Sharadi is a small village in northern Kashmir – renowned, since ancient times, for the temple university known as Sharada Peeth. The Sharada Peeth is also one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas – it is believed that the right hand of Goddess Sati fell on this spot, while she was being carried by Lord Shiva.
Sharada Peeth, or the Seat of Sharada, named after the goddess of wisdom Saraswati, is believed to be Bharat’s first seat of learning, much before the Takshila and Nalanda universities. At one point in time, it is said, Sharada University had 5000 resident scholars who came from all over the world. In the collective Hindu consciousness, Ma Sharada is the Goddess of knowledge, the Goddess of all spiritual streams. She is the spiritual mother of all Bharatiya sampradayas, giving voice and space to all Bharatiya dharshanas (philosophies).
As per the legend, Ma Sharada saved the pot of knowledge during a war between evil and good. She carried it to this place and hid it beneath the ground. She then turned herself into stone to cover it and thus there are only rectangular stones covering the floor of the temple.
Sharada Peeth was the most prominent temple university in the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and 12th centuries CE. Scholars of all faiths and learning, irrespective of their differences, travelled long distances to access texts in its famous library.
An annual pilgrimage used to be organised to Sharda Peeth in the Kishenganga Valley (now known as Neelum valley) and devotees used to travel from across Bharat to get the blessings of Ma Sharada. In the 11th Century, it was described by Muslim chronicler Al-Biruni as one of the most revered shrines of the Indian sub-continent.
All this stopped when, just after Partition, the Pakistani army invaded Indian territory and illegally occupied some areas of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. India is yet to reclaim these areas from Pakistani occupation. Seventy-five years on, Sharada Peeth is still inaccessible as Indian devotees cannot cross the Line of Control (LoC). It is approximately 130 km from Srinagar and about 10 km from the LoC.
In a significant and symbolic gesture, the Sharada Mata temple at Teetwal, which used to serve as the base camp for the Sharada Peeth yatra, has been rebuilt and opened to the public. The temple and a Gurudwara at Teetwal was burnt down in 1947 during the Pakistani attack. Teetwal is a small village situated on the banks of Kishanganga river, close to the LoC, in Kupwara district.
Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Teetwal temple on March 22 this year, on the occasion of the first day of Chaitra Navratri festival. Sharda Peeth has been a historical centre of India’s cultural, religious and educational heritage and like Kartarpur Corridor, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will move forward to open Sharda Peeth for devotees, the Home Minister said.
On May 1, a Sikh Gurudwara dedicated to Guru Teg Bahadur was also thrown open to the public in Teetwal. Both the temple and the gurudwara were reconstructed by the Save Sharda Committee.
SACRED GEOGRAPHICAL CONNECT
Sharada Peeth used to be the confluence of all currents of Indian spirituality and knowledge – scientific, Vedic, Buddhist, Jain, Yogic, devotional, and philosophical. The Peetha welcomed scholars and seers of various traditions – even those that were mutually contradictory. They were all the children of Sharada, coming to the house of Sharada.
It is also said that the famous conversation between Kashmir’s renowned scholar Acharya Abhinav Gupt and Adi Shankaracharya took place at this temple.
Since ancient times, the dynamic continuity of Ma Sharada has permeated Bharat’s consciousness, from Kashmir through Kamakhya to Karnataka to Koothanur in Tamil Nadu and finally to Kerala, where Sri Narayana Guru started building a temple for Sharada Devi at Sivagiri during the challenging colonial period in 1912.
In Rajatarangini, Kalhana describes an event in Lalitaditya Muktapida’s rule (713-755), where a group of assassins from the Gauda Kingdom entered Kashmir under the pretext of pilgrimage to Sharada Peeth. This shows that in the 8th century CE, Sharada Peeth was visited by people from as far as present-day Bengal.
Sharada Peeth figures in a number of South Indian Brahmin traditions also, such as the ritual prostration in the direction of Sharada Peeth at the beginning of formal education. Saraswat Brahmin communities in Karnataka are said to perform a ritual of moving seven steps towards Kashmir before retracing their steps during the Yagnopavit ceremony. Brahmins also include the Sharada stotram in their morning prayers.
In the Carnatic music song kalavathi kamalasana yuvathi, 19th century composer Muthuswami Dikshitar refers to
Sharada Peeth as Saraswati’s abode. Set in the raga yagapriya, the song praises Saraswati: Kashmira vihara, vara sharadha. (The one who resides in Kashmir, Sharada.) ‘Unity in diversity’ is a basic fundamental nature of life itself in all its manifestations.