Nalhati - Shakti Peetha up close

Far away in remote northern Bengal, lost in the rural landscape is a small shrine to the Mother. While the representation is that of Kali Ma, the potency of the shrine hints at the ancient Shakti Peetha of Ma Sati. Indeed, not too far away from the sacred Siddha Peeth of Tarapith is the sacred shrine of Ma Nalhateshwari, at Nalhati. 

Nalhati, buried in her potency, is a small temple surrounded by a village. The main temple of Nalhati rests atop a small hill and within it, draped in hibiscus flowers and red sindur is the sacred rock of power. The name of Nalhati comes from the word "Nal" which refers to the great Mother's throat that fell here when Sati's body was destroyed by Vishnu's discus. Hence this temple houses the form of Ma Nalhateshwari.

The charm of Nalhati is the peace and the sheer lack of corruption. The priests are simple and do not mind devotees taking photographs of the Great Mother's shrine. There is Tantrik presence at this shrine for everything hints towards Kali Ma and Shiva Bhairava. The Bali peeth at the foot of this temple stands in powerful silence and in brilliant red demanding more blood for the Mother.

But what would the landscape of Nalhati have looked like in the ancient days. How could anyone have identified the potency of this sacred earth? Nalhati appears to  have been shrouded in dense jungle along the river side and at the peak of this low hill stands this rock, possibly the fossil of the Great Ma's throat. Reflecting back on the appearance of this shrine, it is a wondrous thought that apparently a stone could command such power.

When we stand at the entrance of the main shrine, its the discovery of this form that moves the heart first. Closer observation brings in the familiarity of the rules and the iconography. The red color, the long hair, the red dress that always makes the mother look like a new bride, the Trishul and the hibiscus flowers at her divine silver feet, all these  proclaim the written laws for the Goddess in the sacred text. And hence the worship is defined, that this rock should be decorated as the head of the Goddess is the rule applied, that she was most probably in ughra form brings on the features of Kali Ma. The fire rises into the air and arti is performed, the divine vision to see the Mother is granted in the light of the flames. 

While these are the familiar rules that are asserted on this stone, while the acts of divine worship are performed to seek her blessings in the method known to us, while fire and water create the sacred path to the feeble offerings we make in half hearts, how does a simple devotee touch the potency of this great shrine when we stand up so close to it in its presence?

Why do we take it for granted that the only method to get access to the divine are "acts" of worship and our mind and heart hardly have a role to play in it because the larger looming presence of time [Kala] defines the limit of our stay in her presence? While I turn my head again to the door, descending the steps of this hill, I just wondered what I really achieved after coming this far. Is this enough or if life, rules, time and family would allow, could I have stayed here longer? And if I did, how would it have made a difference to me if I had to take a dive into my spiritual self?

What am I missing that makes this trip fulfilling in the perspective of having met the divine Mother, but leaves a lacunae in my heart for hardly having spent any time with her? The divine Mother at Nalhati, Tarapith and Kalighat are as close as we can get to the sacred rock that governs the spiritual world we live in. And yet, as we rubbish away all the noise and corruption, and watch her in silence... am quite speechless thinking what next?

As the divine flames rise and the bells ring in my heart, reverberating within the hollow of my inner self, Oh Ma, I ask for forgiveness towards my shattering ignorance of not being able to recognize your potent presence.


Mysteries of a Siddhapith - Twin worlds at Tarapith

Our lifestyles are often defined by the caste we come from and the sub caste further describes the nuances of how we differ from each other in the minor aspects of living and mindset. We have lived by certain rules that differ from one household to the next, and the way of worship also changes accordingly though the basic principle remains the same. Unfortunately, we are not broad minded enough to accept the differences. And life moves on, as long as we don't step on each other's toes.

These differences are never apparent, sometimes never spoken about and most often buried with time. These rules are understood to be described as the lifestyle of the given caste but its never described as the lifestyle defined by a school of thought.

One thing that is heavily apparent at the Siddhapith of Tarapith is the twin worlds comprising of the Brahmins who have captured the main temple and the silent world of the tantra Sadhaks who have made the Shamshan ghat their home. These two worlds though in reality are separated by a street of tiny little shops, in concept are separated by the biggest differences in belief and lifestyle, all strangely attributed to the same mother - Ma Tara!

