Iqbal Ahmad

Sharda  Peeth- an ancient architectural wonder

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No doubt that Sharada Peeth temple has significant spiritual and cultural importance for Kashmiri Pandits, for the general visitors it is an architectural marvel turned into ruins and signifies the medieval period ‘Temple Architecture’ of Kashmir.  In its appearance, it looks like the ‘Sun Temple’ of Martand and has a close architectural resemblance with it. The temple symbolizes the grace and zenith of the medieval period temple architecture of Kashmir.

Sharada Peeth is an ancient Hindu temple which is believed having served a centre of learning. It is situated on the other side of Line of Control (LoC) in this land called in the Pakistani administered Kashmir.  The temple is currently abandoned and lies in ruins.

The length of the temple is 142 feet with a width of 94.6 feet. The outer walls of the temple are 6 ft. wide and 11 ft long and there are arches with 8 ft. in height.

There are competing theories regarding its history as some historians believe that it was built during the  Kushan era which corresponds to 1st century AD – 4th century AD. However, there are other historians who say that similarities between Sharada Peeth and the Martand Sun Temple suggest that these were built by Lalitaditya during 8th century AD.

What nearly all historians believe is that the site had served as a symbol of learning from early on. But so far as its architectural style is concerned, it can be attributed to the period of Maharaja Lalitaditya of Karkota dynasty.

The temple, many theories suggest, is dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning, Sharada. Sharada Peeth was one of the foremost ancient Temple University of Kashmir hosting scholars from distant lands, such theories suggest.

Sharada Peeth is about 150 kilometres from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and 130 kilometres from Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.  It is about 10 kilometres from the Line of Control which divides the Pakistani and Indian-controlled areas of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is situated 1,981 metres above sea level, along the Neelam River in the village of Sharda, in the valley of Mount Harmukh, which Kashmiri Pandits believe, is the abode of Shiva.

Most of the ancient monuments of Kashmir demonstrate a very strong ancient Grecian influences. P N K Bamzai, the noted historian of the land, states that ‘the characteristic features of the Kashmirian architecture are its lofty pyramidal roofs, its trefoil doorways covered by pyramidal pediments and the great width of its inter-columniations. That it had been influenced by Greek and Roman styles is evidenced by the close resemblance which the Kashmirian columned bears to the classical perstyle of Greece’. The ancient monuments of Martand, Avantipura and Pattan are such evidences where Grecian architectural influences are very much evident’.

Ancient Kashmiri architects are believed to have borrowed the style form the Bactrian and Indo-Greeks during the occupation of its frontier lands. Famous archaeological monuments are the ruins of temples constructed in medieval period (600 to 1338 AD). The material used in these temples is different from Harwan, Ushkar and Hutmur sites. These temples are constructed of magnificently chiselled massive stones. Most of the temples are rectangular and quadrangle in plan and usually consist of a single chamber with a portico.

The main edifice is surrounded with a cellular peristyle, some temples are circular in plan while many don’t possess any cellular peristyle. Walls are built of massive stones kept externally plain while the internal portion of the cella is also plain and the interior of cellular peristyle are surmounted by a sloping cornice usually decorated with rows of geese, alternating with rosettes and Kirimukhas: doorways of the temples are mostly rectangular surmounted by trefoil arches, bays are completely absent in these temples roofs were exist are seen mostly pyramidal while the columns are either smooth or fluted.

A cella to house the image of the deity (Garbha-Griha) and often a small hall in front for the worshipers (Mandapa) were regarded adequate for a simple Hindu temple. The ornamentation of these temples has been largely naturalistic delineating, with a conspicuous zest, human and animal forms. The representation of living beings, mostly of their god or goddess and scriptural injunction is very common in these temples. These temples mostly formed the Doric, Gandhara and Poguda style of construction.

One more interesting feature of these temples lies in their superb locations as these temples are imposed either on lofty plateaus or on river banks adding a lot to their glory. According to R C Kak, ‘the medieval architecture of Kashmir depended for its effect upon (i) The simplicity and unity of design, (ii) The massiveness of stone used (iii) The finish of dressing (iv) and last but not least, the natural beauty of the site chosen for the erection of the temple.

The Sharda temple also possesses almost all these features which the other medieval period temples carried.  This type of architecture is a distinctive style which is hardly found beyond its borders.  It has got a fine location too.

The recent decision of the government of Pakistan to open up a corridor for people and devotees to visit the Sharda temple is a welcome step and needed to be appreciated. In a civilized society, the cultural and archaeological sites that hold so much of historical significance should be open for every one so that people are able to explore the composite cultural that share.

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