November 25, 2009
Tarapith or Tarapeeth is a Shaktipeeth /Shaktipeetha/ Shaktipeetham where goddess Sati’s eyeball had fallen. According to Bangla language spoken by the Bengali community, the word Tara denotes the word “eyeball.” The quaint town surrounding the Tarapith temple was earlier known as Chandipur but later changed to Tarapith.
For the benefit of the readers who have not read our previous posts on the various Shaktipeeths like Naina Devi, Bilaspur, Kunjapuri Devi, Rishikesh and Kalighat Kali temple, Kolkata we are briefly stating how goddess different body parts had scattered all over India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
King Daksha was not pleased when his daughter Sati married Lord Shiva. He arranged for huge Yagna (a ceremony where offerings would be made to the Fire god, Agni Devta) and invited all the gods, rishis and munis (saints). An enraged Sati went uninvited to confront her father. The answers that King Daksha gave her were nothing but insults to her beloved husband. Sati couldn’t tolerate this and jumped into the sacrificial fire and ended her life.
Lord Shiva’s anger was uncontrollable once he became aware of this. He destroyed the Yagna and carried the remains of Sati’s body on his shoulder and walked around aimlessly in grief. Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu both couldn’t do much against the fury of Lord Shiva. Unless Sati’s body would receive the appropriate rituals for cremation, her rebirth would be impossible. Lord Brahma, the creator of mankind, already knew that Sati would be born again as Parvati. But then who would confront Lord Shiva with this truth. So Lord Vishnu took his Sudarshan chakra (divine disc) and slowly allowed the chakra to cut the different body parts of Sati. As the body parts fell at different places, the rishis and muni performed the rituals and those places became Shaktipeeth. Now back to my journey to Tarapith.
Tarapith is around 300 kms from the main city of Kolkata. I hired a taxi and it took me around four and half hours to reach this temple. The roads were well-maintained and we traveled by the new roads which are parallel to the Grand Trunk road or GT road. This road connected to Delhi. There were toll posts at different intervals which was a good sign that there was someone catering to the needs of avid travelers and pilgrims.
There were dense forests on the way and most of these areas had no streetlights. The driver informed me that most people with families avoided traveling down these roads after sunset as these forests were infested with dacoits. I didn’t dispute this fact because the forests were really dense and without street lights in these desert parts, it was truly unsafe.
As we entered the small town of Tarapith, I was surprised to see a large number of hotels, lodges and guest houses packed in rows. I asked the driver, “I had no idea that so many people visited this temple. I always thought this was a very isolated place.”
The driver cleared my doubts instantly. Most pilgrims came in the evenings and stayed overnight at these hotels. They all wake up at 4:00 am for the Mangala Aarti or the first darshan of Tara Maa when she was bathed with oil. Then after this ritual, the temple doors were closed, then there was Her Shringaar or dressing of Maa and then aarti was performed. He too had come on two occasions with his clientele for this early morning darshan.
Time was ticking away, and I was getting nervous. The chances of temple doors closing was slowly approaching. It was past 1:00 pm and soon it would be time for Tara Maa’s lunch. As the car was parked, I dashed through the bi-lanes lined with quaint shops selling photographs of Tara Maa and an assortment of things that I decided to explore later.
The zigzag lanes were bit confusing and I was mentally prepared to wait as long as it took to see Tara Maa. After driving down for 4 and half hours, any amount of waiting would be worth it. Soon it was the end of the road and on my right was an open arena where many families were waiting. I asked a shopkeeper, panting “Where is the temple? Is it open?”
“It’s closed now, but it will open in half an hour. Why don’t you wait there.” He said.
With a sigh of relief, I joined many families waiting for darshan. Meanwhile, the shopkeeper got my offerings basket ready and asked me if I needed a priest to perform any puja. I sat facing the door wondering where the entrance was. Next to Tara Maa’s shrine was her consort Lord Shiva’s temple called Bhairav temple. I paid my respects to him and waited in anticipation.
