“The wounds will take decades to heal, centuries to overcome the trauma....”
The ills of the Partition of 1947 are yet to die down. The bilateral relations between the neighbours have been incessantly under tension from the time preceding independence. Cross- border terrorism and the Kashmir conflict have defined the relation between India and Pakistan in the international arena. Amidst these skirmishes, there seems to be some good news from the other side of the border. The Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan has approved the establishment of a corridor that will allow Hindu pilgrims from India to visit the Sharda Peeth, an abandoned temple premise, dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of Learning, Saraswati or Sharda, in the Pakistan- occupied- territory of Kashmir.
Sharda Peeth is located in the Sharda village in the Neelum valley, 207 km north of Muzaffarabad, the capital of P-o-K. The temple is located at the confluence of the river Kishan Ganga and the Madhumati stream. Although the exact date of establishment of the temple is unknown, it is believed to be built by King Lalitaditya in 724 AD. This temple was also an ancient centre of learning, compared to the likes of Nalanda and Takshila, between the 6th and 12th centuries. Sharda Peeth is said to have hosted scholars like Kalhana, Adi Shankaracharya and even foreign travellers like Huang Tsang. There have been several references to the temple in ancient texts. Kalhana has mentioned the importance of the temple in his famous book, Rajtarangini. Abul Fazl, one of the Nav Ratnas of Emperor Akbar’s court, has also written about the temple and the scenic beauty of its location.
Sharda Peeth is one of the 18 Maha Shakthi Peeths, the locations in the subcontinent that commemorate the fallen body parts of the deity Sati. It is said that when Sati burnt herself, her husband Lord Shiva carried her in his arms. Each body part is said to have fallen somewhere, and are named the Shakthi peeths. The right hand of Sati’s corpse is believed to have fallen in Sharda peeth. Another legend has it that during the fight between Good and Evil, Goddess Sharda saved the container of Knowledge and hid it in a hole in the ground. She then turned herself into a structure to cover the pot. This structure is known to be the original idol of Goddess Sharda. This wooden idol is supposed to be taken by Adi Shankar and placed in a temple of Sharda in Sringeri, Karnataka.
The temple has been out of bounds for Indian pilgrims since partition. Earlier, annual pilgrimages were organised by the kings. These trips, known as yatras, flourished during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. A saint known as Swami Nandlalji was the last to live here, even beyond partition. The Kashmiri pundits have been vocal about their demand to open the corridor for pilgrimage purposes for a long time. The demand for allowing pilgrims to visit the temple from the Indian side gained momentum in 2007, following the visit by Prof. Ayaz Rasool Nazki, a Kashmiri scholar and former Regional Director of Jammu and Kashmir chapter of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. After his visit to Sharda Peeth, Prof. Nazki voiced his desire to allow pilgrims to visit the holy shrine.
There are a number of steps that need to be taken, to make this proposal a reality. Given the recent developments in the area, the security should be beefed up to ensure safety of the pilgrims. Visa-free travel between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Karwan-e- Aman bus service was flagged off in 2005 by the then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh . The scope of the visa- free travels should be expanded to include all pilgrims who wish to visit the shrine. Infrastructure including roads and proper transport facilities need to be improved to facilitate the conveyance of pilgrims from all age groups. Adequate hotels and roadside inns with food and accommodation facilities also need to be built to ensure a safe and smooth pilgrimage.
The Sharda Peeth corridor, when opened, will be the second religious tract after Kartarpur corridor. On November 2018, the Pakistan premier had laid the foundation stone of the 4km long corridor that will connect Dera Baba Nanak Sahib Gurudwara in India’s state of Punjab to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur shrine in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province. It is reportedly to be completed before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, in November 2019. Every year, Sikh pilgrims from India travel to Pakistan to offer prayers at the Gurudwara. The Kartarpur corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to the pilgrims throughout the year. It would act as a bridge between the people of the two countries, thus acting as a peaceful step in their otherwise strained relations, which had grown sour after the Pulwama attack on 14th February, 2019. The opening of Sharda Peeth will further the impetus for the two countries to keep aside their differences and celebrate their roots.