Bhubaneswar/Berhampur: Chaitra Jatra at Tara Tarini temple in Odisha’s Ganjam district began this Tuesday. The month-long festivities at the Shakti Peetha along the banks of Rushikulya river draw devotees in hordes from the state and the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
What makes this longest fair in any shrine of India special is the mass feast, where people cook food under the open sky as an offering to the goddess on fulfillment of their wishes. The month is also considered auspicious for attaining ‘Siddhi’.
A flight of 999 steps leads to the hill shrine, which remains open for darshan of the deities from 1 am to 11 pm during the four Tuesdays of Chaitra month (March-April). There is also a ropeway to carry visitors to the top of the hill.
During this period, Pahada (resting time) of the deities is confined to night only and special khichidi is prepared for the devotees. The Tara-Tarini Development Board also arranges special buses and barbers for the ‘Mundan’ ceremony as children have their heads tonsured on the four Tuesdays. It is done to protect them from evil forces and ensure their well-being.
The hair collected from the 17th century shrine atop Dahihandi hills, is processed and exported to the US, the UK, France, Germany and Hong Kong. These are used either for making wigs or extensions. The short strands serve as raw material for cosmetic products.
According to Puranas, Tara Tarini temple owes its origin to the Daksha Prajapati’s Jagna in Satya Yuga. This temple along with the other famous Shakti Peethas originated from the limbs of the divine corpse of Devi Sati. Sacred texts like Shiva Purana, Kalika Purana and Devi Bhagabat attest this fact.
Scholars believe that Tara Tarini was also worshipped as the principal deity of the mighty Kalinga Empire. The takeover of Ashoka turned the region of Ganjam into an active Buddhist site as evident from the rock edicts found at Jaugada, 4 km from the shrine. Tara, an important deity of Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon, is suggestive of Buddhist influence and the image of Buddha in meditation inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple lends credence to the claim of it was an ancient centre of the Buddhist Shakti cult.