Goddess S’arada(Sharada) of Kasmira
- Adi Shankaracharya Connect
Brigadier Rattan Kaul
(Brig Kaul wrote, serialised articles, on Goddess S’arada of Kashmir in 2003, which later formed a Chapter in his Book - History of Kas’mira(Kashmir)).
(In this article series, Goddess is named and spelled as S’arada, as in Sanskrit/S’arada Lipi- Author)
“Truth is one; sages call it by various names. Rig Veda”
The Verse from Rig Veda impelled me to write, amplify again, on Goddess S’arada of Kasmira. In recent past there have been extraneous and imaginative accounts, which has completely changed the basic religious connotation of Goddess S’arada, which manifested in Kasmira as Goddess of Knowledge (Vidya Dehyenam). In the process Adi Shankaracharya has been brought in both by South India Religious Institution and Scholars of Kasmira.
In my growing years I carried Ethos, Values and Cultural Heritage from my birth place- Kasmira. As a teenager I put on Army Uniform; soldiering became my religion, but proudly also carried the legacy of my growing years. These were not superficial, but deep within; not over religious, just carried certain true beliefs of certain religious icons and remained faithful to them.
Much water has flown since then through Kasmira’s scared Rivers: Madhumati and Vitasta and not many have been known, in recent past, worshipping Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge).
As a gratitude to Kasmira, my two books, Kasmira Centric, were published (4 other books on Military Subjects); History of Kas’mira (Kashmir)(2013) and Goddess S’arada of Kasmira(Kashmir)- Adi Shankaracharya.(March 2023).
During my 3 years tenure on forward line in North Kasmira, I had glimpses, few times, of Monument across LoC in Neelam Valley of POK in 1976-79; which went around with name; Sharada Temple; a Pakistani Army Post. This glimpse remained dormant till 2003 AD, when I clandestinely got the colour photograph of the monument, shared for the first time in the country including Kashmir Samachar(Photo). Apart from bringing kudos it brought awareness of Goddess S’arada of Kasmira, in the valley and of course South India. Earlier there was hardly any mention of this monument in Kasmira, if at all there was, it was Saraswati’s benediction.
With this shared photograph there were write ups on S’arada, not only in Kasmira but in South India also. There were maze of individualistic creations, creating parallel to Kasmira’s indigenous religious philosophy, conjoined role of Goddess S’arada or suddenly strange, out of time and tune, adoption of other philosophies. This process continues, though often contradictory and evidently imaginative creations rather than facts, amusingly with no end, Sadly these are not the topics to show ones such scholarly acumen.
I wrote series on this Monument in Neelam Valley (POK) titled Goddess Sharada of Kas’mira, in 2004/2005, which in 2013 formed a Chapter f my Book History of Kas’mira. Details of this Sharda Monument, copied from Stein’s translated Rajatarangini, but I vehemently disagreed about Buddhist Origin, Construction by any Kasmira King, that Adi Shankaracharya visited this place or constructed it. It was also naïve to think of a Buddhist/Shaivite University with over 5000 students from Southeast Asia etc, in an area of inimical tribals, extreme weather conditions and no remnants of such a massive University.
I created Four Crunch Objectives to be dwelt upon in this series, sequentially. In this First Part: “Goddess S’arada of Kasmira, Her manifestation, Her Shrines and how Her presence is covered in various Chronicles, Scriptures etc.
Secondly: Life and Times of Adi Shankaracharya and his getting connected with Kasmira, ascending Throne of Omniscience, His created Love-Sexology escapades in Kasmira and his defeating Kasmiri Shaivite Scholars in debate and accepting his religious philosophy of Advaita.
Thirdly: How does S’arada connect with Buddhism, Her purported Shrine in POK, as Buddhist Protected Monument etc.
Lastly: What sort of civilisation is Kasmira connected. Does a single Goddess override our ancient rooted civilisation?
S’arada Of Kasmira
S’arada and Kasmira. The first thing a Kasmiri will know is Gortrai is the day in Kasmira for Goddess Sharada, Goddess of Knowledge- a form of Sarswati. Even the day it was not perse Sharada but Saraswati. I also learnt that Sharada is not the correct pronunciation of the Goddess, who gave name to Sharada Lipi (Script) but S’arada as spelled in Sharada Script, as well as Sanskrit. There is no explanation from me as to why Sharada Script is not spelt S’arada Script. Irrespective of words used for the Goddess, is S’arada, which refers to S’arada Goddess of Kasmira.
