Mysterious and mystical,
esoteric and intensely powerful currents and influences
have given birth to a relatively large number of tantrik
centers of pilgrimage in India. Unlike Vedic Hinduism
where certain castes and segments of society were forbidden
from participating or practicing certain sacred rituals,
mantras (holy incantations), etc., tantrik worship is
free of ‘prohibitory barriers'. High and low castes,
men and women—all can follow the tantrik path.
In practice, tantra is based on channelization of experience.
For instance, tantriks are known to perform a rite called
savasana at cremation ground. According to tantriks,
‘corpse meditation' underlines the truth about transience
in this world. The tantrik's heart itself becomes a
cremation ground, where all material attributions like
ego, pride, selfishness, name and form are burnt to
In tantra, feelings, both pleasurable
and otherwise, are harnessed to be transformed into
enlightenment. In a particular rite, a number of male
and female partners gather for several consecutive nights,
partake of mutton, alcohol, fish, and grain, and then
indulge in free sex. The objective is to arouse, re-integrate
and finally control extraordinary energies. In its ultimate,
purified form, tantra is a means to enter a state of
supreme bliss, to merge with the Absolute Infinite.
Kamakhya is at the center
of the widely practiced, powerful tantrik cult in India.
It is situated in the northeastern state of Assam, atop
the Nilachal Hill. Tantrik Hinduism, nurtured by generation
after generation of tantrik priests, has flourished
at Kamakhya down the centuries. It is one of the 108
Shakti Peethas of Goddess Durga. Legend has it that
Kamakhya came into existence when Lord Shiva was carrying
the corpse of his wife Sati, and her yoni (female genitalia)
fell to the ground at the spot where the temple now
stands. The temple is a natural cave with a spring.
Down a flight of steps to the bowel of earth, is located
a dark, mysterious chamber. Here, draped with a silk
sari and covered with flowers, is kept the matra yoni.
In Calcutta, Kalighat is an important pilgrimage center
for tantriks. It is said that when Sati's corpse was
cut into pieces, one of her fingers fell at this spot.
Innumerable goats are ritualistically sacrificed here
before the Goddess Kali, and innumerable tantriks take
their vows of self-discipline in the Kali temple.
Snake charmers aver that Bishnupur in Bankura district
of West Bengal is one place from where they draw their
tantrik powers. Intent on worshipping the Goddess Manasa,
they make their way to Bishnupur for an annual snake
worship festival held in August every year. Bishnupur
is also an ancient and well-known cultural and crafts
In Bhubaneswar, the 8th-century
Vaital temple has a reputation of being a powerful tantrik
center. Inside the temple stands the mighty Chamunda
(Kali), wearing a necklace of skulls with a corpse at
her feet. Tantriks find the dimly lit interior of the
temple an ideal place for absorbing age-old currents
of power that emanate from this spot.
An unusual four-faced image of Shiva carved from black
marble can be seen at the Shiva temple of Eklingi near
Udaipur in Rajasthan. Dating to AD 734 or thereabouts,
the temple complex draws a steady stream of tantrik
worshippers almost throughout the year.
One of the most interesting and popular centers of tantrik
rites is at Balaji, near Bharatpur off the Jaipur–Agra
highway. Exorcism is a way of life at Balaji and people
from far and near who have been “possessed by spirits”
flock to Balaji in large numbers. It requires nerves
of steel to watch some of the exorcism rituals that
are practiced here. Often the wails and screams can
be heard for miles around. Sometimes ‘patients' have
to stay on for days on end to be exorcised. Visiting
the temple at Balaji leaves one with an eerie feeling
Khajuraho, situated in
the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is known
all over the world for its temples and erotic images.
However, few people are aware of its reputation as a
tantrik center. The powerful depictions of gratification
of carnal desires coupled with the evocative temple
settings, which represent a spiritual quest, are believed
to denote the means to transcend worldly desires and
reach out for spiritual exaltation, and finally nirvana
(enlightenment). The Khajuraho temples are visited by
large numbers of people throughout the year
The Bhairon Temple in Ujjain has the dark-faced idol
of Bhairon, known to cultivate tantrik practices. It
takes about an hour's drive through the peaceful countryside
to reach this ancient temple. Tantriks, mystics, snake
charmers and those in search of siddhi are often drawn
to Bhairon in the initial stages of their quest. While
the rituals vary, an oblation of raw, country liquor
is an invariable component of Bhairon worship. The liquor
is offered to the god with due ceremony and solemnity.
Mahakaleswar TempleThe Mahakaleswar
Temple is another famous tantrik center of Ujjain. A
flight of steps leads down to the sanctum sanctorum
that houses the Shiva lingam. Several impressive ceremonies
are held here during the day. However, for tantriks,
it is the first ceremony of the day that is of particular
interest. Their attention is focused on the bhasm aarti—the
only one of its kind in the world. It is said that the
ash with which the Shiva lingam is ‘bathed' every morning
must be that of a corpse that has been cremated the
day before. If no cremation has taken place at Ujjain,
then the ash must be obtained at all costs from the
nearest cremation ground.
However, the temple authorities assert that though it
was once customary for the ash to belong to a ‘fresh'
corpse, the practice had long been discontinued. Whatever
the truth, pilgrims travel long distances to watch the
bhasm aarti. The belief goes that those who are fortunate
to watch this ritual will never die a premature death.