Exactly after half an hour the doors opened and I was stunned. The sight was incredible. There She was. Her countless blessings had got me here safe and sound. The shopkeeper directed me to a corner entrance where there was a small queue of around eight people. I followed the queue and soon my assigned priest appeared and we entered the main sanctum. Tara Maa was so beautiful. There was her Paduka (feet) in front so that we could touch it. She was covered with flowers and actually I was so mesmerized by Her that I really didn’t see what colored saree she wore or what all ornaments adorned Her.
After we offered Pushpanjali, the priest actually told me come under the railing and go close to Tara Maa.
“Is that really possible? I am being allowed to stand close to Maa.” The priest recited mantras and from my offering basket, he opened the box of sindoor (vermillion) and told me to put some to Maa. I have never touched a Devi Maa’s idol in all my life. I have been fortunate to visit three Shaktipeeths but never have the priests allowed us to touch the presiding diety. I took a pinch of sindoor and put it on Tara Maa’s forehead, then her feet. He said, “Look at Maa, see Her closely.” I was so overwhelmed that I really was in a state of confusion, happiness, disbelief and teary-eyed.
After my darshan, we exited through the back entrance and there was Prasad being served. I packed some Prasad and headed to the shops. The shops sold photographs of Tara Maa and busts. There were items sold that one needed for performing rituals. The driver was accompanying me and he pointed out to a small lane which he said was cremation grounds.
I hesitated, “Do we actually need to see cremation ground at 2:30 pm?”
“There are no bodies cremated here, Madam. This was where Sadak Bama Khapa acquired Siddhi. Many aghoris still do tapasya here. They don’t eat for days; sit day and night in the hope of getting darshan from Maa.”
I followed the driver and saw an open ground with small samadhis and there was some people offering their prayers. There was a female sadak there too, with Jata (matted locks) wearing saffron clothes and another man. The driver showed me a small temple which I couldn’t make out much, as you see in the picture all the red color and flowers.
These were the actual Paduka or feet where Goddess Tara appeared to Bama Khapa. The red color is called Alta. This red oxide based liquid is adorned on every married woman’s feet in the Bengali community. It is a shubh (auspicious) sign. I offered my obesiences to Maa, took pictures and left.
The driver said that most of his clients, who came in the evenings, go further ahead of the cremation grounds and watch the aghoris do penance. If these sadaks are awake and in good state of mind then they have enough Siddhi to tell a person’s past, present and future. Some tell them stories of the efforts of Bama Khapa and how and what happened when Tara Maa had first visited him.
I went to the car and feasted on Tara Maa’s bhog. I had a blissful day, and carried with me countless blessings of the Divine Mother.
©Nayna, 2007-2009. All Rights Reserved.
November 22, 2009
Among the 52 Shaktipeeth where Goddess Sati’s body parts had fallen, Kolkata’s Kalighat holds the toe of her right foot. To understand the meaning and significance of Shaktipeeth, let us go back to our Puranas (centuries old Hindu scriptures).
Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva was known as Sati in her previous birth. Her marriage to Lord Shiva was looked down upon by her father King Daksha. The king had organized a Yagna (a spiritual gathering where offerings are made to Agni Dev or the God of Fire) and purposely avoided inviting his daughter and her husband.
It didn’t take Sati long to find out about this magnanimous event where all the gods and celestial beings were invited. Hurt and angered by her father’s behavior, she decided to go uninvited. Lord Shiva tried to persuade her not to go but she was relentless. According to Sati, a daughter didn’t need a formal invitation to visit her own father’s house.
King Daksha explained why he had not invited his son-in-law which was nothing but public humiliation of her husband. Sati couldn’t take his degradation anymore and jumped into the sacrificial fire and ended her life. When Lord Shiva heard of this, he was torn apart. He destroyed and created havoc at the Yagna. He then carried Sati’s remains on his shoulder and danced the dance of destruction-Tandav which would eventually destroy the Universe. While other versions state that in grief, the Lord carried her body on his shoulders and walked aimlessly in grief. He refused to complete the final rites.
Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe felt that if Sati’s body did not receive proper cremation according to the Hindu Shastra’s then she could not take rebirth. As the creator of mankind, Lord Brahma knew that Sati would be born again as Goddess Parvati. Lord Vishnu was concerned about Lord Shiva’s grief.
