OMG, what is this! Bells, bells, bells everywhere, you know, the mandir wala bells, in copper, brass and aluminium, in sizes small as a pebble, others quite big and solid, weighing anything between 50 grams to 55 kg. Some rusty with time and the rains, others shining like gold in the sun. All stringed together in heaps from iron bars, creating, unintentionally, a sculptural bouquet, stunning you with a visual your eyes are not ready for. Not just these, there are thousands of others lying in the corner of the complex forming a metal mountain.
Each of these bells represent a wish fulfilled. And going by the sheer number of bells, sure there are a hell lot of wishes fulfilled here.
We all jolt to a halt as I push the brake paddle suddenly when my sister calls out to me with some urgency, “Stop, stop! We are there!” It’s unbelievable that a temple that exerts such a powerful influence among millions is located in a place that has no grand standing, isolated in a tea territory, in so very unassuming circumstances, and with no extravagant physical proportions. Unlike a North Indian temple, this one isn’t draped in silk and gold and ritualistic extravaganza. There are no architectural splendour or artistic details of temple craftsmen. There are no statues or idols too. There are also no touts, no crowds, no commercial shops, no loudspeakers belting out devotional songs, and no traffic jam.
We drive from Dibrugarh, the tea town that I was born and brought up in, windows down, through the many gardens on either side, taking a detour from the Dibrugarh-Tinsukia highway. I drive at a steady 50-60 km, enjoying the green views, inhaling the aroma of tea wafting from the factories around. A while later, we cross Duliajan, the oil town, and then we are there: Tilinga Mandir, a Shiv temple in Tinsukia district of Assam – tilinga meaning “bell” in Assamese.
Spiritually and mystically strong, you are amazed by the sheer volume of bells dangling from everywhere. For many years, bells were tied around the branches of the big banyan tree (pipal), but when the tree couldn’t take the weight anymore and started to die, environmental activists stepped in to save the tree, and from then on, people have been tying bells around the iron bars specially erected for this. The temple itself has three bell-shaped domes each smaller than the other (from left to right) so that when you look from the front, it looks just like a single bell.
So how did this temple and the belief around it happen? The story goes that nearly half a century ago, in 1965, the tea garden workers noticed a black rock in the shape of Shiva Lingam emerging from the ground near a Banyan tree. It was unearthed and nestled among the roots of the peepal tree (banyan). Over the years, people have discovered its mysterious power: Make a wish and it will be granted. And when it is done, you show your appreciation by hanging a bell on the bars. People also present pigeons and tridents (trishuls).
A visit to this temple also comes with several sightseeing opportunities around Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. Dibrugarh, the nearest airport, is connected by daily flights from New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai. If you are travelling by train, you have the Brahmaputra Express, Rajdhani and other trains that connect to Tinsukia, the nearest railway station.
Keep the faith, shall we?