Nartiang’s Intriguing Heritage

I had heard about this place a million times but never had the opportunity to be here. While my cousin parked the car, I walked ahead and found myself standing right before the red-white unassuming structure. So, this was that temple! The corrugated tin-roofed temple looked extraordinarily simple and plain. No ornate carvings, no elaborate dome, no decorative entrance. If not for the brass bells, I would have thought it was somebody’s house. While I admired the unusual simplicity of the temple, my cousin walked up nonchalantly, and we went inside. She’s been here several times.

Pic 1: The Nartiang Durga Temple

It was a late but comfortably warm autumn morning. We had driven 65 Km. from Shillong and arrived at Nartiang Village. The village is located in West Jaintia Hills. (Meghalaya comprises of Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, and Garo Hills). Rich in coal reserves, Jaintia Hills is exquisitely beautiful and scenic. Our destination on this day was the 600-year old temple, located at Nartiang Village that was part of the Jaintia Kingdom. Dedicated to Jainteswari or Jayanti Devi, an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, the temple has interesting legends associated with it.

Jaintias or Pnars are the indigenous tribes of Jaintia Hills and their traditional tribal religion, known as Niamtre, is largely influenced by Hinduism. Nartiang Village is dominated by the Niamtres. In this village, the traditional Niamtre religion blends with Hinduism and the Hindu deities of Durga and Shiva are worshipped in tandem with tribal deities.

Pic 2: The temple deity – Jainteswari Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Durga.

Inside the temple, we sat on the clean marble floor as the priest conducted a puja for us. The marble floor did appear a little out of place though and was clearly done only recently. Originally the temple was constructed like a typical local house of those days having a central wooden pillar (locally known as dieng Blai) and a thatched roof. It was reconstructed by Ramakrishna Mission in 1987. The shrine inside the temple was again simple and unexceptional. The priest informed it was made of Ashtadhatu (also known as octo-alloy, it is a combination of gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tin, iron, and mercury).

My cousin pointed out to a pit in the floor that leads to an underground tunnel, which in turn is connected to Myntang River down below. During the time of the Jaintia Kings, human sacrifices were conducted in this temple to appease the goddess. Through this pit, the severed head would roll down to the swift flowing waters of the river. An open window lay just above the pit. I looked out at the lush green hills dazzling in the bright sun, the air was crisp, and the sky clear. I could feel strong positive vibes all around. It was difficult to comprehend the rituals that would have transpired within the walls of this temple centuries ago.

Pic 5: Mynteng River flows silently through the village.

We walked through the village towards the Shiva temple, which is located in another hillock not very far from the Devi Temple. The houses in the village wore a pretty look and we were told that most of them were painted anew due to Durga Puja, which is just two weeks from now.

Pic 6: A pretty little village home. Grains of paddy rice spread out to dry in the sun.

The Shiva temple was nondescript but had a mysterious charm of its own. There were several small Ashtadhatu idols placed in a single row inside. Only one was that of Lord Shiva. The rest were that of Devi in various forms. Interestingly just behind the idols, lay a row of ancient cannons that belonged to the Jaintia Kings. The right place of which should have been a museum.

Pic 7: The nondescript Shiva Temple

There is a prominent pillar in both the temples. These pillars are supposed to be energy centers that are consecrated once in a few years. The pillar in the Devi temple had some inscriptions, not all of it is legible but it did have a date mentioned.

Interesting Stories Associated with the Temple

  • This temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas of Hindu mythology, Devi’s left thigh had supposedly fallen here.
  • King Dhan Manik of the Jaintia Kingdom had built this temple. It is said that the goddess had appeared in his dream informing him about the significance of this place and instructing him to build the temple. Nartiang used to be the summer capital of the Jaintia Kingdom.
  • The royal priests of the temple were brought by the Jaintia chieftains all the way from Maharashtra centuries ago. Apparently, priests in and around the region were not ready to conduct the ritual of human sacrifice. Three brahmins from the Deshmukh clan agreed to the ritual, probably because of their upbringing in kshatriya tradition. The temple is still run by the direct descendants of the Maharashtrian Deshmukh Brahmins.
  • Symbolic human sacrifice (locally known as blang synniaw) continues to this day in the form of a strange custom. At midnight of the second day of Durga Puja or Asthami, a spotless black goat is dressed as a human with a dhoti, turban, and earrings. A white mask with a human face is placed on the goat’s head and it is then beheaded. (See the mask in Pic-2 above). The head of the goat rolls down the old tunnel into Myntang River.
Pic 10: Nartiang Village as seen from the Shiva temple

