: a Forgotten Cultural Link
Dr. V. N. Drabu, Jammu
painting of goddess Sarada assigned to the 19th century (Goswamy, 1998, pp.
142-143)1 corresponds to its iconographic description in Silpa-sastra.
The five-headed goddess is seated cross-legged on a double lotus, resting
against a huge bolster. The heads are arranged in tiers with lateral heads
attached at various levels to a vertical column of heads. This reminds us of the
polycaphalic figures seen in the Ladakh murals and painted book-covers as also
of the gigantic stucco figures of Bodhisattvas inside the Seemtsek at Alachi.
The central head is seen full face and others in three quarters. From the nimbus
emerge golden rays. With an attenuated torso, the goddess is depicted holding a trisula,
an ankusa, a pasa, a sankha, a cakra, a decapitated
head and two full bloomed lotuses so placed as to appear like the sun and the
moon. Usually in Kashmiri paintings multiple aruns are shown fanning out from
the elbows instead of from the shoulders. Here they fan out slightly from behind
the shoulders and appear stiff and schematic. The central pair of arms are
crossed across the chest. Each of the heads has a third eye, vertically placed
on the forehead. The goddess is adorned with pearls and golden necklaces. She
wears a short choli and a long dhoti that covers her crossed feet.
Her stylized vahana is shown with a pointed beak and decorative wings and
tail. At either side stand the devotees, a couple, the male figure on the right
wearing a dhoti and kantop and the female on the left dressed in a
skirt that covers the upper part of her body and the back of her head. Their
ethnic traits speak of some common lineage of our highly cultured race in the
heart of Asia.
Legend has it that pleased with the austerities
of `Sandilya, Saraswati, called `Sarada' responded to his prayers and descended
on one of the mountain peaks facing the bank of Madhumati, joined on its course
by the Krishan Gnaga in Kashmir, to ensure bhoga and moksa for the
sadhakas. Perhaps no other place could be better suited for the descent
of the goddess than Sardi, at the confluence of the Krsna-Madhumati, that
commands a panoramic view of the alpine forests wending their way through the
majestic mountains and the enchanting serpentive streams and rivers to the vast
uplands of Central Asia and the Mansorovar beyond. Man and animal are so
intertwined in the warm embrace of Nature as to fully comprehend the mystery of parapara
(supreme knowledge or samvid) that is obtained through the five
syllabled (pancaksari) Sarada. She is devadevi; she is mahavidya;
she is paratattva. She is the goddess of learning, music and beauty. She
is pure consciousness. She is the eventide energy of Gayatri. She grants rhythm,
order and auspiciousness of knowledge. She is the seedbed of sixteen matrkas.
To the true devotee she manifests herself as a white, a yellow and a green myna.
Sometimes she may appear as sabda (nadarupa), the essence of a poem, on a
Sardi stone slab adorned with the precious gems of poetry that verily
establish the splendour and sparkling garland of varna mala (the rosary
of alphabets). Both Bilhana and Kalhana wax eloquent in their ecstasy at the
sight of saffron and the ever-flowing stream of Madhumati in the shape of the
sweet speech (vani) of the poets. Vagdevi (the goddess of speech)
thus signifies the creative sound of the Universe. She represents the ultimate
reality in the form of sound (sabdabrahman). Often in our fantasy our
unconscious minds tend to draw upon our common pool of archetypal images. We
mirror our mental images in the image of the archetype of `Sarada' who may thus
appear as a princess or protectoress. Our myths, beliefs, metaphors construct a
reality which is vital to our life and living. The worship of Sarada assists us
in getting into harmony with the Universe and stay tuned with it. With her grace
we acquire a coherent sound that helps transmission of ideas, wisdom and
culture. Such speech is not mere verbal expression. It is associated with
rationality and refinement. Goddess Sarada enables her worshippers to be both
creative and communicative, whereby they make a significant contribution to
society and culture. In fact, like Athena of the Greeks, the goddess helps us in
understanding the communication patterns of our culture in its religious and
philosophical context. A badly mutilated image of Athena in the SPS Museum,
Srinagar, would suggest how close contacts with the Greeks, since very early
times, must have led to an interaction of far-reaching importance between the
two cultures in the distant past.
The shrine of Sarada stands on a hexa-angular
spring (19'X13') which is covered with a stone slab2. Now in Pak
occupied Kashmir, the pilgrims approached it through two principal routes of
Muzaffarabad and Kupwara in north Kashmir. The pilgrims from Kashmir took the
most frequented route from Kupwara to Sarada, covering the whole distance of
nearly 40 miles through Ladaarana, Jumgund, Navanagalle hill, Dudaniyal in
different stages upto Kel. The other one from Muzaffarabad followed the upper
course of the Krsna-ganga, the pilgrims from the plains coverning a
distance of about 100 miles, from Titwal, Karnah, Keran, Dudaniyal to Sarada.
