An Ethereal Command
One of the main attractions and landmarks in this small state is the Tripura Sundari temple, 55-km south of the state capital of Agartala. Regarded as one of the 51 Peethams (Holy Sites) Of Hindu Pilgrimage, this shrine is also known locally as "Mata Bari" (literally, the temple of the Mother Goddess) and traces its history back to over 500 years.
Some names of deities of the Hindu pantheon, like Goddess Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati, are commonly found in all parts of the country. Some others can be identified as typical of one region or another, although they are variations and appellations of the same Goddesses. The name Tripurasundari is one Goddess that belongs to the latter category. It is quintessentially South Indian and refers to Parvati, Lord Shiva's consort.
Legend has it that king Dhanyamanikya who ruled Tripura in the closing years of the 15th century, had a revelation one night in his dream, ordering him to install Goddess Tripurasundari in the temple that stood on a hilltop near the town of Udaipur. The temple was already dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and the king was confounded initially, unable to decide how a temple dedicated to Vishnu could have an idol of the consort of Shiva.
However, the oracle repeated the divine injunction to the king once again the following night, thereafter the ruler decided to obey the ethereal command, not withstanding the fact that Vishnu and Shiva typified two different sects of religious following. Thus, the Tripura Sundari temple came into being in the year 1501, and is now exactly 500 years old.
This legend is recounted as one of the example of how solidarity between the two sub groups, the Vishnu and Shiva sects, was known and fostered even during medieval times.
About The Temple
Goddess Parvati (also spelt as Partvathi) is worshipped here as Tripurasundari, Tripureshwari and "Soroshi" (a local variation of the name). The temple is a small, square edifice, measuring just 24 square feet (7 square metres) at the base with a height of 75 feet (24m approximately). The structure of the shrine resembles that of a tortoise, with a roof shaped like the humped back of a tortoise. For this reason, the shrine is also known as "Koorma Peetha" (Koorma meaning Tortoise).
To the east of the shrine, at the foot of the flight of stone steps that lead uphill to the sanctum, is the Kalyansagar pond that the king had ordered to be constructed.
Rites & Rituals
Spreading over 6.4 acres, with a length of 224 yards and width of 160 yards this large expanse of water adds a dimension of great beauty to the temple precincts, with hills rising picturesquely in the background. The water is full of Tortoises, some of them quite large, that come up to the shore looking for crumbs of food that visitors buy at the nearby stalls and feed to these amphibians, as part of the rituals.
As in other typical Hindu shrines, stalls along the approach road sell flowers and baskets of offerings that visitors can buy and take up to be offered to Tripura Sundari and returned as Prasadam. A specialty here is the sweet, brown, condensed milk Pedas that devotees carry back from the temple, to be distributed among family and friends back home. The red hibiscus flower is also prized as an offering.
Tripura is largely a tribal region and some customs typical of tribal communities have crept into the rituals of worship at the temple. One such custom is the offering of animal sacrifices (as in Bengal and in the famous Kamakhya temple in Guwahati). Goats are brought with garlands round their necks, as offerings. A notice board lists the charges for buffalo sacrifices, but these are obviously rare today. There are elements here of the Durga cult and rites, so popular in the eastern regions including Bengal, signifying an aggressive manifestation of the goddess as against the "Shanta-Swaroopini" image of Parvathi's incarnations, as at Madurai, for instance.
When To Visit
All though the shrine draws devotees of all denominations and sects all year round (including some foreigners who are fascinated by the tribal heritage of Tripura and adjacent states of the Northeast, the crowds are particularly thick during Deepavali or Diwali (festival of lights), when a major fair turns the place into a tourist attraction.
Tripura has a long history of Shiva worship, stretching back to the early centuries of the millennium. This Tripurasundari temple is one of the major architectural relics, but there is also the Bhuvaneswari temple on the banks of the river Gomti, which poet Rabindranath Tagore is said to have written about and immortalised in his songs, following a visit to the place. The Bhuvaneswari temple too is built in the same style of architecture as the Tripura Sundari temple, with a square shaped roof that curves down at the corners, giving the impression of a tortoise.
King Dhanyamanikya also built a Kamalasagar Kali temple on another hilltop, close to what is now the Bangladesh border, not far from the Tripurasundari temple. This lake too enhances the beauty of the hill-studded panorama. Perhaps the largest rock cut relief images of Shiva have been recently discovered in Tripura, at a place called Unakoti in the north, further reinforcing the history of Saivite (also spelt as Shaivite) traditions in the state. These rock cut carvings are said to date back to the 9th century.
India maybe as a nation, linguistically and geographically demarcated into different states and regions, but elements of her heritage, like the Tripura Sundari temple in Tripura, underscore the essential commodity in our cultural and mythological heritage, between the south and north, east and west.