Kamakhya, the Mother Goddess. She is second only to
the mighty Brahmaputra. Guwahati, where she resides, in fact the
entire State of Assam, would be like a lost child without its
Karup Kamakhya or just
Kamakhya as the place is popularly known, is reckoned to be the most
significant pilgrimage in the east. It is a pilgrimage to the Mother
Goddess from whom springs forth all material and ethereal creation.
Kamakhya is also the home of the most respected school of Tantra
believed by the followers of the Tantric path to be a shortcut to
Rising to a modest height
of 562 feet above the mighty Brahmaputra, the Nilachal Hill on which
the temple stands commands a magnificent view of the entire city.
From the foothills of
Nilachal there are two ways of traveling to the top. One is a small
metalled serpentine road where vehicles ply. The other is a steep
climb meant to be covered only by foot. This steep path is known by
its ancient name, Mekhela Ujua Path. It goes through lush
green canopied paths with various temples and stone structures and
rock carvings on the way. It is believed that this path was built in
a single night by the demon King Narakasura of Pragjyotishpur, the
name of ancient Assam, to fulfill the Goddess Kamakhyas wishes
as a precondition to fulfill his ambition to marry her. The Goddess
ultimately frustrated his ambition by tricking him when she showed
him an artificial morning just when he was about to complete the
construction of the path. Many such legends abound about Kamakhya.
The Kamakhya story goes
back to the beginning of time itself. Material manifestation, the
work of Brahama is preserved by Vishnu and is eventually destroyed by
Shiva. Buy Shiva being always engrossed in severe penances and
meditation needs to be reminded from time to time of his particular
task by a consort. A consort who could overlook his wild manners and
cajole him to do his duties could only be the Mother Goddess. So
Brahma asked his son Daksha to propitiate her to assume a physical
form as his daughter and marry Shiva. The Goddess consented on the
condition that at the slightest neglect on Dakshas part, she
would sacrifice herself and invoke the wrath of Shiva. In due course
the Mother Goddess as Sati married Shiva and perfect harmony reigned.
On day King Daksha
organized a royal yagna (religious sacrificial rite) and threw
a banquet to which he invited all the deities except Shiva because he
was not happy with Shivas because he was not happy with Shivas
unusual temperament. Sati, however, being the daughter, went
uninvited. Unmindful of his promise to Sati, Daksha began to speak
ill of Shiva. Sati became infuriated and she immolated herself by
jumping into the yagna.
The meditation of Shiva,
who is omnipresent, was disturbed furious, he descended on Daksha and
his kinsmen and destroyed them and, with the dead body of his beloved
on his shoulders he proceeded to destroy all that came in his path.
But the time for the destruction of the three fold world had not yet
come so a worried Brahma and Vishnu contrived to calm down Shiva.
They though that if they could cause the body to disappear, Shiva
would regain his equilibrium and return to his abode to resume his
austere penances. So Vishnu used his Sudarshan chakra (wheel
of death) to cut up the body and scatter it everywhere. The body was
cut up in 51 parts and each spot where a part of Sati fell came to be
venerated as symbol of the divine decree. Te place where Satis
yoni (reproductive organ) fell thus became one of the most sacred
of all religious sites.
When the yoni of Sati
fell on the hill where the temple stands, the hill turned blue and
came to be known as Nilachal or Blue Mountain.
The name of the place,
Kamrup Kamakhya, was given by Naraksur, a former king who made
Kamakhya his patron deity. It was during his time that the township
around the temple came up and the place became a pilgrimage centre.
The four great stone pathways from the base of the hill to the temple
were built by him. The Tantras and the Puranas hold that Narakasur
was born of the universe and Narayana in the form of a boar. Though
a demon by birth, he was attracted by Aryan culture since he was
brought up in the house of Janaka, the father of Sita. By the grace
of Vishnu, Narakasur became the king of Pragjyotishpur. His kingdom
flourished so long as he abided by the counsel of his mentor, Vishnu.
The great Goddess Kamakhya granted his every wish. At the end of
dwapar, the third epoch of creation, Narakasur formed an
alliance with Bana, the powerful demon king of Sonitpur. Instead of
paying obeisance to the Gods, Narakasur began to harass them.
Narakasur began dreaming of becoming master of the universe and so
Brahma and Vishnu had to destroy him and his kingdom and the temple
of Kamakhya fell into ruins amidst impenetrable jungles.
However, the people of
Nilachal remembered and always venerated the spot. Centuries passed
and the land which was once known as Pragjyotishpur came to be known
as the Kingdom of Ahom after the Ahom dynasty who now ruled over it.
