What Lies Beneath: Takht e Suleiman Or Shankaracharya(Hill)?

What Lies Beneath: Takht e Suleiman Or Shankaracharya(Hill)?
  • 231

By M J Aslam

There is a 1000 ft high hill called “Takht-i-Suleiman” with a “Buddhist” temple at its top, overlooking Srinagar City, records Robert Powel as early as 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 and Shankeracharya temple atop of it are “so called”. Walter 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 may be recalled that Sir Lawrence stayed in Kashmir for a good number of years. He traveled through length and breadth of the region. And, as is well known, he is the architect of the land settlement laws of the State. Going further down the history lane, yet another group of European travelers and authors, Sir William Moorcroft and George Trebeck, in their classic travelogue of Himalayan States also record this hillock as Takht-i-Sulieman or the Throne of Solomon (Travels in the Himalyan Provinces of Hindustan & the Punjab in Ladakh and 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” demonstrate that the hillock was named “Takht-i-Suleiman” [Persian] or Throne of Solomon [English] and not Shankeracharya hill which is a later development.
That apart, even Gazetteer of Kashmir 1890 and the Kashur Encyclopedia have used the word “Takht-i Sulieman” and not Shankerarcharya for the hillock.
Presently, some people claim that the two names of the hill are or have been parallel. If so, then, it should have been right from the 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 mentioned other travelers, historians and authors?
In March 2014 , Kashmiri Battas feeling unnerved by a rumour that the Government t of JK was going to “officially” name the hill as Takht-i-Sulieman staged a Dharna at Jantar Mantar Delhi against such proposed change of name of the hill. But that “doubt” of theirs was cleared to them by the then CM Omer Abdullah when he assured them that the State Government had no such intention (Indian Express dated 23-03-2014).
The Archeological Survey of India(ASI) too notes that Shankeracharya lies on top of the “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 end of Buddhism in Kashmir and not Brahmanism, as commonly assumed. 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 welcome to enter the fold of Brahmanism as he, like all other “foreigners” was “maleech” and “maleechs” were not permitted to pollute the purest form of human creation called “Brahmanism” or “Brahmans”. He, therefore, converted en mass along with his followers to Islam. His conversion, as a ruler, in early 14th century accorded 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 a “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 and the advent of Islam in Kashmir, there was none to take its care, to visit and worship there from Buddhists side and so consequently it went into ruins till it was repaired during 19th century Sikh rule of Kashmir by a Muslim Governor, namely, Sheikh Mohi-ud-Din .
Pandit Anand Koul writes that the temple was originally built by a 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 statement that temple was Hindu and built by Hindu king ,Sandiman, 500-600 BC, on any historical reference. He has made a general statement. 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 Takht-i-Sulieman.
Although, he writes that it is a heresy, yet it may be mentioned here that Pather Masjid is built of “limestone rock material and Takht-i-Sulieman is a fine trap rock of volcanic nature”. Pandit Anand Koul’s 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 and descended on the hill with his throne & that while he was “flying on his throne” , everybody including jinns and birds were under his command. Pandit Ratnagar says that it happened when Narender was Hindu king of Kashmir. http://www.kashmirpen.com/kashypa-reshi-creed-or-politics-of-pandits/. It is total contradiction to that of Pandit Anand Koul. Sandiman is the name given by Pandit Ratnagar to the unknown man [Solomon] who came flying down on throne on the hill, Jeetlark; name of the hill according to Pandit Ratnagar. It obviously seems that Pandit Anand Koul in his desperation to account for Soloman or Sulieman, has tried to connect it with the name “Sandiman”, as the king, so that people will take it that Sulieman was modified form of original word “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 road 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 the 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 and non local RSS ideologues like Surender Sehgel have started writing about the temple as [Hindu] temple on the hill. This is a personal notion only. It has no historical evidence.
In the 1960s, rumours were spread in Kashmir about the hill standing on a volcano and that that the volcano was going to erupt anytime ; as such, there was a lot of panic among the people residing in areas surrounding the hill but it proved to be a hoax. 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. http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/gk-magazine/the-hill-and-the-history/ 184459. html
There are several legends connected with the hill from both the Bataas and the Muslims’ side. But, historical evidence shows that Shankaracharya as the name of the hill and the temple atop it are a development of the 19th century. With the end of Muslim rule in Kashmir, Sikh rulers commenced the work of changing the name of hill and temple atop of it to Shankaracharya hill and Shankerarcharya temple. Prior to that there is no such historical record. During the Sikh and Dogra rulers and reigns, many lingams were installed inside the building. Last, in 1961 Adi Shankerarchaya installed new a mega Shiv Lingam in it and since that day, the name Shankerarchraya gained prominence among the people, especially 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 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 and 1946. He was also an archaeologist and in the said passage he admits that he saw remains of the mosque with its garden adjacent to the temple. The presence of mosque has been recorded by the 16th century chronicler, Syed Ali in his “Tareekh-i-Kashmir”. It disappeared during Hindu rule of Kashmir. It 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 (http:// www. greaterkashmir. com/news/gk-magazine/the-hill-and-the-history/184459.html).
Persians and Jews call it Throne of Suleiman or King Solomon. Thank God, it’s provenance is from Buddhist to Hindu temple and not from Buddhist/Hindu temple to Masjid; although there are Persian inscriptions inside it which has a notable link with Muslim architecture and also that there was a small Masjid adjacent to the temple.

—The author can be reached at: mjaslam09@gmail.com