Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Saturday, April 13, 2024









Tarapiáš­h a small temple town near Rampurhat in Birbhum district, West Bengal, is known for its Tantric temple and its adjoining cremation (Maha Smashan) grounds where sadhana (tantric rituals) are performed. The Tantric Hindu temple is dedicated to the goddess Tara, a fearsome Tantric aspect of the Devi, the chief temples of Shaktism. Tarapith derives its name from its association as the most important centre of Tara worship and her cult. 



Tara Maa of Tarapith, has two hands, is garlanded with snakes, is adorned in sacred threads, and has Shiva lying in her left lap sucking her breast. Among piths, Tarapith is a siddh pith, which grants enlightenment, wisdom, happiness and siddhis ("supernatural powers"). Every year several millions of devotees come to offer Puja. 








Tarapith is regarded as one of the 52 Shakti Peeths of India. Legend has it, that the eyeball of Sati (Lord Shiva's wife) fell down at Tarapith. In Bengali, the eyeball is called 'Tara' and that is why the name of the village was changed from the earlier Chandipur to Tarapith. It is said that in ancient times Saint Bashistha attained his divinity by worshipping the Goddess Sati or Tara (in the form of Kali). 



Another legend depicts that the avatar of Goddess Sati, Tara took the form the mother and breastfed Lord Shiva to give him relief from intense burning pain of poison in his throat, which was drunk by Lord Shiva. The poison came out of Samudra Manthan (churning of cosmic oceans) and would have catastrophically destructed all living being. Lord Shiva drunk the poison and kept it in this throat and thus saved the living beings. 



Another local narration is that Vasishtha chose this place for the worship of Sati as it was already known as a Tarapith. 








The temple base is thick with thick walls, built of red brick. The superstructure has covered passages with many arches rising to the pinnacle with a spire (shikara). The image of the deity is enshrined under the eaves in the sanctum. There are two Tara images in the sanctum. The stone image of Tara depicted as a mother suckling Shiva – the "primordial image" (seen in the inset of the fierce form of the image of Tara) is camouflaged by a three feet metal image, that the devotee normally seen. It represents Tara in her fiery form with four arms, wearing a garland of skulls and a protruding tongue. Crowned with a silver crown and with flowing hair, the outer image wrapped in a sari and decked in marigold garlands with a silver umbrella over its head. The forehead of the metal image is adorned with red kumkum (vermilion). Priests take a speck of this kumkum and apply it on the foreheads of the devotees as a mark of Tara's blessings. The devotees offer coconuts, bananas and silk saris, and unusually bottles of whisky. The primordial image of Tara has been described as a "dramatic Hindu image of Tara’s gentler aspect". 



The devotees take a holy bath at the sacred tank adjacent to the temple before entering the temple premises to offer worship and even after the worship. The waters of the tank are said to have healing powers and even restore life to the dead. 




Cremation Grounds 




In Bengal, the cremation ground of Tarapith is also considered integral to the Shakti pith. It is believed that goddess Tara can be seen in shadows drinking blood of goats which are sacrificed every day at her altar, to satiate her anger and seek favours. 



Tantric practitioners believe that Tara is attracted to bones and skeletons and the cremation ground is her preferred residence. Goddess Tara's iconographic depictions show her amidst cremation grounds. Tantric practitioners have, therefore, been flocking these grounds for generations for performing their Tantric sadhana (spiritual practice); many sadhus permanently reside here. The cremation grounds are occupied by the "dread locked ash-smeared sadhus". They have built their hutments, amidst banyan trees and embellished their huts with red-painted skulls embedded into the mud walls. In addition, calendar pictures of Hindu goddesses, saints of Tarapith and a trishul (trident) decorated with marigold garlands and skulls at the entrance are a common sight in front of the huts. 








Tarapith is also famous for Sadhak Bamakhepa, known as the avadhuta or "mad saint", who worshipped in the temple and resided in the cremation grounds as a mendicant and practised and perfected yoga and the tantric arts under the tutelage of another famous saint, the Kailashpathi Baba. Bamakhepa dedicated his entire life to the worship of Tara Maa. His ashram is also located in bank of Dwaraka River and close to the Tara temple. 



People went to him seeking blessings or cures for their illness, in distress or just to meet him. 



Another treasure of this religious place is Mallarpur Shiva temple, constructed in 1122 AD by the king of Malla. The Shiva temple is surrounded by 21 small temples and a sacred tank on the east of the flank. The distance of Mallarpur is 10 Km from Tarpith. 



The 500 year old Laxmi Temple in Ghosh Gram (Village) is 12 KM from Tarapith built by Kamdev Bramacharya. The deity inside the temple is believed to be built by Kamdev Bramacharya himself with a neem tree and soil of Ganga River.