By; Ram Prasad Tripathy
BERHAMPUR:The famous Hill Shrine of Maa Tara Tarini is situated on the holy Tarini Parvat (Ratnagiri/Purnagiri), on the south bank of River Rushikulya at a distance of 30 km from Berhampur city in Odisha, India. Embedded in the hoary past, mentioned in the Puranas and the Tantras as the main seat of Sakti worship since times immemorial, the Tara Tarini Hill Shrine is an important pre-historic Sakti center. It is believed to be the Sthana Peetha or Breast shrine of Adi Sakti. This Hill Shrine is one of the oldest Shrines of Mother Goddess and is considered as one amongst the four major ancient Sakti centers of India, which draw their origin from the limbs of the Corpse of “Mata Sati” in Satya Yuga. The popular belief is that Breast of Goddess Sati fell here and hence it is revered as the Stana Peetha of Adi Shakti.
Devi temple and Shakti temple
Scholars believe that not all the Devi temples or Durga temples are Shakti temples. They generally divide the temples of mother goddesses in to two broad categories namely, Shakti temples and Durga temples. Shakti temples are those which originated from the corpse of Mata Sati (the first spouse of Lord Siva) in Satya Yuga. As per the Puranas and religious texts, there are 4 Adi Shakti Peethas, 18 Maha Shakti Peethas, 51 Shakti Peethas and some Tantric religious texts recognize 108 Shakti Peethas present in various parts of India and even outside India. Whereas Durga temples are representing Goddesses Parvati (the second spouse of Lord Siva) and her incarnations. Except these Adi Shakti, Maha Shakti and Shakti Peethas all other temples are Durga Temples or Devi temples. It is believed that the Shakti Peethas represent Goddess Sati or Adi Shakti, which originated thousands of years ago.
Adi Shakti Peethas
The great mythological texts including the Shiva Purana, the Kalika Purana (the Asthashakti), and the Devi Bhagavata all recognize the four major Shakti Peethas. Like (Bimala, Pada Khanda) inside the Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha, (Tara Tarini) Sthana Khanda (Breasts), near Berhampur, Odisha, (Kamakshi, Yoni khanda) near Guwahati, Assam and (Dakhina Kalika, Mukha khanda) in Kolkata, West Bengal originated from the limbs of the Corpse of Mata Sati. In a hymn, the Kalika Purana (Asthashakti) clearly says:
“Vimala Pada khandancha,
Stana khandancha Tarini (Tara Tarini),
Kamakhya Yoni khandancha,
Mukha khandancha Kalika (Kali)
Anga pratyanga sangena
Vishnu Chakra Kshate nacha……..”
Further explaining the importance of these four Peethas the Brihat Samhita also gives the geographical location of these Peethas. For Example:
“Rushikulya Tate Devi,
Tashya Srunge Stitha Tara,
Thus, there is absolutely no dispute regarding these four famous Adi Shakti Peethas. Apart from these four religious texts recognized 51 other famous Shakti Peethas. The Peethanirnaya Tantra recognizes 52 Peethas and they are scattered all over India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet and Pakistan. Besides listing 52 Maha-Peethas, the Shivacharita speaks about 26 more Upa-Peethas. The Bengali almanac, the Vishuddha Siddhanta Panjika, also describes about 52 Peethas.
The abode of Maa Tara Tarini
Adi Shakti Goddesses Tara Tarini have been regarded as the presiding deity (Ista-Devi) in many parts of India and in most of the households in Odisha. This Holy Shrine is situated in the eastern coast of India near the Bay of Bengal; about 30 kilometers away from the commercial nerve centre of Orissa, Berhampur. The historically famous Jaugada rock edict of Emperor Asoka and the pious river Rishikulya, which has been described in Rig Veda as ‘Gangayah Jyestha Bhagini’ (i.e. the elder sister of the Ganges), are also present near this holy shrine.
Since time immemorial, Adyashakti is being worshiped here as Devi Tara Tarini on the blue capped holy mountain of Tarini Parvat/Kumari hills/Ratnagiri/Purnagiri. At the hill top a beautiful stone temple is the abode of Maa. Two stones anthropomorphized by the addition of gold and silver ornaments and shaped to be seen as human faces are the main Shrine of this temple which represents the Goddesses Tara and Tarini. In between them are placed two fully celebrated and beautiful brass heads as their Chalanti Pratima or their Living Image. Worship at this important centre of Shakta cult has been continuing since time immemorial.
Origin of Maa Tara Tarini
According to the Puranas, the origin of Tara Tarini is related to the Jagna of Daksha Prajapati in Satya Yuga. Religious sacred texts like Shiva Purana, Kalika Purana, Devi Bhagawat (a contemporary text of the Mahabharata written by Vyasa Dev) attests to this fact.
