10 Tantra temples in India
1. Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam
The followers of the tantra path attach more significance to some particular Hindu temples. These are not only important for tantriks but also for people of the "bhakti" tradition. In some of these temples "bali" or ceremonial sacrifice of animals is carried out even today, while in others, like the Mahakaal temple of Ujjain, ashes of the dead are used in the "aarti" rituals. Here are the top ten tantrik shrines or "Shakti Peethas". Kamakhya is at the center of the widely practiced, powerful tantrik cult in India. It is situated in the north eastern state of Assam, atop the Nilachal Hill. 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". At Kamakhya, tantrik Hinduism has been nurtured by generations of tantrik priests down the centuries.
2. Kalighat, Kolkata, West Bengal
Kalighat, in Calcutta (Kolkata), is an important pilgrimage for tantriks. It is said that when Sati's corpse was cut into pieces, one of her fingers fell at this spot. Many goats are sacrificed here before the Goddess Kali, and innumerable tantriks take their vows of self-discipline in this Kali temple. Bishnupur in Bankura district of West Bengal is another 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.
3. Vaital temple, Bhubaneswar, Orissa
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.
4. Eklingi Rajasthan
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 back to AD 734 or thereabouts, the temple complex draws a steady stream of tantrik worshippers almost throughout the year.
5. Salasar Balaji, Rajasthan
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.
6. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
Khajuraho, situated in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is known all over the world for its beautiful temples and erotic sculpture. 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 great many people throughout the year.
7. Kaal Bhairon Temple, Madhya Pradesh
The Kaal 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" or enlightenment 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.
8. Mahakaleswar Temple, Madhya Pradesh
The 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" or the ash ritual — 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. The belief goes that those who are fortunate to watch this ritual will never die a premature death. The topmost floor 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 the public, who come to seek "darshan" of Gorakhnath ki Dhibri, literally meaning "the marvel of Gorakhnath".
9. Jwalamukhi Temple, 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 known 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, you will be amazed to discover that the apparently boiling water is 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.
10. Baijnath, Himachal Pradesh
Many tantriks journey on from Jwalamukhi to Baijnath, nestling at the foot of the mighty Dhauladhars. Inside, the ‘lingam’ of Vaidyanath (Lord Shiva) has long been a symbol of veneration for the vast number of pilgrims who visit this ancient temple the year around. 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, the rulers in Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh would drink only water obtained from Baijnath.