Maa Tarini is the presiding deity for all Shakti and Tantra peeths or shrines in Orissa. The origin of Shakti or worship of the Earth as a female embodiment of power is found across many cultures all over the world. In Orissa which has a high density of tribal population whose religious practices have been assimilated into the mainstream Hindu faith, the worship of natural formations such as rocks, tree trunks, rivers is widespread among the tribes. Maa Tarini is always depicted as a red face with two large eyes and a mark in the middle which serves as an indication for a nose and also a tilak.
This primitive conception is symbolic of the simplicity of tribal beliefs and ceremonies. The red colour has been attributed to dyes made out of iron ores or ocher which are quite plentiful in the state and would thus have been used by the tribes for anointing and decorating the sacred figures of worship.
The ornate letters in the background mean “Maa” or Mother in the Oriya language. They were a much later addition although the Oriya script did change very slightly over the millennia. In this form she is very similar to the conception of the Goddess Kali at Kalighat. Although the two are embodiments of the same divinity, Kali is the Goddess of death and destruction whereas Maa Tarini is the force of life. Interestingly, two of the names of Kali are Maa Taara and Tara Tarini.