SRINAGAR: A Kashmiri Pandit ‘leaders’ public announcement on his Facebook that he received third consignment of the soil from the Shardapeeth from across the LoC triggered a fierce reaction. The pro-Sharda activist was publicly accused of being part of the prime heritage’s vandalisation.
Sharada Peeth is a abandoned early medieval era Hindu temple located in Sharda village in Neelum valley, not far away from Kupwara. Then, it was a high seat of Hindu learning. The exact history of the temple is not known but its importance is part of Kashmir folklore. However, it has been suffering decay as part of ageing. Even during the 2005 earthquake it suffered some damage.
Its importance has been the main factor why Kashmir government has been seeking permission for the people to visit the shrine. The request, though being discussed at the highest levels in India and Pakistan has not been agreed upon, so far.
Some die-hard pro-shrine people, mostly Kashmiri Pandits, have been seeking the soil of the shrine. This, they keep as part of their respect to the shrine.
One of them is Ravinder Pandita, an engineer, who now lives in Delhi. He is part of some initiative that seeks access to the historic shrine.
“Received 3rd consignment of pious soil and stones from Sharda Peeth in PoK (AJK) today in New Delhi from kh. Nazir ex- conservator of forests in AJK who is on a visit to Rajouri via LoC permit,” Pandita wrote on his wall. “This is third time that civil society in PoK (AJK) have sent us the pious soil or flowers laid there, in the last 2 years. On behalf of save Sharda committee Kashmir regd I thank them all. We hope the civil societies on either side of the LoC will work in tandem towards cross LoC religious and heritage tourism. The video of Sharda peeth’ was also sent by our like-minded brethren there last month. Jai Sharda.”
The video shows in graphic detail how the “pious soil” is being collected and later sent as a gift. A man in actually getting this soil from the very foundation of the temple. The video starts with the camera going towards the walls praising its structure and then phone holder tells the subject to get some soil from the very foundations of the heritage site. “Bus Bus Kafi Hai,” he tells him after the required quantity is collected.
There are some photographs too. One photograph shows how the pious soil was packed into the packing of “W Wilson”, apparently a pharma related business operating from the Mall in Rawalpandi. Another photograph shows how it is packaged.
In another video, Pandita is thanking his friend who sent him the soil as a gift. He says he had gone to see Maqbool Sahab who handed over the gift to him. He hopes that one day, he sees his friend and they join hands for making the movement for pilgrimage to the Peeth a possibility.
While, Pandit got many congratualtins to his post, there were lot of seriously reactions to it. The reactions came from both Muslims and Pandits. “How much soil you want? One time is okay,” journalist Aasha Khosa wrote.
“This way the structure will fall,” wrote Narinder Safaya. “The temple ruins need protection. Is this not a protected monument. Mr Pandita u are party to vandalizing the most revered monument and identity of Kashmir. What we have to do with the soil. You got some earlier also.”
“These people have to run their shops .otherwise what is the sense of sending and receiving the soil of Sharda land. Dramabazi,” another of his followers B I Pandita wrote. “Sharda is situated in Pakistan controlled part of our JK state . We the devotees of Sharda living in this part of Kashmir. need to approach both the Govts to allow our visit like the people of both sides are enjoying . Once the visits are allowed .these shops will automatically vanish ..there are some other groups of Hindu devotees who are working on that agenda and hope the situation on ground will become normal .so that our wish to visit is full filled. So please don’t take these people so serious.”
“Digging the foundation will damage the Temple,” BL Zutshi wrote in response. “Preservation is more important than destabilising the remnants of the sacred temple.”
Saleem Beig who has been working on the heritage in Kashmir and has recently visited Muzaffarabad was very angry in his reaction. “It is shocking. They are excavating the binding material from the plinth of the temple. One can see it has already developed a groove. It will impact the structure and if more material is removed,” Beig wrote. “The wall will face the risk of major damage and may even fall. Please don’t make such a demand from these people who are just being nice to you and in the process damaging the monument. Please stop these theatrics.”
He further added: “This person who Mr Pandita identifies as Nazir Ahmad, ex Conservator forests should be prosecuted for smuggling out archaeological materials and for vandalising cultural properties.”
Added Jalaluddin Mughal: “Shocked to see that retired and in-service employees of the government of AJK are, at one hand, involved in encroachment at archaeological sites while on the other hand some of those employees have started vandalism and shifting soil and stones of cultural and historic ruins across LoC. Previously another failed bid was reported when someone caught at Wahga border, shifting soil and stones of the Sharda ruins. These continue bids to destroy the cultural assets of Kashmir have no good signs and the Government functionaries have adopted a criminal silence on the issue.”
Archaeologist Rukhsana Khan, who is a fellow at the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, supported the prosecution. “Few years back an attempt was made by influential person/antique smugglers to move precious artifact from Sharda Neelum Valley, Civil society, Researcher, media took up the matter,” she wrote on the wall. “The Honorable court (AJK) took serious notice (under Antiquities Act 1986) on the case filed by civil society. Sub-Section 25(vii) of the Antiquities Act 1975/76 of AJK does not permit selling; smuggling or gifting the historical objects to any one since it is state property (Act 1975, 2002:4-7). Government authorities must play their due role in protection of cultural resources particularly vandalism and smuggling of antiquities.”