Sharda shrine: People's initiative on both sides of LoC revives the lost grandeur

By Deepika Bhan. Dated: 12/19/2018 12:41:48 AM

The PAK Save Sharda Council member Muhammad Rayees says, "We know what the place means. We will do everything to save the temple and the other ruins. We want the place to open for Kashmiri Pandits. They should be allowed to do the pilgrimage. It is their place of worship." Since then Muhammad Rayees has been regularly sending flowers and soil from the temple to Ravinder Pandita.

India and Pakistan may take some time to come to the table. But that has not stopped millions in India from hoping to visit the places of their worship located in Pakistan. In fact it is the people themselves who are now trying to create channels to reach out to their abandoned temples and shrines in Pakistan. For seventy years, the demand for opening of Sharda Shrine located in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) has not been given any importance by both the governments of India and Pakistan. But this has not deterred the people in both the divided parts of Kashmir from seeking each other's help on the issue. A group of individuals from both parts of divided Kashmir have come together to start a movement called Save Sharda.
The founding member of the Save Sharda Committee is Ravinder Pandita. He has been toiling hard to build up a movement to make people realize the importance and worth of this ancient site. He says, "I have knocked on the doors of all the relevant powers that are there, but nothing seems to be moving. So, we thought of approaching directly the people in Muzaffrabad. Even they want the place to be saved and opened up." It was a facebook post on the present state of Sharda Shrine of an individual named Muhammed Rayees from PAK that made Ravinder Raina take note. The two began a communication that inspired Ravinder Raina to form the Save Sharda Committee. On 8th January, 2016, the committee and their Pakistani counterparts did their first meeting through a video conferencing at the Press Club of India in Delhi. Ravindra Pandita's Save Sharda Committee and the civil society of Neelam valley and Sharda residents in PAK decided to work together to spread awareness about the place. Save Sharda Committee in Kashmir and Save Sharda Council in PAK thus have been involved in a movement which has quietly side stepped the political and the diplomatic intricacies existing between New Delhi and Islamabad.
For the first time since independence the temple site was cleaned up and flowers offered on 2nd November 2016 on the behalf of Save Sharda Committee by the locals in PAK. In December 2016, the Sharda Council from PAK sent flowers and soil from the temple site by post to Ravindra Raina. On March 3, 2017, a picture of Mata Sharda was installed in the temple ruin by the members of Save Sharda Council in PAK . Ravinder Pandita says, "This was an achievement for us. The local people there are aware of the historical as well as religious importance of the place." At the time of installation of the picture, a number of locals were present there including the local sarpanch. The PAK Save Sharda Council member Muhammad Rayees says, "We know what the place means. We will do everything to save the temple and the other ruins. We want the place to open for Kashmiri Pandits. They should be allowed to do the pilgrimage. It is there place of worship." Since then Muhammad Rayees has been regularly sending flowers and soil from the temple to Ravinder Pandita. Another council member Khawaja Abdul Ghani has written a book 'Sharda-tareekh-e-irteqai Marahil on the shrine which talks about all traditional routes and presents the historical perspective of Sharda Peeth in PAK. This book is being translated into Hindi by the Sharda Committee here. A year back, the Sharda Council sent some stones by post but they were disallowed by the authorities in Lahore. Saya Ravindra Pandita, "then one of the council members travelled by the cross LoC bus in Rajouri in Jammu and gave us the pious stones. Such is the motivation of the locals in PoK."
The people in both sides of the Kashmir want the shrine to be preserved and opened for pilgrimage. In December 2017, the Save Sharda Committee approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan with the plea of preservation of the ruins at Sharda Shrine. But the Court directed Ravindra Raina to approach the Court in PAK which he did. And this year in January, on the petition of Ravinder Raina, the Court in PAK gave direction to the authorities to take steps for the preservation and restoration of religious places and symbols including the Sharda Shrine.
Sharda Devi shrine is located just 30 kms from the Kupwara district in Kashmir across the LoC. But this short distance could not be crossed in these 70 years. Sharda Devi is regarded as the Goddess of knowledge by the Kashmiri Pandits. She is the 'kuldevi for the community which believes in the prayer: "Nameste Sharade Devi Kashmira-pura-Vasini. Tvamaham prarthaye nityam vidya-danam che dehi me" (Salutations to you, O Sharada, O Goddess, the one who resides in Kashmir. I pray to you daily, please give me the charity of knowledge). There is a long history attached to this temple which finds mention in several ancient scriptures. This temple being a place of faith was a great seat of learning known as the Sharda Peeth in ancient times. Adi Shankaracharya who visited Kashmir in 8th century AD is said to have achieved Acharya degree from this Peeth.
There, however, are no scriptures available which can exactly describe the time when the Sharda Shrine came into existence. There are, however, references in various ancient scriptures which markedly make a reference to this place and Sharda Peeth which was a great university. In 141 AD, the fourth Buddhist Council was held here. In Sharda Peeth, Sharda script was invented by the Buddhist monks and Hindu scholars. Sharda peeth was considered as a great seat of learning and scholars from all over the subcontinent would converge and hold dialogues. RajTarangni, which is the oldest available authentic account of Kashmir history written by Kalhana in 11th century, mentions the temple of Sharda Goddess. Another 11th century Islamic scholar Alberuni and Abul Fazal in Aain-e-Akbari has written about this temple. In 15th century, the king of Kashmir Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin had also undertaken pilgrimage to this temple. It was during the Dogra king maharaja Gulab Singh that the temple was renovated during 1846-1856. He also constructed a fort near it. Since then the yatra became a regular practice to this temple.
But the Pakistani invasion in 1947 divided Kashmir in two parts and Sharda Shrine area came into the Pakistani control. Swami Nandlalji Maharaj of the Kashmiri Pandit community was forced to flee from Sharda Peeth in 1948. He is said to have brought some idols from there with him, which were kept in the temples of Baramulla and Kupwara in Kashmir. Since then yearly pilgrimage has not taken place.
The community has knocked on several doors but nothing has happened. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gen Parvez Musharraf's regime, routes between the two parts of Kashmir were opened up and positive developments took place. One such important decision was the issuance of cross LoC permits. These permits are issued to the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir only so that they can visit their relatives living across LoC. However, Kashmiri Pandits cannot avail this facility because Hindus do not live in Muzaffarabad and Cross LoC permits are issued to those only who have relatives living on the either side of the LoC. The Save Sharda Committee is demanding an amendment to this which can be done by adding the religious visitation rights. Muhammad Rayees says, "The piousness of the place is known to us. Why should the Kashmiri Pandit community not be allowed to come here?"
Save Sharda shrine may not be in any of the priority lists of India and Pakistan, but it is the people who have brought an abandoned site of great value back into the notice. It is the people to people contact that is slowly and quietly working its way to get the site opened up for pilgrimage.



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