Dr. A K Chatterjee is a seasoned writer with more than 330 blogs in English and Bengali and 10 books mostly on travel, trekking and temples.
Key words (Vernacular words are in italics)
Nartiyang, Jayanti, Durga, temple, Shiva, Bhairab, Shaktipeetha, Peethasthana, Yagna, idol, Ashtadhatu, sacrifice, monolith.
Durga temple, Nartiyang
In Hinduism, there is a well known story about "Daksha-Yagna" where it is described how King Daksha, father of Sati (Goddess Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Shiva in another form) once conducted a huge Yagna (a ritual by lighting a big sacrificial fire). Daksha did not like his son-in-law Shiva for the latter's bohemian lifestyle and did not invite him in the festival. It was an intentional insult to Lord Shiva. Sati was enraged by this heinous act of her father, and after a quarrel with him, committed suicide.
On hearing this, Lord Shiva was livid in rage and ordered destruction of Daksha's Yagna, and then began to dance Tandava, the Dance of Destruction carrying the corpse of Sati on his shoulder. Seeing this, gods became apprehensive that the Universe will be destroyed by Shiva's rage, and they asked Lord Vishnu to do something to save the Universe.
Lord Vishnu made a plan and he cautiously started chopping of Sati's corpse by his weapon Sudarshan Chakra. The corpse was chopped into 51 pieces, and those fell at 51 different places on earth. When Lord Shiva realized that Sati's corpse was no more, he stopped dancing Tandava, and returned to Kailash, his abode in the Himalayas.
The 51 places where the 51 parts of Goddess Sati's body fell became 51 "Peethasthana"-s, each having its own speciality. All those places are considered as the most venerable places for worshiping Shakti/Durga.
Up to this it is a straight-cut simple story, but problems started to appear soon. Where are these Peethasthanas? Who will decide about these places?
Lots of controversies seeped in. Several temples and places of pilgrimage started to claim that they were the "real" Peethasthanas, presumably mostly for economic reasons. Till date there is no unanimous opinion on this.
However, majority of scholars consider few lists as authoritative, and as a general rule a place or a temple is considered an authentic Peethasthana if it is included in one or more of these lists, the more the better.
The lists are included in the following holy books or scriptures :
1. Peeth Nirnay Tantra.
2. Tantra Chudamoni
3. Shiva Charit
4. Devi Bhagavat.
5. Kalika Puran.
6. Gyanarnava Tantra.
There may be more inclusions in this list of books giving the names of 51 Peethasthanas, depending mainly on regional variations. For example, in Bengal, the list of the 51 Peethasthanas given in "Bangala Bhashar Abhidhan" by Gyanendra Mohan Das is considered an authoritative list.
With this short introduction, we'll now focus our attention to the Peethasthana called Jayanti or Jayantia.
Shiva with the corpse of Sati, his wife
Jayanti - the Peethasthana
Let us see what the scriptures say :
1. In "Peeth Nirnay Tantra" , the Peethasthana is mentioned as the 21st Peethasthana "Jayanti" or "Jayanta", the body part of Goddess Sati is left leg, the presiding Goddess is Jayanti and Lord Shiva is present here as Kramadishwar Bhairab.
2. In "Tantra Chudamoni" it is the 19th Peethasthana called "Jayanti", the body part of Goddess Sati is left leg, the presiding Goddess is Jayanti and Lord Shiva is present here as Bhairbeshwar.
3. In "Shiva Charit" it is the 43rd Peethasthana called "Jayanti", the body part of Goddess Sati is left leg, the presiding Goddess is Jayanti and Lord Shiva is present here as Kramadishwar Bhairab.
So, it is clear that though the serial numbers of the Peethasthana "Jayanti" do not match in these three lists, the body-part and the names of Goddess are the same. Regarding the name of Lord Shiva present as "Bhairab", two of the three lists match.
Jayanti : where is it?
There are lots of controversies regarding this. Following 4 places have their own claim:
1. "Jayantia" or "Baurbhaga"/"Faljor" Kali temple of Srihatta, Bangladesh.
2. Mahakal caves near Indo-Bhutan border, in Jayanti, North Bengal.
3. "Melai Chandi" temple of Amta, Howrah district of West Bengal or Jayantia village on the bank of Damodar river near Amta, Howrah.
4. Durga temple, Nartiyang, Jowai, West Jayantia Hills, Meghalaya.
The author has personally visited 3 of these, except Jayantia of Bangladesh.
In the present article, we'll discuss about the Durga temple of Nartiyang.
Photos of different "Jayanti" -s in India
Nartiang is a picturesque village near Jowai, the headquarters of the West Jayantia Hills district of Meghalaya. It is situated about 70 km from the state capital Shillong via NH-44 and NH-6, and is about 160 km from Guwahati, Assam. Jowai is home to the Pnar subtribe of the Khasi tribe, and they follow a matriarchal social system. The Myntdu river flows near Nartiyang. Nartiyang was the summer resort of the Jaintia kings in the 17th century.
Nartiyang is famous for two tourist attractions :
1) Nartiyang Durga temple, considered by many as one of the 51 Peethasthanas, and
2) a collections of Monoliths known as "Nartiyang Monoliths", installed to mark the reign of Jayantia Kings in between 1500 Ad and 1835 AD. It is believed that the tallest of these monoliths called "Moo Iong Syiem" which is eight meters long, and installed by U Mar Phalyngki, a general of the Jayantia army, is the tallest monolith in the world.