The whole area from Jumgund to Kel was known as Drova (dwar or entrance)
which would suggest that this whole belt of about 60 sq. miles opened negotiable
passes for merchants and missionaries making their way to Kashmir and Central
Asia and back to north west India3. Sarada obviously appears to have
been an important centre in Drova, attracting the Greeks from Bactria and Taxila
and artists and scholars from other parts of India. The explorations of Sir
Aurel Stein would suggest that Ser India symbolized the effloresence of an
indigenous culture with the stamp of Greek thought refined and sharpened by
Indian aesthetics. Sarada as one of the centres, may have provided nourishment
to the flowering of such aesthetics with its abstruseness.
But to argue that Sarada was a university par
excellence, specializing in certain branches like the six systems of Indian
philosophy, is to stretch our imagination too far. For certain we don't know
when and how Gauri-tritiya came to be celebrated here and what kind of
degrees were awarded by a university the like of which never existed in Sarada.
But what seems to be more plausible is the fact that the Sarada based on
the bija-mantras of Sarada varnamala proved quite rewarding and
was successfully used by Adi Sankara. Such a tantric was sadhana defined as
matrka or Malini. As such the Sarada script came to be known as Siddhamatrka
and is even now called siddham in Bali. It became quite popular with
the Baudha-tantric sadhakas in Japan.
On the confluence of the Madhumati-Krsna,
pilgrims would offer oblations to their manes (pitris) in the bright
fortnight of Bahadrapada on Ganga satami followed by animal
sacrifice of goats on the 9th (naumi).
This reminds us of the legendary king Mankan of
Kupwara (Mallapura) who is said to have been defeated and who got killed in one
of the battles by his enemy. His minister is stated to have carried his
dissected body to Telyan where he stopped to get some food. In his absence birds
of prey settled on the mutilated body and set it afloat in the river. Dismayed,
the minister continued his march to Sarada where he was astonished to see his
master Mankan alive and in full armour, offering prayers to Goddess Sarada.
Mankana next wanted to make an offering of his whole treasure of jewels and
pearls as a mark of thanks giving for being restored to his principality. The
Goddess dissuaded him from doing so; instead she desired that the spring be
covered with a stone-slab. Does this anecdote imply that the Raja who might have
been badly wounded in battle found a safe refuge in Sarada, the miraculous
healing powers of the spring having restored his vigour, courage and
determination to fight back the enemy with success? One thing is clear. She is
not only a city or river goddess, but may be identified as the goddess of
warriors too who sought her refuge in wars and battles. Sarada, therefore,
assumes the form of Athena or Roma - a young woman, wearing a helmet and
carrying a spear. Some of these attributes of the goddess are mentioned in the Rudoayamala
tantra. If the iconography of this goddess dates back to the second century
of the Christian era, it would seem reasonable to assume that our goddess Sarada
had by that time established her reputation not only as a goddess of war but
also of learning and wisdom. She is not only the embodiment of ten vidyas (dasavidya);
she is also the slayer of daityas or Candi. It is in this form that our
benign and benevolent goddess appears in Sarada sahsranama in the Rudra
yamala tantra. Obviously our goddess affirms the strength of the warrior
community who were more attracted by its martial aspect than by the austere side
of the tantric sadhakas or dry logicians. Metaphorically the sacrifice of
goats on naumi would imply how the true spirit of worship is sacrifice (sariram
havi) which, in the final analysis, leads to attainment of psychic energy (parasakti).
Except the remains of a fortress and a rampart
15' high and 35'X30', there are practically no remains other than a few
terracotta tiles scattered in the vicinity of the shrine. The enclosure of the
shrine contains a number of cells, most probably meant for sadhakas interested
in tantric lore. There is nothing to suggest the existence of spacious
halls or a well-equipped library of manuscripts within the precincts of the
shrine or any evidence of degrees having ever been conferred on those who came
to Sarada more as aspirants in quest of spiritual fulfilment than as students.
The tirtha did not advocate any monastic life nor have any colossal ruins
survived as to bear any mute testimony to the energy and creativity of the early
centres of learning in India like Taxila or Nalanda. The universally accepted
form of address was Sarada Mai, the mother, which denoted a `relation', an
emotive attitude of the devotees to the creative sphere of nature and the self-fulfilment
of the sadhaks in a certain pattern of martka-worhip in a region
which was designated as Sarada-mandala of Sarada desa4.
Notes and References
1. Karuna Goswamy, Kashmiri paintings, 1998,
2. I owe all this information and what follows
to my brethren from Batargam, Sarvashree Pt. Niranjannath, Kashinath, Amarnath
who were visibly moved while describing the shrine of Sarada to me and their
close association with its adjoining area, collectively known as Drova
3. Trade in wool, kuth, crocus was carried on an
extensive scale, bringing the merchants and missionaries together on their way
to the marts of Rome and trading stations in Central Asia upto far off China in
the month of Asvina (Asu).
4. Interestingly several other pilgrimages can
be spotted to exhibit a Kashmiri Pandit's love for spiritual attainment through
a highly advanced form of sadhana. Goosi in Kupwara, Tikar near
Kanihama, Bhedagiri (Budabrar) in Kelar-Pulwama may be cited as a few instances.
At all these places we find Gojars taking an equal interest in offering
sacrifices to the Goddess to increase their flock of sheep.
Reproduced from Patrika-Bhagauaan Gopinathji
The author is a veteran scholar, historian
Mailing Address : 504 New Plots, Sarwal