12.21.2010

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.

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20 comments:

YOSEE said...

Tantrik spirituality can be like jolting the mind out of its comfort zones, isn't it! It may/may not be necessary for our Real Education and progress, to unshackle our minds from narrow confines and be receptive to all types of inputs,but somehow,I, personally, find it impossible to see a "Mother" in a fierce Guardian. ( Ellai-Pidari). Dunno why. Perhaps,still miles to go for me ?!

YOSEE said...

BTW, there's a whole chapter on a Tarapith jogin in "Nine Lives" by William Dalrymple.

Kavitha said...

HI Yosee,

Jolting the mind happens when the mind has not been trained enough to be open to various aspects of life. This is not about what is right or wrong but this is about what we judge and dont.

Tantricism has its interesting side, it teaches the sadhak not to be disgusted or fearful and spiritualism on the whole teaches us not to be short sighted and live in our little comfort zones. I guess thats why spiritualism is not meant for everyone.

When we dont familiarize with something we feel alien to it and at that time looks can be deceptive. Honestly, Ma Kali or Ma Tara might look fierce, but they looked beautiful at the same to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Isnt it a state of what the mind chooses to accept rather than what really is :)

We have a problem, we take gore literally but when we get into the depth of it... its really not so bad. Ma kali with the head of a man might look yukky but is it really that way? Maybe not...

Regards
Kavitha

JC said...

Maybe one could agree, (or oneself go deeper into all aspects of 'Nature' to disprove it), with the wiser ancients that man is model or reflection of the universe...

YOSEE said...

Spiritualism isn't for everyone, true. That's exactly what i meant too when I said i have miles to go.

I'm not judging anything as right or wrong. To each his own is more like it. Diff.folks, diff. strokes and everyone is welcome to the party! But I am not for a common salad bowl !

Since you mention Ramakrishna, i have this thought : Being born in Bengal, exposure to Kali worship since birth (traditional creed of the region)could have conditioned him in certain receptive ways.He saw the popular god-form of Krisna once too in passing, but not Karthikeya or Lakshmi, both of whom are minor and localised deities in Bengal but who may not have been impressed on his mind.

Chaitanya Prabhu, with exposure to the Vaishnavite bhakthi ethos, found Krisna but had no great feelings for, say ,Shiva or Ganesa.

In South India, Kali is more readily popular with the sections traditionally ingrained with the culture of Guardian Deities.To others, she's toned down to a decorous "Durgai".

To cut short, my opinion is that a "comfort zone" ( in this department) is necessary so that the mind does not scatter all over and get engulfed in too many distracting or conflicting details. This is not being short sighted. Streamlining can serve well,as exemplified by the Nayanars, Azhwars and Veerashaivas. And we are all pretty much novices who have no time in one janma to digest all the variables smoothly and emerge as super Realised gnaanis.

If gore and grime were to be acceptable vehicles for a layman's emancipation, Adi Shankara need not have bothered to go on a national sanitizing spree . I'd hate to think he was short sighted or narrow minded or complacent in his comfort zone ! :-)

But, no harm in gathering information about varying creeds. Feeds academic interest!( In fact, i am presently reading about the "Wiccan Mysteries of The Triple-Goddess".)

Just my opinion, Kavitha. Not for arguing about right and wrong.

Kavitha said...

Oh totally Yosee, I completely understand. While I was not getting into judgment of sorts, I feel that Tantricism is very much misunderstood. A few of my future posts would explain that view.

YOu are very correct - to each his own. Yes, I have tried to explain what I have learned and understood and felt fantastic about and boy! does it fall on deaf ears. People just dont get it even remotely.

Its true Ramakrishna was exposed to a lot of the Bengal cult practices, I have also noticed in current days, when some of my Bengali friends narrate a night at the cremation ground so freely though they cut short the story very fast. This practice is very normal there, and honestly I have not seen a more brimming shanshan ghat than Tarapith, people live there.... there are hardly any moaners. Human sacrifice is apparently not fiction and the power of their worship [presumably tantrik] is far stronger than the Brahmin chaos at the temple...life is so interesting...

In fact i had made a post sometime earlier... if is stood looking at a skull at the doctor's clinic its all so normal, but if i stood with the same skull in black or red robes in the cremation ground by night I would be so much more forbidding! Strange :) right.

This thing called faith is such a wild goose chase... :) interesting but never ending.

JC said...

