|(Hindu community at Sharda Devi Neelum)|
Just 136 km north of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir, Sharda, the holiest village of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shaivism, has been standing for centuries.
The sanctum sanctorum of Sharda Devi is situated in the center of Sharda on the left bank of the Kishanganga (Neelam) river. The Sharda Sangam is situated a few yards below the holy shrine where the three holy rivers namely Kishan Ganga (Neelam), Saraswati or Kankuri (Sargan Nala) and Madhumati (Sharda Nala) confluence.
Sharda is located at a distance of only 136 km from Muzaffarabad.
In 3058 BC, Sarasvat Brahmans who came to Central Asia, who were knowledgeable and cultured people, settled in this pass. Sharda Devi is said to be the creation of the same tribes in whose name Sharda village still exists today with its glorious history and deserted places.
Goddess Sharda has been worshiped for centuries as the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and wisdom. In time she was also named Shakti (Power) Lakshmi (Wealth) Goddess. The fusion of the beliefs of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism gave birth to a multi-faith culture based on tolerance, tolerance and respect.
Today, Sharda Devi has followers in many countries including India and Sri Lanka. In particular, Prince Kanishka I (25-60 AD) of the Kishan dynasty of Nepal, who is believed to have built the Sharda temple, is still present in Nepal today and is revered by his descendants as the goddess Sharda.
According to the Chinese traveler Hien Shang (631 AD), Buddhism was considered the most powerful religion in Kashmir, and during this period, the fourth international conference of Buddhists was held in Jalandhar, Indian Punjab, which had an impact on the Kashmir valley as well. The relationship between Nepal and Buddhism is thousands of years old. This is the reason why Sharda, the goddess of knowledge, wisdom and skill, enjoys sanctity there even today.
During the era of Brahmin Samaj from 880 to 1320 AD, Sharda Devi’s sanctity and civilization flourished. It was during this period that the Sharda script was also created, which remained in use for centuries.
Historical traditions say that students came from all over the world to acquire knowledge, spirituality and wisdom, enlightened themselves with knowledge and carried the message of Sharda Devi to the corners of the world. During the reign of Kanishka I, Sharda was called the most important school in Central Asia and Asia. Along with Buddhist teaching logic, philosophy, geography, history, society, spirituality were taught through Devanagari script.
The temple of Devi in Sharda still exists in ruins. The heavy stones placed here boggles the mind as to how such huge stones were brought to this place when there was no technology and then how they were piled on top of each other.
In the middle of the north-south rectangular darsana, 18 to 28 feet high walls of huge stones, there is a roofless platform built by Kanishka I which must have had some name and sanctity.
About 36 feet high plinth has an entrance on the west side which is decorated with carvings and religious inscriptions or symbols. 63 steps to reach the ancient place of worship and teaching of Sharda have been supporting the burden of humanity for centuries. The wall made of eight big stones does not exist in its original state, but now its traces remain.
A few meters away from the shrine of Sharda Devi, Hazrat Syed Jamaluddin Shah’s shrine has been flourishing for centuries, regular Urs ceremonies were held here till Dogra Raj, where Hindus and Muslims used to attend regularly. Hazrat Syed Jamal Shah is said to have come to Kashmir from Central Asia along with Amir Kabir Syed Ali Hamdani and chose Sharda village for himself. When they disappeared, the devotees built a mausoleum, which fell into disrepair over time. Today, a banyan tree brought from Tajikistan is standing on his shrine. Urs celebrations are no longer held and most people do not know anything about Hazrat Syed Jamal Shah.
The Department of Archeology based in Azad Kashmir till date has not dated the remains of Sharda nor handled the antiquities and valuable coins discovered there. From these artefacts it was possible to learn about the past civilizations and religions and it was very easy to know where the civilizations and people associated with these past civilizations lived today.
On top of this, theft of millions of feet of wood from the Neelam Valley including Sharda is also causing suffering and suffering to this valley. The Azad Kashmir government earns 27 crores annually by cutting and selling forests, which is equivalent to cutting off a part of one’s body and selling it.
Several governments have come and gone but no ban on deforestation has been imposed and Neelum valley is the most affected by deforestation in Azad Kashmir where thousands of years old trees are also falling prey to human greed.
While the lack of trees has adversely affected the beauty of Neelum Valley, environmental changes are also taking place. Compared to the past, now many times less snowfall and problems have arisen including the increase in temperature of the water surface in the rivers. By not paying attention to all these issues, we are doing injustice to a place that has managed to preserve its beauty for centuries. But perhaps now the period of real decline of Sharda has started.