Maluti is a unique heritage village in Dumka district, 55 kms from Dumka town, that boasts of exquisite terracotta temples, the village was once known as ‘Gupta Kashi’ or hidden Varanasi. In fact, it originally had an auspicious number of 108 temples, of which only 72 survives today.
The village is situated on the banks of river Chila, at the far end of the Chhota Nagpur plateau, surrounded by lush forests, hillocks and rivulets. The name ‘Maluti’ is derived from the Malla kings of Bishnupur in Nankura district of West Bengal, who ruled over this area in the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, it was the master artisans of Bishnupur who created the exquisite terracotta temples here.
The village gained some prominence in the 15the century as the capital of non-kar raj (tax-free kingdom). The story goes that a fiefdom was awarded to Basanta Roy from Katigram village by Sultan Alauddin Husain Shah of Gaur (1495-1525). The son a poor Brahmin, Basanta had managed to catch and return the sultan’s pet hawk and the fiefdom was the grateful sultan’s reward.
Exquisite carvings on the outer walls of a temple depict scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana How Maluti became a temple village is also an interesting story. It is said that the Basanta kings were highly pious and instead of building palaces they built temples. After the royal family split into four branches, each branch of the family began building temples in competition with each other, creating what turned out to be this unique little temple village.
Inscriptions in the early Bengali script found on the temples reveal that they were named after female deities. The most ancient temple in Maluti- over a thousand years old – is that of goddess Maulikshya, also the presiding deity of Bajasanta’s dynasty.
Maluti’s temples have survived four centuries of nature’s vagaries. In 2009, an NGO called Save Heritage and Environment (SHE) along with the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) became actively involved in conservation efforts here. The GHF has declared Maluti as one of the world’s twelve vanishing cultural heritage sites, and the only one from India.
Mauliskhya comes from the words, mauli (head) and iksha (vision). Today, only the goddess’ beautifully carves stone head, with a benign smile remains. Made of laterite stone, originally the sculpture was beautifully chiseled into the shape of the goddess. The goddess Maulikshya is worshipped here as Singha Vahini Durga or the goddess riding the lion. However, as the deity bears no resemblance to Durga’s description in various Hindu texts, and the name Maulikshya too is not common among either Hindu or Buddhists deities, she remains something of a mystery.
According to another legend, Maulikshya is said to be the elder sister of goddess Tara of Tarapith (in West Bengal). The renowned yogi (ascetic) Bamakhyapa (or Bamdev) is believed to have attained enlightenment first by the grace of Maulikshya and then from Tara.