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TARA-TARINI : The Ancient Shakti Pitha of Orissa
The tradition of Shakti worship in India can be traced back to the period of antiquity. Shakti is the mother of Universe the highest primal power transferred to powerful Goddess representing the creative force, Matrika, later developed to Shakti or Prakriti under various names of Sati or Devi (Durga / Parvati)ad depicted in Purana-etihasa and Tantra literature. Worship of Shakti , as a pan -Indian phenomenon , predates Sanskrit influences of every kind. There are a number of important Shakta centers in India Among those Orissa has been considered to be one of the most important Shakti centre and Tara-Tarini at Kumari hills on the bank of River Rushikulya near Purushottampur in Ganjam District is one of the most ancient Shakti pithas of Orissa.

Goddesses Tara-Tarini have been regarded as the presiding deity(Ista-Devi)in almost every house in South Orissa. This important and famous Shakta Pitha is situated on a hill top at a distance of 30 Kms towards north of Brahmapur on the south bank of river Rushikulya. The height of the hill is approximately 708ft. and the total area spreading over 180 Acres of land. The hill is popularly known as Tara Tarini Hill(Parvata) and is surrounded by natural beauty . The picturesque scenery of the temple,from the hill top down to the bank of river Rushikulya gives immesse pleasure and a thrilling experience of nature and divinity to each pilgrim - visitor and often captivates its mind and soul. There are 999 steps on the front side of the hill leading to the temple and also a pucca road for vehicle on the backside of the hill facilitating devotees to reach at the Pitha. Provisions of electricity, drinking water and a small market complex at the site with articles of puja /archana are additional features of this Pitha.

At the hill top in a small but beautiful temple appears the famous Shrine of Tara-Tarini. Worship at this important centre of Shakta cult has been continuing since time immeonial . 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. It has been said that from a tribal cult Tara-Tarini have been transformed into Shakti cult through the process of aryanisation.Of couse the name Tara, the Primordial deity of the Mahayana Budhist Pantheon , indicates Budhist influence of element in the Tara - Tarini worship which seems to suggest the incorporation of a tribal cult and Buddhist influence before its Hinduisation.

There are no historical and other records to exactly show when Tantrika practices entered into the Buddhist faith before 1st Century B.C. Some correct inferences , however , can be made with available literature found in China, Tibet, Sinhala (Srilanka)Nepal and India. The existing historical records do not go beyond the great Buddhist Councils successively convened upto the reign of Kaniska. These great Councils discussed the rise of the new unorthodox canon , as upheld by Maha Sangikas.The Mahavastu composed during this period show how Mahayanism emerged in the scene during the 1st Century B.C. and accepted into its fold all the prevalent religious doctrine , practices and belief of Buddhism and Hinduism as well . Thus, Buddhism in its historical philosophical and social aspects , in its thought and resultant practices accepted and incorporated Hindu Tantra relating to Shakti worship.

It is believed that by the time Ashoka conqured Kalinga Empire he found it to be a famous centre of Buddhism.Undoubtedly this part of Orissa, particularly Ganjam region on the bank of river Rushikulya was very active in Buddhist pursuits. It is evident from the Special Rock Edit of Ashoka found at Samapa ( modern Jaugada) , the capital of Southern Kalinga of Ashokan Empire , at a mere distance of 4 Kms. from Tara-Tarini Hill. Though the Special Rock Edit of Ashoka at Jaugada has nothing to do with Buddhism as it especially addressed his officials , the propagation of Buddhism in and around this capital city of Ashoka can not be ruled out .Hence , the probability of worship of Tara , the primordial deity of the Mahayana Buddhist sect at Tara-Tarini Hill and Tara-Tarini as a famous Buddhist Tantra Pitha since this time, can be established on the basis of this hypothesis. Moreover till date it has been considered as one of the most important Tantra Pitha. Interesting a small image of of Buddha in its meditating sitting posture, present inside the sanctum sanctorum of the main temple corborates the claim of this site to the ancient centre of Shakta cult.
Besides the worship of Tara by the Buddhist Tantrikas the maritime history of Kalinga also suggest the worship of Tara by the Sadhavas, merchants and sea-men before launching their sea voyage. Once upon a time river Rushikulya was conducive to navigation and probably the worship of Tara has been a practice among the people of this region involved in mari-time activities . Even some ruins of a brick foundation at village Mukundapur on the south bank of river Rushiklya at the bottom of Tara-Tarini Hill and the so called Ganda ( deep river ) adjacent to this points to some flourishing maritime activities in this region through river Rushikulya. Hence , on the basis of these evidences the worship of Shakti at Tara-Tarini can be traced back to a very old age.

