Can you imagine a Shiva temple without a Shiv Linga? There will be none except the one at Nartiang village in Meghalaya, where, though the devotees want to install a Shiv Linga, they can’t, thanks to the stiff opposition from the local Christians, who are in a brute majority. According to the Christians, Linga worship revolts against the spirit of Christianity.
The Nartiang Shiva temple in the West Jaintia Hills district is one of the oldest temples in the Christian-majority Meghalaya. Established in the 13th century by the Jaintia kings, the temple, of late, has become a symbol of monumental neglect and religious intolerance.
The temple was renovated a few decades ago. Usually, there are not many visitors except on Shiv Ratri, when devotees numbering about 50,000 throng the temple, say locals. Many tourists who visit the famous 13th century Durga temple in the vicinity make it a point to visit this temple also.
Inside the temple, there are several small figurines of Lord Shiva and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. Finding that there was no Shiv Linga in the temple, I enquired with the son of the temple priest who did a favour to us by opening the temple at an odd hour. Since the boy was not forthcoming, my driver, Rohan, a Bihari Muslim who doubled up as a tourist guide, volunteered to answer the question. “Yahan Christian log nahin chahte hain. This is against their beliefs. According to them, God should exist in the mind and there is no need to install a Shiv Linga,” added Rohan. However, he finds nothing amiss in the outrageous Christian demand, as “they are in a majority” in the area.
To confirm the veracity of his claim, I checked with a Hindu Central government official who told me that initially the local Christians used to discourage tourists from even visiting the temple. “Nevertheless I used to go there and perform pujas,” said the official who does not want to be quoted.
While returning, we bumped into the Nartiang village head, Dhaundhar, who tells me that he is a Hindu and the six hundred Hindu families in the area take care of the Durga and Shiva temples.
The temple also houses some antique weapons of the erstwhile princely state.