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My first visit to the Kamakhya temple or Kamakshi temple exposed me a little to its history and to its significance.
Every year this temple celebrates the Ambubasi Tantric fair in the midst of the monsoons. Tantrics from all over emerge from their seclusion to worship the goddess during this festival. I had made all plans and arrangements to go there. But I couldn’t live that dream. Maybe next year.
Kamakhya Temple in the Nilachal hills in Guwahati is one of the most important centers of Shakti worship in India. But the Kamkhya Temple does not have an idol or image of Shakti or any of her forms like Sati or Kamakya, Durga, Parvati or Kali. What is worshipped is a natural crevice in a rock that symbolizes the ‘Yoni’ (female genitalia or vagina). The rock cut in the shape of a yoni is surrounded by a pool created by an underground spring or stream.
Kamakhya Temple is one among the 51 Hindu Shakti piths. Legend has it that Lord Shiva was carrying the body of his dead wife Sati around the world. There seemed to be no end to Shiva’s anger and grief. This led to an imbalance in the universe. Finally, Lord Vishnu decided to decimate the body of Sati and her body into 51 pieces. It is believed that ‘Yoni’ of Sati fell at the spot where the present Kamakhya Temple stands.
The sanctum sanctorum of the Kamakhya Temple is in the form of a cave and is reached after passing two chambers.
On my last trip, I stood in the queue for awhile, before entering the temple. After seeing the ground level worship area, there are steps that lead to the sanctum sanctorum.
Dark- blindingly dark. Narrow. A crowd inching forward on the spiralling stairwell. Silence. Echoes of chants by the priests below. All combine to create a sense of spacelessness. As the steps wind downwards the only guide is the dim light from the fire lamp offering to the non-idol, non-deity, spot which is believed to be the goddess.
The most intriguing thing about this temple is the story behind the Ambubasi festival.
During the monsoons, the water in the underground stream turns red. This is believed to be the menstrual blood of the goddess from her annual menstrual cycle. For 3 days the temple remains closed as the Goddess goes through post-menstruation purification rituals. When the temple opens, priests hand out as Prasad – not coconut or sweets, but bits of damp red cloth that are believed to be the goddess’s blood. Receiving this is considered highly auspicious and powerful, specially by the tantrics.
As I travel and experience different life models, I try not to be judgemental and try to see things from the perspectives of the creators of the culture. But in this case I find it hard to do. But I am trying.
Maybe the reason that my plans to visit the Ambubasi festival did not work out, because I was not ready yet. Because I was not accepting enough. Because I stood among the spectators and judged.
Maybe by next year I will have worked on my mind sufficiently to empathise and to understand. And to receive the prasad with grace and gratitude.