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.


      Some other  legends  also  associate    Tara Tarini to their human forms as two  beautiful girls who used to  live some times with their devotees ( who  later  became  their  priests )  they  caused miracles to  make the devotees  feel their presence and take steps for their worship.One of such legend reveal that Vasu Praharaja , a learned   Brahmin of Kharida Vira Jagannathpur Sasan near  Purushotampur had  the opportunity to be the foster father of the two sisters Tara-Tarini who in due course  of time  by the divine order of Tara-Tarini did  the needful to perform  Yagyan  and  established  the Shrine at the hill top in a temple for daily worship.


       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.