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Tripura, the land of History and Legends

TRIPURA AMA

Ama, in Tripuri language literally means 'my mother' but in spirituality she represents the mother goddess, consort of Subrai, the creator of universe. Ama is the mother of Tripuri people or the mother land Tripura. As mother is full of compassion, Ama is also full of compassion, love, welfare, kindness, care, and all the qualities of a mother. She is identified with many names and forms. She is called 'Hachwkma' literally meaning Parvati, also 'Sangrongma' or goddess of earth, she is also 'Mailuma' means goddess Laxmi, she is 'Khuluma' goddess of cotton or knowledge and she is 'Twibukma' or goddess of water i.e. Ganga, she is 'Skal' that is goddess of destroyer of evils or Kali. She is also the strength of soldiers or Durga. She had been worshipped by Tripuri people since the prehistoric times, and continued till the present time  in different names. She is one among the fourteen goddess, of the Kula Devata of Tripuri people, and she is the second after Lord Shibrai or Siva in the series of fourteen gods. What ever explanation may be given the about the birth or embodiment of Tripura Sundari, it remains truth is that she is none but the Mother Goddess of Tripuri people or Mother Goddess Tripura. The rest of so called experts, historians, spiritualist, Brhamins may give in what ever way they think it fit to explain their ideology or preoccupied ideas.

Hearsay: There are certain common talks that prevails regarding the installation of the devi-idol. It is learnt that Maharaja Dhanya Manikya decided to bring the Shivalinga or phallic symbol of shiva (Swayambhuinga or Swayambhunath) from Chandranath, a place of pilgrimage at Chittagong, to his state when he came to learn about its divine grace and power. Excavation began at full swing but eventually it was an unsuccessful attempt to dislocate it. One night the Maharaja perceived a divine message in his dream that the Shivalinga couldn't be dislodged from its place, instead, the idol of Tripura Sundari could be translocated, if he wished. But there was a precondition that the idol could be shifted away anywhere as far as possible by the following night only and by no means it could be moved after the day break. According to the divine message, the Maharaja arranged for the transfer of Tripura Sundari idol. Servants loyal to the King toiled hard all the way to bring the idol but were forced to halt on the way when the idol became static as soon as day broke out. Maharaja Dhanya Manikya built a temple just at that place and installed the idol there in. The place was later named Matabari.

Another hearsay is that, the present image of deity was actually found submerged under water of Brahmachhara nearby Matabari, The Maharaja perceived a divine message in his dreams to rescue the Devi. Thereafter, he built the temple. Matabari is located approximately 3 kms South to Udaipur town. The temple is built on a relatively small hillock which is convex shaped, almost like a tortoise (thus also referred as Kurmapitha). The temple was constructed on the top location of the tortoise shaped hillock. It is popularly known as the Temple of Tripura Sundari, Tripura Sundari or Matabari among the people of Tripura. In the course of time, the area adjacent to the Temple too was named as Matabari. Presently, the block also endorses the name Matabari.

There is a big pond 'Kalyansagar' on the east of the temple. The pond dates back to the period of Maharaja Kalyan Manikya (1625 -1660 A.D.), i.e. it was dug up at least 124 years after the temple was founded. Another big pond was said to be there, in the north of the temple Chandroday Vidyabinod, the expert of stone - inscription had seen the signs and remains of the pond in 1903 A.D. During the time, it was thickly covered with bushes and bore a deserted look. It is not yet evaluated, when and who had actually (lug the pond up. But owing to its proximity to the temple, it is assumed that the pond was dug after the temple stood up and probably it was dedicated to the Devi. Highlighting this, Chandroday Vidynbinod in his book 'Shilalipi Samgraha' quotes, 'It is assumed that  Maharaja Dhanya Manikya, founder of the temple had himself arranged for the excavation of the pond.' In the north and east of the pond Is the 'Sukhsagar'. Another pond in the west of the temple and 'Sukhsagar Jola' in the further west of it had been mentioned in 'Shilahpi Samgraha'.

