नमस्ते शारदे देवी काश्मीरपुरवासिनि,
त्वामहं प्रार्थये नित्यं विद्यादानं च देहि मे ।
This is the Shloka chanted to date, to honor Devi Sharda of Sharda Peeth in Kashmir. It’s one of the 18 Shkati Peeths where Maa Sati’s right hand fell while she was being carried by Lord Shiva.
This holy place, located in present day Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, over the centuries became a great center of learnings in ancient vedic knowledge and was visited by people from all over the subcontinent to pay their obeisance to the Goddess.
Adi Shankara received the right to ascend the Sarvajnanapeetham at Sharada Peeth after beating the scholars of that temple in debates pertaining to religion and philosophy. Great Vaishnava Saint Ramanujacharya is also believed to have visited Sharada Peetham to write his treatise Sri Bhashya.
Between the 6th and 12th centuries CE, it was one of the most prominent temple universities in the Indian subcontinent. By the 8th century CE, the temple was a site of pilgrimage, attracting devotees from as far as present-day Bengal in the east and Karnataka in the south. Sharda temple has played a significant role in Kashmiri pandit’s religious culture and is much venerated by them.
By the time of Islamic invasions, Sharada Peeth was universally recognized as a great place of learning for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and many scholars lived in that region. Then came the Islamic hordes led by Sikandar Butshikan, who imposed the worst form of Sharia law in the region under which this Shakti Peeth was destroyed in a series of temple destruction which also included grand temples like Martand Sun Temple.
This Shakti Peeth post destruction went into decline untill it was partially restored by Dogra King Maharaja Gulab Singh. In 1947 invasion of Kashmir by Pakistani raiders, the region fell into the hands of Pakistanis and has since been in ruins as Pakistani establishment has shown no interest in it’s restoration.
During the Mughal and Afghan rule, Sharda Yatra pilgrimage decreased, however it was again brought into prominence under the rule of Maharaja Gulab Singh. Pandit community believed that the act of bathing on the confluence of the Krishan Ganga (Neelum) River and Madhumati stream cleanses their sins. In 1947, the Kashmiri saint Swami Nandlal Ji moved some of the stone idols to Tikker in Teerthwal, Kupwara, which was the transit / checkpoint for pilgrims travelling to Sharda peeth.
The temple and Gurudwara in Teerthwal were destroyed by the raiders in the initial phase of the 1947-48 war. Resultantly tourism to Sharda Peeth declined considerably and most of the Kashmiri Pandits remained on the Indian side of the line of control. The demography of Teerthwal changed from Sikhs and Brahmins to Muslims and the name was changed to Tithwal. Furthermore, the temple’s close proximity to the Line of Control discouraged tourism. Even after the drastic change in the demography, the people of Tithwal protected the land of the temple and gurudwara like their own. In 2021, devotees of the Sharda Mata came to Tithwal to take a holy dip in the Krishan-Ganga river. The villagers of Tithwal showed them the land where the temple and gurudwara existed before 1947. Thereafter, a committee was formed which started working on restoring the spiritual glory of Sharda Yatra Temple.
The people of Tithwal exhibited exemplary philanthropy by leading from the front, while working towards the construction of the temple. The construction of the temple made a historical transformation in the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir when a Muslim person took charge of the construction.
Efforts towards restoration of Sharda Yatra Temple has made a huge impact on the lives of the locals. An increase in border tourism has led to economic amelioration in the region. “Mera Kashmir badal raha hai” slogan makes complete sense in Tithwal. It is a new Kashmir where a Muslim is leading the construction of a temple and gurudwara, where people are providing Home-stays for the pilgrims from other religions, where everyone believes that we are humans first and Hindus or Muslims later. This entire rhapsody has fortified the failing concept of “Kashmiriyat”. The change through this collaborative effort is worth emulating by everybody. The restoration of spiritual glory has contributed towards peace and prosperity in Tithwal. and this can be further strengthened through continuous efforts by the locals and civil administration.