Nartiang Durga Temple is a 500 year old Durga Temple located in the Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, a state in North-Eastern India. Being one of the 51 Shakti Peethas of Hindu Mythology, this temple is one of the holiest sites for devotees of the Shakti cult of Hinduism.
The story of the establishment of the temple is quite interesting. Legend has it that Daksha, Goddess Durga’s father, did not invite his son-in-law Lord Shiva to a holy sacrificial feast at his residence. Durga, saddened at this, immolated herself at the sacrificial fire at her parents’ home.
On learning of this, Shiva went to Daksha’s house, enraged, carried his wife’s body on his shoulders and started the dance of destruction. In order to calm him down, Vishnu with the help of his flying discus (Chakra) cut down Durga’s dead body into 51 pieces, which fell down on different places on the Earth.
It is believed that Durga's left thigh fell at Nartiang in the Jaintia Hills. Hence the Goddess here is known as ‘Jainteshwari’. The Jaintia king Jaso Manik (1606–1641) had married Lakshmi Narayana, the daughter of the Hindu Koch king Nara Narayana. It is believed that it was Lakshmi Narayana who had influenced the Jaintia Royalty to embrace Hinduism. King Dhan Manik had made Nartiang the summer capital of the Jaintia Kingdom about 600 years ago.
One night, the goddess appeared to him in a dream and informed him of the significance of the place and asked him to build a temple in Her honour. Following this, the Jainteshwari temple in Nartiang was established. The strategic location of the temple and presence of weapons like cannons etc. suggests that the temple must have been part of a fort of the Jaintia Kings
The rites at the temple not performed the conventional way as in the plains, but in a unique way, a blend of Hindu and ancient Khasi traditions. The local chieftain or Syiem is considered the chief patron of the temple. Even today, during Durga Puja, the Syiem sacrifices goats in the Goddess’s honour. Earlier, human sacrifice was offered at the temple, but the practice had been stopped by the British.
The human head used to roll down a tunnel from the sanctum sanctorum to the Myntdu River flowing below. Nowadays, goats and ducks are sacrificed. But what is most interesting is the fact that the goats are made to wear human masks and then sacrificed.
Durga Puja is the most important festival of this temple. During Durga Puja, a banana plant is dressed up and worshipped as the Goddess. At the end of the four-day festivities, the plant is ceremoniously immersed in the Myntdu River. A gun salute is also given to the Goddess on the occasion.