According to these Puranas, Devi Sati, the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, married Yogiraj Shiva without the consent of his father. Since Lord Shiva has always been associated with cremation ground, Daksha Prajapati refused to recognize Shiva as Lord. Therefore, Sati’s unilateral decision severely hurt her father. After some time, Daksha organized a Jagna where all the Gods, saints and Gandharvas were invited. However, Daksha Prajapati did not invite Lord Shiva and his daughter Sati to the Jagna knowingly. Devarshi Narada informed this to Devi Sati. Sati requested Shiva to attend the Jagna. But Shiva politely turned down the request of Sati and advised her not to attend the function without prior invitation. Having failed to get the permission of Shiva, Sati became furious. However, lastly with annoyance and humiliation Sati decided to visit the Jagna alone to teach a lesson to Daksha Prajapati and to enquire why Daksha did not invite her husband Lord Siva to the Jagna. She argued fiercely with Daksha but her father misbehaved with Shiva in the presence of Sati and uttered insulting words to Her spouse Siva, which were not tolerable to Sati. Therefore, unable to bear this pain and insult She jumped into the Jagna kund. After entering into the fire the mortal body of Sati became half burnt.
Learning of this, Lord Siva was overtaken by grief at the loss of His beloved and created Virabhadra and Bhadra-Kali who led the Nandi and Gana to wreck havoc on the sacrifice. Siva carried her body on his shoulders and then as he got angry, started the terrible dance of complete destruction – the Rudra Tandava (Nritya) as he moved around. This activity of Shiva spread horror and panic among the Gods. The existence of the universe came under threat and the whole universe was heading towards Mahapralaya (annihilation).
Kalika Purana says that to save the mundane creatures and the creation of Brahma from destruction the Devatas and Rishis surrendered themselves before the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu and requested him to save the creation of Brahma from Shiva’s fury and annihilation. Then Shrihari Vishnu applied his Sudarshan Chakra to cut the half-burnt body of Sati. The Sudarshan Chakra did the same. The parts of Her body dropped in several places on the earth and the anger of Siva cooled down and He went for Samadhi (Deep Meditation).
The Kalika Purana states that Vishnu used the Sudarshan Chakra to cut the body into 51 pieces. Tradition believes that these are the 51 alphabets of the Sanskrit letter (50 alphabets + Om).
In Devi Bhagawat (Saptasati Matruka), written by Vyasa Dev this episode is described in a different manner. On the request of the Brahma and especially Srihari Vishnu, Shani (symbolized by the Saturn Graha) entered the corpse of Sati and disposed it in 108 parts. Shakta Peethas sprang up in the places where the organs of Sati fell. Scholars believe both versions are correct and have separate spiritual meanings related to creation.
All those places where parts of the body of mother Sati fell later emerged as famous Shakti Peethas. It is said that the breasts of Sati fell at the Tarini Parvata or Tarini Peetha on the bank of pious river Rishikulya and thus the famous Tara Tarini Shakta Peetha arose at this place.
Scholars also acknowledge a second mythological story relating to the origin of Tara Tarini Shrine in the Ramayana or specifically in the “Raghunatha Kirtana”. As per this text, once Maharshi Vasistha for the fulfillment of his desires invoked Goddesses Tara Tarini. To get the desired result he spent several years in deep meditation at the foothill of the Shrine. But after a long try he failed to please Goddesses Tara Tarini. And having failed to please the Goddess, he cursed that the Goddess will remain un-worshiped. When Goddess Tara Tarini knew about it, they requested Maharshi Vasistha to free them from the curse. After seeing the Goddesses, Maharshi cooled down and repented for the grave mistake he had committed. He said that Goddesses Tara Tarini would again resurface on the earth in the Tretaya Yuga, from the eyes of Goddess Laxmi. Until then they should remain in the eyes of Goddess Laxmi. Maharshi’s words proved true. With the dawn of Tretaya, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Lord Ram and his spouse Goddess Laxmi took birth as Devi Sita. When Tears came down from the eyes of Goddess Sita in Ashoka Vatikan two magnificent Devis Tara and Tarini resurfaced. After helping Sri Ram against Mahiravan and with the permission of Goddess Sita, they returned to their eternal abode Tarini Parvat for the wellbeing of the universe.
