February 4, 2023 1:42 pm

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Kamakhya Temple: The Divine Power of Womanhood

It is also dedicated to Dashamahavidya, or the ten manifestations of Devi, which are Goddesses Kamala, Tara, Kali, Shorashi, Bhubaneswari, Bhairabi, Dhumavati, Chhinnamasta, Baglamukhi, and Matangi.

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One of the fifty-one Shakti Peethas and four Adi Shakti Peethas, The Kamakhya Temple, in the Indian northeastern state of Assam is regarded as the holy site where womanhood is revered and honoured. This Mahapeeth Shakti Peeth is where Sati’s womb and other reproductive organs fell when her body was dismembered by Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra. It is also dedicated to Dashamahavidya, or the ten manifestations of Devi, which are Goddesses Kamala, Tara, Kali, Shorashi, Bhubaneswari, Bhairabi, Dhumavati, Chhinnamasta, Baglamukhi, and Matangi. While Tripurasundari, Matangi, and Kamala are worshipped in the main temple, there are separate temples for other goddesses.

Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati
Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Kamakhya Devi is also known as the “bleeding goddess” because the Brahmaputra river close to Kamakhya turns red every year in the month of Ashaad (June). It is thought that the goddess menstruates during this time. The Ambuvasi Pooja, which occurs in the month of Ashaad, is celebrated with great spirits here. The temple remains closed for the visitors on these three days, while they place a white cloth over the yoni in the Garbhagriha (innermost sanctuary of a Hindu Temple). On the fourth day, we find that the cloth has turned red. The simple reality that the cloth turns crimson after four days is an incredible miracle for which no one has a convincing explanation. While they open the doors for the devotees, festivities, and Pooja are also performed on that day. Devotees of Kamakhya Devi exchange sacred water. It is stated that going to the temple during this time and drinking holy water makes one fortunate. Menstruation is revered as a woman’s capability to create a life, in comparison to other places where it is ostracised. 

“The path leading to the Kamakhya Temple will be visible as soon as we get close to the peaceful and spiritual Nilachal hills, located in the lush green parts of Guwahati. Each devotee feels a sense of deep connection and inner power as they make their way up the hill, which transiently takes them away from all of their sorrows and attachments. While walking up the hills, one can enjoy the view of other hills, temples, and scenery.  It is believed that everyone who visits Kamakhya Devi is first made to go through a test, to ascertain whether they are truly ready to enter the spiritual grounds of the holy mother. Nearing the main temple, one discovers a large number of shrines honouring various deities. There are stalls and different counters where one finds clothes, flowers, and other auspicious offerings. The entire area embodies a divine aura, with nearly everything covered in red, a colour that reflects Devi’s sacred vermillion or womanhood. When one arrives at the main shrine of Kamakhya Devi, after the long ascent, they realize they are being pulled deeper into the truth of Devi’s powers. We descend into a cave which leads to the Garbhagriha, where even darkness gets blinded by one’s strong faith. The mythological womb and genitals of mother Shakti found in the Garbhagriha of the holy temple give out a strong aura of power and womanhood. Adorned in red silk cloths and fresh flowers, it truly encompasses the meaning of motherhood, where one calls out to ‘Ma’ ” recalls a pilgrim after their visit to the Kamakhya Temple.

Legends about the temple date back to centuries

According to legend, despite being forbidden by her husband Lord Shiva, Sati went to the grand yajna that her father was holding to please the gods but to which neither of them had been invited.  She reached the place where the yajna took place only to realise that her father had started insulting her. The final straw was when he also belittled Shiva. Sati jumped into the yajna’s sacrifice fire, unable to take the insult any longer. Shiva was so enraged when he discovered what had happened. He started performing Tandava while holding the dead Sati’s body on his shoulders, seeking vengeance. The whole world collapsed. All the other gods approached lord Vishnu to stop Shiva and save the earth from destruction. However, Shiva resisted every attempt by Vishnu to calm him. Later, Vishnu used his Sudarshan Chakra to split Sati’s body into 51 pieces. The Shakti Peethas are the locations where each portion fell. The Yoni- Mudra, also referred to as the Kubjika Pitha, or the female genitalia of Sati, fell in Kamakhya.  It was unknown till the day Kamadeva, the God of Love, looked for it to free himself from a curse placed upon him by Brahma. After worshipping in this Peetha, he was able to regain his rupa (beauty and masculinity) here. The entire area is referred to as Kamarupa and the deity is known as Kamakhya or the one worshipped by Kama.

