The ‘forecast’ of Macfield failed and the ‘volcanic’ Takht-i-Sulaiman did not erupt. But such is the perception entrenched in the minds of people that till this day they keep asking geologists if there exists any possibility of its eruption.
During 1960s there was this fear among people in Srinagar that the Takht-i-Sulaiman or the Shankaracharya hill being a volcanic stratum will erupt anytime. The periodic word of mouth on the impending eruption would drive chill in their spines, especially among those living close to the hill on its either side. It was said then that the adjacent Dal Lake was keeping the volcano cool but that may not be always. The hill must erupt someday.
In fact, the rumour about the hill erupting anytime soon preceded 1960s. Once in 1935 even a specific time of the volcanic upsurge was predicted quoting an ‘expert geologist’. The weekly Kashmir Times of April 1,1935 published a report about the warning by a ‘famous’ geologist, Robert Macfield, F.R.G.S., of eruption of the hill in July-August that year. Macfield was reportedly on tour in Kashmir and had predicted that between July 15 and August 15, “a great volcanic upheaval is expected on the south-eastern side of Kashmir which will affect Shankaracharya (Takht-i-Suleiman), a hill which is primarily of volcanic strata.”
Coming close on the heels of a ‘remarkably correct’ prediction by Indian astrologers of the great earthquake of the preceding year, it was not surprising that a similar forecast by an ‘eminent geologist’ published by the Kashmir Times should have caused concern not only in the minds of the superstitious people but also the intelligent sections of the Kashmir society.
The warning said that the areas immediately surrounding the hill within a distance of two miles will be in very great danger and it is probable that the shock will change the physical configuration of the whole area and that Srinagar will be flooded by latent fountains existing underground. The newspaper wanted people to profit from this “timely warning”. The news report said that the warning was seriously taken by the people, especially the servant class and a general migration to safer places was anticipated in early July.
The Civil & Military Gazette dated April 25, 1935, however, dismissed the news report as “cruel hoax” and the Kashmir Times’ idea of “April Fool” as “local investigation did not succeed in bringing to light anything concerning Sir Robert Macfield nor the authenticity of his “timely warning”.
The ‘forecast’ of Macfield failed and the ‘volcanic’ Takht-i-Sulaiman did not erupt. But such is the perception entrenched in the minds of people that till this day they keep asking geologists if there exists any possibility of its eruption. Rumours about its eruption again started making rounds in Kashmir following the devastating flood of September 2014.
Geologists say that the hill is composed of the volcanic rock formed by the eruption of magma from the depths of earth. In fact the mountains encircling the Kashmir Valley are largely composed of these volcanic rocks that began forming with the eruption of magma 320 million years ago and reached its peak around 280 million years earlier. The magma eruption continued in low volumes to finally end by around 200 million years. This should possibly soothe the nerves of those who harbor unnecessary fear of the hill resuming magma eruption.
The pyramid shaped hill is a landmark site in Kashmir located to the north-east of Srinagar City. Its summit stands 1100 ft above the ground level and commands a panoramic view of the city. On its west is the famous Dal Lake and on its south flows the Jhelum River. On the Jhelum side its foot is known as Gupkar where the elite of local administration, including three former chief ministers of the State, reside. Gupkar, it is believed derives its name from the Gopa Agarharas earmarked by an ancient ruler of Kashmir, Gopaditya, at the foot of the hill to settle Brahmins there.
The hill has been known in history by many names – Jeetlark, Gopadri, Takht-i-Sulaiman and Shankaracharya. Pandit Ratnagar, who preceded the 12th century versifier-historian, Kalhana, gives the name of the hill as Jeetlark. He writes that within few days of Raja Narendra ascending the throne a person by the name of Sandiman, who was from ‘the territories of the Western countries’ came to Kashmir and descended on Jeetlark Hill. He writes that Sandiman came flying on his throne and everybody including jins and birds were under his command.
Kalhana mentions the hill by the name of Gopadari and gives an account of the fight between the troops of the then ruler and the pretender Bhiksacara who invaded Srinagar and was repulsed and latter took refuge on the Gopadri hill. Bhiksacara’s troops were besieged by the royal forces until they found passage from the low neck of the hill in the east to retreat to the higher hills.