Brief History of the Shrine
There is plethora of information available in the Hindu Religious texts, Bouddha Tantras and Hindu tantric texts regarding this shrine. Folklore, folk songs, folk stories, historical data, travel accounts and ancient literature also supply a lot of information about the origin and root of this ancient most Shrine. The following narrative based on these sources unveils the historicity and traces out the origin of this oldest destination of Shakti worship in India.
According to the Mythological Puranas the origin of Maa Tara Tarini is directly attributed to Daksha Prajapati’s Jagna in Satya Yuga. The famous Shakti Peethas of Bimala, Tara-Tarini, Dakshina Kalika and Kamakshi originated from the limbs of the divine Corpse of Devi Sati. Mythological sacred texts such as the Shiva Purana, the Kalika Purana, and the Devi Bhagabat (a contemporary text of the Mahabharata written by Shri Vyasa Dev around 6000 years ago) attest to this fact.
It is known from the Mahabharata that before the commencement of the Mahabharata war, Lord Srikrishna advised Arjuna to offer prayer for victory at Shridevi kupa or Bhadrakali. Bhadrakali originated from the limbs of Sati like the other four major Shakti Peethas, which existed during the time of the Mahabharata or around 6000 years ago. This is the oldest data we have regarding the existence of the Shrines that originated from the limbs of the divine Corpse of Devi Sati.
According to historical sources and Buddhist literature the fall of the Kalingan Empire and its capital Sampa (Samapa), caused by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in the Kalinga war around 2300 years ago, strengthened the grip of Buddhists in this part of India. Sampa (as it was known then) was hardly 5 km away from Tara Tarini Hill Shrine. Consequently, scholars believe that Taratarini was worshiped as the principal deity (Ista-Devi) of the mighty Kalinga Empire.
Scholars believe that after Ashoka conquered Kalinga, it became a famous centre of Buddhism. The region of Ganjam near the bank of river Rishikulya was an active Buddhist site. This was shown from the Special Rock Edicts of Ashoka found at Jaugada at a distance of 5 km from Tara-Tarini Hill Shrine.
Some scholars believe that the name Tara (Buddhism), an important deity of Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon, is suggestive of Buddhist influence in Tara Tarini. An image of Buddha in meditation, present inside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine, lends credence to the claim that this site was an ancient centre of the Buddhist Shakta cult.
According to the texts of Mahayana Buddhists, in the initial days, the Buddhists didn’t believe in the worship of Goddesses or in Pratimapuja (Idol Worship). But, the ecclesiastical texts of Mahayana’s reveal that from the 1st century AD, after the fall of Kalinga, for the first time, the Mahayana Buddhists accepted the worship of Mother Goddess "Tara" and the Tara worship is prevalent in many countries like Tibat, Srilanka, Mangoliya, some parts of India etc. However, in some other countries like Japan the same “Tara” is been worshiped as “Tarni” by Buddhists. So there is seldom any doubt that the Buddhists have learned the "Tara" Puja concept from this Shrine.
The Bouddha Tantrik texts, texts of Vajrajani sect and Hindu Tantrik texts also attest to these facts.
Scholars believe that in the primary days the Buddhists worshiped ‘Tara Tarini’, the principal seat of the Tantrik sect in Hinduism at that time, as “Bouddha Tara”, and later on included "Tara" as the Tantrik deity or spouse of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in their belief system. Gradually this "Tara" worship spread to different parts of the world.
The "Maritime History" of Kalinga also suggests the worship of the Devi “Tara” by the Hindu Sadhavas, merchants and seamen, before launching their sea voyage from the great seaports at Dantapura (Gopalpur), Pallur near Chilika Lake, kalingapatna and river Rishikulya. It is important to mention that all these major Sea ports of the ancient India were very near to the Tara Tarini hill Shrine.
Historian Pratima Kamat supports the above theory in her ‘LADY OF THE RESTLESS WATERS’. Here she proves that the people involved in maritime activities in this part of the Odisha were devotees of Goddesses Tara Tarini. The influence of Tara Tarini was such that people living in far off places like Goa have imitated the Tara puja concept from the Shadhavas of Odisha coast.
Folk lore & Folk stories
According to folk lore, it is around the 8th Century AD when Jagadguru Adi Sankaracharya toured the whole country, that he discovered this Shrine. However, the Tara Tarini Shrine did not exist in its present form at that time. After prolonged effort, Sankaracharya came to know that this ancient Shakti centre was under the control of Buddhist Tantrikas. He released this Peetha from the control of Bouddha tantrikas and handed it over to Hindus.
