Folklore,  Travelogues

Dantakali: The tooth-goddess in Nepal

A few kilometres from Dharan in Nepal, as you go uphill towards Bijaynagar, stands the Dantakali temple. It is a 20 minute drive from Dharan, and located at an altitude of 1572 feet above the sea level. Dantakali (the tooth goddess) is one of the Shaktipeeths. Shaktipeeths are places of worship dedicated to the feminine divinity in Hinduism. 

As the legend goes, the son of Lord Brahma, Daksha had a beautiful daughter Sati, who grew up in luxury in her father’s palace. As a young girl she heard a number of stories about Lord Shiva and became enamoured by these tales. She renounced her life of luxury, and lived a life of austerity wandering through dense forests. Pleased by her rigorous penance, Lord Shiva appeared before her and agreed to marry her. After their marriage, Lord Shiva and Sati stayed on Mount Kailash.

This did not go down well with Sati’s father, who saw Shiva as an uncouth hermit who was not worthy of a king’s daughter. Daksha organized a huge yagna. He invited all the important deities, but deliberately left out Shiva and Sati from the guest list. Undeterred Sati reached the yagna at her father’s place, where she was not accorded the respect given to an invited guest. When she questioned Daksha about why her husband had not been invited, an arrogant Daksha insulted Shiva further, calling him ‘lord of the beasts’ and worse for staying in a graveyard. Unable to take this humiliation, Sati immolated herself in the sacred fire of the yagna.

When Shiva heard of the death of his wife, he was enraged and pulled out two locks of his hair, from which he created Veerbhadra and Bhadrakali. Together, Veerbhadra and Bhadrakali cut off Daksha’s head.

Filled with anger and pain, Shiva arrived at the yagna site, lifted Sati’s corpse and performed the celestial dance of destruction, the Taandav, across creation. Vishnu had to intervene to stop destruction and to restore Lord Shiva’s sanity. He used his Sudarshan Chakra to cut Sati’s corpse into several pieces while Shiva danced in grief. As the story goes, at each of those sites where Sati’s body parts or ornaments fell, a Shaktipeeth has been established.

These are important shrines where the Mother goddess is worshipped in the Shakti tradition. There are several versions, according to which there are either 51 or 108 Shaktipeeths across the Indian subcontinent. While most of these are in India, some of these also exist in Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Tibet and Sri Lanka. 

As legend goes, the Dantakali temple is believed to be the site where Sati’s teeth fell. When I first stepped into the shrine, all I saw was a small hole in the wall where a lot of offerings such as red cloth and flowers marked the idol. I couldn’t see much. But on request, the priest shuffled the offerings aside and showed us the idol of the Dantakali. It is a black stone idol which has jutting teeth shaped protrusions, which is believed to be the preserved relic of Sati’s corpse. 

Interestingly, another temple with a similar legend is located in Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh in India. This is the 600 year old Danteshwari temple in Dantewada. Both the name of the temple and the place are derived from the word ‘daant’ for tooth. Here the Goddess Danteshwari is regarded as the kuldevi of Bastar. 

The temple is a popular destination for pilgrims during Navratri. The nine incarnations of Goddess Durga—Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayini, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidaatri are worshipped respectively for nine consecutive days. Also, during Dussehra (Bada Dasain as it is called in Nepal), a lot of goats are sacrificed in honour of the goddess at this temple on maha-ashtami day. 

The other Shaktipeeths located in Nepal are: the Guhyeshwari Shaktipeeth which lies a kilometre east of the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, and the Gandaki Chandi Shaktipeeth which is in Muktinath. The goddess Sati’s knees are supposed to have fallen near the Bagmati river at the former shrine, while her right cheek is supposed to have fallen near the Gandak river at the latter shrine.

While you are at Dantakali, you can climb up a few minutes ahead to see the Pindeshwar Baba temple, which is a Shiva shrine. The view of the sloping roofs of the houses of Dharan from the top of the hill is also worthwhile. 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: