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Tripureshwari pilgrimage

Tripureshwari Mistress of the Three Worlds

According to legend the name Tripura is derived form the Goddess Tripura Sundri. Her temple stands in the sub-division of Udaipur and ranks as the second most important shrine in North-East India.

The temple of Tripura Sundari built in 1501 AD stands in stark simplicity overlooking a large pond. It houses two images – one of Chotima which is about two feet high and appears to be the original one and the other of Tripura Sundari which is about five feet high. Both images are very much alike having four arms and standing on the prone figure of Shiva. They wear the Kirita Mukuta, a symbol of royalty and prowess. She is Tripureshwari – the mistress of the three worlds.

The legend goes that Lord Shiva’s wife, Sati Devi jumped into the sacrificial fire at a yagna held by her father when her family and guests belittled her husband. Shiva, in his grief, roamed the world with the body of his beloved wife. Wife the passage of time the body disintegrated and the places where the parts of the body fell were blessed and became sites of pilgrimage.

Sati Devi’s toe was supposed to have fallen in Udaipur. Pilgrims flock there to ask for favours and fond parents take babies there to have their heads tonsured so as to be placed under Her protection. The temple is fondly called Ma Bari which means ‘Mother’s home’. It teems with worshipers all year round. They come to offer sacrifice and attend the arti after which they feed the turtles and fish in the pond. It is said that the ancient turtles climb the steps of the ghat (bank) when their days are over to die peacefully in front of the goddess.

Ma Bari is well known for the bhog or offering which the temple kitchen serves. It is an ‘out of this world’ meal of mutton, mixed vegetables, dal and rice and the stalls around the temple sell a sweet made of thickened milk called peara which pilgrims buy in earthen pots as offering at the temple. Non-vegetarian fare at a pilgrimage spot may be surprising but sacrifice prevailed in Tripura from ancient times. Even human sacrifice was once part of the temple ritual till Maharaja Govinda Manikya put a stop to it during the 17th century. Rabindranath Tagore’s famous play, Visarjan is based on this event.

In Tripura a curious mixture of Hinduism and Animism exists. The Kshatriya tribal Chantai (priest) and the Brahmin together minister to the old and new gods. This is especially so in the Chaturdas Devta temple which is just five kilometres from the present capital, Agartala. It is one of the; most important pilgrimages in Tripura after Ma Bari. The temple was built by Maharaja Krishna Manikya in the 18th century. The original temple, it is believed, was in the ancient capital of Udaipur. The Chaturdas Devtas are 14 heads without bodies made of an alloy of eight metals. Legends say that they were brought to Tripura by King Trilochana, a contemporary of Yudhisthir of the Mahabharat. It is said that their bodies are in Assam. The deities have both tribal and Hindu names. The tribal ones are kept secret known only to the Chantais. They are popularly called Hara, Uma, Hari, Ma, Bani, Kumar, Ganapati, Bidhu, Ka, Abadhi, Ganga, Sikhi, Kama and Himadri. Throughout the year only three – hara, Uma and Hari are worshipped, the other are taken out only once a year in July for the Kharchi puja. Guarding the temple is the Boora Devta – the ancient one to whom the first offerings have to be made. His form is very primitive almost like a child’s creation of a stick-like figure. Every July people flock to the Chaturdas Devta’s temple for the Kharchi puja which goes on for a week. The tribal Kshatriyas known as Chutai, Naran, Badifang and Galim officiate as priests and see to the sacrifice of goats and fowl and offerings of human images of clay. Alongside, the Bengali Brahmins read out form the holy scriptures of Chandi.

Another place to visit in Tripura during Sankranti is Unakoti. It is about 110 kilometres from the capital, Agartala, between the sub-divisions of Dharmanagar and Kailasahar. This site ahs been sacred to the worshipers of Shiva since the 9th century, if not earlier. Unakoti is an awe-inspiring experience. Some unknown sculptor has used the lush greenery and the silent hills as a backdrop for his work. Numerous statues are scattered over the meandering hill tracts amidst the undergrowth and shrubs, some half-buried and others carved into the hillsides. The most arresting are the Ganesha and the head of Shiva which takes up a hillock. Shiva is in meditation with a natural stream flowing out of his matted locks into a pond where pilgrims take their holy dip.

Other Hindu deities such as Durga, Vishnu, Ram and the heroes of the Mahabharata and Ramayana have stood for hundreds of years among thee ancient hills. Myth has it that Unakoti is the unfinished dreams of a dream sculptor who wished to make it a place of pilgrimage of a crore of deities. His dream remained incomplete for just one image – thus the site was called Unakoti which means one less than a crore. Another romantic tale is that these images are the petrified forms of gods who stopped here to rest. They were on their way to Varanasi with Lord Shiva and they halted here for the night but were to move on before sunrise or they would turn into stone. Shiva was the only one who awoke before dawn and continued his journey. His companions slept on to lie there forever. So we have Uakoti. If Shiva had not left this place, it is said, there would have been a crore of gods and Uakoti would have been a Koti Tirtha like Varanasi.

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