During my visit to what they call, the Scotland of the East, I, not only, enjoyed wandering across the nature trails, but also, visiting the iconic sites of this region. One such mystical Kamakhya Mandir is located, on the top of Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, the largest city here. Despite its cosmopolitan adaptation, Guwahati retains its character and local flavour, largely wallowing near colonial-era estates, temples, lakes, parks and traditional city homes. In the afternoon, to experience the divine mysticism, I arrived at Kamakhya Mandir, the oldest of all 51 Shaktipeeths. The path that leads to Kamakhya Mandir is lined with, small shops selling items such as traditional handicraft, local food and so on. Devoted to Goddess Sati, an incarnation of Goddess Durga, this place of worship has an intriguing tale to tell.
The Story of Kamakhya Mandir
The story is about Indian deities Lord Shiva and his spouse Sati (Parvati). Myth has it, Sati attended a celestial Yajna organised by her father King Daksha to which her husband Lord Shiva, was not invited. She could not stand the disrespect and ended her life right then and there. Upon learning about Sati’s death, Lord Shiva arrived at King Daksha’s residence in a fit of rage, lifted Sati’s dead body in his arms and began performing a dance of destruction. In the process, Sati’s body split into 51-pieces and fell on fifty-one different locations of India. Each of these locations is now-recognised as a Peetha.
The site where Sati’s Yoni (genitalia) fell, was discovered by Lord Kamadeva, the god of love. Kamadeva or Kama was directed, to this location to rid himself of a ‘certain’ curse by Lord Brahma. Mythology has it, that it’s here that Lord Kama retrieved his body, following which, this site became popular as Kamarup. The presiding deity of this temple is Kamakhya, the goddesses worshipped by the Lord Kama. In the 16th-century Kamakhya Mandir was destroyed and in the 17th-century, it was resurrected by King Nara Narayana of Cooch Bihar.
Kamakhya – Ancient Traditions
The ancient rituals followed at Kamakhya Temple are just as unique and fascinating. One such custom is observed on the seventh day of Ashaad each year. On this day, the puddle holding Sati’s genitalia turns red for three days. During these three days, the temple remains closed. While many believe it to be a ‘work of a miracle,’ scientists suggest that a large amount of vermillion powder is poured into the water, to turn it red. Irrespective of the belief, the holy water is distributed to pilgrims by priests.
The Holy Altars
The temple contains three chambers; one in the west is a rectangular room, not open to pilgrims for worship. In the centre, we have a square room holding a small idol of the Goddess, further leading to the chief-sanctum. The main chamber is like a cave where a natural underground spring flows by a yoni-shaped cleft in the bedrock. I took a few steps downwards to get to the main altar. In this cave-like setting, a sculptured mural of Sati’s Yoni is parked, in one of the corners, with a natural spring keeping it moist all through the year. You may touch the streaming water to seek blessings. While here, a priest suggested that I also seek blessings from the second altar, a Bull’s head.
After visiting the 2nd-altar, I found myself a quiet spot to sit and spent the next 30-minutes observing the pervading atmosphere in silence. Kamakhya is also one of those rare temples, that allows animal sacrifice. While many sojourners bring goats and chickens, a few others do away with simple offerings such as dry fruits and so on. You may buy these simplistic benefactions at the shops outside the temple premises.
Kamya Sindoor is a ‘special’ type of vermillion powder, available only at Kamakhya Mandir. Word has it that this wish-fulfilling vermillion protects one against evil, and is the most powerful of its kind to attract good luck. They say (the locals and the priests) that to experience the magic, one must wear a tilak of this powder on their forehead for 43 consecutive days. Kamya Sindoor is ritually energised, by Kamakhya Devi Mantra.
The Naraka Folklore
Naraka, a demon once fell in love with Goddess Kamakhya and expressed his wish to marry her. Kamakhya responded to his request with a demand. She said she would marry him if he built her a staircase, from the bottom of the Nilachal Hill to the temple gate; all within one night though! Naraka accepted the challenge. As he was nearing the mission of raising a staircase, Devi Kamakhya played a trick on Naraka. She somewhat smothered a rooster, for it to let out an early cock-a-doodle-doo to give an untimely impression of dawn. Upon hearing the rooster crowing, Naraka excepted his defeated and left. However, later when Narak found out about trick, he found the rooster and killed it. That spot in Darrang District of Assam is now-known as Kukurakata. Wherein, the incomplete staircase is called “Mekhelauja path.”
Temple doors close at 6.30 PM.