The Shakti Pitha (seat of Shakti) dedicated to various manifestations of Sati is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus. It is also a crucial element of Shaktism.
South Asia has 108 Shakti Pithas of which four are Adi-Shakti Pithas while 18 are Maha Shakti Pithas. In each of the Shakti Pithas, the goddess is accompanied by her consort Shiva in his Bhairava form.
Story of Shakti Pithas
All Shakti Pithas are the place where one of the disintegrated body parts of goddess Sati (Shiva’s consort) is believed to have fallen. Almost all Shakti Pithas are also close to a waterbody.
The legend goes that Sati, much against the advice of her consort Shiva, attended a yagna held by her father Daksha. Sati’s uninvited presence angered her father who proceeded to insult Shiva. Sati belatedly understood Shiva’s advice against attending the yagna.
A humiliated Sati immolated herself. This instigated Shiva’s wrath. Carrying Sati’s body on his shoulders, Shiva unleashed the dance of destruction. Afraid of Shiva’s anger annihilating the cosmos, the gods appealed to Vishnu, who disintegrated Sati’s body with the Sudarshan Chakra. Every place where a part of Goddess Sati fell, gave rise to a Shakti Pitha.
The four Adi-Shakti Pithas that are of utmost importance are as follows.
Bimala Shakti Pitha
Body part: Pada (foot)
Bimala Shaktipeeth is dedicated to the goddess Bimala (Vimala) and is part of the Jagannath temple complex in Puri. It is also known as the Puri Shakti Pitha. The idol is believed to be the Bhairavi form of the goddess and the temple itself is centuries old. She is considered the tantric consort of Lord Jagannath and guardian of the temple complex.
The entrance of the sanctum sanctorum has symbols associated with both Shaktism and Shaivism. When visiting the Lord Jagannath temple, it is advised to first visit this Shakti Pitha.
Tara, Tarini Shakti Pitha
Body part: Stana (breasts)
Odisha is the only state to host two Adi-Shakti Pithas. In this Shakti Pitha, the goddess takes the twin form of Tara and Tarini. Situated atop the Purnagiri hills, it is among the most sacred sites for Tantra worshippers.
Since the legend goes that Sati’s stana (breasts) fell here, the idols are in the shape of breasts. It is sometimes also referred to as the Stana Peetha of Adi Shakti. It is also a revered site among Buddhists.
It is among the only Adi-Shakti Pithas to be built by a Brahmin and not by kings, noblemen, or rich merchants. It has 999 steps that lead to the temple and is close to the river Rushikulya.
Body part: Yoni (genitals)
The Kamakhya Temple is dedicated to Goddess Kamakhya and is on the Nilachal Hill in Guwahati in Assam. The temple complex houses several other small temples dedicated to various other important goddesses of Shaktism.
Apart from its significance as a Shakti Pitha, legend has it that the temple was originally built by Kamadev after the goddess freed him from a curse. In gratitude, Kamadev got the temple constructed by Vishwakarma, the architect of the gods. Hence the word Kamakhya also means the deity worshipped by Kama.
As per the temple’s official website, it is the only one in Assam to have a fully developed ground plan. The Shakti Pitha is an important place of pilgrimage for Tantra worship.
Kalighat Kali Temple
Kolkata, West Bengal
Body part: Mukha (face)
The temple structure is believed to be over 200 years old and has Shakti and Bhairav in the form of goddess Dakshina Kali and Nakuleshwar, respectively. It is, however, believed that a much smaller version of the temple existed even before that and in all possibility, it is several centuries old.
The idol of goddess Kali is also unique and distinct as it is black and in oval form. The goddess is represented with wide red eyes, a long golden tongue, and hands that have a sword and a severed head in them. It is the most iconic image of Kali that now pervades all of West Bengal.
The paintings sold outside the temple during the British times by rural artisans came to be known as Kalighat paintings.