The name has survived till today but in an anglicized version
Until the late 15th
century the temple remained in ruins and was rebuilt not by the Ahom
kings but by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar, Biswa Singh. In fact Cooch
Behar was at war with the Ahoms. In the helter skelter of war, Biswa
Singh was separated from his army and found refuge in Nilachal. He
met an old woman offering prayers near the sacred spot and learnt
from her of the greatness of Goddess Kamakhya. The Maharaja prayed
to the Goddess to be reunited with his forces and to bring peace to
his kingdom. He promised to build a temple of gold if his wishes
were fulfilled. His scattered army returned to him and his
re-established kingdom became a haven of peace. Biswa Singh
remembered to fulfill his promise and began to rebuild the temple.
But instead of gold he used bricks. To his surprise, as soon the
edifice was raised, it came crashing down. One night the Maharaja
had a dream in which a heavenly maiden reminded him of his promise to
build a temple of gold. He begged the Goddesss forgiveness and
spoke of his inability to procure such a huge amount of gold. The
ever merciful Goddess then asked him to put just a token amount of
gold between each brick and build the temple. The temple was built
as such and priests were appointed for regular worship of the
Goddess. The temple built by the Maharaja stands till today.
The actual site of the
temple is a cave containing a spring. During the month of asadha
(June-July), the spring water turns red and the temple is closed for
three days. Traditionally no one ploughs his field during this
interval to enable the Mother Goddess to rest. Immediately after
this period, there is a festival celebrated for four days which is
the biggest attraction of the year at Kamakhya. During this period,
in the night hours, inside the temple, deodashis (temple
dancers) move in frenzied trance. Starting slowly to the beat of
drums and blowing of conch shells, the dance reaches a crescendo when
the dancer is said to be ultimately possessed by the Mother Goddess
herself. It is generally believed that one can get anything foretold
by the deodashis during this time. Male members are prohibited from
watching the dances. There is a story about the Ahom king who dared
to watch the goddess dancing and was immediately turned into stone.
Kamakhya in its present
form was built in the 10th century by the gentle Koch
Narayana who nominally ruled much of Assam alongside the Ahom kings.
Preferring religious discourse to governance, the kingdom was
governed by his brother, Sukladhwaj. Close to the temple cave stand
statues of these two brothers because the siblings were not allowed
to even look at the temple they had built because, according to a
legend, the Goddess Kamakhya, pleased with the works of Narayana,
visited him and gave him some instructions which he disobeyed because
he did not recognize her. Infuriated, the Goddess proscribed the
Koch dynasty from viewing her temple. Indeed, the Goddess is much
feared. It is said that one of Narayans descendants, Maharani
Gayatri Devi of Jaipur, visited Guwahati some 30 years ago and she
meticulously averted her eyes while overflying Kamakhya in a
Kamakhya is also the most
important temple of the Shakti cult wherein all creation is perceived
to the emanating from a temple deity. The practice of Shaktism has
always been very personal and esoteric. It has never had any
connection with any public religious order. Its tenets and history
have been preserved in a special class of magical and sacramental
literature, incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Not all inhabitants
of Nilachal practice Tantrism. Whilst Tantra holds out the promise
of unimaginable power for its followers, it also demands of them
tremendous self-discipline which few can take.
Kamakhya is a unique
synthesis of puritan ritualism and practicable customs. It is a
pilgrimage in the traditional Indian mode. There are no hotels, no
big shops and none of the attractions of urbanization. It affords an
extremely privileged view into the life and rituals of an Assamese
Brahmin because all the homeowners in Kamakhya re Brahmins.
From Kamakhya the next
move is generally taken to Kachapukhuri. This is a natural pond full
of turtles. Nobody knows as to how, when, why and who brought these
amphibians from the plains to so high an altitude.
Around Kamakhya there are
other temples of which the Bhutanese Tara temple and the shrine of
the snake Goddess, Manasa, are more frequented. Manasa is menacingly
dark because as soon as lights are fixed on, they immediately get
Further up the hill,
Bhubaneswari temple is situated at the highest point of the hill and
offers a spectacular view of the city and the Brahmaputra river.
Not many people know that
Kamakhya is a network of a myriad temples. Then, there is also a
tunnel (now in bat-filled ruins) leading from here all the way to
Since prehistoric times
Assam or Kamarup Desh was renowned as the home of great occult
masters with magical powers and the ability to channelized sacred and
profane force inhibiting unearthly realms through their tantric
siddhis or gifts.