Tara Tarini as daughters of Basu Praharaj
It is known from available sources that until 17th century, this place was out of the sight of the common person. But, according to a folk story once Maa Taratarini appeared as two sisters in the house of Shri Basu Praharaj. Basu Praharaj was a learned Brahmin of Kharida Vira Jagannathpur village near Purushottampur in Ganjam District, Odisha and one of the great devotees of the Mother Goddess, but he was childless. After staying for some years, once both the sisters disappeared suddenly from the house of Basu Praharaj. According to the account of the villagers, both the sisters travelled up to the Tarini Parvat/ Ratnagiri/Tarini Parvat and disappeared there.
Basu Praharaj searched for the two sisters for some time but did not find any trace of them. His heart broke down with grief and pain. One night, he saw a dream in which the Goddesses Tara and Tarini informed Basu Praharaj that the sisters were actually not his daughters. Instead, they were the Adi Shakti, Goddesses Tara and Tarini. The Goddesses ordered Basu to come out of his grief. They said that, “The time had arrived, with full devotion; you renovate the temple on the Hill Top of Tarini Parvat and reestablish the deities Tara Tarini according to the Vedic tradition”.
After that divine direction, Basu discovered the tracings of the ancient most presence of Goddesses Tara Tarini on the sacred Hill Top and immediately took steps to reconstruct the temple and the Shrine. Legend says during the time of Basu Praharaj he established the temple of Tara Tarini on Tarini Parvat and also established the temple of Bhairava adjacent to Tara Tarini temple in the same mountain.
Since that time, with its magnetism and sanctity, this Sthana Peetha (Breast Shrine) of Mata Sati became a centre of faith and reverence for countless numbers of people, who are in search of peace, tranquility, guidance and spiritual energy. The temple's fame spread like wild fire and it became one of the popular religious destinations for millions of devotees. Taratarini Hill Shrine or Kalyan Dham attracts the highest number of devotees and visitors after Puri Jagannath Temple in Odisha. Devotees believe that one must have the darshan of this Shakti Dham at least once in their lifetime.
Chaitra Parba/ Chaitra Mela at Taratarini Shrine
The 'Taratarini Mela' or Chaitra Mela is one of India's biggest fairs, takes place on each Tuesday of the month of Chaitra i.e. during mid-March to mid-April (according to the English calendar) at the holy Tara Tarini Hill Shrine. Lacs of devotees come from every corner of world in order to have darshan of the Goddess Tara Tarini and perform their Manasika after fulfillment of their desires. Grand congregations take place on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th Tuesdays of this month.
This Chaitra Parba/Chaitra Mela festival is the most important amongst the festivals, celebrated at the Tara Tarini Hill Shrine (Kalyan Dham).
Significant features of the Chaitra festival are as follows;
- On Tuesday, the temple remains open for the Darshan of the deities from 1.00 AM (mid-night on Monday) till 11 PM (of Tuesday). During that period, Pahada (daytime rest) of the deities is confined to night-time only.
- Devotees in large numbers congregate at the top of the hill and the foothill from Monday night itself.
- 2nd & 3rd Tuesdays of the Chaitra are considered to be the most auspicious days. Therefore large number of devotees (Around 5-7 lakhs) congregate during these days.
- Puja and offering by the devotees are offered to the Chalanti Pratima of deities placed at the Bije Peetha for the Bije Pratima. However, Darshan of the deities in Garbha Griha (Sanctum of the main temple) is allowed.
- Special Khechidi Bhoga (Fried Rice of around 1,000 K.g of rice, Ghee, Cashew, dry fruits and other items) is supplied to the devotees from Monday mid-night till 6 PM of Tuesday evening non-stop.
- About 20-30 lakh devotees and tourists visited this holy shrine during this month.
Hair Offerings during Chaitra Mela
- Devotees come to Tara Tarini Temple to offer the first bunch of Hair of the newborn babies with the believe that Goddesses Tara Tarini will protect the newborns from all evils and ensure their well-being. On normal days the temple barber conducts the tonsuring of the children. Special arrangements for hair offering are made during the festivals. Around 1000 barbers at the barber-shed on hill top and on the foot hill are engaged to help the hair offering of children and other devotees. Hair offering continues early morning till 6 PM of Chaitra Tuesday.
The Tara Tarini Parvata is surrounded by natural beauty. The picturesque scenery of the Shrine from the hilltop down to the bank of river Rishikulya gives a thrilling experience of nature and divinity to each visitor and often captivates its mind and soul. There are 999 holy steps on the front side of the hill leading to the hill top temple and also a Pucca ghat road for vehicle on the backside of the hill and the Arial Ropeway also facilitating devotees to reach at the Peetha. It is considered that one who takes the 999 holy steps to the Hill shrine to have a darshan of Goddess Tara Tarini earns equal Punya of a dip in the holy Ganges.