What 'I' have come to learn was that man is a model of the universe, that is, the infinite and ever expanding dark (Krishna or Kali) void that believably started from a point, (called Nadbindu as the unborn and unending Creator or Vishnu, who is also called Shiva or immortal). And which is filled with infinite numbers of galaxies. Each of which is formed of innumerable stars and planets etc...Out of which our galaxy is called 'Milky Way Galaxy' (to be noted that Hindus consider 'churning of the milky-ocean' as the beginning of evolution with a view to acieve immortality (Amrit) in physical form also)...

And that 'Spiritualism' and 'Materialism' could be visualised as the two faces of the formless God, a dot called Nadbindu, each face or side having two arms each (+/-),,,and as It is related with time and space zero, the two faces are graphically represented by a 'Swastik' by Hindus, the meeting point representing formless Vishnu(and perhaps similarly by a Cross by Christians, who indicated man as the image of God)...

The Yogis indicated (vide Gita) that anybody can reach Him (the Supreme form of Krishna in human form)...

Merry Christmas!

YOSEE said...

"Wild Goose chase" is absolutely the most apt phrase !
With age, I am becoming more and more convinced that the Idea of "Religion", Concept of " God", " Bliss" etc. are all just conditioned reflexes, ingrained into one's psyche by centuries of cultural and social conditioning. Unless one unshackles oneself from these and tries to discover things for self, there can be no true personal spirituality.I am presently trying to discard the various crutches that have held me up so far and trying to find my own feet to stand upon. I may run out of time, but I will keep trying nonetheless.
This Wild Goose Chase could turn out to be the most exciting adventure i'll ever have ! :-)

JC said...

As a result of churning over long time, one finds in the 'present', in 'India' that is Bharat, that everything from mouse to mountain are worshipped. It is obviously with the belief or faith in the unseen and thus mysterious three-in-one God, Treyambakeshwar, who believably resides within all physical forms that can be viewed and discussed in the minutest of minute details by humans, but perhaps without the eventual goal in mind believably due to lack of overall knowledge. And thus getting involved in the whirlpool of life related with the material world only, and thus geting involved in the so-called wild goose (or red herring) chase...

Bart said...

Tantra is the philosophical branch of Shaktism, the worship of the female side of God. When we consider Brahma’s Shakti (Power) as his knowledge necessary to create an universe. – and Saraswati therefore isn’t considered without a very good reason as the Goddess of learning, wisdom, arts & sciences, then we might ask ourselves: Are we able to describe this knowledge of the Creator in a more adequate way? For this description and determination would offer us knowledge about the Creation as well about the nature of this Divine Shakti, the female active side of God.

Tantra as a kind of philosophy has done a very serious attempt. The complete divine universal knowledge was subdivided into ten faculties: Dasa Mahavidyas – the Ten Great Sciences. They were called after ten Goddesses, who play an important role in Tantricism. Several of them we recognize as aspects of the female side of Lord Shiva. Only the last two ones represent, after my humble opinion, respectively the Goddesses Saraswati and Lakshmi. Their ten names are:

1. Kali, 2. Tara, 3. Tripura-Sundari, 4. Bhuvaneshwari, 5. Chinnamasta, 6. Bhairavi, 7. Dhumawati, 8. Bagalmukhi. 9. Matangi and 10. Kamala.

The knowledge of just their names wouldn’t be enough of course to acquire Divine Knowledge, which can be equalled to becoming enlightened. It is quite necessary to understand them completely and all by head and heart.

Mata Kali is very well to understand. Her name is the feminization of the Sanskrit word ‘Kala’, which is also a title of Lord Shiva, and means time. In the western mythology we know her as Kleio, the Muse of History, the western word ‘Calendar’ is for instance derived from her name. She is the Goddess of Times the Lady of the Eras; She is Yugeshwari. As a Great Science She is the Divine History Self, the true knowledge and right understanding of all what has happened since the very first event –-the Birth of the Light maybe?, until the here and now where you are reading this text with the aid of this very same Light.

The next Mahavidya is Tara. Which Divine Knowledge would She represent? She cures Shiva from the effects of his intoxication caused by swallowing the halahala-poison during the process of creation, by feeding him with the milk of her own breast as an antidote. That is at least the myth, which has been memorized in the Tarapith. We might speculate what kind of Mahavidya this represents; Medicine, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Biology or a divine combination of all these sciences together maybe?

Evenso I have some ideas about the others amongst these ten mahavidyas but intellectual speculation is not the only option to find the right answer. Getting the right answer by divine inspiration would be an other good opportunity and a pilgrimage to the this sanctuary of Goddess Tara could certainly support the openness to this sought inspiration.

JC said...