Some of the smaller monoliths can be seen near the Durga temple of Nartiyang.
Nartiyang, West Jayantia Hills, Meghalaya
A journey to Nartiyang
The author visited Nartiyang from Guwahati, Assam with some friends by a car on 27 November 2021.
We started early, as Nartiyang is about 160 km from Guwahati, and it would take about 4 hours to reach Nartiyang.
We entered Meghalaya through Jorabut interstate border. The first town of Meghalaya Umpher is about 5 km from the interstate border. We crossed Barnihat checkpost, but our car papers and our Covid Vaccination certificates were checked at Umling.
We were traveling along NH-44. We crossed Umroy Military establishment and then Mawpun village. Then we left NH-44, turned left and proceeded towards Jowai along NH-6. The road was passing through some of the most scenic hills I'd seen. The Jayantia Hills, covered with lush green forests and colourful wild flowers were a treat to the eyes and minds.
We crossed Puriang village, and then a small town Moriyangkan. Then, after travelling for over 3 hours, we entered the West Jayantia Hills district.
Soon we reached a small town called Ummulong. Nartiyang is 10 km from here. We left NH-6, turned to left along a smaller road, and soon reached Nartiyang.
Nartiyang is a big village, very clean and very beautiful. Local people are quite friendly. There is big gate (Torana) at the entrance to the temple.
We drove straight to the Durga temple atop a small hill.
Journey to Nartiyang
Nartiyang Durga temple
Established by Khasia King Dhanmanik about 600 hundreds years ago, the Durga temple of Nartiyang is considered as the permanent abode of Goddess Durga on earth as well as a Peethasthana.
The temple is built in the North-Eastern or Assam style, with white walls and red tin roofs. There is a veranda in front and a big rectangular sanctum inside. The roof, made of corrugated tin sheets, is "Dochala" (double roofed) style, with a bell shaped octagonal turret on top. There are Kalasa (pitchers) on the top of the turret as per the traditional Hindu temple architecture.
The old dilapidated temple was reconstructed by Ramakrishna Mission in 1987.
Durga temple, Nartiyang
Nartiyang Durga temple : The Sanctum
The sanctum is quite big and airy, in stark contrast to the sanctums of the majority of Hindu temples which are usually small and without proper ventilation.
The rectangular room has a low pedestal at the centre, on which there is a wooden throne. The throne is occupied by a small Durga idol made of Ashtadhatu (an alloy of 8 metals).
The pedestal has 3 decorated wooden pillars at 3 corners barring on the front right side of the Durga idol. The pillar on the right back has on its upper part a peculiar mask like structure, white in colour. There was no one to ask about its significance. It was a little disappointing for us.
There is a small rectangular pit in front of the Durga idol, covered by an iron sheet. A lady staff of the temple told us that it was the place where human sacrifices were done in ancient times, and the resulting blood would flow through a channel to the nearby Myntdu river. Erie, no doubt!
There is a big photograph of Goddess Durga at the back.
In front of the temple, there is a sacrificial alter for animal sacrifice. As Durga temple is a temple of Shakta cult, this the usual practice.
It is a custom here that during the festival of Durga Puja in October, a banana-plant is decorated with a Saree and garlands and worshiped as Mother Durga for 4 days, after which it is taken to the river with gala procession and immersed there.
Nartiyang Durga temple : the sanctum
It is already said that Nartiyang is famous for its collection of monoliths, and it is said to have the tallest monolith in the world.
There are few of these monoliths in the temple premises, both in the front as well as in the back.
Another highly interesting point was the presence of several stone balls of different sizes strewn here & there at the back of the temple. These are in all probability work of the monolith-makers, but we could not find anyone who can explain the significance of these stone balls - another frustrating experience.
Monoliths and stone balls at Durga temple, Nartiyang
The Bhairab (Shiva) temple
As a rule each and every Peethasthana with a Shakti (Durga) temple is accompanied by a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, known as the "Bhairab" of the Goddess.
At Nartiyang, the Bhairab is called Kramadishwar (also called Kamadishwar).
The temple of Kamadishwar is situated atop another hill, about one km from the Durga temple.
This temple is simple in construction, with a half-circular tin roof. Inside the sanctum, there is a rectangular pedestal on which there are 9 or 10 metallic idols.
The idol on left (from the visitor's point of view) is that of Bhairab Kamadishwar in sitting posture, with a big trident held in right hand. On the left side of the Bharaib idol there are two Durga idols, then two smaller idols of in Yogic postures which we could not identify, then a Ganesha idol and finally two idols of unidentified gods. All idols except that of Kamadishwar are made of brass; the idol of Kamadishwar is black in colour, and may be of Ashtadhatu (an alloy of 8 metals).
But the most striking feature of this temple is the presence of a row of small cannons, 10 or 11 in number, displayed along the back wall. Probably these are from the royal era.
Finally, there is an unusual feature in this temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. In front of the temple, there is a sacrificial alter for animal sacrifice. For a Shiva temple, this is very rare, to say the least.
Bhairab temple, Nartiyang
Nartiyang, situated in a remote corner of this vast country is not very well known among tourists or pilgrims. But for those who are interested in visiting the Peethasthanas, it is a must. Hopefully this article will help all to learn about Nartiyang.
1. Different internet sites.
2. "Ekanna Peeth" - an authoritative Bengali book on the 51 Peethasthanas by Smt. Purba Sengupta (Mitra & Ghosh Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Kolkata).
All photos : by the author.
© 2022 Dr A K Chatterjee