Over the last two centuries S’arada Shrine Kishanganga (Neelam) Valley Monument has been in focus for more than one reason, which is termed as forgotten monument. No denial it was forgotten, earlier too. Even Auriel Stein noted, late 19th Century, this shrine across Shamsabhari Mountain Range was “unknown to the Brahmins of Pravarpura (Srinagar).”
When we refer to Goddess as S’arada of Kasmira, it is connected with famous prayer; Vidhyadehyenam Kasmira Purvasini (Giver of Knowledge and Residing in Kasmira). We need to be clear that this prayer wordings, as far as my findings are concerned, manifested around 11/12th Century AD when there was a fair flow of Brahmins from South India, during the reign of Jaisimha (11th Century) and later. Not that they were enamoured by Kasmira but because they faced persecution in South India from Muslim Rulers and Kasmira was the only Brahmin bastion then. They were impressed by the knowledge of Brahmins, worship of Goddess of Knowledge (Sarswati- S’arada) and the Sharada Lipi which had taken roots.
Kingdom of Kasmira. What does Kasmira Kingdom (Janapada) or Kasmira or Satisar connote? Simply valley bounded by Great Himalayas- Pir Panchal (Panstal)- Shamsabari Harmukh Mountain Ranges. Leave away the present political boundaries, this was Kasmira as referred to by chroniclers, scriptures, travelogues etc. Most of the time Kasmira was some sort of confederation of domains of Damras(War Lords) till advent of Islam. Thereafter, it remained as a Kasmira Kingdom defined above. Some forays beyond by Kings/Sultans took place but they were not permanent except, after Dogra’s took over. Even when it was under Moghuls, Afghans and Sikh’s it was Kasmira Valley. were just mentioned. Nilamata Puranam is best example of fixing the Topographical and Geographical kingdom of Kasmira. Rajatarangini does the same but at places, when the rulers venture beyond these he mentions it the expedition and then reverts to the Valley. Jona Rajtarangini does it like wise. Both chronicles even mention when the Kingdom had shrunk to the size of a Pargana(District).
Mention in Scriptures and Chronicles. Irrespective of the tall claims regarding the ancient historicity of the Goddess S’arada of Kasmira, there are very few references available concerning the Goddess. I stand by the available mentions, restricted though, in Nilamata Purana(6th Century AD), Rajatarngini by Kalhan(11th Century AD), Jona’s Rajatarangini(Additional Verses found but not authenticated), Tarikh- e- Kashmir by Al Biruni (11th Century) and Aine Akbari by Abu Fazl (!7th Century). References to S’arada is either connected or indirect and in none of these any location of any S’arada Temple is given.
Mahatmayas. As far as Mahatmayas are concerned it is a peculiar paper quoted as authority for the Tirath or Shrine. Last till the beginning of 20th Century there were 51 Mahatmaya’s out of which 26 are claimed to be Brngisasamhita. Needless to say these were created by thanpat’sv(Sanskrit sthanpati) (Local Priest) who as a rule were as ignorant as their conferrers (Pujaris, Bhojkis etc of India. The texts are unmistakeably being quoted are of late composition or redaction (Adjust to the narrative). This is adequately proved by lack of sound knowledge of Sanskrit and literary acumen, both of which seemed to be foreign to them. For example names of places are hybrid adaptations of modern Kashmiri equivalents. Even Auriel Stein acknowledges: “the transfers that have taken place in the case of ancient Tirthas of Bheda and S’arada (Page 381/Book 2 Rajatarangini). Like Maksikaswamin (Maysum) and the Mahasarit (Mar) appear as Mayasima and Mari. In Sahibram’s Tirthasamgraha, mentions many S’arada shrines around Lolab Valley but her is no mention of any S’arada Shrine beyond the boundaries of Kasmira. It may be interesting to know that a Purohit met Auriel Stein with a draft Mahatmaya, he had prepared for few idols which had been found recently. Stein read the draft which was worded in such a way that the as if the idols were ancient. He refused but few months later found that the Mahatmaya had been prepared and idols mahima greatly antiquated.
