West Bengal: Tarapith - Seat of Tantra
Tarapith is a supremely sacred Tantik place of pilgrimage. It is not only one of the 51 Shaktipeeths but also a Mahapith. Today's Tarapith is yesteryear's Chandipur located on the eastern banks of Dwarka river. Legend has it that sage Vashistha Muni attained Nirvana while meditating on the Panchamundi Asana in the cremation grounds on the banks of the Dwarka river.
However, as of today, the shimmering Dwarka river has been reduced to a stream and the crematorium is not what it used to be in earlier times. But Tarapith continues to flourish as a Hindu pilgrimage centre where some of the great spiritual giants of erstwhile Bengal, like Kamalakanta, Raja Ramakrishna, Bishekshypa, Anandanath, Mokshadananda, Kailashpati Baba, Shankar Baba, Bamakhyapa and others of their elk, all attained spiritual fulfilment in this blessed pitha.
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The presiding deity at Tarapith is Tara Ma, revered by millions of Hindus worldwide. Legend has it that way back in 1225 BC, the present Aachtala temple was built by one Jagannath Ray of Mallarpur and the temple is replete with sculptures of Goddess Mahisa Mardini. The Battle of Kurukshetra and episodes from the Hindu epic, Ramayana have been skillfully depicted.
The most intriguing feature of the sanctum sanctorum is that Tara Ma's entire body is covered, except her face. It is only after the evening aarati that devotees get a glimpse of the original stone idol of Lord Shiva sucking nectar from the breast of Mahakali.
The legendary Jibita Kunda (Living Pond) and the temple of Biram are worth visiting, as is the Mahasamshan where Tara Ma is believed to have kept aside her necklace of skulls that she wore and went to bathe in the river Dwarka. Here one will sight countless sadhus, tantriks and fakirs, absorbed in deep meditation, especially in the early hours of the morning and at dusk.
Try to coincide your visit to Tarapith for the 2nd day of the month of Shravan, which is the day of commemoration of the passing away of one of the greatest Tantrik sadhaks of India - His Holiness Bamakhyapa.
Apart from Ma Tara's temple at Tarapith, a visit to the nearby Gol Ghar built by Hampton Sahib of the British East India Company can be a very rewarding experience.
There is Birchchandrapur located at a distance of 10 Kms. from Tarapith, renowned for its Garvabas. All you have to do is hop into any Sainthia bound bus. Birchandrapur is the birth place of Nityananda Mahaprabhu. There is also the temple of Aachtala at Bankarai.
Most visitors and pilgrims to Tarapith make it a point to visit Nalhati, which is 15 kms from Tarapith and is renowned as a Shaktipitha. Here Sati's windpipe (throat) is believed to have fallen. In the temple of Charchala, a piece of stone covered with cloth and smeared with vermilion, having eyes, nose and mouth, made of silver, is routinely worshipped. Every day, at early dawn when the goddess is bathed in the temple's pulpit, Sati's windpipe can be seen.
Legend has it that the temple was built by Rani Bhawani of Natore. According to another school of thought, one Ramsharan Sharma was ordered by the goddess to build a temple and he in turn took the help of some local merchants.
In earlier times there used to be a spring at the back of the temple, which is not existent today. There is also the Udhuanala filed where the last Nawab of Bengal, Mir Quasim, fought a hard pitched battle against the British. Further uphill, there is a neem tree and the speciality of this tree is that the leaves of the branch extending towards the temple is bitter as usual, while the branch extending towards the mazhar has leaves which are not sweet, but definitely not bitter either.
For archaeological buffs, there is a site on the hillock where countless weapons belonging to the Old, Middle and Stone Age have been excavated and are well preserved at the Kolkata Museum. Pilgrimage aside, visitors to Tarapith also venture to Bhadrapur on National Highway 2, which is the birth place of freedom fighter Nandakumar, who was reportedly hanged by the British for protesting against the dishonest policies of Warren Hastings. Nandakumar was blessed by Goddess Kali who appeared in his dream and instructed him to build a temple - the temple of Devi Akali.
The characteristic feature of the Akali temple is that it is replete with an octagonal Garbagriha, an image of Sharpasinha, Sharpabharana, Barabayadayini Dwibhuja and Samshanvasini Jaganmata. However, Nandakumar was unable to complete the construction of the temple as he was hanged by the British.
Where to Stay:
There are many dharamsalas like Joy Ma Kali Sanatan Sangha, Naya Niwas, Bamdev Sangha, Tarapith Sangha, Shivananda Ashram.
How to Reach:
Local taxis too may be hired from airport, Sahid Minar (Esplanade), Sealdah Railway Station as well as Howrah Railway Station.
Photo credit: William Clark
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.