On the banks of the Neelum river, in a village named after the goddess Sharada, just across the Line of Control, on the India- Pakistan border are the ruins of an ancient abandoned temple. This temple dedicated to Sharada or Saraswati– the Goddess of Knowledge, holds a special place in the collective consciousness of all Saraswati worshippers.
The Sharada Temple was a great centre of learning. The Gurumukhi script, still used in Punjab, is derived from the Sharada script.
While we don’t know when the temple was built, there are numerous early references to it, starting with the reference to the temple in the Sharada Mahatmya (an ancient manuscript dedicated to Sharada/ Saraswati). Goddess Sharada is said to have manifested herself to Sage Shandilya (the author of the Shandilya Upanishad, one of the two minor Upanishads) in the upper Kishenganga region of the Kashmir valley. But given the remoteness of the temple, little else is known about it.
Another early reference to the temple comes from Alberuni, the 10th century Persian traveler, who spent time in India. He mentions that the temple was located in ‘inner Kashmir’ about two-three days journey towards the mountains of Bolour (Gilgit)’. In his travelogue, Alberuni mentions that the shrine was one of the most prominent temples of the time – the others being the ones in Somnath and Multan.
Kavi Bilhana, the famous 11th century CE Kashmiri poet, described the tirtha of Sharada in his description of Kashmir. According to him, it was because of the presence of Goddess Sharada that Kashmir was a centre of learning. He compares the goddess to a swan wearing a diadem, made from the gold found in the sands of the Neelum.
Tribal incursions and refugee movement extensively damaged the temple
The Sharada temple was also known as a great repository of books and manuscripts and was protected by the Dogra army of Maharajas of Kashmir. However, soon after India gained independence in 1947, the tribal incursions into Kashmir and the conflict that followed resulted in extensive damage to the shrine. The main idol of Sharada went missing during this time and since it is now on the wrong side of the Line of Control, it is in ruins!
The Sharada temple was clearly a great centre of learning as well. So much so that this temple gave its name to the Sharada script, a system of Brahmic writing which emerged in the 8th century CE. The Gurumukhi script, still used in Punjab, is derived from the Sharada script.
Active worship continued at the Sharada Temple till 1947
Two other interesting Saraswati temples are the Gana Saraswati Temple in Telangana, that was probably built as a small shrine in the 6th century CE and the later 12th century CE temple at Koothanoor in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. Both these temples have been refurbished over the last two decades.
While the Sharada Temple began to lose its patronage in the 14th century CE with the advent of Islam, it continued to be in active worship right up to 1947.
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The temple is located in the remote village of Sharda, in the Neelam Valley, at a distance of 96 kms from Baramulla, in India and 64 kms from Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan. It lies 25 kms to the northwest of the Line of Control, in the territory of Pakistan, in a militarily sensitive area. The nearest railway station to Neelam Valley is Baramulla and the nearest airport is at Srinagar, 75 kms from Baramulla
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