By M. J. Aslam
There is a 1000 ft high hill called “Takht-i-Suleiman” with a “Buddhist” temple on its top, overlooking Srinagar City, records Robert Powel as early 1915 in his travelogue titled “Memories of India”. (p. 152). He nowhere uses the words Shankeracharya hill or Shankeracharya temple in his memoirs as locally the hill & Shankeracharya temple atop of it are “so called”. Lawrence in his masterpiece written as early as 1890s , titled The Valley of Kashmir, similarly does not name the hill as Shankeracharya hill. He has referred to the building or temple at the summit of the hill but the hill he everywhere names as Takht-i-Suleiman, not Shankeracharya hill. ( pages 64, 176, 239, 297). It has to be remembered that Sir WP Lawrence Lawrence stayed at Kashmir for good number of years. He traveled through length & breadth of Jammu & Kashmir. He is the architect of the land settlement laws of the State of JK. Going further down the history, yet another group of European travelers , Sir William Moorcroft & George Trebeck, in their classic travelogue of Himalayan States including Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir also records this hillock as Takht-i-Sulieman or Throne of Solomon. ( Travels in the Himalyan Provinces of Hindustan & the Punjab in Ladakh & Kashmir (1819-1825), pages 115, 240). These first-hand independent travel accounts recorded before two hundred years by foreign writers who lived at a time when the subcontinent was not in the grip of “communal-ism” clearly show that the hillock was named “Takht-i-Suleiman” [Persian] or Throne of Solomon [English] & not Shankeracharya hill which is a later development.
That apart, even Gazetteer of Kashmir 1890 & Kashur Encyclopedia have used the word “Takht-i Sulieman & not Shankerarcharya for the hillock
Presently, some people say that the two names of the hill are or have had been parallel. If so, then, it should have been right from beginning. If these names were parallel to one another in history, why should then we find no mention thereof in the recorded travel accounts of the above named travelers & authors?
In March 2014 Kashmiri Bataas feeling nerved by a rumour that Govt of JK was going to “officially” name the hill as Takht-i-Sulieman staged a Dharna at Jantar Mantar against such proposed change of name of the hill. But that “doubt” of theirs was cleared to them by then CM Omer Abdullah that State Govt had no intention to do it. (Indian Express dated 23-03-2014).
Archeological Survey of India/ASI too notes that Shankeracharya lies on top of “Takht-i-Sulieman hill”. Note the words””Takht-i-Sulieman” hill. Originally, it was a sacred place of worship for Buddhists who used to call it Pas-Pahar temple during their rule. But as we know Islam emerged on the ruination of Budhism in Kashmir & not Brahmanism, as commonly misthought . Rinchan Shah or Sultan Sadruddin Shah ( title conferred upon him later) was a Buddhist prince from Ladakh . Initially he wanted to convert to Brahmanism but he was not allowed to enter the fold of Brahmanism as he, like all other “foreigners” was “maleech” & “maleechs” were not permitted to pollute purest form of human creation called “Brahmanism”. He, therefore, converted en mass alongwith his followers to Islam. His conversion as a ruler in early 14th century supplied great strength to Islam in Kashmir .
Captian HL Haughton writes that Jaloka ( 200 BC) son of Ashoka (270 BC) the greatest Buddhist emperor of India is said by some to have built “building” on top of Takht-i-Sulieman , Srinagar. (Tales of Fair Kashmir (1913) page 6). It may be “presumed” , thus, that the temple on top of the hill might have been a Buddhist temple but with disappearance of Buddhism from Kashmir, with the advent of Islam, there was none to take its care, to visit & worship there & so consequently it went into ruins till it was repaired during 19th century Sikh rule of Kashmir by Muslim Governor , namely, Sheikh Mohi-ud-Din .