In the 'present', that is Kaliyuga or Dark Age, as 'we', by design, are viewing outwardly, 'we' aren't able to tune our physical senses inwards (and hence the need to activae kundalini). The yogis gained the knowledge related to the 'Absolute Truth' after realising the 'Truth' that humans are mere instruments that are being utilised by the one and only formless being, who came to be addressed as the omnipotent and omnipresent supreme being.

In the Gita the truth is believably revealed through two typical characters, or models, Krishna (model of the centre of or galaxy) to Arjuna (the model of our sun, the provider of light for vision and energy for sustenance of life on earth) in the battlefield (ie. on earth where opposite emotions are experienced as part of Maya or drama whose real viewer is the formless being, who utilises innumerable life forms as instruments or super computers for His purpose that 'we' are unaware of)...

vinay vaidya said...

It is really amazing how 'Tantra' is so shrouded in mystery. On One hand, it is the most easy way of Sadhana, for every-one, and accordingly, one may devote to the Deity he/she is most attracted to, on the other, it leads one to deep recesses of the 'Reality' at the root of 'Existence', in it, and Beyond it.
Thanks Sir for the Post on 'TaraPeetham'
Taarayati iti Tara,
Your observations of the Mother's image reveals great truths.
You were passing through all those people who were looting you, and Mother is there indifferent loving to them all equally,....!
In The last year in Navaratra days,I had tried to write upon Mother's aspects in my blogs
Please see my posts @
http://vinayvaidya.blogspot.com
and
http://vinaykvaidya.blogspot.com
Thanks, Regards,...!

JC said...

Tantra is only one part of the three-in-one formless God, Shiva the immortal, whose model man also is, ie, it can be said that it can help reach only 33% of the 'Truth', or Self...

Tara simply translates as Star, the original Heavenly Bodies formed of Hydrogen the number one element (and sun therefore called Aditya), that are available in our universe, the infinite dark void that is filled with innumerable galaxies of innumerable stars and other heavey bodies...

'Tara' thus perhaps could be visualised as the original star that was responsible (after Big Bang) for the innumerable forms that apparently fill the void as we know it in the present, as eternaly undergoing expansion starting from a point located in the original dark space...

JC said...

'I' also give below a comment 'I' have posted in a 'Hindi blog' (whose English version 'I' will provide if desired)...

"...यदि वर्तमान में वैज्ञानिकों से प्राप्त जानकारी के आधार पर निराकार और पुनर्जन्म को समझने का प्रयास करें तो हम पाते हैं कि कैसे सितारों में उपलब्ध हाइड्रोजन जब अरबों वर्ष में समाप्त होने के कगार में होती है तो सितारा उसकी गुरुत्वाकर्षण शक्ति के कमजोर हो जाने से फूल जाता है और उसमें उपलब्ध पदार्थ के दबाव के कारण किसी क्षण विस्फोट हो जाता है,,, और सब सामग्री शून्य में निकट ही में बिखर जाती है क्यूंकि गुरुत्वाकर्षण का बल अब उसे भीतर केंद्र की ओर फिर से दबाने लगता है,,, जिससे उत्पन्न गर्मी आदि से पदार्थ जल कर उसका आकार (इस पर निर्भर कर कि उसका मूल भार हमारे सूर्य कि तुलना में कितना अधिक था) लगभग शून्य हो जाता है और उसकी गुरुत्वाकर्षण शक्ति अत्यंत अधिक हो जाती है (सूर्य की तुलना में भार यदि ५ गुना या अधिक होता है तो नूतन शक्तिशाली रूप 'ब्लैक होल' कहलाता है, '(अंतरिक्ष में एक) अंधकारमय छिद्र',,,और जिसकी उपस्तिथि का आभास उसकी विशाल शक्ति के कारण उसमें खींचे जाते और अदृश्य होते तारों आदि से ही होता है...ऐसा माना जाता है की हमारी गैलेक्सी के केंद्र में ऐसी ही एक शक्ति का निवास है (जिसे हिन्दुओं ने कृष्ण यानी ब्लैक कहा! जिसका प्रतिरूप द्वापर युग में दर्शाया गया, कृष्ण-लीला द्वारा)...

JC said...

Basically, one could say that behind 'Hindu Beliefs', as 'we' come to read about in the 'present', a lot of 'scientific knowledge' is involved... Which due to our brain's insignificant capacity in the 'present', ie, even the most intelligent person is seen able to tap only an insignificant percentage of available cells, obviously normally results in the realisation of the 'Absolute Truth' beyond 'our' comprehension, and therefore needs the essence of overall knowledge...

JC said...

