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.