Pandit Anand Koul writes that the temple was originally built by Hindu king ,Sandiman, who reigned in Kashmir from 2629-2564 B.C. He further writes that There were steps of sculptured stones from the Jhelum river, leading right up to the top of the hill. With these stones, it is said, the Pathar Masjid in the city was built by Noor Jahan , queen of emperor Jahangir. ( Geography of Jammu & Kashmir State (1925) page 123). Pandit Anand Koul has not based his account that temple was Hindu & built by Hindu king ,Sandiman, 500-600 BC on any historical reference. Again, in the cited lines, Pandit Anand Koul has made a baseless allegation that Pather Masjid or Naev Masjid in Srinagar was built by queen Noor Jehan with the stones of temple on Takh-i-Sulieman. Although he himself writes that it is a heresy, yet it may be mentioned here that Pather Masjid is built of “limestone rock material and Takh-i-Sulieman is a fine trap rock of volcanic nature”. Pandit anand Koul narrative is totally different from that of Pandit Ratnagar who preceded 12th century Kalhana. Pandit Ratnagar says that a person by the name of Sandiman had come from the ‘the territories of the Western countries’ to Kashmir & descended on the hill & that while he was “flying on his throne” , everybody including jins and birds were under his command. Pandit Ratnagar says that it happened when Narender was Hindu king of Kashmir. Total contradiction with that of Pandit Anand Koul. It visibly seems that Pandit Anand Koul in his desperation to account for Soloman or Sulieman, has tried to connect it with name Sandiman, so that people will take it that Sulieman was modified form of original Sandiman.
The Shiv ling was placed inside the building or temple at the top of the hill during the Sikh period in the 19th century. Ever since that day, Hindus call it Jyesteshwara temple. Earlier it was visited by Adi Shankaracharya also in 8th century.
In Rajtarangi, Kalhana has used the name Gopadri for the area where the hill is located. Gopadri refers to modern day Gupkar of Srinagar but Kalhana has not referred to any [Hindu] temple on the hill. Being a Brahman, he would have mentioned it, if there were one. During Mughal, Afghan, Sikh and Dogra periods only Takht-i-Suleiman name was used for the hill. Books of history written during these periods refer to it as such. However, some local Bataas/Pandits like Pandit Ashok Koul in 1925 & non local RSS ideologues like Surender Sehgel have started writing about the temple as [Hindu] temple on the hill . This a notion. It has no historical evidence.
Though in Kashmir in the past in 1960s rumours had spread about the hill standing on a volcano & that the volcano was going to erupt erupt anytime, as such, there was lot of panic among the people residing in areas surrounding the hill but it proved hoax only. In 1935 in a report of Kashmir Times quoting geologist, Sir Robert Macfield, a similar fear about eruption of the volcanic eruption had gripped people of Srinagar city. But it was found that Sir Robert Mac Filed’s prediction proved wrong.
There are several legends connected with the hill from both Bataas side & Muslim side. But evidence of history shows that Shankaracharya as the name of the hill and the temple atop it are a development of 19th century only. With the end of Muslim rule in Kashmir, Sikh rulers commenced the work of changing the name of hill & temple atop of it to Shankaracharya hill & Shankerarcharya temple. Pror to that there is no such historical record. During sinkh & Dogra rulers reigns of power many lingams were installed inside the building. Lastly, in 1961 Adi Shankerarchaya installed new mega Shiv Lingam in it & since that day, the name Shankerarchraya gained prominence among the people more under official patronage.
” In the area in front of the temple are the ruins of two Muslim structures, probably the remains of the small mosque and garden mentioned by Bernier, and belonging perhaps to the reign of Shah Jahan, when the Persian and Arabic inscriptions in the temple were put up”. ( Ancient Monuments of Kashmir by Ram Chandra Kak, page 4-1). Ram Chandra Kak was the PM of Hari Singh , Dogra ruler of Kashmir, between 1945-1946. He was also archaeologist & in the said passage he admits that he saw remains of the mosque with its garden adjacent to the temple. Presence of mosque ” has been recorded by the 16th century chronicler, Syed Ali in his Tareekh-i-Kashmir”. It disappeared during Hindy rule of Kashmir. Is is said that it “was pulled down possibly in a cleanup operation during Pratap Singh’s reign when the renovation of the temple and its electrification works were undertaken. Pratap Singh, through an official order, had also banned entry of Muslims into the temple premises”.
Persians and Jews call it Throne of Sulaiman or King Solomon. Thank God it is from Buddhist to Hindu temple & not from Buddhist/Hindu temple to Masjid, although there are Persian inscriptions inside it which has a notable link with Muslim architecture & also that there was a small masjidadjacent to the temple. The chilling memories & the aghast developments that led to demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 may still be tenaciously hunting the minds of millions.