Reviving Sharada Peeth by Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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On the special invitation of Prime Minister Azad Jammu Kashmir Raja Farooq Haider Khan, I am currently leading a delegation of the Pakistan Hindu Council to visit the most beautiful valley of the world, Neelum. The purpose of our visit is to extend our cooperation to the AJK government for the revival of the ancient holy temple site of Sharada Peeth.

I am highly obliged to PM Raja Farooq, who along with his cabinet and speaker of the AJK Assembly, welcomed us warmly. The love and respect we received during the dinner held at the PM House in honour of Hindu delegates can never be forgotten. The Pakistan Hindu Council delegation comprises Advisor Raja Asser Mal Manglani, President Gopal Khamuani, Secretary General Parshotam Ramani, and Prem Kumar Talreja.

During our visit to the LoC, we also showed solidarity with brave armed forces who are sacrificing their precious lives to defend our beloved motherland. I am thankful to AJK Secretary Tourism AJK Midhat Shahzad for all the arrangements and hospitality.

It is indeed a great honour for me to visit the Sharada site as the first Hindu follower since the partition in 1947. The current visit not only fulfils my religious sentiments but is also strengthening my commitment to promote interfaith harmony and faith tourism in Pakistan, and project the positive image of our country as well.

In ancient Hindu holy books, the Neelum river is named Kishanganga, Sindhu Ganga and Maha Ganga. In Hindusim, Sharada Mata is the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and learning.

It is commonly believed that Sharada Peeth was built two thousand years ago during the era of Ashoka the Great. In Hindi language, the word ‘Peeth’ is used for a centre of learning and teaching. Thousands of students used to stay here for the purpose of learning various skills. Some historians also discuss academic cooperation between the Sharada University and ancient Taxila University, famous for renowned scholar Kautliya Chanakya. Due to this importance, the entire Kashmir valley was called Sharada Desh in ancient civilization.

There was once a pond of holy water at the Sharada temple where devotees had for centuries taken holy baths. It is believed that besides numerous lakes in the Kashmir Valley, at least three lakes are directly associated with the Sharada civilization. During our visit, we will also avail the opportunity to take a holy bath in the Madhumati and Tejian streams.

An elderly local Kashmir man, while recalling his memories, told me that a large number of Hindu devotees used to visit the Sharada Peeth due to its sacred value. However, partition resulted in the migration of the Hindu population from the valley. According to him, the site was equally important for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Sharada Peeth had even attracted devotees from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and other parts of the world. There was a time when all Kashmiri people, regardless of religious affiliation, would join hands to celebrate the festivals of Nowruz and Baisakhi simultaneously to welcome the spring season.

Today is no doubt an historical day for the entire Hindu community which has been demanding that Sharada Peeth be opened up. On behalf of the Pakistan Hindu Council, I assured the AJK government our best cooperation in this regard. I also presented a comprehensive work plan for the revival of the holy site. Initially, Sharada Peeth must be opened for Pakistani nationals as a heritage site, and visitors must come here via the Kohala route. In my views the access for those in Indian-occupied Kashmir may be considered in the next phase, depending upon the trade and travel opening. Similar reciprocal arrangements must also be ensured by India.

After the complete revival and rehabilitation of the Sharada Peeth, I will also request the Indian government that the original statue of Sharada Mata be returned back to us.

There is also a message here for India and the international community – that Pakistan is committed to ensure regional stability, world peace, interfaith harmony and protection of minorities’ rights.

With the support of the AJK government, it is my dream to transform Sharada Peeth, a site that belongs to a non-Muslim minority in a Muslim majority country. I am quite confident that the place, known for learning, will once again succeed in showing people how the rights of minorities can be protected in a state.

While paying great respect to Sharada Mata, I am here praying for the peace and prosperity of Pakistan, the Kashmiri people and the entire region. Let’s hope that the Hindu community and local Kashmiri people will jointly welcome the next spring season in the Sharada Peeth.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of thePakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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