Tarapith is a small temple town near Rampurhat town in Birbhum district, West Bengal, India. The town is famous for its Tara Temple and the temple-adjacent crematorium. According to Hindu belief, this temple and crematorium are sacred places of pilgrimage. This temple is said to be one of the 51 Sati Peethas. The name of this place is also associated with the traditional Tara worship here. I would like to present here the origin and story of Tarapith, a famous pilgrimage site.
There is a story about the construction of the Tarapith temple. Jay Dutt, a merchant, was returning by a boat at the end of his trade. When his boat came to the Dwarka river near Tarapith, it was night. There Jay Dutt and his companions boarded their boats for the night. The merchant’s son died there of a snake bite. There is a rumor that the boy got his life back by drinking the water of the Dwarka. Then the merchant started doing sadhana (meditation) in the crematorium situated in Tarapith. In the dream, he found the traces of a stone statue of the Goddess, Tara. Ramjivan Chowdhury, the zamindar of Murshidabad, came forward after seeing the dilapidated condition of the old temple. He established the temple in 1150. In 17 AD, King Ramakrishna Roy of Natore established the main temple of Tarapith. The temple was renovated in 1818 by Jagannath Roy, zamindar of Mallarpur. The names of fourteen workers who made the temple are written on the stone board.
The goddess here is known as Taramayi Kali – all the limbs except the face are covered in clothes. In the evening the devotees can visit the original two-armed small statue. Here the goddess has two arms and a necklace of snakes around her neck, her body is adorned with sacred thread and Lord Shiva is suckling on her left lap. The devotees believe that no devotee returns empty handed praying in this temple.
The Tarapith crematorium is an integral part of this Shakti Peetha. The devotees believe that the goddess, Tara was seen drinking the blood of a sacrificed goat in the darkness of the crematorium. Tantric devotees believe that skeletons and cremation grounds are special favorites of the goddess. In all the paintings of the goddess, she is shown as a resident of the crematorium. For this reason, the Tantrasadhakas choose the cremation ground as their place of worship. Many saints live here permanently. In the crematorium many saints can be seen. They live by building their own huts under the banyan tree. The walls of the cottages are adorned with pictures of Hindu goddesses and saints of Tarapith adorned with garlands. Wreath-laden tridents are often left near the entrances of the cottages. In addition to human skulls, the skulls of snakes, frogs, foxes and rabbits are required for Tantrasadhana. It is believed that the skull of a virgin girl or a suicidal person has a miraculous power.
Several myths about the origin of the Tarapith temple and the Tirtha Mahatmya (the importance of the shrine) are spread among the people. One of these important myths is associated with the concept of “Shakti Peetha”. Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva felt humiliated by her father Daksha performing the “Shivaless” Yajna. Unable to bear this humiliation, she sacrificed herself in the fire of Yajna. So Shiva became angry and started the Tandava dance with Sati’s body on his shoulder. Then Vishnu dismembered Sati’s body by Sudarshan Chakra to calm Shiva’s anger. Sati’s body was torn into 51 pieces and fell in different places of the world. These places are known as “Shakti Peethas”. There are several such Shakti Peethas in West Bengal, India. The most important of these are Kalighat and Tarapith. Sati’s third Nayan or Nayantara (eye) fell in Tarapur or Tarapith village and became petrified. Sage Vasishta first saw this form and worshipped the goddess.
According to another legend, the Halahal (poison) that arose during the churning of the cosmic ocean was drunk by Lord Shiva. After drinking the poison, Shiva’s throat began to burn. At this time goddess Tara relieved Shiva’s irritation by making him drink her own breast. According to local legend, Vasishta started worshiping Goddess Sati at this shrine known as Tarapith. Among the places of worship, Tarapith is a “Siddhapith”, meaning that by performing sadhana(meditation) here, the devotees attain knowledge, joy and fulfillment or miraculous powers.
A Tantric saint named Bamakshyapa is deeply involved in the history of Tarapith. In the nineteenth century, Bamakshyapa was born in Birbhum district, India. He lived in Tarapith. She was a devotee of Goddess Tara and called Goddess Tara “Bara Ma”. He used to perform Sadhana (meditation) at the crematorium near his temple. He was a contemporary of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Bamakshyapa left home as a child and became a disciple of a saint named Kailashpati Baba. Kailashpati Baba lived in Tarapith. Bamaksyapa performed yoga and Tantrasadhana on the banks of the river Dwarka at Tarapith. Later he went to the nearby Mallarajas’ temple village of Maluti (now Jharkhand State) for yoga. There he stayed for about 18 months in the temple of goddess Moulakshi on the banks of river Dwarka.
He gradually became the main religious figure of Tarapith. His disciples believed he had miraculous powers. So they would come to him for medical treatment and other needs. Bamakshyapa did not follow the rules of the temple. He would even pick up an offering from the god’s plate and eat it. It is said that the goddess Tara received a revelation from the queen of Natore in a dream that Bamakshyapa should be fed first as the son of the goddess Tara. From then on, offerings were made to Bamakshyapa before worship at the temple and he was allowed to roam freely in the temple. It is further said that the goddess visited Bamakshyapa in a terrifying dress and later took him in her arms with motherly affection. There is a memorial of Bamakshyapa at Tarapeeth crematorium and Maluti village in Dumka district.
Famous personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, Rabindranath Tagore, Mukundadas etc. had the opportunity to meet Sadhak Bamakshyapa.
The Tarapith temple holds public gatherings throughout the year and feeds the poor here every day. Millions of devotees come here every year to worship. This temple, known as Mahapeeth, is a very sacred place of worship for Hindus. It is said that if you are honest, wherever you are in the world and whatever religion you practice, Mother Tara’s blessings will always be with you and help you to fulfill your hopes. She will take away all the pain in your heart and mind.
Talker: Krishna Das