Mysteries of a Siddhapith - Journey into Tarapith

I have never seen a more brimming tantrik locality up so close and Tarapith is in every word a land of intrigue, secrecy and divinity. With the break of day, what hits the eye is a glow of red everywhere in this busy little street that leads up to the temple. Red signifying the mother's presence in the hibiscus flowers, red in all the spiritual paraphernalia out on sale, red in the attire of the so called divine pandits who cloud the entrance to the main temple, red in the tilak or sindhur that is slapped on our foreheads and red on the walls of these ancient temples.

Tarapith is a busy little town, dirty and rural and there is just one road that leads up there from our urban world. This is the old rural Bengal, hardly visible in Kolkata though streaks of this lifestyle can be seen at Kalighat. And of course, I was well on my way to one of the most secretive locations of high tantrik activity with nothing to stop me! This was a trip I had been waiting for...for ages.

The spell of Tarapith is something different. This is the only place, to my knowledge, that potentially has no rules or restrictions. I found myself gliding into every forbidden territory without anyone stopping me. This was freedom of a different kind and believe me, for the first time I experienced the meaning of fearlessness from the tantrik perspective.

This school of thought defined by tantra, mantra and yantra that is so mystical and at the same time obvious in every Indian home is still such an undefined theory and yet so powerful. While nothing is apparent, and we do not get instant results for every ritual performed, the very power that governs the aura here doesn't leave room for doubt or the desire to test it. The green countryside of Bengal leads up to this red laden land, where every person looks at us in curiosity because we stand apart so much and in some cases, we appear to be the answer to their attempts of making a quick buck.

And I soaked myself in all this, while delighting myself with all the small ritual objects that sell in these little shops, and dipped into the traditional dish of luchi with alu torkari. It was easy to understand the first half of the visit, we just followed the crowd that led up to the temple. We crossed over the shops, bought a garland of bright red hibiscus and walked up to the main temple door to be met by a sleepy policeman who barely bothered to check us.

The only disgusting element of Tarapith was the level of corruption that beat every other place, be it Jagannath Puri, Kalighat or Lingaraj temple Bhuvaneshwar or the south. We were literally nabbed by a swarming bunch of brahmin priests with no sense of self respect or dignity. They were beggars, selling bits of mantra at a price, and that too came very cheap [Rs 10/-]. While I was a victim of this disgust, I managed to fight my irritation back and kept my focus glued to the Mother, but when the priest demanded money for just entry into the main sanctum, with no other way out of the temple, my hatred towards my race increased even more. It was so much the wrong feeling to have at the temple.

Despite the madness, despite the corruption, despite the money sucking brahmin priests who wouldn't leave our side up to the end, despite the demand for more dakshina at every step leading up to the main sanctum, the first sight of Ma Tara quite makes us forget everything. 

She is welcoming, warm and yet she is defiant of rules. She gives a feeling of freedom, seated on her throne decorated in red hibiscus flowers and at the same time has an aura of the wild depicted by the permanent circle of blood around her mouth with a lolling tongue. She is peaceful and has this power that surrounds her, she is so distant and untouched despite the chaos created by the men around her. She sits there with disheveled hair, matted locks that are so heavy and wet to touch. Her face shines in silver, with blood red sindhur always covering her forehead. Her eyes are powerful and yet there is this vast difference between our world and hers and that is so visible in her knowing smile as she watches us through this imaginary curtain of maya that separates her from us.

Truly, our worlds are so different. Ma Tara, the mysterious Goddess of the Shamshan ghat, the secret mother of the night is awake and alive at day break within this sacred shrine at Tarapith, to just remind us of this imaginary world we live in, blanketed by a web of rules.

Related post:


Divinity born from the depths of the ocean

The Great Preserver, the Lord who sleeps in Anantha Sayanam, the Lord who dwells in the cosmic ocean blessed this Yuga with sacred emblems of faith from the depths of the cosmic ocean of life.

It was in the ancient seas that a sacred log came floating back to shore, a log that was referred to as Daru in the Rig Veda. No one knows the origin of this piece of wood but it has powers, powers that could rule the world. It came ashore along the eastern coastline of India, finding its home within the topography of Shankha Kshetra. 

Subsequently it is believed, as the days of the great Buddha came to an end, his bones and teeth were buried within the sacred Stupas, a symbolism that depicted his Samadhi. One piece of tooth enamel is believed to have been embedded within this sacred log of wood. And this mysterious log of wood now became the center of worship not just for Hindus but also the Buddhists.

It is very rare, that the earth gets sanctified and carries on its surface the topography of a conch shell as rare as the Dakshinavarta Shankha. This rare form, with its south facing opening marks the land up to a distance of 10 miles along the coastline. It is believed only 40% of this sacred earth is accessible while the rest has been absorbed by the sea.

