Sharada Of Kashmir: The Goddess That Is India
Devi Sharada represents the collective spiritual and knowledge traditions as well as the sacred geography of India.
Today, she returns to her seat in Kashmir.
On March 22 of 2023 a newly revived temple will be inaugurated for Sharada, the Goddess of learning, in Kashmir.
The sacred idol of the Goddess comes from Sringeri of Karnataka.
This is a reassertion of the spiritual and cultural unity of India.
The unity of India is not a mere nation-state unity. It is unity in diversity.
'Unity in diversity' is a basic fundamental nature of life itself in all its manifestations. It is not an imposed unity of an artificial contract but an inherent unity of organic existence.
Goddess Sharada through the ages has become the embodiment of this unity.
The importance of the name Sharada can be gauged by the fact that the name of the Goddess in Kashmir has also emerged as the name of a Kshetra; as a name of a river; and later as a name of the script of a people.
Who is Sharada?
In Srimad Bhagavatam (SB) Yogamaya plays a very important role, both in the cosmic domain and also in the very personal relations that Sri Krishna Leela builds with the devotees.
With respect to former, Vishnu as the supreme personality of Godhead, declares that the Godly Maya (bhagavato māyā) is unknown even to Himself (3.6.39).
With respect to the latter, it is because of Her that the divine qualities of Sri Krishna get veiled from others—particularly those who are His intimate devotees, like His foster mother Yashoda and the Gopikas.
It is Yogamaya who proclaims the advent of Sri Krishna to Kamsa.
After Yashoda had seen the universe inside the mouth of the infant Krishna, Yogamaya again veils the intelligence of Yashoda to make her believe that Krishna was a mere boy.
Yogamaya also plays an important role in the enactment of Rasa Leela. SB speaks of Sri Krishna Himself taking refuge in Yogamaya so that the Divine can bestow upon the devotees the blissful ecstasy: (yoga-māyām upāśritaḥ 10:29:1).
The Srimad Bhagavata explicitly states that this Yogamaya is worshipped in different regions, by different people on the surface of the earth with different names. And these different names are:
Vijayā Vaiṣṇavīti ca
Kumudā Caṇḍikā Kṛṣṇā
Mādhavī Kanyaketi ca
Sāradety Ambiketi ca (SB: 10.2.12)
So Sharada as Yogamaya both conceals and reveals the Divine to the seeker. In this capacity, She naturally becomes the Divine as well as the experiential knowledge of the Divine.
It is in this context we should remember that in the collective Hindu consciousness, Sharada is the Goddess of knowledge. She is the Goddess of all spiritual streams.
The famous biography of Adi Sankara, reveals unwittingly the universal nature of the temple of Goddess Sharada.
The sixteenth canto of Sankara Dig-Vijaya speaks of the temple of Sharada thus:
In Bharata, Kashmir is the most famous place. For, there, it is said, Mother Sarada is present. In that region there is a temple with four gates dedicated to Sarada. Within is the Throne of Omniscience.
And who were all present in that temple of Sarada and whom all did Adi Sankara encounter and won over them on his way to the seat of all knowledge? The text explains further:
Now, a proud controversialist, an adherent of the school of Kanada, which holds that there are six categories, approached the Acharya ... Then came forward the representative of the Nyaya school, who said in his pride of scholarship ... Thereupon the representative of Gautama's school of Nyaya withdrew. The Samkhya disputant now came forward ... The Samkhya thereupon withdrew. Then came the scholars of the famous Buddhist schools of realism and nihilism, ... Now, the Digambara Jaina approached and asked ... After these representatives of non-Vedic schools of thought had turned their back, a scholar of Jaimini's school of Purvamimamsa came forward and put the question.Madhava Vidyaranya's Sankara Digvijaya (Trans. Swami Tapasyananda), Sri Ramakrishna Math, (Canto 16: 54-80: pp. 190-192)
Those who can appreciate the answers and sharpness of Adi Sankara as shown in the work can do so. But even for those who may not accept Adi Sankara and may think of the whole episode as hagiographical than historical, there is an important civilszational value depicted here.
The author(s) of Sankara Dig-Vijaya definitely had to rely on some tradition that had existed which was famous throughout India. That famous tradition is a temple of the Goddess Sharada.
In that temple were present scholars and seers of various traditions - even those that were mutually contradictory and more importantly the so-called non-Vedic traditions of Buddhism and Jainism.
They were all the children of Sharada. They were all in the house of Sharada. They all could challenge Adi Sankara in the temple of Sarada.