The power of his grief would slowly cause the destruction of the Universe. They both couldn’t control or face Lord Shiva’s anger so Lord Vishnu took his Sudarshan Chakra (Disc) and cut her body into pieces. As Lord Shiva traveled her body part fell and last rites were done by the gods. The places where divine Mother’s body parts fell is known as Shaktipeeth. The other two Shaktipeeth’s that we have been fortunate to visit are Naina Devi, Bilaspur and Kunjapuri Devi, Rishikesh.
Every Shaktipeeth has a corresponding consort in the manifestation of Lord Shiva and here he is known as Baba Nakuleshwar or Nakuleshwar Bhairav. First, he is worshipped and then we should proceed to the divine Mother. This temple is few lanes behind Kalighat. In the picture, you can see that the temple is really large and you cannot miss it. The locals are very helpful and they do guide you to the exact location. Lord Nakuleshwar is deeply embedded into the ground and one has to kneel down, bend forward towards the Shivling or Lingam to offer Gangajal. The priests there, have all the necessary items for performing puja- Gangajal in small earthern container, sandalwood paste (white chandan paste) bel leaves, akunda flower garland (akund is the Bengali word to describe purplish white small flowers, I haven’t been able to locate its English botanical name yet). They perform the ceremonies and at the end of it, any amount of dakshina is acceptable.
The entrance to Kalighat was admist lanes and bi-lanes of shops selling hibiscus flower garlands and sweets. Hibiscus flower is the divine mother’s favorite flower. There were “Paandas”, colloquially known as agents who offer their assistance to get a closer darshan of the deity, otherwise waiting in long queues for hours is fairly common.
The most crowded days of the week are Tuesdays and Saturdays. Luckily, I went on a Thursday. But still it was decided to get an agent. He swiftly maneuvered us within the crowd. Soon he disappeared and all I could see was his extended hand. I grabbed it, squeezed in between people and stepped up and in front of me was Goddess Kali. Her form was gigantic. We were at an elevated height, so we could see her face to face. The idol could be more that 7 feet, I don’t know because I was just in awe. My offerings were handed to the head priest below and I was still thinking- “Wow, this is it. I can’t believe I am here.”
Within the temple premises, there is a Radha Gobindo temple. This is the jugal form (dual) of Lord Krishna with Radha Rani and Bal Gopal or Lalaan. The priest allowed us to touch our forehead at the lotus feet of the Lord and gave us Tulsi/Tulasi leaf (Basil) as Prasad. Adjoining this temple was Sitala Mata temple where too we offered our prayers.
The temple is surrounded on all sides by various lanes where shops sold photographs, idols, shringar (decorative items to dress up the Lord). Anything and everything that is needed to complete our devotional service to our Lord. The temple was under very tight security and photography was prohibited. This photograph was taken from the road parallel to the temple and I took it after seeking permission from an Inpector.
Shaktipeeths are sources of power from the divine mother. It radiates an invisible energy which only the soul understands and transmits the feeling to the human brain. This feeling and the understanding of this divine power can be understood depending on the spiritual progress of an individual.
©Nayna, 2007-2009. All Rights Reserved.
November 19, 2009
If you are looking for an opportunity to immerse your wayward soul into the never depleting ocean of devotion, then Dakineshwar Kali temple is an ideal place. This is one of the largest temple structures of Kolkata city. This marvelous temple is a delight to the eyes whether you view it while driving down the Hoogly Bridge or taking a ferryride on the Ganges. Many people prefer to take a boatride and reach here while others can enjoy a forty-five minutes drive from the centre of the city.
Rani Rasmani is the founder of this temple and the thought of building this temple came upon to her in a dream. She regularly travelled by boat to the sacred city of Benaras or Varanasi to seek the Goddess’s blessing there. One night prior to her scheduled visit to Varanasi, Goddess Kali appeared to her in a dream and instructed her to build a temple on the banks of the river Ganga. She said that she would manifest herself in this idol and accept Rani Rasmani’s devotional service.
