Days after Kartarpur corridor was opened for Indian pilgrims, the chorus is now growing for a similar arrangement to Sharada Peeth, a temple across the Line of Control (LoC). Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has also raised the issue with PM Narendra Modi. “Wrote to PM Narendra Modi for the opening of Sharda Peeth route for facilitating the Pandit community. I hope like Kartarpur, this too will be considered for better peace & prosperity in the region,” Mufti tweeted. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was also quoted as saying that his government “could consider other proposals including opening up travel for the Sharada Peeth in Kashmir…”
What is Sharada Peeth?
The temple, revered by Kashmiri Pandits, has been out of bounds for Indian pilgrims since partition. The ancient temple of Sharada (also spelt Sharda or Sarada) and the adjacent ruins of Sharada University lie in Neelam Valley, 160 km from Muzaffarabad, and right across the Line of Control in a small village, Shardi or Sardi, where the river Neelam (Kishanganga) converges with the Madhumati and Sargun streams.
The temple was also once regarded as the foremost centres of higher learning in the Indian subcontinent. It is also one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas, or a “Grand Shakti Peethas” and is considered to be the abode of Hindu Goddess Saraswati.
According to one of the legends about the temple, the goddess Sharada saved the pot of knowledge during a war between evil and good. She carried it to the valley and hid it beneath the ground. She then turned herself into stone to cover it and thus there are only rectangular stones covering the floor of the temple.
What is the demand?
The demand for allowing pilgrims to the temple from the Indian side gained momentum in 2007, following a visit by Prof Ayaz Rasool Nazki, a Kashmiri scholar and former regional director of the Jammu & Kashmir chapter of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. “Although Kashmiri Pandits had always been aspiring to visit this holy place of great importance, Sharada is important for every Kashmiri because of our common roots and ancestry,” he said.
The Save Sharada Committee, which has been spearheading the campaign to allow Kashmiri Pandit pilgrims access to the Sharada temple, says it has members on both sides, and has petitioned the central government, and also written to the Pakistan Prime Minister. Ravinder Pandita, who heads the committee, described Sharada as “our kuldevi, the principal deity for Kashmiri Pandits”. He said that while there are three or four traditional routes, “we are only asking that we should be allowed to use the present permit system. We will go via Muzaffarabad.”