardi during the month of Bhadrapada, on the eighth day of Shukla Paksha, corresponding to the fortnight of the waxing moon.

He recalls receiving briefings from a historian from Shardi about the assistance provided by a Gaud King to the Sharda Temple Complex. Situated 130 kilometers from Srinagar and 140 kilometers from Muzaffarabad, the village of Shardi currently falls within the postal jurisdiction of Pakistan-Administreated Kashmir (PaJK).

Sharda Village

The village of Shardi, situated in Tehsil Sharada, District Neelum, has been renowned since ancient times for two main attractions: the temple of Goddess Sharda and the Sharda Peetham (Center for Advanced Studies).

Before the partition of India, a grand fair took place in the village of Shardi during the month of Bhadrapada on the eighth day of the Shukla Paksha. Thousands of devotees from all over India would gather here to seek blessings from the deity Mother Sharda. A place called “Tikkar,” located one and a half kilometers from Kupwara in Kashmir, served as a shortcut to Shardi, spanning a distance of 40 kilometers, which was frequently traversed by pilgrims.

Prior to 1947, many Kashmiri Pandit families were settled in Shardi, with priests, traders, saints, ascetics, and their followers residing near the Sharda Teerath. According to Shri. Pradeep Kaul from Srinagar, scribes would offer their writings to Goddess Sharda to seek her blessings. Legend has it that Kashmiri scribes would place their manuscripts covered in a platter overnight in front of Goddess Sharda; if the pages remained undisturbed, it was believed that the works had her blessings.

Presently, the Sharda Temple lies within Pakistan-Administreated Kashmir (PaJK), requiring travelers to journey from Muzaffarabad to Thitwal (80 km), then from Thitwal to Karna (20 km), from Keran to Dudhe Niyal (24 km), and finally from Dudhaniyal to Shardi (16 km) to reach the temple.

Located on the right bank of the Krishnaganga River, the Sharda temple marks the confluence of the rivers Madhumati and Krishna-Ganga. The term “Sharda” in Sanskrit denotes both Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Durga, while the ancient stringed musical instrument called “Veena” is also referred to as “Sharda.” Kashmiri Pandits revere Goddess Sharda as a symbol of strength.

Historically, Kashmir, known as “Kashyapmir,” was home to erudite scholars and philosophers, with a renowned university where Pandits excelled in various fields of knowledge. The Mahabharata refers to Kashmir as “Kashmir Mandal,” and ancient texts mention the temple of Goddess Sharda and the Sharada Peetha, a center of learning with four doors, one of which was opened by Shankaracharya in the 8th century A.D., granting him the highest hierarchical position of Acharya after defeating the scholars within. References to the “Sharda complex” are found in ancient volumes like the “Shakti Sangam Tantra,” describing Kashmir’s vast expanse from the Sharda Complex to the saffron mountain Keshara Parbat, spanning up to 50 yojanas.

Currently, in Pakistan-Administreated Kashmir (PaJK), the valley of the river Krishna-Ganga is located approximately 125 kilometers north of Muzaffarabad. It is now referred to as the “Neelum Valley” by Pakistani authorities.

The village of Shardi lies between Gurej and Karna, two places within the Neelum Valley. The remnants of the Goddess Sharda temple can still be seen in Shardi, and it takes about four hours to reach Shardi from Muzaffarabad.

History of Sharda Temple

Mr. Bamzai, a Kashmiri Pundit, accurately described the Sharda Temple before the division of Kashmir in the last century. He depicted the main structure with a girdle measuring 22 feet in diameter and an entrance door facing west. Other entrances were adorned with arches standing 20 feet high, while the main entrance featured footsteps.

Flanking the porch were two square-shaped pillars, each 16 feet tall and measuring 2 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 6 inches in sectional size, meticulously carved from solid stone blocks. The interior of the temple was characterized by simplicity and lack of ornamentation. Perched atop a hillock on the right bank of the river Madhumati, the rectangular sanctum boasted 63 footsteps, each 9 feet wide. The fame of the Sharda Teerath resonated throughout ancient India.

Kalhan, the renowned historian who authored the “Rajatarangini,” made reference to Lalitaditya of the eighth century. According to Kalhan, disciples of the Gaud King journeyed all the way from Bengal to Kashmir to visit the Sharda Mandir.

Alberuni, the renowned traveler of the 10th century, documented the existence of the “Sharada Mandir.” He described how, after traversing the interior of the Kashmir Valley, travelers would reach the Bolair Mountain, situated midway between Ladakh and Gilgit, where many pilgrims sought the blessings of Goddess Sharda. Alberuni likened the significance of this pilgrimage site to that of Somnath in Gujarat, the Vishnu Temple of Thaneshwar, and the Sun Temple of Multan.