What possibly could the mysteries of this land be, to which four* of the greatest faiths that shaped this country stake a claim, where an ancient log of wood is most revered, and where mysterious temples sprung up to define the sacred contours of this holy land.  

This is the land of Jagannatha, the sacred soil of Puri that marks the iconic emblems of Lord Vishnu. This sacred earth is defined by Lord Shiva as Lokanatha and Nilakantha at its apex, followed by 8 other Shiva shrines that mark this land. The form of this Shankha is defined by 7 concentric folds, the first and the innermost being the navel of the Shankha, at the seat of which resides the sanctum of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra.

This land is a representation of the heavens on earth, starting with the main temple of Lord Jagannatha that has 9 gates leading towards it. 4 gates in the cardinal directions lie along 2 boundary walls that surround the temple and one that leads towards the ethereal realm beyond. There are little intertwined streets that lead from the temple up to 114 other sanctified residences and Tirthas that surround this great temple.

This land that surrounds Puri is called Shankha Kshetra, that surrounding Bhubaneshwar is the Chakra Kshetra, Jajpura is the Gada Kshetra and Konark is the Padma Kshetra. This makes the land around this coastline conceptually powerful though when we descend into its real world, the Brahmin corruption kills every pulse of divinity on this earth.
And yet the air is powerful, the feel is mystical, the architecture is supreme and faith is unlimited. This is the land that gave birth to great poets and saints like Jayadeva and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. But slowly and surely with the chaos of today and the lack of understanding of this sacred divinity, in these times this faith is dying a slow death. 

Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya

* [Vaishnavism, Tantricism, Buddhism, Jainism]

Related Posts:

Photo courtesy: 


Essence of Kali Puja

When we think of the pujas, the first thoughts are about the exotic pandals, the larger than life idols, the noise and the fine clothes people drape themselves in for the evening. But is this really what the pujas are about? Would anyone spend so much money to erect these exotic residences only to house a set of clay idols on a brightly lit stage? Clay is definitely not an ancient mechanism to pave the way to the spiritual world of the Goddess. So what exactly are we missing that is the main element of this worship?

Observing the decoration, my eyes traveled from the sculptural marvel to the potency at the feet of the clay idols. There "it" stood, a tantrik representation of the Goddess, what looked curious to my ignorant self but started making a lot of sense as the evening progressed. The structure was simple, covered with a cloth and decorated with vilva leaves and hibiscus flower garlands. At its feet were scattered a lot of marigold in offering. On one side was a loaded chilum and on the other side was a curious arrangement of small pots and darbha grass tied into the shape of a triangle with a rectangular piece resting over it. The central tantrik shrine had a shoot rising out of it that held bangles. All this was curiously enclosed within a fence of 4 sticks in the 4 corners tied together with a red thread. Next to this was lit an oil lamp glowing quietly in this flood lit stage.  

And then the priest walked in, an old man dressed in red, symbolizing the colors of the divine Mother. This was the opportune moment to rush up to him and ask him all that I could possibly know. And slowly I began to discover the mysterious tantrik representation.

What lay hidden beneath the cloth was the traditional kalash, a pot containing sacred water with possibly a dash of rose water to add fragrance to it. Above it was placed a coconut, not in the traditional kalash representation with its outer fiber removed, but horizontally with its green outer cover intact with the stalk rising out of it. This held the bangles of different kinds, red glass bangles followed by that of shankha [shell] and iron [loha]. There was a pot of water on one side and above it was darbha tied with red thread forming a triangle, possible a yantra representation of the Goddess. Above it was a rectangular wooden piece with a mirror embedded with Swastika painted on it. Above that was placed a perforated pot. While the puja would have had many more ingredients in place like Panchagobbo [5 extracts of the cow], Panchasashya[5 food grains], Panchapallab [5 varieties of leaves] etc. my interest floated towards the meaning of this arrangement which, to the common man outside of Bengal, would have looked curiously new. 

The theory behind this arrangement was wonderful as the priest explained it. Water is poured into the perforated pot at regular intervals to bathe the form of the goddess. The water flows over the mirror which reflects her form in the clay idol standing in front, symbolically bathing her as it trickles into the pot below. At anytime, the Divine mother can be viewed through the mirror. A loaded chillum is offered along with incense next to the oil lamp. All other items are lined up to be offered during arti.

And then the dholak began, rhythm so profound that it could send anyone into a trance. My feet tapped the floor as I clapped following the beats and my heart danced into the night with the three mothers. It was the best Kali Ma arti I had ever seen! The beats grew stronger and faster and the priests held up the fire, dancing in divine trance as they showed the great mother the flame. Fire was followed by the fan, choury, shankha, mud pots with food offering, sindhur chubri with a small mirror, comb, bangles etc and sweets, bananas, and finally the dhoop. The evening came to an end and the drumming halted making us realizing how deafening this trance really was. Kali Ma worship came to a close as man and divinity slowly came out of their spiritual trance.