Where there is abundance of wisdom there is love and worship
Where the value of wisdom is not as much there is ignorance
But where there is no wisdom left there will be anarchy
The great Mother Goddess Saraswati is the embodiment of divine wisdom, she is pure, she is white, she is the all knowing and she is the only one who can withstand the destructive flames that emanate from the awakened third eye of great Lord Shiva. As these fiery flames leaped through all the worlds destroying everything impure on their way, she saved the world from this terrible catastrophe. She blessed this earth with life and wisdom as she descended into this world as a sacred river, taking this burning molten river of light into the deep sea and transforming it into a fire breathing mare seeking to destroy the world when all divine wisdom perishes from these lands leaving anarchy and noise behind.
Time moved on, eras passed by and the celestial world mysteriously left behind traces of its existence on this sacred earth. The earliest known form of Goddess Saraswati that appeared in our era to the mortal world is on the coins of the Utpala Dynasty of Kashmir in the early 9th century. Here, at the crown of the Indian subcontinent Goddess Saraswati is revered as Sharda Devi in her three aspects – Sharda, Narada or Saraswati, and Vaghdevi. The records of Kalhana indicate that the earliest temple attributed to her is near the Sirahsila castle as references have been made to it during its seige, in the Upper Krishnaganga valley, Kashmir. This is possibly the most potent place with respect to Goddess Saraswati and also the most ancient where the first temple attributed to the mother was constructed.
Stories from mythology and accounts of the sthala purana indicate that sages, ardent devotees and great intellects have been blessed with the divine vision of Goddess Saraswati in the form of Sharda Devi or Dakshina Mookambika Devi. The Goddess descended again into our world and graced this earth to bless them at these sacred places which have since then grown into centers of worship and learning and now hosts temples built in various styles of architecture.
According to the Sharda Mahatmaya, the Muni Sandalya, son of Matanga performed great austerities to be blessed with the vision of the Goddess. Saraswati Devi directed Muni Sandalya to go to Syamala [present day Kupwara district] and from there to proceed to the springs of Krishna Nag to take a holy dip in its rich waters. It is believed that on taking this sacred dip, half of his body was covered in gold. This brings light into the richness and prosperity of the land that surrounded this sacred earth, the home to the divine Goddess. With his prayers being fulfilled; he was overwhelmed with this experience of being constantly guided by the Mother, Muni Sandalya sang in praise of the divine mother and her three forms. She reappeared and asked him to proceed to Shardavan, in Sirahsila where she would appear in her Shakti avatara.
Sandalya also performed shrads for his pitras at this sacred river. It is believed that when he took the waters of the Mahasindhu for the tarpana rites, the water turned honey sweet and flowed down in the form of a stream now known as the Madhumati River. Sandalya moved on to the Shardavan as directed, where he had a divine vision of the Goddess in all her grandeur and purity in Shakti swarupa of Sharda Devi. The Goddess blessed him and granted him this divya dristi.
It is said that she rose out of the spring waters at this kunda to bless him and then disappeared into the waters. This sacred place is now marked by a stone slab which is believed to cover the same Kunda out of which she rose. This came to be known by the name of Sharda Peetham at Kashmir.
Adi Shankaracharya is known to have visited this Sharda Peetham before he travelled to Sringeri to establish another Sharda Peetham, in the 1st millennium B.C along the Tungabhadra River in Chikmanglur district, Karnataka.
The enchanting presence of Goddess Saraswati brought life and bliss of a different kind to these places and blessed the earth with potent shrines attributed to her. Such was the experience that some of these sacred shrines grew into highly intellectual centers of learning and debate, where words of sweetness crowned the atmosphere charging it with intellectual thought and ideas as great men challenged each other to spectacular compositions of divine wisdom.
Sharda Peetham in Kashmir was one such place covered in mysticism and divinity. It is believed that many men had tested their wisdom but few managed to cross the gate into the inner shrine chamber of the Sharda Nilayam. Adi Shankaracharya is known to have outshined all those who confronted him in debate. This shrine had four entrances and few great men had walked into her sacred gates. Adi Shankaracharya was the only saint to walk through the southern gate of the Sharda Nilayam to ascend the Sarvajna Peetam. The presiding deity of all learning, Sharda Devi set a test for him, which he overcame and alighted the seat of supreme enlightenment. The goddess blessed him and proclaimed his omniscience.
Such was the intellectual energy in the air that surrounded this small temple which attracted pilgrims from everywhere to witness debates that covered all known philosophies of living. This center didn’t just grow to have a temple dedicated to the Goddess but also had a center for learning as well as a great library that was revered by all. The sacredness of this soil still held strong until this temple fell to invasion. It is a tragic story that all that stands of this great sthala today is a ruined temple that still continues to hum the presence of the Goddess in its own strange way.
Photo courtesy: Gharib Hanif - Kashmir collection