The charm of Tarapith is this strange reality, though not apparent to any person who steps in there for the first time, the differences between these two worlds echoes in the head when we open our minds with awareness towards the life here. Tarapith, is probably one of the few locations that envelopes the Shamshan ghat as an equal part of itself apart from the main temple into its fold. Few other places like Manikarnika ghat and Kalighat have made the Shamshan an equal tourist attraction. Here at Tarapith the belief is that Ma Tara, not only inhabits the main temple but also lives at the Shamshan ghat making it her home. Hence, the Shamshan ghat here at the riverside is considered equally sacred as the temple that lies above it.

Tarapith's sacred land is defined by a low hill that has this temple at its peak. The hill is not so apparent as our approach to it is almost at the same level. The street with shops runs perpendicular to the temple is lower in level. At this cross road which leads to the main temple gateway upwards on the left, on the right we can walk down to the river that flows by this little town. The road slopes down towards the river which is a beaten track that appears very well inhabited by people and shops.

It all looked very simple and obvious as we found the way to the temple because all the Brahmin priests led us there, but where was the promised Shamshan ghat to which this road led? There was no sign of it at all.

It was the strangest moment in my life, we had decided to go back home right after the darshan of Ma Tara, but for some twist in circumstances we decided to hang around for another 2 hours at Tarapith. That decision was the first in the direction of discovering the real world of Tarapith. It felt like Ma Tara was granting me my wish of touching the escentric world of tantriks. Was it safe? Apparently yes. The 2nd twist in events was when my adventurous self discovered the unassuming path that took a strange turn to the right from the beaten track to the river. This path was hidden among a cloister of trees and shops and was hardly evident to the eye.

We had just walked out of the corrupt world of red clad brahmin priests, who were yelling and shouting, demanding money, realing out mantras to make a quick buck and not letting us have a moment's peace at the feet of the mother. This was the so called familiar world that we were so aware of and so much a part of disliking every moment we spent in its presence as we clung on to dear faith. This was the world that we call ours, that in the name of Ma Tara actually left every Bhakt in disillusionment over their own faith if they were not strong enough. This was our known reality in the name of civilized faith - a world of obscene levels of corruption and disregard to the sacredness of the very shrine in front of which these acts of blastphemy are performed.

And then I discovered this other world near the river side on the opposite side of the temple, far away from the noise up on the hill. This world was peaceful and scerene and at the same time eerie and mysterious. Every step into the shamshan ghat made me feel that I was breaking every forbidden brahminical rule placed by my ancestors, and I loved every moment of it, I was free!

We left our footware at the side and walked into this world, it looked weird and yet thrilling. In the shade of many trees that gave this little locality its charm, there was a lot for my eyes to feast on as I made my daring entrance. This was the other world, were we strangely felt a lot more peace and the power of the mother was way way higher. People here were probably poorer, and yet there was hardly any begging, not to the obscene levels at the temple. People here left us alone, as we dared to walk into this strange little land. A lot of eyes were on us and yet they didnt bother us which probably made us feel a little queezy. We were so used to the racket, being left alone was hardly a sign of comfort!

These people were dignified, and far more serious in their approach towards faith. They didnt come close to us, though I felt their powerful glance scanning my presence in question wondering what I was possible intending to do here. I was clearly a trespasser and I walked into this world feeling like one. Tiny huts dotted this peaceful haven and red clad men and women walked about with ingridients of worship. There was no sound here but for the havan taking place near the small temple, where people from our society mingled with men of this world in union to worship the great Goddess.

Honestly, the presence of the Mother here was far more superior. while the air smelt of her presence, the red hit us too close and we tried very hard not to touch anything for everything here seemed so powerful and intimidating that we felt uneducated in this land of secret faith. Women tantriks were easy to find and burning bodies were a common sight. A little girl showed us around this locality, taking us into the deeper ends of this world, making us ever more uncomfortable. She was educated and there was not a streak of fear in her mind. She roamed around freely telling us about the place and leading us from one shrine to the other as old tantrik men peeped out of their dark huts inquisitively looking at us.

This land was real power, where men and women practiced freely, where there was no discrimination, where a young girl of 10 years of age was allowed to walk around freely among prayers and burning bodies at the cremation ground, where women were not forbidden, where no one asked for money and no one really cared about us for apparently we were the most illiterate among those who visited there.

This was the place of true unadulterated faith, where mystical chants were carefully guarded from inquisitive half baked keepers of faith like us, where entry was by initiation only and where our fear factor of tantriks was actually our inadequacy to face the potency of this faith as compare to the familiar world of brahmin priests ridiculing the same chants for a couple of bucks in the civilized world up at the temple. We fear tantriks because we touch real potency in their world, because we are not ready for it and we scorn their practices because we dont have the courage to face the powers of divinity.

Ma Tara! I bow to thee for enlightening me with this truth.