Oldest Mahatmaya- Vitasta (Nilamat Purana) (6th Century AD) gives details of ancient rivers, places of worship and monuments with pointed references of Kasmira Valley. In its contents it hardly anywhere ventures beyond the Valley, except categorically mentioning inimical inhabitants North of Shamsabhari Range. Verses 1199-1300 Book 12, amply mentions Kshatriyas (Warriors- who are none other than Darda Tribes from Drava Country and either are killed or chased. These are from the Madhumati River Basin of Bandipura and Graharkutta (Dudakoot Fortress). Rajatarangini by Kalhan (English translation) and mention’s in Tarikh- I- Hind by Al Biruni and Aine -e- Akbari by Abu Fazl added to the information bank more so of Madhumati River, Goddess S’arada. Auriel Stein’s Rajatarangini translation version with his detailed amplification notes gives additional inputs.
Mool (root) source for S’arada Shrine of Kasmira is Rajatarangini with brief mentions in the Chronicles of Al Biruni and Abu Fazl. This combinations have created a definite location of the S’arada Shrine and River Madhumati connected with it. All these, if understood without preconceived notions and pointers definitely will take reader to the Shrine within Kasmira. But a different and differing canvas about S’arada Shrine’s and rivers has been created. It is not ancient or from time memorial, words usually used but just few centuries old.
From medieval centuries, ranging from 1000 BC the area of Kishanganga/Neelam Valley was part of Drava Country, which remained isolated; barricaded in South by mountain Range Shamasabhari. An inhospitable terrain, absence of trade routes and harsh cold climate, hostile and aggressive tribals gained notoriety in the history of Kasmira. Literally it was seldom part of Kasmira Kingdom, remaining under War Lords (Damras), who beleaguered by split tribal loyalties and tribes..
S’arada Mention in our Scriptures. “There is no religion greater than truth and a truthful person knows no fear- Rig Veda. In Nilamata Purana (6th Century AD) S’arada, word or Goddess, does not find any mention. Unravelling of truth is always bitter to many. S’arada-Saraswati in Kasmira are worshipped as the goddesses of learning. In Kasmira Goddess Saraswati specifically was predominant on Gortrai, few Purohits may have called S’arada. The benediction was: “ Saraswati Mahabagya Vidyakamal Lochini Vishva roopi vishallakhi Vidhyam Dehi Saraswati.”
Specific Mention in Above Chronicles
Nilamata Purana. In Nilamata Purana Purana; Goddess Sarasvati twice, Sarasvati River twice and Madhumati River five times. There is no mention of S’arada (Sharada) or Kishanganga River. There is mention of Durga onve as River(?), once as Goddess Durga and Once as Durgadvara(?). Temple of Durga has been mentioned three times, for specific worship of weapons, by artisans, giving indication that there were many Durga temples in Kasmira during the period(6Th Century). Most important mention is this verse: “. One gets the merit of one thousand cows the confluence of the Krsna and the Vitasta and gets the merit of performing Vahnistoma by seeing Cakresa (Shiva) erected by Sandilya(Muni Shandliya of S’arada Mahatmaya) on the bank of the Madhumati. One gets the fulfilment of one's cherished desire by seeing Durga(1278-79). Note Cakresa, Sandilya, Madhumati, Vitasta and Durga in one these two combined verse.
There is no ambiguity that there was and is only one sacred River Madhumati in Kasmira(Called in later centuries as Bandapur Nallah). The source of this River is from the Harmukh Mountain Range which though part of Shamasabhari Range is also called so. In question answers Brhadasva(rishi) is narrating importance of various places etc to Gonanda - the king of Kasmira in question and answer form. After covering many places of importance they session reaches about Madhumati. In this portion of narration in Nilamata Purana Puran the mention is connected with Rama son of Brigu (Rishi), who to avenged killing of his father’s kills Kshatriyas. Who “leaving Kasmira due to his fear, reached where there is the river Madhumati” and reach the hilly fort in Kasmira. After the killing Rama takes bath at the confluence of Suddha and the Sarasvati .
Gonanda asks for sacred places situated near this country(Kasmira) and also the merit which accrues from each; Climbing up the Grdhrakuta gets the merit of and goes to heaven (by bathing) in the confluence of the Vitasta and the Madhumati. By bathing in) the confluence of the Krsna and the Vitasta and gets the merit of performing Vahnistoma by seeing Cakresa(Shiva) erected by Sandilya on the bank of the Madhumati and One gets the fulfilment of one's cherished desire by seeing Durga
-To be continued
*Brigadier Rattan Kaul
(Author- The series has been necessitated due to certain misgivings created in last few centuries about the Goddess and its connection with Adi Shankaracharya. Most of the above is covered in my recent Book, on S’arada and Adi Shanankaracharya, published few months back)