Namastey Sharada Devi Kashmir Pur Vasini Tvam Ham Prartheye Nityam Vidya Danam Che De hi Mahi. (Salutations to you, O Sharada, O Goddess, O one who resides in Kashmir. I pray to you daily, please give me the charity of knowledge).”
Many of us have heard this Sloka somewhere but few would know what the word “Sharada ” represents.
Kashmir has always been a renowned center of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Kashmir was called ‘Sharadha Desha ‘ in ancient times based on an ancient center of learning called Shradha Peetha or ‘Sarvajna Peetha’ (Seat of Omniscience) ‘Sarvajna’ here means ‘All-Knowing’. One who can sit on that seat should be all-knowing. So basically Sharda Peetha was an ancient center of learning or university which had been given a status of a goddess of knowledge.
Sharda Peetha is located in Neelam Valley in POK ( Pakistan occupied Kashmir) near the confluence of the Kishan Ganga river (Neelam river) and Madhumati stream in an open ground. It is a breathtaking spot with full greenery, multicolor flowers, springs, forest belt surrounded by snow-clad peaks of Sharda, and Narda hills of Nanga Parbat range which divides POK from Gilgit-Baltistan.
Right from the Vedic Era to about the 7th century, this temple cum monastery (Peetha) was famed as a great center of learning, a hub of knowledge and it attracted students from all over the world including Greece, Mesopotamia, and Central Asia, Tibet and China. It housed more than 5000 scholars and housed the biggest library of those times. It evolved its own script called Sharda Script and Nagari Script, the former being the fundamental script of Brahmin scholars to write Sanskrit for a long time, till Hindi (Devnagiri) took over, the latter influenced the Tibetan script. The center of learning was prominent by at least the 4th century CE. Around that period, Buddhist scholars such as Kumārajīva, Thonmi Sambhota( creator of Tibetan script), and Rinchen Zangpo were also associated with Sharada Peeth.In the 4th century, Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim-traveler, visited the place and found that it was a flourishing center of education where various dharmic thoughts like Shaivism, Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavism, etc. coexisted. This famed university was also visited by Adi Sankaracharya who played a crucial role to establish it as one of the Shakti Peetha.
According to archeological excavation and linguistic evidence there existed a huge complex suggestive of an ancient center of learning like Taksaxilla and Nalanda which was destroyed by the Huns of Central Asia in 500 C.E. many scholars from both Sharda and Taksaxilla got displaced during this time. Some of the scholars went and took refuge in the kingdom of Chach Brahman dynasty of Sindh along with others from Taksaxilla. These scholars were pioneers in mathematics, geometry, physics, medical sciences, surgery, architecture, economy, political science, philosophy, etc.
When the Ummaiyat Islamic Caliphate under Mohammed Bin Qasim from Iraq captured Sindh in 700 CE, the Middle Eastern world came in touch with these knowledge systems, which lead to the Golden Age of Science in the Islamic world from 800 CE and later after the Christian Crusades in the middle east in 1100 C. E these knowledge systems reached Europe through the Iberian peninsula and sparked the European Renaissance.
So this center of learning has played a crucial role in spreading knowledge throughout the world through their graduates and scholars ( acharyas).
The only structure that remains today from the huge university is a temple of Goddess Sharada who is worshipped by Hindus all over India but little do they know about her origin and the importance of the region.
The cycle of destruction and rebuilding of the remaining temple structure continued until it was finally bombed by the Pakistani army for good in 1948. The ruins of this great temple and university can still be found in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. But Indians are forbidden to visit this temple, and requests by Kashmiri Pandits fell to deaf ears.
The temple of Goddess Sharada and the most ancient center of learning might have been destroyed but the influence it has had on education not only in Asia but throughout the world can’t be erased. It will be realized when it’s history is made mainstream. Let’s hope that very soon it gets restored as an international Centre for learning like it always was. Who wouldn’t like to study in such a Picterousque location?
The photo given below is an extremely rare photo which was taken by Mark Aurel Stein in 1893 when the temple was still intact.
It is the only available photo of the original Goddess Sharada Devi (Sarasvati) temple before its destruction.
Recently realizing its importance, the Indian Govt also used soil of Sharada Peeth fo Bhoomi Poojan in Ram Janmabhoomi. An Indian couple from Hong Kong had gone to collect the soil from the holy place. After collecting the soil they arrived in India via Hong Kong with the soil and offerings for the Bhoomi Poojan.