Tantric siddhi in its
pure form deals with centering ones soul force in the
sahasrahar or thousand petalled lotus in the brain where Sada
Shiv dells in chinta mani, the jewel which bestows al desires
through his union with Shakti by the upward flow of Kundalini
or the serpentine vital force coiled at everybodys spinal base.
Once the individual soul enters this divine core, mantras
(chants) with tremendous powers for doing good or evil create
vibrations which the tantric siddha has to control or be controlled
by. But the true purpose of al Tantric sadhana is entering
into nir vikalpa samadhi or that desireless state of supreme
bliss when the individual atma (soul) merges with the
Tantricism became very
popular in those parts of India like Assam inhabited by indigenous
tribes because all are entitled to Tantric worship. Vedic Hinduism
on the other hand excluded females and low castes from performing the
sacred rites of worship or reciting many sacred mantras. But anyone
regardless of class or sex can participate Tantric chakras or
circles of worship.
The Kamkhya shrine at
Guwahati became Indias foremost centre of Tantra because the
Shiv, Devi and Skanda Purans say that this was the precise spot here
the female genitalia of the Great Mother Goddess, Sati, fell when
Vishnu started dismembering her body to force her inconsolable
husband, Shiv, into performing his divine duties again. Venerated
since the ancient Vedic and Puranic times, this Goddess became the
patron deity of Assam. Several smaller shrines and temples dedicated
to Kala Bhairav, Shiv and other Hindudeities have sprung up here over
the centuries. Kamakhya Devis inner sanctum is a deep dark.
Underground rock chamber
into which one descends via dangerously worn slippery stone steps.
The so-called Matra-yoni is kept covered with silk saris and
flower garlands. Only a few fortunate worshippers are allowed here
to light incense and lamps before the sacred yantra in which
the goddess resides.
In the open temple
courtyards upstairs, regular worshipers from the city and pilgrims
offer coconuts, white pigeons, goats and even buffaloes as sacrifices
to Kamakhya. Scantily clad saddhus and sari-draped sadhvis
can be seen in quiet contemplation or talking to anxious persons
eager to know the future or have their horoscopes read.
Hindus believe that the
doctrine of Tantra Yoga was revealed by Shiv to his female creative
force, Shakti, or goddess Parvati. These question answer sessions
were recorded be her son, Ganesh, Lord of wisdom in a book called
Maha Nirvana Tantra. The Yogini Tantra, the Kularav Tantra,
the Kubjika Tantra and other ancient Sanskrit scriptures enumerate
Tantra Yogas various beliefs, cults and doctrines. It is one
of the accepted paths of traditional Hindu Sadhana or practice in the
souls ceaseless search for fulfillment of desires on earth and
liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, called Nirvana
Precise mystic formula
involving beej aksharas or word of power, yantras or
geometric diagrams with occult powers, sadhana or discipline
and balidaan or sacrifice were evolved, catalogued and taught
to deserving disciples by great Tantric gurus. The ancient sages and
masters were extremely wary of conferring awesome supernatural powers
on the undeserving.
Assams other famous
Tantric centre now falls in the State of Arunachal Pradesh.
Parsuramkund and Brahmakund are the ultimate pilgrimage spots for
true sanyasis and ascetics practicing Tantric yoga. This
hallowed spot is associated with the great buy angry sage, Parshuram,
a contemporary of Lord Rama and a great Shiva devotee. Parshuram
washed his blood-drenched hands here in the swirling whirlpool
created by the great Brahmaputra as it enters the plains of Assam
from Tibet through the east Himalayan foothills. Since the Great
Mother Goddess is believed to exist in al forms, only her worship
could absolve Parshuram of the grave sin of matricide. Remote and
virtually inaccessible, Parshuramkund is still crowded with
determined scholars, matlocked sadhus and turbaned yogis sitting
cross-legged round the Brahmakund at sunrise with iron tridents and
wooden water pots. Or under the huge peepul and Banyan trees
which have stood there for centuries.
A very strong Marchane
atmosphere pervades Malinitha, a city famous in Vedic and Puranic
times for its Tantrics and magicians and faith healers. Cobras glide
through the magnificent statues, friezes and temple pillars carved
from single granite block that one can still see scattered in the
jungles around Parshuramkund. Temples dedicated to Maha Kali and
Kala Bhairav or Lord of Time, are still see used for performing
sacred Tantric rites from which outsiders are strictly excluded.