Ancient and Holy is always Gold
Nartiang Durga Temple is one of the holiest sites in Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills district. It is estimated to be 600 years old. The tribe believes that this Temple is the permanent residence of Goddess Durga. During Durga Puja, the Temple attracts a large number of pilgrims from all over the world. It is also regarded as a religious place for Hindus who follow the Shaktism sect.
Location of the Holy Nartiang Durga Temple
The Temple is located in the village of Nartiang in the Jaintia Hills district. It is only 50 km from the capital of Meghalaya, Shillong. The Nartiang Durga Temple is located on top of the Jaintia Hills. It is popularly known as the Maa Jainteshwari Shakti Peeth.
The Maa Jainteshwari is one of three Shakti Peeths in Northeast India, Jaintia Hill district of Meghalaya. Maa Durga is present in Guwahati, Assam, and Maa Tripureshwari can be found in Udaipur, Tripura.
This Temple is unique as it contains one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. The Shakti Peetha is known to be one of Shaktism’s most revered shrines. It’s because they’re Parashakti’s Holy abodes. The mythology of Daksha yagna and Sati’s self-immolation gave rise to the Shakti Peethas. Shiva was carrying Sati Devi’s body, and 51 body sections of the body dropped in the direction he had taken. Each Temple has shrines dedicated to both Shakti and her male energy counterpart, Kalabhairava. The Nartiang Devi shrine’s “Shakti” is referred to as “Jayanti,” and the “Kalabhairava” is referred to as “Kamadishwar.” Sati Devi’s left thigh is thought to have fallen here. As a result, Maa Jainteshwari is the Goddess’s name.
The 51 Shakti Peethas are related not only to the Goddess Sati Devi’s body element but also to the 51 alphabets in Sanskrit, which is considered the mother of all languages.
There is an interesting story related to the establishment of the Durga Temple in the Jaintia District. In the 17th century, the Khasi and neighbouring tribes were ruled by the Jaintia kingdom. The respective kingdom was led by King Jaso Manik, who practiced an ancient religion. King Jaso Manik married Lakshmi Narayana, who was the daughter of the Hindu Koch king Nara Narayana. It is said that it was Lakshmi Narayana who had influenced the Jaintia Royalty to embrace Hinduism.
Later, about 600 years ago, King Manik made Nartiang the summer capital of the Jaintia Kingdom. The Goddess is said to have appeared to him in a dream one night and told him about the importance of the location and asked him to create a temple in her honour. Following this, the Jainteshwari temple in Nartiang was established. The Temple’s strategic location and the presence of guns such as cannons indicate that it was once part of a Jaintia Kings’ fort.
Fascinating, isn't it?
Aside from the Temple's base, the tradition of performing pooja is also intriguing. The Temple’s rituals are not done in the same way as they are in the plains, but in a special way. It’s a fascinating mash-up of Hindu and Khasi traditions. The Temple's main patron is the local chieftain, known as Syiem. This auspicious puja is the most important festival of the Nartiang Durga Temple.
Durga Pooja is a four-day festival dedicated to Goddess Durga. A banana plant is dressed up and worshipped as the Goddess during the religious ritual. At the end of the fourth day of pooja, the plant is ceremoniously submerged in the Myntdu River. On this day, the Goddess receives a gun salute.
If you talk to the locals in the area, they will tell you that the Durga temple was once just like any other Khasi house. The roof was in thatch, and there was a central wooden pillar called 'Dieng Bali'. The said roof was eventually replaced with a corrugated tin roof. Over time, it was improvised further and replaced with a steeple, as seen in most churches.
Previously, a steep tunnel linked the Temple's sanctum to the amazing River Myntang. Human sacrifices were offered to the Goddess during the reign of the Jaintia king. During British rule, however, the practice was outlawed. Instead of human sacrifices, goats were offered to the Goddess. Even today, they practice the same ritual. The goats are sacrificed on Maha Ashtami. Before the sacrifice, they dress the goat in a Dhoti and make him wear a human mask.
Many tourists may have mixed feelings about this custom, but they eventually accept it because it is a way of offering to the Goddess.
The main deity at this Temple is a massive monolithic deity of Goddess Durga. Three idols can be found within the main Temple. One old stone idol of Devi and one metal idol of Durga with eight arms crushing Mahishasur with her foot are among them. This vision can send shivers down your spine.
The Temple was reconstructed in 1987 by the Cherrapunjee (Sohra) Ramakrishna Mission. Today, the Durga temple has a unique appearance compared to other temples, as no other temple has a strong resemblance.
Another fascinating aspect of this Temple is that, like most temples, the priest is not a Brahmin. The explanation for this is that when King Jaso Manik was looking for a priest, no Brahmin stepped forward. Hence, the King had to bring in a Maratha Kshatriya in the end. It was the Brahmin’s moral code that prevented them from becoming Priests at the famous Nartiang Durga Temple. The Brahmin declined the respective job because the ritual involved human sacrifice.
The present priest at the Temple is a 29th generation descendant of the Maratha priest whom the King had introduced from Maharashtra.
A car is the best way to get to the Nartiang Durga Temple. There is also a rest house where one can spend the day. This place is remarkable with the fascinating facts behind the establishment of the Temple. Apart from the beautiful structure of this Temple, even the story of the foundation is interesting.
Nartiang Durga Temple is a must-see attraction in Nartiang. It gives you a better understanding of the natives of Jaintia Hill's religious beliefs, which is compelling.