The temple grounds are well-organized, with ample parking space at nominal charges. As you step into the temple compound, your attention will be forcefully diverted by enthusiastic vendors selling garlands of fresh hibiscus flowers and offering baskets. An offering basket consists of pedas or sweatmeats, a box of sindoor or vermilion, incense sticks, a red chunari or netted veil and flowers. After my purchase, I walked to the main entrance. Security personnel were considerate and didn’t really dig into the contents of my bag but requested that I switch off my cell phone and refrain from taking any pictures.
The arena as I stepped inside was magnificient. On my right were arrays of 12 smaller individual temples of Lord Shiva. The left side had a small queue that I joined quickly. As I reached to the top of the stairs, I saw that it was the place where offerings were being taken. I gave my offerings and stepped out to find the main entrance. I was waiting in anticipation for many years to see how Goddess Kali appeared to the mortals here. It was the adjoining stairway and there were around twenty people ahead of me. Opposite the shrine, there was a huge hall where devotees sat, deep in devotion. Some silently gazed at the Goddess, some chanted prayers, while others rotated their prayers beads. Soon it was my turn.
The Goddess’s eyes were spellbinding. One glance at Her and I was dumbfounded. She was dressed in rich, red saree, a lot of jewelry and a crown, with layers and layers of flower garlands. Soon, it was my time to move ahead and give a chance to others. I walked to the prayer hall, stood on my toes to get a final glimpse of the divine Mother.
Next, I went up to the twelve Shivalings/ Shiva Lingams. Each of the Lord Shiva idols was placed in individual temples. Adjoining to this area, were steps leading to the river Ganges. Most people were taking water from here and offering it to Lord Shiva. By the time, I finished bowing and praying to the twelve Shiva Lingams, the queue had almost reached to the entrance. So the best time to visit this temple is in early part of the morning before 10:00 am.
Adjacent to the exit, there was a narrow lane where there were small shops selling everything that you ever needed to setup a shrine in your own home. Idols of all gods and goddesses were available in all sizes. The pictures don’t do justice to the amount of things that they have stored with them.
After an hour of shopping here, I headed to Belur Math. This was around 10 minutes drive from Dakisheshwar temple. Belur Math was founded by Swami Vivekananda, the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Sri Ramakrishna is always remembered as one of the few divine souls whose ardent devotion pleased the goddess Kali with so much fervor that she appeared to him daily. He served her meals and She actually sat and ate in front of him. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa was the head priest at Dakineshwar temple.
Belur Math expelled a sense of serenity and created a feeling of calmness as I stepped into their enormous grounds. The visitors are requested to leave their footwear at the entrance counter. A board had a detailed layout of all the buildings listed in the ground. The area was beautifully maintained with flower gardens. Visitors were closely monitored by security guards. Signboards at every corner, informed that photography was strictly prohibited.
The first large hall that I walked into was that of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. He was made of marble and was truly life-like. His shrine was intricately decorated with fresh flowers and its fragrance refreshed the sultry air. The enormous hall could accommodate around 200 devotees together. The next section was a shrine of his wife Sharada Devi. Her large photograph was ornamented with white flowers.
The gardens surrounding every shrine were very inviting and I saw most of the visitors were enjoying their time lazying around in the well-trimmed grass, while others like me curiously went from one structure to the other.
Another section was dedicated to Swami Vivekananda. Here, his face was engraved in a marble slab. The craftsman had done justice to his serene appearance. Flowers adorned his image and the milky-white marble shrine created a soothing ambience in the afternoon heat. As I walking out, I came across a handicrafts showroom. This place had handmade articles by the locals. There were jute bags, dolls, incense sticks, cotton sarees, jams, pickles, sauces and many more. I bought some bags and incense sticks. The Kasturi fragrance incense was the best buy as its smell is different from sandalwood, and floral ones. There, I was given a small picture card of this place that I have posted here.
Dakineshwar Temple is a must see if you are visiting Kolkata, a place where you can come face to face with the divine Mother and can seek Her eternal blessings.
©Nayna, 2007-2009. All Rights Reserved.