Aju Mukhopoadhyay, IN



Global Correspondent Report From India

Indian Temples and Tripura Temple Culture

The Characteristics of Indian Temples

Truly, the Divine is the absolute Truth; formless, colourless, without air, smell or sound. During the Vedic period there was no temple as the Nirakara or shapeless had not assumed an image to be worshipped by the religionists. But the Vedic people had Yagnasala to perform Yagna. That might have given birth to Mandir or temple.

Whenever humans have something to worship representing the God they do it in a place away from the mundane for it is said that though the divine transcends all limitations, humans have limits. Hence to visualize the divine or to establish contact with it, they need a temporal set up though they conceive it as the eternal.

Temple is Devalaya or the palace of God. The earliest remains of the temples in north and central India belonged to the Gupta period between 320-650 CE. The southern rock-cut temples belonged to a period between 500-800 CE. Buddhist shrines, Stupas and rock-cut temples with images of Gods were the earliest inspiration for the development of temple architecture. It has three main divisions; the northern Nagara, southern Dravida and the third Vesara with characteristics of both the styles. There are many subdivisions in it like the orissa temple architecture or the Bengal hut type temples.

The temples of India with their marvelous structures stand rock-solid, sounder than the modern concrete structures. With rain water harvesting technique, it offered the opportunity to become the arrester of lightning in the area. The kalasams at its top stored the seeds of paddy for use during exigencies. With perfect symmetry in everything, Indian temples have stood the test of time.

A temple is symbol of many things, a complicated artistic-ritualistic production. While it represents the body of God at the macrocosmic plane, it represents the body of man at the microcosmic plane. Parts of a temple are conceived as parts of a human body called by similar terms, such as pada (foot), jangha (shank), griva (neck), nasika (nose), sirsa (head), etc.

A temple represents the subtle body with seven psychic centres or charkas, according to Tantra. The first three centres (Muladhar, Swadhisthan and Manipur), as represented by the temple is under the ground level. The Garbhagriha represents the Anahata charka in the heart region. The Sikhara area of a temple represents the fifth and sixth (Visuddha and Ajna charkas) centres at the root of the throat and between the eye brows. The top most part of the temple, Kalasa, points to the Sahasrar, the seventh and the last centre, just at and above the top of the head.

Temples of Tripura

Many sects of the Hindu religion have flourished in Bengal but the Tantric cult has predominance, it seems. Buddhist influence at the early stage was perceptible both in Bengal and Tripura and tantrism was mixed with it at certain points. The temple culture and rites followed in Tripura amply confirms the predominance of the tantric cult.

Of the temples of Tripura, Udaipur the Temple Town, has the most of them. Tripureshwari or Tripura Sundari temple, popularly known as Matabari, one of the 51 holy piths of India, the grand centre of pilgrimage, was constructed by Maharaja Dhana Manikya in 1501. It is 55 km away from Agartala. It is a typical Bengal hut type structure. Served by Kalyan Sagar lake, it is frequented by thousands of devotees each year, particularly during the Diwali festival which is the season for Kali Puja.

Except the eastern link with Assam and Mizoram, Tripura is surrounded by Bangladesh which was our desh or country. Kashbeswari temple, overlooking the Comilla district of Bangladesh, was founded by the same king in the 15th century. It is served by the lake Kamala Sagar.

Bhubaneshwari temple, a rare specimen of temple structure, is located on the bank of Gomati river. Rabindranath’s drama, Visarjan, refers to the sacrifice made here.

Besides Jagannath temple with Jagannath dighi or lake (the temple does no more exists), there are many more temples like Mahadev temple with Mahadev dighi and temples of 14 Devas in the old capital. Tripura is full of ponds, lakes and some rivers besides temples. At Pilak numerous ancient Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, stone and terracotta images have been found, belonging to the eighth and ninth centuries. Rock carvings on the stiff mountain wall at Devtamura and Unakoti Shaiva pilgrim centre deserve mention.

Why so much Blood?

It is said that in hilly Tripura sacrificing animals and even humans was quite frequent. When king Dhana Manikya (1463-1515 CE) defeated the soldiers of Hussain Shah, he celebrated it by worshipping 14 Devas in the old capital, now a few km from Agartala, the present capital. Thence he restricted the human sacrifice in such a way that it was almost abolished. But the tradition of sacrificing the other animals, particularly the goats in large numbers, continued throughout Tripura.

Poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore was introduced to the kingdom of Tripura through a book, Rajmala, the history of the Tripura, of which the editor was Kailash Chandra Sinha, the then assistant editor of Tatwabodhini magazine, published by the Tagore family. A close relationship between Tagore and the Tripura kings, Bir Chandra Manikya and his son, Radhakishore Manikya grew up later. Tagore and the Tripura kings visited each other’s country on occasions.

Tagore, a follower of his father on the religious path, a Brahmo, shunned idolatry. He declared himself a Hindu in the broader sense but worshipped the one absolute divine, as in the Vedas. He abhorred unnecessary rituals, was much against any animal sacrifice and blood shed as a way of worshipping the Devi or the Goddess. He composed quite a few fictional works like Mukut and Rajarshee, drama like Visarjan, based on the history of Tripura. Chitrangada, a poetic drama, was written based on the story from Mahabharata which took place in adjacent Manipur and Sesher Kavita, a novel was based on life in neighbouring Shillong. The main plots in Rajarshee and Visarjan are almost similar, a crusade against animal sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing the animal or the king, as he was goaded to do, Jaysingha, the hero, sacrificed himself at the alter of Bhubaneshwari. The priest realized his fault and threw the deity in the river Gomati. The temple is still empty. The drama has been hailed as a great revolt against the age old cruel religious system by the liberal minded poet Rabindranath Tagore.

 Once during a train journey, Tagore had a short vision: There was blood on the stairs of a temple. Pointing at it an overwhelmed girl asked, ‘Why so much blood?’ This girl became the beggar girl Aparna, a friend of Jaysingha, in Visarjan.

The latest position

Of the 14 deities worshipped by king Dhana Manikya, three are worshipped daily and the others are worshipped once in a year. During the annual festival, it is said that 500-600 goats are sacrificed, flooding the whole area by blood, flowing to the river. Sacrifices are made in other temples too as part of the traditional ritual offerings to the Goddesses.

There have been some changes in the temple laws, a breaking away from the age old tradition, as in Guruvayur and Ayappa temples of the south. A court has recently given judgement that any Hindu, well versed in rituals, may perform the puja as a priest in Tripureshwari temple. A similar attempt has been made by the Government in Tamil Nadu. Spiritual personalities like Mata Amritanandamayi are of the opinion that any devotee, irrespective of faith, should be allowed to enter the temples and offer prayer. It seems that rigidity may gradually go while keeping the liberal tradition, with the passage of time. And with it the animal sacrifices.

© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2007






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