Sharada Peetham, literally, the seat of Goddess Sharada was the center of learning in ancient times. There was once a spectacular temple built for Devi Saraswathi / Sharada which attracted everyone. It is also the abode of Devi Sharada; the Goddess of Knowledge says the epics. It was the most prominent Temple University. Many scholars once used to travel miles, to access the texts there. But what does the actual history talk about this place? Why they call it Sarvajna Peetham? Are Kashmiri Pandits based out of this place? What is the connection of Sri Adi Shankaracharya with Sharada Peetham? This article will answer many such questions.
Location of Sharda Peetham temple:
Sharada Devi temple is one of the three holy pilgrimage sites for Kashmiri Pandits, the other two being Martand Sun Temple and Amarnath temple. The Sharada Peetham is located in the Neelum valley, in Pakistan administered Azadi-Kashmir. It is approximately 130km from Srinagar. The village where this temple is situated is called Sharda, on the banks of river Neelum. The temple is about 10km from the LOC (Line of Control), which divides Indian and Pakistani controlled areas of J&K. Hence, there are restrictions for Indians to worship and perform poojas there. Whereas, other foreign visitors don’t have these restrictions.
Establishment of Sharada Sarvajna Peetham or temple:
Though the origin of the temple is uncertain, some epics associate it with sage Shandilya, grandson of sage Kashyapa. The etymology says that Kashmir is the derivation of the name of sage Kashyapa as he settled people in this land. However, according to some tales, Sage Shandilya used to pray to Goddess in Sharda-Van (forest) near the lake Amarkund. There Sharada Devi appeared before the sage in the form of a swan. Eventually, he built the temple for the goddess. The same temple is today’s Sharada Peetham (The seat of Sharada Devi). Also, a popular hymn by Sri Adi Shankaracharya represents Kashmir as the abode of Sharada Devi, which is as follows:
नमस्ते शारदे देवी काश्मीरपुरवासिनि
त्वामहं प्रार्थये नित्यं विद्यादानं च देहि मे ॥
History (divided and undivided):
Prior to the partition of India and Pakistan, many Kashmiri Pandits were residing in the Sharda village. Devi Sharada was their principal deity. Because of the popularity of the Sharada temple, the whole of Kashmir was once called Sharada Peetham. Also, the Kashmiri script is the Sharada script. The temple also had a university called Sharada university with over 5000 scholars. It was one of the oldest universities in India.
Till the 12th – 14th centuries, the temple maintained its glory. There was also a spectacular idol of the Goddess Saraswathi. Also, Kashmir was famous for studies of the Hindu religion. Many holy books are said to be written in Kashmir. The legends also say that many Kashmiri scribes used to keep their manuscripts before the goddess to seek her blessings. They believed, that if the pages were intact the works were approved and if the pages were shuffled it was disapproved by the Goddess.
However, after the 1947-48 war the Pandits were forced to move out of the place. Gradually even India lost contact with the temple. But even today the devotees urge to visit the temple. In the 14th century, the temple was caught in the grip of an Islamic attack. Unfortunately, in present-day, we witness the ruined temple.
Sri Adi Shankaracharya and Sharada Sarvajna Peetham:
In the temple along with the main shrine, there was a throne or seat with 64 steps. This throne is called “Sarvajna Peetham” (throne of omniscience). But only the one versed in all 64 vidyas known as Chathussashti Kala was eligible to ascend it. And such a scholar was designated as Sarvajna (the one with all-wise). Alongside, the throne had 4 entrances facing the four directions (NEWS). These doors used to open only when an eminent scholar from a respective direction approached it. For this reason, many sages and scholars from different parts of the nation went there. They organized philosophical and intellectual debates thereby presenting their skillfulness as polymaths. Many scholars from all over India competed in the debate and were designated as Sarvajna. All the three doors facing north, east, and west were open. But there was no eminent scholar to open the door facing the south direction.
On the other hand, Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the proposer of Advaitha Siddantha was packed with achievements in South India. He wandered all over the country to preach about Advaitha philosophy. His achievements made him immortal. In all the places he visited; Sri Shankaracharya performed spiritual miracles. One such place was Sharada temple in Kashmir where he took part in the debate. To everybody’s surprise, he peacefully answered all the questions thrown at him by many scholars. Finally, after ages, the door facing south opened. Sri Shankaracharya ascended the Sarvajna Peetham. After his achievement in Kashmir, Shankaracharya thought of establishing such Sharada Peethams in all four directions. So, he established the Peethams in Sringeri – Karnataka (south – first among four). It was then followed by the other three in Puri (east), Dwaraka (west), and Badrinath (north).
Reconstruction of Sharada Peetham:
Current affairs say that Ravinder Pandit of Sharada Yatra Temple Committee, Kashmir recently visited Sringeri Mutt. He received blessings from the present Gurus Sri Bharathi Teertha and Sri Vidhushekara Bharathi in order to construct a new temple for Devi Sharadamba. The new temple is planned to be constructed at Teetwal town near LOC in Kashmir. Teetwal on the banks of river Kishanganga is the place where the annual yatra of the goddess used to commence. The chief executive of Sringeri mutt also said that the Mutt will provide full support in reconstruction. Additionally, they will also provide a Panchaloha idol of the Goddess for installation at the temple under construction.
So, friends, these are some lesser-known facts and unfortunate incidents about Sharada Sarvajna Peetham. Many such hidden gems in India are waiting to regain their originality.