Today in India’s ‘red’ corridor, a region stretching down the eastern, central and southern heart of India and prone to violent Maoist-Naxal insurgency, the town of Dantewada is steeped in history. It is home to the famous Danteshwari temple one of the most sacred sites for the people living across the region.
The Danteshwari temple is considered to be one of the 52 Shakti Peethas which are temples across India where goddesses are worshipped as incarnations of Shakti, the female force. According to Hindu mythology, after Sati, the first wife of Shiva, committed self-immolation in the yagna kund or sacred fire pit, angry at her father, Daksha (Son of Brahma), for insulting her husband, Shiva was distraught.
He walked the earth in anguish refusing to put down her body. Finally, Shiva is said to have begun the tandava dance to destroy the world forcing Lord Vishnu (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva form part of the Hindu holy trinity) to cut the body of Sati into 51 pieces. According to lore, the Shakti Peethas were set up wherever a part of Sati’s body fell. Legend has it that Danteshwari is where the goddess’s teeth (dant in Sanskrit) fell.
Shakti Peethas are temples where goddesses are worshipped as incarnations of Shakti, the female force
Historically, Dantewada, in the heart of Bastar, was in the middle of a massive impregnable forest known as ‘Dandakaranya’ that stretched across Central India. The kingdom of Bastar traced it’s lineage to the Kakatiya rulers of Warangal, who ruled over a large kingdom in present-day Telangana from the 11th to 14th century CE, when it was conquered by armies of the Sultanate of Delhi. As per the chronicles of the Bastar royal family, in the year 1324 CE, Annamadeva or Annamaraja, the brother of the last Kakatiya king Prataprudra II, decided to put his nephew on the throne and escape into the dense Dandakaranya forest. When he went into the forest he took the family goddess with him and installed her in a temple at Dantewada. Annamadeva went on to establish the Kingdom of Bastar, which was ruled by his descendants till 1947.
Along with Annamadeva, a large number of devotees of the Goddess migrated with her to the forests. These devotees over time formed the ‘Jogi Tribe’. The former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi belonged to this tribe.
The Bastar Dusshera celebrations go on for 75 days and are inspired by old tribal traditions.
The temple at Dantewada is a simple temple with the image of the Goddess carved in black stone. The most unique celebration at Danteshwari temple is the Bastar Dusshera, which goes on for 75 days! Anthropologists believe that this 75-day festival has its origins in the tribal traditions and harvest festivals.
This temple also has close links to the beginning of the Maoist insurgency in Bastar. The Maharajas of Baster were the hereditary high priests of Danteshwari temple, which gave them immense clout among the tribal population. In the 1960s, Raja Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo the ruler of Bastar organized large protests against the exploitation of tribes and the resources of Bastar state, especially the Bailadila Coal Mines, by the Government. In 1966, he was killed along with a large number of his supporters in a police firing, that set Bastar aflame in anger.
Today, the Danteshwari temple is an island of calm in a sea of violence. It is still one of the most revered places for the tribes of Bastar.
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