The silent Tara of the night - Tarapith


She walks the earth
The silent Goddess,
Mother of the cremation ground
Mother to the Lord himself
The blue hued one
In the moonless night
Her anklets resound
Sweet notes of a damsel
Mystical in her form
Fierce and powerful within

Ma Tara, the real,
the powerful, the mystical,
I bow to you in all reverence.

Local legends believe that the third eye of Goddess Sati hit the earth at Tarapith, but strangely this shrine didn't make it to the list of 51 shakti peethas. Tarapith might not be as well known beyond the shores of Bengal but within this region there are still loud cries of ancient tantricism brimming with life. Shrouded in the dense mysticism of ancient tantric practices lies a small temple to the north of Bengal. Believed to be graced by the heavens to have the third eye of Sati fall on its earth, this little temple came into existence based on a few obscure events. 

Insulted at the great sacrifice of Daksha, Sati entered the fires of death to perish in the very flames of purity that emanated from her. This event shook the universe for it left Lord Shiva, infuriated by the act of Daksha. He scaled the landscape wailing over the death of his beloved, carrying her corpse along with him, never to let go. Lord Vishnu took the final step and sent his discus to destroy what remained of her. With dizzying speed it cut through the air, tearing the dead flesh of the Goddess, she fell, scattering herself across the sacred earth of bholoka, on prithvi at 51 divine locations. Here fell her third eye, the power of enlightenment, the power of life, the essence of all siddhas...Tara pith came brimming to life, completely magical, intoxicating, powerful...

Vermilion defines her world, kumkum marks her presence. She had descended into this world dressed in the deep hues of vermilion, adorned in hibiscus and her favorite meal is flesh and blood. She is the the silent energy that wakes up in the night and dances in the cremation ground among the dead, among the fires. Tara, she has such a pleasant name, such a potent form and yet such a deadly look, so fierce that she could destroy all evil in a single glance. She walks the earth in silence, she is the prime resident of the cremation ground. She came alive as a mother to rid Lord Shiva off the poison he consumed to save the universe. She suckled him as a new born and nourished him with cool milk, and she empowered him with life.

Her long tresses flow down, covering her very being. In her heart she carries the Great Lord of the universe as a baby. She is fierce in appearance with disheveled hair and yet she has such warmth towards him as an infant. Tara, also known as Shamshan tara resides at Tara pith, the only sacred temple that makes the cremation ground its sacred home. While the fires turn all that is impure to dust, isn't it strange that the only way to enlightenment, the synonym of pure faith and salvation is in the unknown and unthinkable path of vama marga.

The sweetness of the Mahavidyas, the potency of feminine power coupled with the mysterious presence of the sacred goddesses who are the essence of all consciousness - shakti is not just energy, she is a mysterious world far more powerful than what meets the eye. She rises in the night, her meal is flesh and bone, her thirst is quenched by liquor, her garden is the burning ground, her ornaments are the limbs of the departed, her blinding truth is the strength to overcome death, her weapon is that which kills all fears. And this is visible in the lifestyle of all those who live by her side.

They are the living tantrics who have no home, nor fear nor food. They live on what the burning ghats offer them. They live with this stark reality all the time, death is a common site and sadhana is a regular part of their lives. Tarapith is the host of this wilderness, a shrine where there is little room for you and me. Here is a zone, where fewer thoughts reside, illusions of life silently die and immortality is defined not by progeny but the reality of one's own consciousness.

In the dense haze of this ignorance do I thirst to know the true form of the Goddess that awakens the mysteries of the night. The moon shines out and in its pleasant light does she shine, Oh the blue hued goddess hungry again for her drop of blood. Oh Tara Devi, do reveal to me the sacred yet secretive path that attracts me to you. May I see beauty even in your terrific being, may I see light in your twinkling deep blue eyes. May i feel your presence in the crackling flames of the cremation grounds by the night, may I breath this potent air refreshed with your presence. I bow to you oh Mother, to your beauty and to your fury, to your feminine potency, to your dazzling form, bathe me with your light, with your presence, with your life.

||Ghora roope mahamaaye sarvashatruvashamkari
Bhaktebhyo varade devi traahi maam sharanaagatham||


Divine presence of Goddess Saraswati

Where there is abundance of wisdom there is love and worship
Where the value of wisdom is not as much there is ignorance
But where there is no wisdom left there will be anarchy

The great Mother Goddess Saraswati is the embodiment of divine wisdom, she is pure, she is white, she is the all knowing and she is the only one who can withstand the destructive flames that emanate from the awakened third eye of great Lord Shiva. As these fiery flames leaped through all the worlds destroying everything impure on their way, she saved the world from this terrible catastrophe. She blessed this earth with life and wisdom as she descended into this world as a sacred river, taking this burning molten river of light into the deep sea and transforming it into a fire breathing mare seeking to destroy the world when all divine wisdom perishes from these lands leaving anarchy and noise behind.

Time moved on, eras passed by and the celestial world mysteriously left behind traces of its existence on this sacred earth. The earliest known form of Goddess Saraswati that appeared in our era to the mortal world is on the coins of the Utpala Dynasty of Kashmir in the early 9th century. Here, at the crown of the Indian subcontinent Goddess Saraswati is revered as Sharda Devi in her three aspects – Sharda, Narada or Saraswati, and Vaghdevi. The records of Kalhana indicate that the earliest temple attributed to her is near the Sirahsila castle as references have been made to it during its seige, in the Upper Krishnaganga valley, Kashmir. This is possibly the most potent place with respect to Goddess Saraswati and also the most ancient where the first temple attributed to the mother was constructed.

Stories from mythology and accounts of the sthala purana indicate that sages, ardent devotees and great intellects have been blessed with the divine vision of Goddess Saraswati in the form of Sharda Devi or Dakshina Mookambika Devi. The Goddess descended again into our world and graced this earth to bless them at these sacred places which have since then grown into centers of worship and learning and now hosts temples built in various styles of architecture.

According to the Sharda Mahatmaya, the Muni Sandalya, son of Matanga performed great austerities to be blessed with the vision of the Goddess. Saraswati Devi directed Muni Sandalya to go to Syamala [present day Kupwara district] and from there to proceed to the springs of Krishna Nag to take a holy dip in its rich waters. It is believed that on taking this sacred dip, half of his body was covered in gold. This brings light into the richness and prosperity of the land that surrounded this sacred earth, the home to the divine Goddess. With his prayers being fulfilled; he was overwhelmed with this experience of being constantly guided by the Mother, Muni Sandalya sang in praise of the divine mother and her three forms. She reappeared and asked him to proceed to Shardavan, in Sirahsila where she would appear in her Shakti avatara.

Sandalya also performed shrads for his pitras at this sacred river. It is believed that when he took the waters of the Mahasindhu for the tarpana rites, the water turned honey sweet and flowed down in the form of a stream now known as the Madhumati River. Sandalya moved on to the Shardavan as directed, where he had a divine vision of the Goddess in all her grandeur and purity in Shakti swarupa of Sharda Devi. The Goddess blessed him and granted him this divya dristi.

It is said that she rose out of the spring waters at this kunda to bless him and then disappeared into the waters. This sacred place is now marked by a stone slab which is believed to cover the same Kunda out of which she rose. This came to be known by the name of Sharda Peetham at Kashmir.

Adi Shankaracharya is known to have visited this Sharda Peetham before he travelled to Sringeri to establish another Sharda Peetham, in the 1st millennium B.C along the Tungabhadra River in Chikmanglur district, Karnataka.

The enchanting presence of Goddess Saraswati brought life and bliss of a different kind to these places and blessed the earth with potent shrines attributed to her. Such was the experience that some of these sacred shrines grew into highly intellectual centers of learning and debate, where words of sweetness crowned the atmosphere charging it with intellectual thought and ideas as great men challenged each other to spectacular compositions of divine wisdom.

Sharda Peetham in Kashmir was one such place covered in mysticism and divinity. It is believed that many men had tested their wisdom but few managed to cross the gate into the inner shrine chamber of the Sharda Nilayam. Adi Shankaracharya is known to have outshined all those who confronted him in debate. This shrine had four entrances and few great men had walked into her sacred gates. Adi Shankaracharya was the only saint to walk through the southern gate of the Sharda Nilayam to ascend the Sarvajna Peetam. The presiding deity of all learning, Sharda Devi set a test for him, which he overcame and alighted the seat of supreme enlightenment. The goddess blessed him and proclaimed his omniscience.

Such was the intellectual energy in the air that surrounded this small temple which attracted pilgrims from everywhere to witness debates that covered all known philosophies of living. This center didn’t just grow to have a temple dedicated to the Goddess but also had a center for learning as well as a great library that was revered by all. The sacredness of this soil still held strong until this temple fell to invasion. It is a tragic story that all that stands of this great sthala today is a ruined temple that still continues to hum the presence of the Goddess in its own strange way.

 Photo courtesy: Gharib Hanif - Kashmir collection


Fear of the unknown world beyond death

He lay there on his deathbed, his eyes graying within their dark circles as he furiously fluctuated between this world and the other. He barely recognized me and when he did it was not just an achievement for him, it was a moment of happiness for his family that he could actually connect with this world and its reality. He had grown thin and pale as the cancer had slowly eaten into most of his body. He still gave a beaming smile when he realized that he connected with me and is proper English retorted - I recognized you! That was the last smile I saw on his face.

I ascended the steps to visit him once again. This time he lay there silent, contained and wrapped in linen ready for his last journey. The grim atmosphere of the living waiting  for death to take him now had a strange sense of relief in all the enveloping sadness. He has suffered the last 5 hours and his family had resigned to removing the oxygen mask and leave him to his peril rather than keep him alive and torture him with more pain with the aid of medical science. There was no point, he had crossed the line and there was no coming back.

I sat there watching him and wondered what the purpose of his existence was. What was that moment while he battled the unknown at the time of transition from this world to the next. Isn't the solving of that mystery the soul purpose of our existence? The fact that I exist is the only truth that I am going to die. How then do I approach death?

We are presented with two things when alive, breath and consciousness and we waste it on comfort of various kinds. We essentially require a roof over our heads and 3 meals a day for survival but the line of desires is endless. The Tripura Rahasya echoes one thought through all its passages. This thought is to use the weapons of consciousness and breath to control just one enemy - our mind. Most people come out with cowardly statements of the inability to do so without even trying to achieve it. Our first problem is thought. The scriptures insist on controlling not just the thought but also the quality of it [impure/pure]. Everything else we do is pretty much a waste of time and life energy.

There will come that day, when we are lying there just like the old man, awaiting our moment of death. How many of us are going to be conscious about it and how many of us will have the courage to embrace the unknown when we are left with no choice? There is one more weapon that the Tripura Rahasya talks about that can bail us out of miserable death and that is the power of intelligence.

The human state is a state that enables us to take the right steps to practice and evolve ourselves to go to the next level. But the transition to the next level requires discarding of the body in this level and the only support we have is the power of our own intelligence. It is believed to be capable of doing many things, the starting point of course is the realization of what is reality. There is this old man lying in front of me, motionless - he is just mass, mass that is already on its way to decay. But where is he? Where is that consciousness that beamed a smile at me a day ago? Where did that go? What is the pulse of that reality of which I have no idea right now? And since I am an ignorant fool who doesn't understand that reality, how can I assume that this world is all the reality that exists?

Isn't the idea of reality a relative term in itself? The Tripura Rahasya beautifully illustrates this concept. You exist because my intelligence claims that you are there with a name and a background. If my intelligence ceased to recognize your presence, you simply don't exist in my reality. How then are you real? You then belong to relative reality, a part of a larger illusion that is so dense that we think its "real". And when we are faced with a person who has left his earthly state, what lies in front of us is a mass of human flesh waiting to be discarded. He now permanently ceases to be a part of our reality. Does that mean he doesn't exist at all, or is it that we don't know the other reality where he belongs now.

The Tripura Rahasya enlightens us with a spectacular theory. The only way to fight ignorance in life is to enhance the power of our intelligence. Intelligence is a weapon that can distinguish the real from the unreal and as it gets polished it loses all attachment to desire. It therefore renders a person completely detached from the workings of this world. The evolved soul now disconnects not only from the people around him but also from material comforts and more importantly from the familiarity within which he was cocooned. He now owes nothing to this world and has transcended the dense illusion within which he was imprisoned. Now, when the time comes for him to discard his earthly body, he is far more ready for a better transition where he is aware of the change and is freed from the misery of this dense cloud of imprisonment. He has no fear, he simply embraces the path ahead.

At that point, we still see a dead man, but he is the only one who knows how alive he is at the point of transition. He just leaves, he doesn't die. That is real achievement.
Photo courtesy: Moloy's photo stream