Kalika Purana, one of most sacred texts for the “Shakti” sect written around the 9th century provides a mythical story about the origin of the temple. It was mentioned that Lord Siva originally courted Sati at Nilachal in prehistoric Kamarupa. The Kamakhya Temple is extensively described in the Kalika Purana. The Kamakhya Temple was also associated with Naraka, whose parents were Lord Vishnu and Dharitri, according to the Kalika Purana. Naraka was thought to have moved to Pragjoytisha on the orders of his father Lord Vishnu after having spent his early years in Mithila. The Karats, led by their King Ghana, were thought to have been the first people to worship the goddess Kamakhya. Naraka defeated them. Although Naraka was initially a devotee of the goddess Kamakhya, he eventually acquired bad traits after being influenced by Binaural, the king of Sniper. According to legend, Naraka stopped the sage Vashishta from seeing the god, and as a consequence, Vashishta cursed both the Goddess and Naraka. Naraka had to be killed by Lord Vishnu because his crimes had become too intense.

Another ancient text that is thought to have been written around the sixteenth century is the “Yogini Tantra,” which contains references to the goddess Kamakhya. The Yogini Tantra contains a legend about Kamakhya’s emergence as a symbol of fertility. This is how the episode from “Yogini Tantra” plays out. After creating the universe, Lord Brahma grew self-absorbed due to his supreme creative ability. Hence Goddess Sanatani Kali decided to teach him a lesson.  She used Brahma’s body to make the demon Kesi. The demon rushed to Brahma as soon as he was born to swallow him up. Brahma ran away from the demon, and upon realising his mistake, he pleaded to the Goddess for help. The Goddess then intervened on his behalf and killed the demon. The Goddess then instructed Brahma and Vishnu to build a mountain over the demon Kesi’s corpse, where there would be grass there for the cattle. She also told them that Kamarupa is the holiest place on earth. It was instructed for Brahma and Vishnu to pray and meditate in front of the Yonimandala (female genital) which subsequently came to fruition. This place is now known as Nilakuta Parvat or Nilachal.

Another legend surrounding the temple’s beginnings is connected to Viswa Singha, the Koch King. Viswa Singha and his brother Siva Singha got lost during the battle with the Ahoms and ended up on top of Nilachal Hill. They came across an elderly woman who took them to the Pithasthan of the Goddess Kamakhya and asked them to build a gold temple there. The King offered his prayers and pledged that if his wishes were granted, he would unquestionably carry them out. As a result, after having his wishes granted, king Viswa Singha attempted to construct one temple using bricks, but his plan failed. The Devi then appeared in his dream and reminded him of his promise to construct the temple entirely out of gold. The king begged the Devi, explaining that he was unable to do so, and the Devi told him to add at least a small amount of gold to the bricks. Following this, the temple was constructed and later destroyed. The precise cause is unknown. While many scholars believe this was caused by a natural disaster, some claim that it was destroyed by Kalapahar, a Muslim invader.

The numerous historical traditions suggest that Kamakhya’s truth is indelible. The temple and the beliefs have served as a meeting point for all communities, whether they are in the hills, the forest, the villages, or the city.

The temple architecture and rituals

The facade of the present temple features images of Shree Ganesh and other Hindu Devi and Devas, shaped like a Shikhara that resembles a beehive. The temple has three principal chambers. Large and rectangular, the western chamber is not used for worship by regular pilgrims. The square-shaped middle chamber has a small Devi idol. This chamber’s walls are covered in sculpted representations of Nara Narayana, associated inscriptions, and other Devtas. The middle chamber leads to the cave-like sanctum of the temple, which has no images and is instead filled with a natural spring that emerges from a bedrock crevice shaped like a yoni

It is a surprising example of divine intervention that whenever Assam experiences a natural spring season, the Yoni symbol remains. Matra Yoni, a fissure in the rock that is about ten inches deep and shaped like a vagina, receives water on an ongoing basis from an enduring underground spring. The worshippers at the shrine are given a blessed and energised red-coloured wet cloth as Prasad unlike in other Shakti Peethas. The daily Bhog or edible Prasad of Kamakhya Temple consists of Khichiri or Khichdi, Payokh or Kheer, Mixed Vegetable Curry, and a Papor or Pappad. Like any other goddess in Assam, goddess Kamakhya is also worshipped in a mixture of cultures, Aryan and non-Aryan. It is believed that a devotee who enters the temple with a wish gets it fulfilled.  The Siddhi and authentic tantric practices at this place also ward against evil spirits and gives protection to the innocent. The sages and tantric of Kamakhya are capable of working miracles.  However, they exercise tremendous caution when using their powers.

People from across the country and even from other parts of the world travel to Assam to attain the blessings of Kamakhya Devi, whose existence reminds mankind time and again about the truth in devotion. This temple, which is veiled in mysteries and fascinating realities, is indeed a living symbol of the power of womanhood that prevailed in the mythological histories of Hindutva and most importantly a source of power that represents the beauty of creation.

TIA Fellow
TIA Fellow
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