On the top of the beautiful Nilachal hills in Guwahati, Assam, you will find one of the oldest shakti peeths, the ancient Kamakhya temple dedicated to tantric goddesses. It is one of the 108 shakti peeths with the main temple dedicated to Maa Kamakhya devi. All around the premise of the main temple, you will find 10 small sized temples dedicated to the 10 avatars of Maa Kali, namely, goddesses Dhumavati, Bagola, Tara, Matangi, Bhairavi, Kamala, Chinnamasta, Bhuvaneshwari and Tripuara Sundari.
The Mythical Story
According to mythical legends, Sati married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father, King Daksha. Once, the king had organised a great yajna in his kingdom and he did not invite Sati and Shiva. Sati was very upset but still went to her father’s kingdom to attend the yajna, much against the wish of Lord Shiva. There, she was insulted by her father. King Daksha also insulted Lord Shiva, which made her so angry that she jumped into the yajna fire and killed herself. Hearing this, Lord Shiva got very angry and took Sati’s body on his shoulders and wandered all around the universe with rage. He started the Tandav dance or dance of destruction of the universe out of anger. Lord Vishnu, in order to calm Shiva down and save the universe, cut the body of Sati into several pieces with his Sudarshan chakra. Her body parts fell in 108 different places which came to be known as the Shakti peeths. In Kamakhya temple, the womb and the yoni or the vagina of the Goddess fell.
Origin of the deity Kamakhya
The kamakhya originated from the Sanskrit word ‘Kama’ meaning Love making. Kamadeva, the God of Love, on account of a curse had lost his virility. He sought out the womb and the yoni of Maa Shakti and thereby he was freed from the curse. He regained his potency and this is how the deity of ‘Kamakhya’ devi was installed and worshipped here. Some historical studies have also pointed out that the Kamakhya temple is the place where Lord Shiva and devi Sati had their love encounters.
Some Interesting Facts
The incomplete staircase to the temple: An Asura or demon named Naraka fell in love with Goddess Kamakhya. He wanted to marry her. Goddess Kamakhya who was not interested in Naraka put forward a condition to him that he should build a staircase within one night from the bottom of the Nilachal hill to the temple. If the staircase was built then she would surely marry him. Naraka accepted the condition and tried by all means to get a staircase constructed within one night. Just as it was about to get complete, Maa Kamakhya became tense and decided to play a trick. She strangled a cock and made it to cry so that it appeared that the night had ended. Naraka thought that he could not complete the staircase before morning and left it half-done. Even today, the staircase is incomplete and is known as Mekhelauja path. Most of the pilgrims use this staircase to reach the temple, though there is also a finely paved and pitched road to reach the temple by cars and buses.
No image of the Shakti: This is one temple where you won’t find any sculpture of Maa Shakti. You will simply find the sculptured image of the yoni of the goddess in a corner of the cave in the temple, and this is the main object of reverence.
Natural spring: It is strange that even today, a natural spring keeps the yoni moist. The spring water flows through the yoni-shaped cleft in the bedrock.
The bleeding goddess: The Kamakhya temple is also popular as the bleeding goddess or the menstruating goddess. It is said that in the month of June or Ashaad, the goddess bleeds or menstruates. The natural spring water in the yoni or the sanctum turns red during this time.
The Main Shrine
The main shrine or the yoni is installed in the middle chamber of the temple. Pilgrims move slowly into the dark sanctum sanctorum, which is a narrow alley. After taking few flights of stairs in the alley, you will find a very small-sized pool, where natural spring water flows. Pilgrims squat by the pool’s edge and offer their prayers here. There you can see the symbolic yoni organ that remains covered with a red cloth.
The Great Ambubachi Mela
The great Ambubachi mela, also known as the fertility festival, takes place in the Kamakhya temple in the month of June for five days. During this time, the temple remains closed for three days and it is believed that the Goddess menstruates. In fact, the devotees from various parts of the country start staying in the temple premises from the first day itself, singing songs of glory in praise of the Goddess. They wait for three days and nights and when the doors of the temple open on the fourth day, thousands of devotees come inside to offer their prayers. Holy water is then distributed among the devotees of Kamakhya devi.
No Scientific Proof
Till today, there is no scientific evidence why the water actually turns red. But menstruation is the symbol of a woman’s power to give birth. So, whatever the cause, the Kamakhya temple celebrates this ‘shakti’ or power within every woman.