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Tantrik Pilgrimages
Pilgrimage Destinations of India

Tantrik Pilgrimages


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 ashes.

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 center.


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

Bhairon Temple

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 seek darshan.

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.



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, Silchar, etc.


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 buses.


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).

Eklingi (Udaipur)

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 railhead.


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 Nagar.

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.

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