The topmost story of the Mahakaleswar Temple remains
closed to the public all through the year. However,
once a year—on Nag Panchami Day—the top floor with its
two snake images (which are supposed to be sources of
tantrik power) are thrown open to people who come to
Gorakhnath ki Dhibri
Literally meaning “the marvel of Gorakhnath”, the Gorakhnath
ki Dhibri is situated within the celebrated Jwalamukhi
temple in Himachal Pradesh. This spot is of particular
significance to tantriks and attracts thousands of believers
and skeptics year after year. Guarded and cared for
by the fierce-looking followers of Gorakhnath—who is
reputed to have been blessed with miraculous powers—the
spot is no more than a small circle of about three feet
in circumference. A short flight of stairs leads down
to the grotto-like enclosure. Within this grotto are
two small pools of crystal-clear water, fed by natural
underground springs. Three orange yellow jets of flame
flare continuously, steadily, from the sides of the
pool, barely inches above the surface of the water,
which appears to be on the boil, bubbling away merrily.
However, one would be amazed to discover that the apparently
boiling water was in fact refreshingly cold.
While people try to unravel the marvel of Gorakhnath,
tantriks continue to draw upon the powers that are centered
in the grotto in their quest for self-realization.
Many tantriks journey on from Jwalamukhi to Baijnath,
nestling at the foot of the mighty Dhauladhars. Inside,
the ‘lingam' of Vaidyanatha (Lord Shiva) has long been
a symbol of veneration for the vast numbers who visit
this ancient temple year after year. The temple priests
claim a lineage as old as the temple. Tantriks and yogis
admit that they travel to Baijnath to seek some of the
healing powers possessed by Shiva, the Lord of Physicians.
Incidentally, the water at Baijnath is reputed to possess
remarkable digestive properties and it is said that
until the recent past, rulers in Kangra Valley would
drink only water obtained from Baijnath.
Perhaps no other state in India has as many tantrik
centers as Sikkim. Age old, yet still a living tradition,
many monasteries in Sikkim are tantrik centers, with
the Pemayangtse Monastery being the most important.
It is also one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim and
belongs to the red-capped followers of the Nyingmapa
sect, established by Padmasambhava, the great teacher
in the 8th century. Colorfully ritualized, the tantrik
rites in Sikkim are an engrossing journey of discovery.
HOW TO REACH
The Kamakhya Temple is in Guwahati, Assam. The Gopinath
Bordoloi airport at Borzhar, 14 km from the city center,
connects Guwahati with Delhi (2½ hours), Calcutta
(1½ hours), Imphal, Agartala, Aizawl, Dibrugarh,
Tezpur and Jorhat. There is a railway station at Kamakhya,
but the main railhead is at Paltan Bazaar located 7
km away. There are four trains from/to Delhi, and many
others to places like Calcutta, New Jalpaiguri, Chennai,
Bhubaneswar, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram.
There are regular buses to Shillong, Kaziranga, Jorhat,
Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Imphal, Dimapur, Siliguri, Bomdila,
The international airport is the Netaji Subhash Airport
at Dumdum, 17 km from the city center. Howrah and Sealdah
are the two major railway stations. Kalighat is also
easily accessible by metro railway as well as local
There are regular trains from the Sealdah station in
Calcutta to Bishnupur. Buses are also frequent
Regular flights operate from the Biju Patnaik Airport
in Bhubaneswar to Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai,
Vishakhapatnam, Hyderabad, and Raipur. The city is also
linked by rail with Calcutta, Puri, Madras, Delhi, Bombay,
Bangalore, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Tirupati, and Trivandrum.
Regular buses ply regularly between Bhubaneswar and
Berhampur, Chilika, Cuttack, Konark, Paradip, Puri,
Rourkela, Sambalpur and other places. Interstate bus
services operate daily between Calcutta and Puri via
Bhubaneswar and Tatanagar (Jamshedpur).
Indian Airlines flights connect Udaipur with Jodhpur,
Jaipur, Aurangabad, Mumbai and Delhi. Udaipur is also
linked with major cities by rail.
Agra, located 56 km away, is the nearest airport. Buses
ply to Balaji from Bharatpur, which is also a convenient
Khajuraho is well connected by air to Delhi, Varanasi,
Kathmandu and Agra and has daily flights to and from
these places. The nearest railheads from Khajuraho are
Harpalpur (94 km) and Mahoba (63 km). Buses for Khajuraho
are available from Jhansi, Chattarpur, Satna, and Raj
Bhairon and Mahakaleswar Temple (Ujjain)
The nearest airport is at Indore, 55 km away. Indore
is connected by air to Bhopal, Mumbai, Delhi and Gwalior.
Ujjain is an important railway station on the Western
Railway network and connected with most of the major
cities in India. Good motorable roads connect Ujjain
with Ahmedabad (402 km), Bhopal (183 km), Bombay (655
km), Delhi (774 km), Gwalior (451 km), Indore (53 km),
Khajuraho (570 km), and Mandu (158 km).
Gorakhnath ki Dhibri (Jwalamukhi)
Buses and taxis connect Jwalamukhi to Chandigarh. Regular
buses ply to and from Jwalamukhi and other places in
Himachal Pradesh. The recently introduced narrow-gauge
train named Kangra Queen, which runs between Pathankot
and Palampur, stops at Jwalamukhi.
Baijnath is in Kausani. To reach Kausani, one has to
reach the airport at Pant Nagar (180 km). The nearest
rail station, Kathgodam, is frequented by trains like
Shatabdi Express, Howrah Express, Ranikhet Express,
Rampur Passenger and Nainital Express. Kasauni can be
accessed by roads from Delhi, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Nainital,
Pant Nagar and Ranikhet.
To visit Sikkim, one has to reach Siliguri in West Bengal.
The Bagdogra airport near Siliguri has daily flights
from New Delhi and Calcutta (excluding Thursdays). The
railway stations at Siliguri New Jalpaiguri (5 km from
Siliguri) can be accessed from selected cities of the
country. Recently a four-seater helicopter service from
Bagdogra to Gangtok has been started.