The temple of Tripura Sundari or Matabari faces westward. Though the main entrance is in the west, there is a small entrance also in the north. According to Chandrodaya Vidyabinod Bhattacharya the latter might have been carved out Construction in the later years. He observed that generally the pattern of the ancient temples didn't seem to have more than one entrance, The temple had been measured physically in 1892 A.D. which furnished the data that exterior of the temple was 24'x24' and the inner compartment 16'x 16'. The temple wall had a width of 8' and it was 75' tall. The difference in measurement between the outer and inner lies in the fact that the temple wall was exceedingly thick.

Though the outer morphology of the temple is tetragonal, the core-chamber or lumen inside is rotund just as the circular roof inside. Seldom such temples with spherical lumen are visible in India. There are four buttresses or supports at the four corners of the temple exteriorly. The horizontal carvings protruding at frequent intervals encircling along the buttresses enhance their beauty extensively. Intricate artistry resembling inverted pitcher  beautifies the apex of the buttresses. Horizontal lines symmetrically joined by vertical lines at alternate intervals produce  a texture of rectangles with different magnitudes all along the surface of the walls. The top of the temple is covered by four slanting roofs or Chaar chaalas that hold a circular block at the centre. There rests a conical or stupa like neck on the block and numerous small alcoves or Kulangi serially surrounding its base render it the look of a blooming lotus. The neck beholds the Aanilok, a conical or a myrobalan shaped structure. Slender, convex undulatory curve lines along the Aamlok are distinctly visible from a distance. Aamlok is ascended by Karanda, a typical structure that resembles a flower-basket or a bee-hive that also bears the sacred flag on top.

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The apical portion of the temple is considered to be that of a modified form of the typical Buddhist stupas. A chaala-temple or a temple with slant roofs is a typical example of the Bengal architecture of the medieval period. Such a modified form of construction of a Buddhist-stupa on a tetrad roof or Chaar chaala is an unique phenomenon and seen nowhere in India. While such a pattern on four chaalas had evolved due to blending of Hindu and Buddhist style of construction, there are certain accessory structures on the temple unseen in either Hindu or Buddhist architecture. Hindu temples don't seem to have buttresses which are otherwise very prominent in Tripura Sundari temple. Regarding 'buttresses', in his book 'Temples of Tripura', Sri Adrish Bandopadhyay denoted them to be heavily inspired from Muslim towers or Minars. Though a blend of various forms of construction styles had influenced the Tripura Sundari Temple, yet, one can say Tripura can boast of this architectural wonder as its own. Obviously, the architectural design of the temple is referred to as that of a Tripura-style of architecture.

The temple had actually come up on a raised pucca terrace. According to ancient paintings of the temple, there used to be a roofed Naatmandir or open prayer hall for offering prayer and other devotional performances near the core-chamber of the temple. It was pulled down at its worn out stage during the reign of Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya. The present day hail had been newly built by him in 1903-l904 AD. The construction of the hall seems to been heavily influenced by Orissa-style of architecture.

These are live stone slabs bearing inscriptions engrafted on the walls of Tripura Sundari temple. Among them, one is in the north and two each in the east and South. But there is no such inscriptions in the front side i.e. the west. The editor of 'Rajmala', Sri Kaliprasanna Sen way back in 1892 A.D. had seen a deep mark on the anterior part of the front door of the temple. He opined that once there might have been a stone-inscription engraved or engrafted on that spot that eventually got damaged years ago. Possibly the scar might have been filled up and restored during the renovation in the later years. Probably such a task was carried out during the reign of Radhakishore Manikya. Although Radhakishore Manikya undertook the renovation work of the temple in 1904 A.D., no stone- inscriptions had been preserved as a proof, stated the 'Rajmala'.

It is quite obvious that there ought to be some sort of stone- inscription or other marks depicting the founder's name somewhere around the temple, and generally, such marks are found to be in front of temples. The Shilalipi Samgraha, in this respect mentions ' It is beyond doubt that there were stone-inscriptions. In 1423 Saka Era Maharaja Dhanya Manikya built the temple and installed the idol of Goddess Tripura Sundari Kali and orderly placed a stone slab in Tripura Sundari Temple bearing a Sloka inscribed on it'. In fact the 'Rajmala' bears the description of the Sloka. Both the stone slabs in the east have inscriptions on the same matter and both fragments are actually part of a single script. Though the stone-inscription was in Sanskrit Sioka, Bengali script had been used for that. Most probably, the two stone-inscriptions were installed in 1681 A.D. in the temple. It is mentioned in the inscription that Maharaja Dhanya Manikya in 1423 Saka Era (1501 A.D.) founded this temple and dedicated it to Devi Ambika. Ram Manikya Dev carried out the renovation work of the temple in 1603 Saka or 1681 A.D. after it had been struck by natural calamities (as a hearsay goes, it was once struck by a powerful lightning causing lot of damage).