There are many interesting stories, myths legends and folklore relating to the origin of the Tara-Tarini Shrine at the hill top. One of the legends of the puranic tradition connects the Shrine to the Daksha Yagyan from which the famous Shakta Pitha of Tara-Tarini originated from the limbs of the Corpse of Devi or Sati. According to this legend once Daksha Prajapati the father of Goddes Devi or Sati performed a Yagyan to which he deliberately did not invite his daughter and her husband Lord Siva . When Devi knew this from Narada she took the permission of her husband and came to the Yangyan site to enquire why her father did not invite her husband Lord Siva to the Yogyan. Daksha spoke insulting words to Lord Siva which were not tolerable to Sati. As a result of this she jumped into the Yagyan Kunda and sacrificed her life. When Lord Siva knew this he became very angry and taking the dead body of Sati he started tandaba nrutya which could have caused Mahapralaya ( vast destruction). On the request of the Devatas, Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Sani entered the corpse of Sati and disposed it part by part. Consequently Shakta Pithas originated on the places where the organs of Sati had fallen. It is said that the breasts of Sati fell at the Kumari Hills on the bank of river Rushikulya and thus the famous Tara Tarini Shakta Pitha arose at this place.

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 1st century AD after the fall of Kalinga, for the first time the Mahayana Buddhists accepted the worship of Mother Goddess ‘Tara’. 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 these facts. Scholars believe that in the primary days the Buddhists worshiped Taratarini, the principal seat of 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.

Besides the worship of Tara by the Buddhist Tantrikas, the maritime history of Kalinga suggests the worship of Tara by the Sadhavas, merchants and seamen before launching their sea voyage from the great sea ports like Dantapura (Gopalpur), Pallur near Chilika Lake, kalingapatna and river Rushikulya. All these major sea ports of the ancient world were very near the Taratarini hill shrine.

According to folklore, around 8th century AD Jagadguru Sankaracharya toured country, that he discovered this Shrine. But, it did not exist in its present form. After long try he came to know that this ancient Shakti centre was under the control of Buddhist tantrikas. Then he released this Peetha from the control of Bouddha tantrikas and handed it over to Hindus.

It is known from the available sources that till 17th century this place was out of the sight of the common man. But, according to a folk story, once Maa Taratarini appeared as two sisters in the house of Shri Basu Praharaj. He was a learned Brahmin of Kharida Vira Jagannathpur village in Ganjam District and one of the great devotees of the Mother Goddess but child less. After staying for some years one day the sisters disappeared suddenly from the house of Basu Praharaj. According to the account of the villagers the sisters traveled up to the Tarini Parvat/Ratnagiri and disappeared there.

Basu Praharaj searched these girls but did not find their tracings. His heart broke down with grief and pain. On that night he saw a dream where the Tara and Tarini informed Basu Praharaj that they were not his daughters; they are the Adi Shakti, Tara and Tarini. The goddesses ordered Basu to come out of the grief and said that the time has arrived and with full devotion renovate the temple on the hilltop of Tarini Parvat and establish the deities according to the Vedic tradition.

After that divine direction Basu discovered the tracings of ancient most presence of Adi Shakti Tara Tarini on the sacred hilltop and immediately took steps to reconstruct the temple and the shrine. Since that time for its magnetism and sanctity this Sthana Peetha (Breast Shrine) of Mata Sati, became a centre of faith and reverence for countless people, in search of peace, tranquility, guidance and spiritual energy and its fame spread like wild fire to become one of the popular religious destinations for millions of devotees.

From all these historical evidences and fragment of various legends it can be concluded that Tara-Tarini is one of the ancient most Shakta Pitha of Orissa
The nearest airports are Bhubaneswar (174 km) and Vishakhapatnam (240 km) from the shrine. The nearest railway station is Berhampur city, 32 km from the temple. Taxi services are available from Berhampur, Bhubaneswar, Puri to Tara Tarini, and regular bus service is available from Berhampur to the Tara Tarini Junction.