During the Muslim period the hill was known as Takht-i-Sulaiman (Solomon’s Throne) and continued to be called so during the post-Muslim rule in Kashmir commencing with the Sikh reign. The official maps of that period identify the hill as such, as is evidenced by the maps of Kashmir reproduced by Stein from Survey of 1856-60 published in March 1897 by the Survey of India Office, Calcutta [now Kolkata] or another published by Jhon Walker, Geographer to the Secretary of State for India in Council on August 15th 1867. European travelers and officers of the Dogra administration have also mentioned the hill as such in their travelogues and records. William Moorcroft describes it as “the eminence called the Takhti Suliman or the Throne of Solomon.” The Civil & Military Gazette published as late as in 1935 too describes the hill as Takht-i-Suleiman. This is the name that one profusely comes across in chronicles and travelogues and accounts written by foreign visitors as late as up to the 20th century.
Mughal ruler Jahangir along with his wife, Noor Jahan, once climbed the hill for a picnic on its summit. Noor Jahan is said to have prepared pudding for her husband there upon which Jahangir extempore recited this verse, ‘Shakar farosh e mann paye halva giri nishast’ (My candy seller is seated to prepare the pudding). Noor Jahan equally replied with an extempore verse, ‘Yani ki zer-i-Takhta-i-Sulaiman pari nishast’ (As if a fairy is seated under the [shade of] Solomon’s Throne).
Besides the description of Sandiman given by Ratnagar corresponding to the attributes of Prophet Solomon, Bernier [in ‘Travels in the Mughal Empire’] also refers to an old tradition among the Kashmiris indicating Solomon’s arrival in the Valley and having got built a small temple on the hill. Solomon is credited with delivering the people of Kashmir from inundation of a thousand years when he ordered the accompanying jinns to clear the impediment in the flow of the river [Jhelum]. As they obeyed the command, thus goes the legend, the water flowed out and the Valley emerged. Since then the shrine on the hill is known as Takht-e-Sulaiman (Solomon’s Throne), the hill as Koh-i-Sulaiman (Solomon’s Hill) and Kashmir as Bagh-e-Sulaiman (Solomon’s Garden).
According to William Wakefield, author of ‘The Happy Valley: Sketches of Kashmir and The Kashmiris’ [London, p 1879], Prophet Solomon “is supposed by all good Mussulmans to have taken his stand during the progress of the desiccation of the Valley, carried out by his orders through the means of a spirit or spirits rendered subservient by the Almighty to his will.”
Abul Fazl mentions the hill as Koh-i-Sulaiman. R. C. Kak believes that “the modern name [Takht-e-Sulaiman] of the hill seems to be of fairly long standing, as it is mentioned by Jesuit Catrou and in a slightly altered form (Koh-i-Sulaiman) by Abul Fazl.”
Mir Saad Ullah Shahabadi in his versified history of Kashmir titled, ‘Bagh-e-Sulaiman’ (Solomon’s Garden)[compiled in 1780] also subscribes to the arrival of Solomon in Kashmir, his landing on the hill and delivering the local people of centuries’ inundation. The Persian manuscript of his work is with the Oriental Research Library, Hazratbal. According to Prof. Fida Hussnain [in ‘Jesus in the East’], the earliest extant records indicate that “Solomon and his architect, Hiram Abiff, had first built the present temple [on the hill] about the same time as completing the Jerusalem Temple.”
There was a mosque on the summit of the hill adjacent to the stone temple which mysteriously disappeared during the Hindu rule. The presence of the Muslim worship place alongside the temple has been recorded by the 16th century chronicler, Syed Ali in his Tareekh-i-Kashmir. Francois Bernier, Aurangzeb’s physician accompanying the king on his visit to Kashmir in 1665 AD, also mentions “a small Mosque with a garden” atop the hill whose remains were seen by R C Kak, archaeologist and prime minister of the last Dogra ruler, Hari Singh, as late as in 1930s [The Ancient Monuments of Kashmir]. The mosque being in disuse for long following the advent of the Sikh rule in Kashmir 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.
Shankaracharya as the name of the hill and the temple atop it is a development which does not go into the past beyond the mid-19th century. We know that towards the close of the Sikh rule in Kashmir, the shrine was repaired and a new Shivalingam was installed there during the governorship of Sheikh Ghulam Mohiuddin. According to the officially published Koshur Encyclopedia, Vol 1, the name-change must have taken place at that time. Interestingly, before the Sikh rule in Kashmir there is no historical evidence to suggest that the hill or the temple atop it were known as Shankaracharya.
In 1961, the Shankaracharya of Dwarika Peeth visited Kashmir and installed the image of Adi Shankaracharya at the temple. Since then, official patronage for calling the hill as Shankaracharya became more pronounced.