In the year 1603 Saka or 1681 A.D. Ram Manikya Dev, expired. During the period, Balibhim Narayan used to be very powerful. He enthroned his nephew Rudra Manikya who was just four at the time and himself became the Prince. Balibhim used to look after the royal duties and probably that's why the temple had been renovated under his guidance in 1681 A.D.

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hAmong the two stone-inscriptions one was written in Bengali. It mentions the name of Dhanya Manikya, Ranagan, Ram Manikya and Dharmaraj. It depicts the construction period as 1423 Saka Era. The last thing written was the year '1603 Saka Era'. This stone- inscription too was engraved in 1681 A.D. It becomes clear from this stone-inscription that following the construction of the temple by Dhanya Manikya, its first renovation had been carried out by Ranagan. Ranagan was brother-in-law of Udai Manikya (he was married to Udai Manikya's sister) and also the General. He was popularly known as Ranagan Narayan and he was alive even after the death of Maharaja Udai Manikya in 1489 Saka Era (1576 A.D.). Possibly the temple had undergone the face lift operation by Ranagan only after the death of Udai Manikya.

The second stone-inscription in the south tells us that Queen Sumitra Jagadishwari had carried out a renovation work of the temple in 1269 Tripura Era (1857 AD.). Regarding the pattern of construction of the temple, the 'Shilalipi Samgraha' states- 'Tripura Sundari temple has been built (The surname Dharmaraja' might have been attributed to Ram Manikya because no rulers in between the reign of Dhanya Manikya and Ram Manikya had the title 'Dharrna prefixed to their names.) in the style of the 'Joykail temple' at Kalighat'. Inspite of few similarities in their style the statement can't be accepted because the temple at Kalighat had been built (1806-1809 A.D.) 305 years after the Tripura Sundari temple. Thus, it is obvious that Oldest the construction of Tripura Sundari Temple was not among the inspired by that of the Kalighat, instead, the latter had old Temples absorbed a lot from the former. The temple of Tripura Sundari is older than both the Kalighat temple as well as the temple of Kamrup Kamakhya at Guwahati. Kamakhya temple was founded by the king of Koch Nara Narayan and Chilla Ray in 1565 A.D. Among the three pitha-temples in the eastern India, the temple at Udaipur is the most ancient.

The idol of Goddess Tripura Sundari or Tripur Sundari which adorns the temple is made up of touch-stone. The of height of the idol is 1 meter 57cm and its width is inside the temple 64 cm. It is being installed on a stone-altar. The Devi or the Goddess bears two pairs of forelimbs which depicts typical gesture or Mudra of Devi. According to scriptures, the upper right hand exhibits Varmudra or a gesture of blessing. The lower right hand exhibits Abhaymudra or a gesture of trust and assurance. The left forearm holds a Kharag or a Faichion; whereas, the lower arm holds an Asur-Munda or a head of a demon. But, these features are not distinctly visible in the present idol. The Devi wears a, Joga-mukut (a 'crown on matted hair') which conceals the tufts of undulating matted hair that flow down bilaterally. She wears a Munda-mala or a wreath of 13 severed heads. Her face is oval with a small flat nose and a pair of relatively small round eyes. The well shaped structure of the idol radiates the kind of charm that is unprecedented. She stands upright on the idol of Shiva that lays in Shavasana. Five mundas are supposed to be engraved on the surface of the altar which bears the Devi.

According to Tantrasaar, Devi Tripuri has been referred to as Kali. If one keenly follows Murtishastra or the theories of idol-making one would observe that Devi Tripuri lacks similarities with Tripura Bhairavi and Tripura Sundari Kali. Tripuri Devi bears four arms and rests in Godhasana. The hands pose typically showing the configuration of Paash Ankush Var and Abhaimudra. Tripura Bhairavi Devi bears a pair of arms and she is found associated with the Shiva. She holds a book in one hand and an Akshamaala in the other. On the other hand, Devi Tripura Sundari has two arms and she is posed on the Shiva. Considering the various attributes, the idol installed by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya can't be claimed as that of Tripura Sundari, according to the 'Fundamental principles behind idol-making'.

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Thus, following that, although the image of the deity is that of Kali, as a Pitha Devi; according to the scriptures, the idol would be considered that of Tripura Sundari. Moreover, this idol has been worshipped as Tripura Sundari, the Mother-Goddess of Tripura, right from the ancient times. It has since the inception considered as "Ama Tripura" by the Tripuri people.

One can't say exactly when the idol of Tripura Sundari had been carved out, but, studying the style and craftsmanship, probably it could be some time between 10th to 12th century. There is another stone-idol inside the temple and it is known as 'Chhoto Maa' or 'Chandi'. The idol is 48cm tall and extends 35cm bilaterally. The Mudra signs of the four hands of the Devi is beyond recognition as the upper layer of the stone has been worn out. But it looks distinct that once there was a Jota Mukut on the head. Eyes are relatively small. The nose is pressed and the lips are small and thick. It accounts that the sculptor of the deity had been from the Tripuri race.

According to a hearsay, it states that during the battles the Maharajas used to keep the idol of 'Chhoto Maa' along with them as the replica of Tripura Sundari. Another  hearsay 'Chhoto Maa' had been worshipped by one and all before Devi Tripura Sundari came up.  Though basically an idol of Kalika Devi, it is being worshipped as Chandi, since the scriptures don't allow the worship of two Kalika idols under the same roof. 

Another peculiar yet fascinating possession of Tripura Sundari Temple is the image of Lord Vishnu. The God is being worshipped here in the form of a 'Shaigram Shila' or a black geode. Such an instance of Vishnu being worshipped along with Sakti Devi in a Kali temple or any Shaktapitha is not only rare but an unique feature in this subcontinent. This makes the temple an unparallely exceptional one. And this very exception is the significance of the temple too. This unique synapse and harmony between Shakta and Vaishnav culture have not only magnified the greatness of the temple, but also largely glorified its significance too.

Here, the Devi is being worshipped through Shorashi Yantra, Iviantra of ShorashiKall and keeping with Vichaar Tantra. Such a harmonious process of making use of Tantra, Mantra and Yantra together is actually the outcome of the basic principle behind Tantrik Sadhana or its methodical use. A prayer is being recited through a Tantra, Yantra is employed for invoking Devi Sakti through typical geometrical drawings and eventually through this procedure directed in Tantra, a puja is being exercised.

The site at Matabari in Udaipur, where the temple of Tripura Sundari has come up is regarded as one of the 51 Pithas. There is a mythological anecdote behind the establishment of the Pitha. Once, Prajapati Daksha arranged for a 'Mahayagna' or a great Sacrificial rite. All the Gods except Shiva were invited. Sati turned up in her father's home without any invitation. Suddenly, at the yagna site, Daksha started condemning Shiva acrimoniously. Sati could not bear the reproach against Shiva and she gave up the ghost at the very site. When Shiva heard this, he assumed a destructive mood and consequently, Birbhadra came into being from the shrine or his yellowish-brown matted hair. Along with the the 'Pitha' company of Shiva-followers, Birbhadra demolished all the preparations of the Yagna. Furious with anger, Shiva took up the life-less body of Sati on his shoulders and began 'Tandava-Nritya' or a frantic annihilation dance. All the objects of creation including the Earth was on the verge of extinction as a result of the 'Tandava'. When all attempts to stop the 'Tandava' failed, Lord Vishnu used his invincible wheel shaped missile 'The Sudarshan Chakra' that severed the body of the Sati into many pieces. The sacred fragments of the body of Sati fell on to many parts of the Sub-continent, which were later referred to as Maha-Pithas. Later, those sites developed into holy places of pilgrimage.

It is mentioned in the 'Pithamaala Tantra', 'Maha Pitha Nirupan' and 'Shiva Charita' and other references that the right hind-limb of Devi fell on Matabari as a consequence of 'Tandav'. Here 'Devi' implies to Tripura Sundari and 'Bhairav' is 'The Supreme Lord of Tripura'. It is also mentioned in Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sarkar's book 'The Shakta Pitham' that the Maha Pitha in Tripura came into being on account of the right leg of Sati.

Tripura Sundari is a popular site in the country as a famous Devi Pitha. It is true that both the popularity and the significance of the temple had greatly enhanced as it came up in a Pitha. But, one can't deny that had Dhanya Manikya not built the temple over there, it would have been virtually impossible to detect the site of this Pitha, mentioned in the scriptures. Since, the temple and the Pitha occupy the same place, their attraction and significance compounded by-and-by.

When Maharaja Dhanya Manikya founded the Tripura Sundari Temple in 1501 A.D., the Vaishnav culture was yet to find its ground. Though a contemporary figure, 'Chaitainya Dev' took to asceticism (Sanyaas) in 1510 A.D. The Vaishnav culture began to spread from that period. Its influence in Tripura was detected in the following years. That there was a heavy influence of Shakta Dharma or Shakta culture in Tripura was evident from the temple itself and various other descriptions on religious activities and rituals.

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In his book Rajmala and The History of Tripura', Sri Kailash Chandra Singha have mentioned that Dhanya Manikya was a Shaivite and he built and patronised many a temples meant for worshiping of Shiva or Shakti images. On the auspicious day of the ritual enshrinement ceremony of the holy idol of Tripura Sundari, many beasts as well as humans were immolated as offerings to the Devi. Long before that human sacrifices were already prevailent in Tripura. Dhanya Manikya had imposed some restrictions on the practice of Human sacrifices. Practice of sacrifices was not a feature of the Shakta Dharnia only, it had been noticed in the customary traditions of the natives Tripuri people too. The Tripuri used to offer eggs in the Tripura Sundari Temple and goats in the Mahadev Temple at Udaipur. It is worth mentioning that the individual used to sacrifice beasts in front of the Mahadev idol and the Tripuris felt it a sacred duty, offering Chicken to Devi Lakshmi.

Maximum human sacrifices in Tripura were offered at the 'Chaturdosh Devta Temple'. While commenting on human sacrifices in Tripura, Rev. James Long saysó "Human sacrifices prevailed at an early period in Tripura, and even of the Late years strong suspicions have been entertained of the practice being occasionally observed at the Shrine of Kamakhya in Assam, and at the Kalighat at Calcutta. But in no part of India were more human victims offered than in Tripura which appears to have been one of the strongest holds of Hinduism". (J.A.S.B.-V0L. XIX)

In those days, goats, buffaloes, wild bovines, tortoises, ducks and eggs used to be sacrificed and offered to the deities, and some of these practices still prevail today. Those specifically employed by the Maharaja for performing the sacrifices were known as Gaalims.

Construction of the Tripura Sundari Temple reflects the religious conscience of that period. When Maharaja Dhanya Manikya was constructing the Tripura Sundari Temple, at the same time The Sultan of Bengal Alauddin Hussain Shah also undertook the construction of a Mosque at Ballipur under Dhaka. Dhanya Manikya was enthroned in 1490 A.D. and Hussain Shah in 1493 A.D. Both were said to be engaged in four battles over the State.

Three years prior to the completion of the Tripura Sundari Temple, in 1498 A.D., Vasco-Da-Gama discovered the route to India and he landed on the Calicut port. The Portuguese followed the same route to India which later opened the door for colonization. Famous religious leader, the Sikh guru, Nanak emerged at the same time in India. At the other hemisphere of the globe, Italy was experiencing the golden period of Renaissance, and the famous artist Leonardo Da Vinci was creating waves with his unparallel masterpieces.

While describing different profile of the history of Tripura Sundari Temple, The Rajmala states that the Mogh forces had once demolished the crown of the Tripura Sundari Temple which was again rebuilt by Kalyan Manikya. This mishap might have occurred during the reign of Amar Manikya. This assumtion is based on the fact that Udaipur was once invaded and conquered by the Arakan with the help of the Portuguese in 1584 A.D. Consequently the Arakans or the Moghas carried out unimpeded looting, killings and massacre at Udaipur. Though the crown of the temple was severely damaged, it was not revealed whether other parts of the temple were affected. The idol of the temple was also not disturbed or looted. This suggests that there would be a Swarna-Kalash or a pitcher made of gold on the temple crown which had lured the invaders. It's notable that the Gopinath Temple (1650 A.D.) also had a gold-pitcher crowned on the top.

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Nevertheless, one must admit that Tripura never experienced the kind of atrocities which had destroyed so many temples and monasteries across India at different period in the past. Even Tripura had never witnessed destruction of any temple by invaders. In the past, looting of precious items used to be the inevitable consequence of any invasion or a war. Thus, there might have been precious ornamentation like a gold pitcher on the crown of the temple that led to its destruction.

According to historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Udaipur was attacked and conquered by the Mughals in 1618 A.D. and they had the possession for almost two and half years. The history of that period has no description over any attacked on Tripura Sundari Temple. But according to the hand written old Rajrnala, religious practices, worshipping Chaturdosh Devata and Kalika Devi were all forbidden. To mark the supremacy and the governance of the Mughals, 'Mughal Mosque' was built at Udaipur. Nevertheless, temples or monasteries were never affected.

Besides the hostile and discriminatory attitudes exercised in the form of attacks on temples and religious prohibitions, there was a fascinating account of how an invader belonging to one religion showed great honour to another religion. That, Samser Gazi's though Samser Gazi had attacked Udaipur, he also Devi- Worship worshipped the idol of Tripura Sundari Temple, is mentioned in the biography, 'Gazinaama', written by Sheik Manuhar. 'Gazinaama' also states that daily offerings to the Devi was virtually interrupted for seven days due to the unfavourable situation that persisted after the battle between Samser and the king.

"There was one Motai Thakurani* in Udaipur. Maharaja used to bear the expenses of the daily worship. Worship remained off for seven days due to up roar She appeared in the dreams of Gazi. I'm the Motai Goddess, recognise me. Wake up and go allot for a win in the battle. Sacrifice buffaloes and you'll definitely win the battle. O Almighty. I am a Muslim and thou a Goddess. Muslims don't practice all the rituals of the Hindus. So, not myself but, I'll arrange a Brahmin for thy worship. A Brahmin was hired who conducted the worship with proper rituals. The aroma of inseenee powder, oil and musk enchanted the mountains.' -Gazinaama

 *In Kokborok i.e. Tripuri language Motai means Goddess. In the past. Tripura Suodari Devi was also known as Motai Thakurani."

But it hasn't been learnt whether Devi Puja was stopped during the reign of Samser Gazi after he took over Tripura in 1746A.D. Today, a fair is being held every year at Matabari during the time of 'Dipawali'. Lakhs of people gather around there. Whether such fair would have been held in the past is not known. But from 1903 A.D. onwards a fair began to be held annually at the Tripura Sundari Temple premises on every Uttarayan Samkranti (the solstice or the transitory period between the month of Poush and Magha i.e. in the mid January). It was hitherto unknown before that. Another fair was supposed to be held annually on every Shiva-Chaturdoshi (the 14th lunar day of the month of Phalgoon when Shiva is worshipped) at Mahadev Bari in Udaipur. Its venue was said to be fixed in 1902 A.D. An interesting profile of this fair has been mentioned in the book ('Udaipur-Biharan' written by Brajendra Chandra Dutta which states that an exhibition on agriculture and industry had also been arranged during the fair in 1904 A.D. Considering this, the history of the Matabari-Fair doesn't seem to be too old.

Pilgrims, for years, right from very old days, have experienced a different attraction to Matabari. But due to inaccessible terrains and remote location, pilgrims had to face various problems. One can say there was almost no road linkage across Tripura in those days. One would walk on foot; ride on a boat, a palanquin or an elephant as means of communication. Horses were seldom used by common people as they were not found in plenty in Tripura and were only employed by royal members.

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