The world is a place of wonders and every corner has a unique story to say. And one such wonder that’s worth sharing is the bleeding story of Kamakhya. Of course, the wonders of Kamakhya are of manifolds, which don’t end with just a single story.
The Mythological Legend behind Kamakhya
If you happen to explore mythology, you must have come across the story of Lord Shiva and his tandav, the dance of destruction, upon the demise of his wife, Devi Sati. The Shakti peethas are formed out of Sati’s body parts that fell on earth when Lord Vishnu took it upon himself to calm the raging husband by using his Sudarshan Chakra to cut Sati’s body. One of the most pious and powerful Shakti peeth is the Kamakhya Temple, a 16th-century temple situated on the Nilachal hill in the western part of Guwahati in Assam. It is here that according to traditional beliefs, the yoni or vagina fell from Sati’s body, and if you happen to visit the place, you will notice the pointed difference in the way of worship.
The centerpoint of the temple is the cave-like structure, which is actually a representation of the womb and as you step in, you will find the yoni (vagina)-shaped path or a cleft on a rocky base through which a stream flows. The poojari sitting inside is seen to perform the rituals on a dome that covers the cleft. And that is where the bleeding story finds its place. During the Aashaadamasam, the fourth month of the traditional Hindu Lunar calendar, which marks the beginning of Dakshinayana – when the Sun takes a southward turn in the zodiac, the stream turns red. It is considered that during that time, the goddess menstruates and it’s the bleeding goddess that turns the water red. Based on the age old rituals, for three days the doors of the temple remain closed to be devoid of any worship. And it’s on the fourth day, that the festivities arise in the shape of Ambubasimela. The festivity isn’t to dazzle the onlookers rather to augment the faith and to see what isn’t conventionally witnessed around the temple premise – it’s the thronging of the thousands of saffron-clad tantrics that are the ardent worshippers of Kaali. While the rest of the year they disappear to master the art of spiritualism – away from prying eyes, during this four-day mela they appear to seek blessings from Maa Kamakhya. Being from Guwahati, I have seen pilgrims travelling from far-away-places to get blessings from these sacred tantrics and to get a glimpse of the temple brimming with the spiritual power.
It is this sense of the mystical power of Devi Kamakhya and the unquestioned faith that drew me once again to this place of worship. The day began in a post-wedding lethargic mood, with all aunts and cousins crooning inside the house after a busy 5-day affair. During one of the morning cuppa chit chats, my aunt narrated her recent Mumbai visit. Amidst various hilarious and some sweet anecdotes, there was one thing that took me in.People may not have travelled to Assam or Guwahati, but they definitely knew about the strong presence of Kamakhya. And, based on a spur of the moment decision, I found myself heading inside the huge arch that marks the entrance to Kamakhya. Walking in between many little hut-shops that lay on either side of the road, I made a quick pit stop to buy the pooja samagri, an all-you-need pack that has everything you will need while offering your prayers inside the temple. From Sindoor (vermillion) and small packs of prasad, which is filled with little sugar balls, to ghee diyas, flowers and incense sticks, everything in the shops are meant to please the goddess and receive her blessings. Of course, the prayers and the belief have to come from the heart, or any amount of sindoor or prasad will be a lost cause. The shops also have other displays for tourists, small artifacts, handicrafts, jewelries and wall hangings of goddess Kamakhya.
A unique system, which shows the commercial aspect of the place, is the panda system. Pandas are priests who charge a hefty fee to guide you around the temple and the rituals to be performed at various places; for instance, what is to be offered for your specific prayers to come true, or they may also take upon themselves to perform some pooja on your behalf if you are willing to loosen your purse strings, among many other things. But the good part is, it’s upon you whether you want a guide or not. Of course, if someone is in the mood to quickly finish with their visit the pandas will be the most willing partners. And as the saying goes, all good things come with a price. I ditched them for obvious reasons and decided to explore on my own.
As I moved inside, I was informed of the way to the main temple, which was on my left and on the right was the long concrete pathway that I can walk (we can take the car too) to witness the other avatars of Kali – Dhumavati, Matangi, Bagola, Tara, Kamala, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Bhuvaneshwari and Tripuara Sundari –within the vast land and hill of Kamakhya. While in most of the temples the first thing one notices are the elaborate life-size or even bigger idols, inside the Kamakhya temple there are none of Devi Kamakhya. Rather there is a sculpture of the vagina (juni in Assamese), where the prayers are offered. But it’s no easy feat to go inside the temple. On any day, there’s always a huge line of people waiting for a glimpse of the goddess, so one must keep some hours on the side for the wait (during Ambubasi mela, it can become days).
The Cunning Robbery
For me too it was no different, with the pooja samagri in hand, I went down to the designated place, Sauvagya Kunda, to wash my hands and legs. The first glimpse of the water wasn’t very favorable but I did splash some water to abide by the temple traditions. Soon, I was on the way to the temple, unaware of shrewd eyes targeting me or rather my belongings. I wasn’t even halfway, when a monkey jumps out of nowhere and before I could even realize what’s happening I see the pooja pack being snatched from my hand. Soon, the monkey was on its way, probably to happily chew on the prasad and definitely to boast of the easy prey it made of me. I was startled at the attack and later realized the fallacy of my own action. Let me tell you how these groups of monkeys work inside the temple. Yes, there are hundreds of them swinging from trees, some are on top of the walls watching the perimeter for their prey, some on steps and some even inside. Now these cunning creatures are always on the wait for those ignorant humans who happily display their belongings for the world to see. It’s like I enticed that monkey to come and steal my things. So, word of caution, if you have eatables or anything that you are planning to take inside the temple, make sure to cover it, with a cloth or anything that you can find. Otherwise there is 90% chance that you will be robbed.
Then with a nothing to lose (literally) attitude I moved on to visit the place and offered my prayers. I even took the inside path to Bagala. There are numerous paths, which can become a maze, but if you like exploring you will love it. There were times when I got lost but you do find your way out of it in time. While walking around I came across a line of bells, which are known to bring in luck and peace in your life. People offer sindoor and some light diyas under the bells, and ringing these bells is considered auspicious. I couldn’t get to the story behind these bells, which are said to be donated from time to time to the temple.
Never to bid adieu
The day went by and when it was time to leave, I could only think of coming back again. You will find devotees chanting, monkeys playing around and the busy crowd, but amidst the chaos there’s a strong sense of inner power and peace. I would love to come back to know more about the history and the legendary paths; after all the place is brimming with interesting stories – be it the tale of how Kaamdeva broke his fertility curse or what made the demon Naraka leave the main temple staircase incomplete, which he began constructing to prove his love to Devi Kamakhya. Just talk to anyone when you arrive at the place, and I am sure you will be filled with stories to share about your trip.
Guest Writer : Nayona Dutta