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

25 thoughts on “Nartiang’s Intriguing Heritage”

    1. In ancient times, human sacrifice was practiced in certain parts of the Indian subcontinent. The Jaintia Kingdom came under the British Rule from the year 1835. The human sacrifice was abolished thereafter. As per google, their references have been found as early as the 8th century AD.

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  1. Lots of very intersting facts there in your well researched article. I have seen temples of similar structure in Assam, but most of them were dedicated to Narayana. I didn’t know the Hindu connection amongst the ethnic tribes of Meghalaya, this was a learning.
    Kamakhya temple in Assam is another Shakti peeth where human sacrifice was practiced in earlier times. Later after abolition, it was substituted with goat and pigeon sacrifice. When we used to visit in childhood, the sacrifices were openly done. I am a bit squeamish and had a tough time going through that area, the smell of blood seemed so overpowering there. There was a recent incident which raised doubts of human sacrifice in Kamakhya temple.
    I am not very religious in literal sense, but very interested in old temples and folklore too. My jethu was primarily responsible for this, he used to take me to many temples around Gauhati, and used to tell the stories behind those temples.

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    1. Now-a-days in Kamakhya many people release pigeons instead of sacrificing them. I have seen open goat sacrifice happen in Kali Ghat too a few years ago. I mean I was there just after the sacrifice had happened and the place was covered in blood. Don’t know if it still happens in the same way. I am also aware of the recent incident about Kamakhya that you mentioned. The folklore and stories behind these temples are truely fascinating. It’s difficult to fathom today that such practices would have existed ages ago.

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  2. I have heard of Jaintia Hills before but can’t recollect the context. Human sacrifice? now that sounds a lot in the current world but I guess it must have been a reality at some point in time in the past.

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    1. I am sure you would have heard of Jaintia Hills, Arvind. Could be in the context of Coal Mining. Yes, it was a reality for certain temples in India. Surprisingly in many of these places people would offer themselves voluntarily, which is even more intriguing. Are there any such Devi Temples in Rajasthan?
      There were so many weird practices in ancient India.

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      1. I can’t recall where I heard about it, Neel. There is Shila Mata temple in Jaipur where offerings were made for years but not human sacrifices. Some say this practice continues even today but officially this is not talked about. This temple is owned by the royal family of Jaipur. There are many devi Temples in Rajasthan. Rajputs worship Devis and there are so many out here.

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        1. Someone told me that the Shiva Linga inside the temple in Amer Fort was taken by the then King from Jaintia Hills. I tried to search for the information in Google, but found none. So probably it’s not correct.

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          1. Well the the slab of Shila Mata was brought from Jessore in Bengal during the 16th century. This place is now in Bangladesh. There is an interesting legend behind the same. There is no Shiva lingam in the Amer fort. There is a Shiva temple in the town but I haven’t heard of any connection with NE

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            1. I see…
              Would love to know the legend behind of Shila Mata. Have you written any?
              Or else, will just google.
              And, I also did not recall seeing a Shiva lingam in Amer Fort but I thought I might have missed it or forgotten about it.

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  3. Human sacrifice seems to be a v common phenomenon in earlier times to appease God. I have seen a few forts in Maharashtra and Rajasthan built after human sacrifice asking God for protection and goodwill. Anyways, the place looks beautiful and serene.

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  4. Natriang temple is stunning and its stories are interesting. Shocked to know that human sacrifices happened once in the temple. On our way to Shillong, we stayed one day at Guwahati to visit Kamakhya temple. Our guide informed us that goats are being sacrificed here at Kali Ghat. But we neither have intention nor time to visit there. I am happy to know that now they are releasing pigeons instead of sacrificing goats.

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    1. Goat sacrifice still happens at Kamakhya and even many other Devi temples in our country. Nartiang temple is indeed intriguing to think about the past. However, there is no hint of the past anymore. I hope you get to visit this place next time.

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