Tarapith in the Birbhum district of West Bengal is a temple town famed for its Tantric temple, devoted to the goddess Tara who is a manifestation of Shakti – the divine mother goddess of the Shakta sect of Hindu faith. Tarapith literally translates as the ‘sitting place of the goddess Tara’ and is one of the numerous Shakti Pithas found all over India.
Legend of Tarapith
Legend has it that Sati wife of Shiva, the God of destruction, sacrificed herself in a yagna (holy fire) as she was shamed and insulted by her father. Shiva distraught at the death of his wife began the dance of destruction called the Tandava Nitrya which would have destroyed the world as we know it.
Vishnu the god of protection, in an effort to stop the destruction, used his Sudharshan Chakra to divide Sati’s body into numerous pieces and scattered them all over India. Tarapith is said to be the place where the eyes of Sati fell, ‘tara’ in Bengali means ‘eye’ as well as ‘star’, owing to this legend the earlier name of the village Chandipur was changed to Tarapith.
Sati is said to be another form of manifestation of Shakti, tying the two legends of Tarapith together in a somewhat cohesive manner.
The temple of Tara Ma itself is a medium sized temple with marble walls featuring a curved roof called a ‘dochala’. The terra-cotta facade of the temple features various scenes from Hindu mythology glorifying the different avatars of the Shakti as Kali, Durga etc.
All the doors leading into the inner shrine are made of beautifully carved and engraved metal showing hibiscuses which is the sacred flower of the Goddess, along with portraits of Shiva and chakras.
The Murti itself is also said to be a sight to behold with its finely crafted silver face with three eyes and a vermillion smeared mouth. The Prasad of the Tara Ma is said to be a mixture of water, liquor and sindoor also called the Bathwater of Tara, since liquor is the choice drink of the tantric saints and that of the god Shiva, the goddess Tara is almost exclusively offered liquor by the devotees.
Tantric Cremation Grounds
The cremation grounds that are located near the main temple have been a witness to various Tantric rites over the years. Called the Mahasmashana, this cremation ground is believed to be the place where one can find the goddess Tara as she is believed to be attracted to bones and skeletons and even today, daily animal sacrifices are made here to appease and seek the favour of the goddess.
The Mahasmashana thus attracts a large number of Tantric saints or sadhus who permanently reside in the cremation grounds and practice sadhanas or spiritual practices.
One of the most revered Tantric saints, who enjoys massive popularity in the township is the Mad Saint of Tarapith called Bamakhepa. A pink temple called the Sri Sri Bamdeb Smriti Mandir dedicated to the saint, who was known for his divine madness, is seen as soon as one enters the village from the main road. Banakhepa’s red Samadhi or tomb can be found close to the entrance of the cremation grounds and is the site for homage and humble offerings from all sorts of pilgrims.
Tarapith can be reached effortlessly from major destinations by road, rail and even the airways.