The essence, or the eternal source of the drama of the temporary physical forms, 'OM', was indicated by the ancient wise in the statement "Satyam Shivam Sunderam",,, with 'OM' (the ever expanding universal void) as the original sound energy involved in the formation of the physical universe that apparently came into existence from zero at the centre of the void (represented also by the centre of our earth, Yogeshwar Vishnu, and also by the physical earth, ie, Shiva, as the essence, or model, of the infinite dark void, Krishna or Kali)...

JC said...

During 'my' stay in the northeast region of India during '80-'84, (Guwahati being recognised as the centre of tantrik practices since ages) 'I' was surprised to find people in that region sought assitance of tantriks for most of their day-to-day problems. People invited them as a routine, for example, to help find some valuable item lost; to get the house vacated by a tenant, who otherwise was unwilling to leave; or some health related problems in the family, and so on, for which they sometimes proved halpful and sometimes mightn't!

Of course, one such gentleman who happened to meet me, although invited only for prescribing some oil for my wife who suffered from arthritis, predicted my father's heart attack almost a fortnight in advance (after just the first look at my face,,, that surprised 'me' when it proved correct, although the oil wasn't beneficial!)...

What eventually appeared to me was that it had something 'natural' to do with the location, the direction northeast in India!

Even my then 10-year-old daughter once predicted cancellation of my flight to Imphal a few hours in advance!

The'Black Art' is generally related with Bengal, which some believe actually originated in Assam. And one finds the ancient Kamakhya Temple liocated at Guwahati believably as one of the oldest tantrik centres where all tantriks gather once in a year (during ambuvachi, in rainy season)...Tarapith in Bengal thus might be the seat of the tantriks who, for the material life, believed in the original star in Red Stage that was responsible for the formation of the Black Hole, ie, the universal void tht continues to grow eternally!

JC said...

It is believed that if someone dies young, due to some accident or otherwise, its soul can be taken into control by some tantrik following certain exercises in some cremation grounds,,, and who can then use the apparently relatively 'inferior soul' for the purpose of prediction of the future of some third persons...

Being curious, 'I' learnt from a friend that the soul is 'captured' and held in some container that is kept covered with mustard seeds, (the use of which 'I' had also seen in my childhood days, being used by 'my' mother for dispelling 'evil spirits' from our bodies when any one of us appeared disturbed after arrival at home from outside!)...

It is well known how mustard is used since ages for various purposes in India, particularly in east India: as a vegetable, eating its green leaves cooked in mustard oil; the oil is also sometimes used as hair-oil and for massaging the body, besides its use in preparing various pickles, as a preservative, and so on...

Wishin all a very Happy New Year!!!

JC said...

Although 'I' came to hear many stories, an interesting incident related with finding a lost item was narrated to me by one of my colleagues during that period...

He said he was holidaying with his sister at some place near Agartala (the capital of Tripura) when one day his sister told him she had lost her necklace that she remembered she was wearing that morning...Their first suspect automatically was their maid servant, but before that they thought of seeking help from a tantrik, who was contacted and were told that he would come on the Saturday morning. But, before that, he wanted them to find a young girl under 10 years in age, who was born in Tula Rashi. In Bengal, people generally adopted a nick-name besides the Rashi name to avoid any one knowing it from the name. And as his daughter herself satisfied the condition and as it was a matter related with his sister, he offered the services of the daughter.

The tantrik came and sat down in the open space and painted her thumbnail with black, 'kajal', prepared from a lamp for using it as a 'nakh-darpan' or a mirror,,, and after cautioning her to observe properly and not forget the location of the necklace she woulkd see, asked her to tell if she saw images of some old men! She confirmed she saw three of them! He asked her to look again and tell if she four, which she then confirmed...After that he asked her to concentrate and see if she saw the concerned necklace. When she confirmed that she saw it in the pool, that existed within the premises, she was asked to note the location carefully...However, the same process was required to be repeated as she got confused after reaching the pool,,,but the second time she went straight to the pool and pulled out the necklace to the relief of all!

JC said...

The incident related to 'my' daughter, who didn't belong to any tantrik community, but informed 'me' of cancellation of 'my' flight to Imphal on the 8th December 1981 in advance (and 'I' could finally travel on the 9th instant in a plane specialy arranged from Calcutta), came as a tremendous surprise! It forced 'me' to ponder over it and only the next day (and later too)its significance apparently dawned on 'me' (dates also being related with numbers 8 & 9)!

'I' had completely forgotten, (because 'my' elder brother was responsible for the performance of her annual last rites), that exactly three years ago, the same day, 'our' mother' had expired in New Delhi (from where the flight was scheduled to start), while her illness had become serious when she was then staying with 'our' youngest brother at Calcutta!