The Shankaracharya hill and the temple is a hallmark of the city of Srinagar. It is a very historic hill. The top of it has been adorned by a structure with the architecture of ancient Kashmir.
The temple is also considered as an icon of Buddhist architecture. The hill which has had multiple names over the centuries, is connected to the Persian and Muslim faith as well. Names associated with the hill include Gopadari Hill, Sandhimana-parvata , Koh-e-Suleman, Takht-i-Sulaiman.
The hill about 5 kms from Srinagar has a height of 1100 feet above the level of the city.
The peak of the hill always makes a picturesque and a magnificent view of the vast Dal Lake, houseboats and surrounding areas from one side and the snow-clad mountains, habitation of the South Kashmir and dense forests from the other sides.
The exact date and year of the construction is not clear. The hill and the structure however have been deemed sacred since days immemorial. The most vital information regarding its history is given by an ancient historian named Kalhana in Rajatarangni, the legendary historic chronicler about the kings of Kashmir and Northwest India.
According to him the hill was called Jeetlark or Jetha Larak and later as Gopadari Hill. He also writes that King Gopadhitya granted the land at the foot of the hill to the Brahmins that had come from the Aryadesa (Aryan land). The land grant was called Gopa Agraharas.
This area is the present day Gupkar. According to Rajtarangni the King Gopaditya built the temple on the hill as a shrine to Jyesthesvara around 371 BC. Auriel Stein who translated Rajtarangni in English writes that the superstructure is from a more recent date but places the base and the stairs as much older.
Other historical figures associated with the monument include Ashoka’s son Jaloka. Ashoka of the Gonandiya dynasty was a king of the Kashmir region as per the Rajtarangni.
Kashmiri Pandits strongly believe that in 8th century CE, the temple was visited by Adi Shankara, an Indian Vedic scholar and preacher and has ever since been associated with him.
The temple and the hill got its name from him and that was the faith of the region at that time and the union of Shiva and Shakti called Shaktism transpired. Many believe the hill was conquered by a person named Sulaiman (also called Solomon and Sandiman) much before the arrival of Islam.
He is supposed to have flown to on his throne and everybody including the demons and birds were under his full command. Kalhana mentions about the fierce fight between the then rulers, who had to take refuge on the Gopaldari hills from where they found a passage from the low neck of the hill.
Sulaiman had gone there with his followers and his throne. Since then, it got the name Takht-i-Sulaiman, the hill as Koh-I Sulaiman and Kashmir as Bagh e Sulaiman. It was later repaired and rebuilt by King Gopadittya.
The subsequent rulers during the period of 34 BC to 13 ADS improved it and added additional places of worship. King Zain ul Abdin (Budshah) renovated its roof which had fallen during an earthquake.
The temple has huge significance not only from religious point of view but also from architectural perspective. This includes the octagonal shape and the horse shoe curve seen even today in the final phases of its construction. As the legend goes, in the times of Gopaditya, a prophet by the name of Yuz Asaf is said to have come to the Gopadari (Shankaracharya) hill and was renovated by him.
Yuz Asaf is no other than Jesus himself who had come here in search of a lost tribe of Jews. Most authorities however believe there is no proof for this and is all imaginary and controversial. The historical records of Kalhan and other writers, however, indicate to a person named Yuz Asaf.
During the Moghul regime the presence of a small mosque has been recorded alongside the temple by Francios Bernier, a French physician accompanying Aurangzeb, on his visit to Kashmir in 1616.
Emperor Jahangir has been reported to have gone for a picnic to the top along with Queen Noor Jahan. Pandit R C Kak an archaeologist and prime minister of the last Dogra king, Hari Singh, also has reportedly seen the remains of a mosque.
This mosque being in disuse for long period following the Sikh rule in Kashmir was pulled down in a clean-up operation during the Dogra regimen in Pratap Singh’s time. The Dogra King Gulab Singh constructed the steps to the hill from Durga Naag on the temple side.
The Maharaja of Mysore came to Kashmir in 1925 and made the electrical search light installations at the temple, five around it and one on the top and made an announcement to fund the cost of electricity. The Maharaja also funded the cost of electricity.
In 1961 Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth visited the temple and put the statue of Adi Shankaracharya in the temple. 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.
The chance of its eruption is most unlikely as per scientific accounts. Despite that, people keep on harbouring an unnecessary fear of its eruption someday.
The temple is an architectural marvel. It rests on a solid rock. A 20 ft (6.1 m) tall octagonal base supports a square building on top. Each side of the octagon is 15 ft (4.6 m) feet. The front, back, and flanks are plain while the other four sides have minimal design but noticeable angles.
The center is made up of a circle 21.5 ft (6.6 m) in diameter with an entrance 3.5 ft (1.1 m) wide. The walls are 8 ft (2.4 m). The terrace around the square temple is reached by a stone staircase enclosed between two walls. A doorway on the opposite side of the staircase leads to the interior, which is a small and dark chamber, circular in plan.
The ceiling is supported by four octagonal columns, which surround a basin containing a Lingam encircled by a snake. The journey to it has 243 steps. Border Roads Organisation has built a motorable road up to the base of the temple with space for car parking.
Visitors can then take the steps. The temple is used for regular worship, and pilgrims visit the temple during the Amarnath Yatra. During the yatra, Shiva’s holy mace is carried to the temple. This is also done on occasions such as Shivaratri (Herath).
The temple is lit up and is full of devotees, who go to pray there. It has been a place for many Bollywood shootings like “Mission Kashmir” and “Pukar”. The very famous song “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar” has also been filmed here.
One of the heritage sites of ancient Kashmir is the well known Shankaracharya Hill and the temple situated on top of it. It is mentioned prominently by Kalhana in his notes on Rajtarangni. According to him King Gopaditya built the temple on the hill as a shrine around 371 BC. It has several names associated with it which include Gopadari Hill, Sandhimana-parvata, Koh-e-Suleman, Takht-i-Sulaiman. In 8th century BC Adi Shankaracharya visited it and it got associated with the present name. Historically it has been connected with multiple faiths which include Persian and Muslim also.
Prof Upendra Kaul Founder Director Gauri Heart Foundation. Recipient of Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy Award.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK