Animal sacrifice at this temple has a martyr connection
Even today, devotees throng the Tarkulha Devi temple in Gorakhpur to sacrifice goats almost daily either as thanksgiving for fulfilment of their wishes or to ward off the evil eye. Over 500 goats each are sacrificed on Navami and Dashami alone.lucknow Updated: Apr 08, 2017 17:06 IST
The tradition of animal sacrifice has continued unhindered at the Tarkulha Devi temple in Gorakhpur for years on end.
The practice has its roots in the lore of a martyr who was hanged by the British 160 years ago and who used to offer sacrifice to the goddess.
Even now devotees throng the temple, just a few kilometres from the Chauri Chaura memorial, to sacrifice goats almost daily either as thanksgiving for fulfilment of their wishes or to ward off the evil eye. The number of sacrifices swells on Navami and Dashami during Navratri. Over 500 goats each are sacrificed on Navami and Dashami alone.
The meat is distributed as ‘prasad’ (consecrated food) to the faithful who cook it in earthen pots and enjoy a feast on the temple premises. The animal waste is buried.
Tarkulha is one of the several manifestations of Goddess Durga. The deity derives the name Tarkulha Devi from the tarkul (palm) tree.
“The entire year, people visit the temple to offer sacrifice when their wishes are fulfilled. But the number increases during Navratri,” said Dinesh Tiwari, priest at the Tarkulha Devi temple.
Those who don’t wish to sacrifice animals offer coconuts to the goddess, he said.
The tradition here is in contrast to the practice in most Hindu temples where coconuts, sweets and lemon rice are distributed as prasad.
Normally, Navratra is a period during which Hindus avoid consuming non-vegetarian food.
Devotees from far-flung areas, including Bihar and Nepal, visit the temple and offer animal sacrifice to appease the deity. Most devotees bring the goats with them. Others buy the animal from shops outside the temple for Rs 2,500 or more.
After the animal is bathed and sweets are offered to it, a butcher severs its head in a single stroke.
“It is a long-standing tradition. The devotees, whose wishes are fulfilled, sacrifice the goats and distribute its meat as prasad,” said Manohar Tripathi, a devotee associated with the temple .
The tradition and the history of the temple can be traced to the British era when Bandhu Singh , a devotee of Tarkulha, was hanged by the British who found him guilty of killing their soldiers.
“Bandhu Singh used to sacrifice animals and offer heads of the British at the feet of Devi,” said Dinesh Tiwari.
Bandhu Singh, adept in guerilla warfare, used to worship Goddess Tarkulha under a tarkul (tree along the Gurra river, which used to flow through a dense forest, said Dr PK Lahiri, member of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (Intach).
“Bandhu Singh used to sacrifice the animal to please the goddess and the practice continues,” Lahiri said.
Bandhu Singh beheaded the British when they crossed the forest.
When senior British officials came to know about this, they caught him. A court sentenced him to death.
The British tried to hang him thrice but failed.
The fourth time, he prayed to the goddess for salvation, saying he was in extreme pain, and his prayer was answered.
Finally, he was publicly executed at Alinagar crossing on August 12, 1857.
“Every time, the noose was placed around his neck and the lever was pulled, the rope broke and he escaped miraculously till he was finally executed. It is said that at the time of Bandu Singh’s execution, a thunderstorm hit the area. The branch of a Tarkul tree, where he used to worship the goddess, broke and blood started oozing out of it,” Lahiri told HT.
From then on, people began worshipping Tarkulha Devi. They started offering sacrifices the same way Bandhu Singh did when he was alive.