It does not matter here whether the ascent of Adi Sankara to Sarvajna Peetham at Sharada temple is historical or hagiographical. What is important, is how the temple of Sharada is the temple that admits in it the adherents of all sampradayas.
Sharada become the spiritual Mother of all Bharatheeya Sampradayaas irrespective of even their acceptance of the authority of Vedas.
In other words, the author of Sankara Dig Vijaya, shows a temple of Sharada that is not sectarian but is the universal embodiment of Bharateeya Darshanas.
Even when it comes to geographic representation, Sharada embraces all of India. Take the Northeast for example.
Scholar Sandhya Jain points out in her Adi Deo Arya Devata the following with respect to Goddess worship binding the Northeast to rest of India through the Goddess tradition:
Regarding the Goddess's geographical realm, the Kamakhya Tantra states: tripura-kaukika caiva jayanti manicandrika/Kachari magadhi devi asyami sapta parvatah [Tripura, Kuki, Jaintia, Manipur, Chandranatha, Kachar and Maga (Arakan); these seven regions are under the control of the Goddess Kamakhya]. ... The Kamakhya Tantra asserts that the Goddess is worshipped in five forms - Kamakhya, Tripura, Kameshwari, Sharada and Mahamaya.
In Kashmir Hindu iconography, Sharada was depicted with three eyes. Interestingly enough in Tamil Nadu, deep in the Chola provinces, in a small village called Koothanoor is a temple dedicated to Maha Saraswati.
It is famous because the great Tamil poets like Kambar and Ottakoothar are said to have worshipped Saraswati here.
Here too, the seated Goddess has three eyes.
If Sharada is the lipi (script) of Kashmir and Brahmi the pan-Indian lipi and both having names of the Goddess as their names, probably the first mention of Tamil as a Goddess may be in a hymn to this Saraswati attributed to Kambar - where he calls Her the Goddess of delicate Tamil, who is seated with Brahma who always sings Rig Veda.
If from Kashmir through Kamakhya to Karnataka to Koothanur in Tamil Nadu, Sharada reinforces the collective spiritual and knowledge traditions as well as sacred geography of India, then in Kerala during the challenging colonial period, there emerged a dynamic continuity of Goddess Sharada.
In 1912, Sri Narayana Guru the great and a truly Advaitic-mystic of Kerala, started building a temple for Sharada Devi at Sivagiri in Kerala.
On the occasion of laying the foundation of the temple, he composed a highly mystical and musical hymn consisting of nine verses in the Mattebham metre.
Here are a few lines from these deeply mystical verses on Ma Sharada which describe Her mystery as cosmic consciousness manifesting in this planet as infinite variety of forms.
This variegated upsurging display
Caused by the non-existent Maya
In beingness is no other
Than Consciousness pure.
Gaining that state of beingness
Alone would suffice for me.
O Mother of the blemishless awareness
Easy to gain and exalting at once
That everyone always seeks! [verse 2]
You do endure as Sat
And as Cit also above it
And both together forming Ananda,
And also as the mind
That is aware of the three.
O Mother, so great as to be
Unattainable even to
Unworldly psychic attainments! [verse 8]
Your eternal residence is
The one all-inclusive space.
Who is there to know
Its Greatness, O Mother!
I find myself helpless
In praising It, alas! [verse 9] (Translation by Muni Narayana Prasad)
She is thus Yogamaya allowing all the divine leelas veiling the Divine with names and forms. She is also the Consciousness that is behind the veil.
She is the embodiment of all knowledge and She is the objective of all that one seeks through all knowledge.
She is the infinite variety and diversity.
She is the unity behind all that diversity.
She is the greatest discovery that India made as a civilisation.
She is the blessing that India showers on all nations and civilisations.
In this conception, She is not just a geographical Goddess but a very Gnostic Goddess - Gnostic in the sense of the term as used by Maharishi Sri Aurobindo with regard to the future spiritual evolution of humanity:
...for the law of the Supermind is unity fulfilled in diversity, and therefore there would be an infinite diversity in the manifestation of the gnostic consciousness although that consciousness would still be one in its basis, in its constitution, in its all-revealing and all-uniting order.The Life Divine, p. 1006 (Vol.21 & 22 : The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo)
She is the Goddess of India Past and She is the Goddess of India present. She is the Goddess of planetary future.
So on 22 March, 2023 when Sharada returns to a majestic abode in Kashmira Mandala it should also be seen as symbolic sacred act of the renaissance of all the knowledge traditions of Mother India.
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