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

Dwarika – Charming Liveliness

It was a little after 6.00 AM when I stepped out of my hotel room. It was still dark and that made me double-check my wrist watch. The morning aarti (prayer) was due at the temple at 6.30 AM. I could either watch the sunrise or attend the aarti and I still hadn’t decided which one I wanted to do. My parents preferred to stay back at the hotel as we were expecting a long day ahead.

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Pic 1: A portion of Gomti Ghat

We had arrived at Dwarika the day before. After settling down in the hotel, I had stepped out for a stroll in Gomti Ghat while my parents rested after the 4 hour drive we had from Jamnagar. Our hotel was located at Gomti Ghat and it was just a few meters from the temple.

It was late afternoon and the first thing I saw on stepping out was Sudama Setu, the suspension bridge, over Gomti River. The ghat had as many people as there were cows. There was a camel too offering rides with its owner and it just seemed so out of place. Street vendors spread out their wares and tiny shops dotted the ghat. Someone was also seeking donations over a loudspeaker for feeding cows. I turned around and spotted the temple Shikara (spire) just opposite to the ghat.

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Pic 2: A Sadhu all set for his evening rituals.

This part of the world looked so different from the hi-tech world of Bangalore – reason enough for the sense of excitement I felt. The thought that it was Christmas day and for the first time I was in a not-so-Christmassy set up amused me even more. I walked leisurely towards the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea while enjoying the old world charm around me.

An interesting thing about Gomti River is that, its water recedes during the day and one can walk to the middle of the river, in the mornings the river gets filled with water once again.

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Pic 3: Sudama Setu as the Sun had started conspiring with the sky and the sea

Somewhere on the way, I stopped to have a cup of tea from a roadside Chaiwala (tea seller). Meanwhile, the Sun was busy conspiring with the sea and the sky. By the time I finished my tea, the sun had started bathing the sea and sky in a burning red with tinges of orange and yellow. I hurried my pace to reach the end of the ghat to get a good glimpse of the gorgeousness that was unfolding as the sun was bidding goodbye for the day.

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Pic 4: Sunset, as I saw from Gomti River, the water had receded and I walked on the river bed.

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Pic 5: Sunset from the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea.

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Pic 6: The temple town after sunset as seen from the other side of Gomti River.

This morning I felt compelled to step out. All in the hope of beholding the golden colours once again. This time for sunrise. Though the morning was still dark, the ghat was abuzz with activities. It didn’t take me long to decide it was sunrise that I wanted, the morning aarti could wait for the next day.

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Pic 7: As dawn was breaking in.

Once again, all the activities in the ghat fascinated me – some were bathing in the river notwithstanding the cold December morning; some were performing Puja and releasing oil lamps onto the river; some were hurriedly walking towards the temple; some were feeding fishes; some were buying sea shells; and so on and so forth.

The cows were up too, jostling to share space with their human counterparts. Few sadhus in their saffron robes wandered around aimlessly. The shops of colourful shoes and bags were opening up. Those selling Puja items had already started their business.

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Pic 8: Sudama Setu looked brilliant at sunrise.

Somewhere, I met my Chaiwala where I sipped tea while watching people – watching people happens to be one of my favourite activities. The buzzing energy all around was somewhat contagious. Everybody and everything at the ghat seemed like little stories to me.

Somewhere in the flurry of activities, nature had quietly started painting the sky in hues of yellows, oranges and reds. As the Sun peeked over the horizon, it was time for me to go back to the hotel where my parents were waiting for me.

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Pic 9: The point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea. The river is filled to the brim in the morning.

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Pic 10: The temple shikhara seen clearly with the first rays of the sun.

I turned around and noticed the temple shikhara, which was now clearly visible with the first rays of the Sun.

I recalled last evening when we had visited the temple during the evening aarti. The temple was swarming with people. My parents didn’t dare to brave the crowd and found a place to sit instead. I went ahead and managed a quick glance of Dwarkadhish – that’s how Lord Krishna is referred to here – but not before the undisciplined crowd squashed me completely.

As always, I wondered why people become so unruly just before the actual darshan in some of these temples. All that I could think of is Lord Krishna perhaps enjoys all the attention he gets from His frenzied devotees.