Bilhan Pandit, a celebrated author from the latter half of the 11th century, also referenced the Sharada Teerath in his works. Despite residing in South India for an extended period, Bilhan dedicated all his literary creations to Goddess Sharda.

Between 1088 A.D. and 1172 A.D., the erudite scholar Shri Hemchandra completed his voluminous treatise “Prabhav Karta.” King Jay Singh of Gujarat commissioned Hemchandra to compile a volume on grammar, and to aid him, a manuscript on the subject was sourced from the Library of Sharda Teerth in Kashmir. This underscores the widespread renown of the library and the abundance of knowledge housed within the Sharda Peeth.

Historian Jon Raja documented Sultan of Kashmir Zain-ul-Abidin’s visit to the site in 1422 A.D. Abul Fazal also made reference to the stone-crafted Sharda Mandir, a beautiful temple situated on the bank of the river Madhumati (Krishna Ganga). Gold was reportedly found in the river basin, and a fair was held here on the eighth day of every month during the fortnight of the rising moon.

Following the Mughals, the Dogra regime assumed power in Kashmir, and Colonel Gundu, the Collector of Muzaffarabad, undertook the repair of the temple. Under the orders of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Kashmir, Colonel Gundu provided a new wooden ceiling for the temple and secured an annuity for the temple priest.

Kashmir boasts its unique style of temple architecture, which flourished during the reign of King Lalitaditya in 724 A.D. and reached its pinnacle in the 9th century under the rule of Avantiverman. Several ancient temples dot the landscape of Kashmir, including the Rudrash temple at Ludo, the sun temple at Martand, and the Shankaracharya Temple in Srinagar, all of which are renowned.

Typically, a Kashmiri temple consists of a square sanctum and a porch in front, often serving as centers and sub-centers of learning. Experts note that the pillars and columns of Kashmiri temples rival those of the Derrik style, with expansive courtyards surrounding the structures. The ancient Sharda Mandir, located in present-day Pakistan-Administreated Kashmir (PaJK), preserves the quintessential features of Kashmiri architectural style.

In antiquity, Kashmir was a hub of education and knowledge, earning it the titles of “Land of Goddess Sharda,” “City of Goddess Sharda,” and “Sharda Peetham” (University).

The renowned Chinese traveler Hue-en-Tsang visited Kashmir in 632 A.D. and stayed for nearly two years. His observations highlighted the exceptional brilliance of the Pandits at Shardi, describing them as possessing keen intellect and genius. Legend has it that when Pandits refused to perform the sacred thread ceremony for Shandilya, the son of ascetic Vashishta, under instructions from his father, Shandilya traveled to Kashmir to offer his services to Goddess Sharda. After bathing in the water tank near the Sharda temple, his body reportedly transformed into radiant gold, and he achieved enlightenment, becoming famous as Shandilya Rishi, the ascetic.

The Sharda Shastranam Stotra reveres Goddess Sharda as “Sheeladevi,” seated on a stone throne with a gentle smile reminiscent of Goddess Parvati. With a sword in hand and radiant eyes likened to the sun, moon, and fire, she is depicted as the supreme controller of the three realms: Swarga (heaven), Mrutya (earth), and Patal (underworld). Adorned with six arms and the sacred thread of Yagyopavit Shandilys, her devotees are said to receive eternal enlightenment from her divine light.

The Gujar and Pahadi communities residing near the Shardi village held unwavering faith in the Sheela Devi Shakti Peeth, offering cow’s milk, cereals, and agricultural produce to Goddess Sharda. In more recent times, Swami Nandlalji, a renowned yogi, established his hermitage near the Sharda temple, attracting Hindu disciples.

The history of Goddess Sharda spans centuries, with the temple being so ancient that Kashmir State was once known as “Sharada Peeth.” It was here that Sankaracharya received authority to sit on the Sarvanjnanapeetham or Throne of Wisdom. Perched at an altitude of 11,000 feet above sea level, the temple is located approximately 70 miles from Srinagar, boasting dimensions of 142 feet in length, 94.6 feet in width, with outer walls 6 feet wide and 11 feet long, adorned with 8-foot arches, exemplifying exquisite architecture. The Śāradā image at Shringeri Sharadamba temple is believed to have originated from this temple, initially carved from sandalwood by Sankaracharya.

During his visit in 632 CE, the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang marveled at the intellectual prowess of the priests and students at this esteemed learning center, where he stayed for two years, further highlighting the significance of Sharda Town as a center of knowledge and enlightenment.

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