Kamakhya Temple of Assam – Myth, Legend and Devotion

Table of Contents:
Kamakhya Temple at a Glance
  1. How to reach
  2. Timings
  3. Entries

My journey to Kamakhya Temple
  1. The Temple Complex
  2. Mythological Origins
  3. History of Kamakhya Temple
  4. The main temple
  5. Sacrifices in the temple
  6. The Darshan
  7. The inner sanctum(Garbhagriha)
  8. The experience

Animal Sacrifices at Kamakhya Temple of Guwahati, Assam has over time earned so much media attention, that it feels as if its the only thing that needs to be known about this temple. It is however so much more. As per Hindu mythology there are 51 Shakti Peeth, one of the oldest among them is the Maa Kamakhya Temple high on the Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, Assam.

While the majority of the religious sites in India forbid the entrance of menstruating women, at Maa Kamakhya the same is revered as the ability of women to conceive and give birth to a new life. The temple is a celebration of this “Shakti” (power) within every woman. Now that’s true feminism!

How to Reach:

Kamakhya Temple is the city of Guwahati in Assam. Guwahati is well connected to the rest of India by trains and flights.
The temple is situated on the edge of the Nilachal hill at the height of approx. 800 feet and is about 8 KM from the Guwahati railway station.
The best way to reach the Temple is by a Taxi however direct buses are also available from all over the city. These buses reach till the base of the hill. From there, a shared jeep can be taken to the temple (fare Rs 10).

Timings: All days of the week 5:30 AM to 10 PM.

Duration of Visit: 2- 3 Hours in normal days. The queue however tends to get long on special occasions, which may increase the duration.

Entry cost: Entry to the temple is free, however people with time constraints can avail tickets to faste/shorter queues.

General Entry: Free of Cost. Take hours before getting a darshan. Queue starts from 5 AM.
Defense/Police/Paramilitary Forces: Rs 50 On Weekdays. Option is not available on Sundays. A separate queue is present for such entries.
Special Entry: Rs.101. If not a defense personnel, one can still be a part of Defense queue after buying this ticket.
Direct Entry: Rs. 501 per person. This ticket entitles for a separate queue close to the main sanctum.

My Journey to Kamakhya Temple:

I started off from Guwahati at around 8 AM in the morning. It took around 40 mins for my cab to reach at the base of Nilachal hill. I could feel the altitude increasing as we started navigating hairpin bends, inching closer to the temple that was a good 800 ft above sea level. A few minutes later my car stopped in a parking spot and my driver pointed towards the entry of the temple complex.

The Temple Complex:

A massive gate is the first structure I saw as I reached the Kamakhya Temple complex. The red and gold colored gate had embellishments of several Hindu gods and goddesses. The center of the gate has a dome that seems like a replica of the actual temple present inside the premises. Inside the gate on one side of the road cars were parked and on the other side, rows of shops selling stuff related to puja. I dropped my shoes in one of the shoe stands and continued my walk.

A short walk from the gate landed me into the main temple complex. There are multiple temples within the complex devoted to Shaktism. In fact it is the most comprehensive representation of the ten Mahavidyas of Shaktism, namely, Kali, Tara, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi,Tripura Sundari, Bhairavi, Bhuvaneshwari, Chhinnamasta, Matangi & Kamalatmika. Some of the goddesses have individual temples while some share the main temple.

Shops lined up, leading up

In addition to the ten Mahavidyas, five Siva temples namely Kameswara, Siddheswara, Kedareswara, Amratokeswara and Aghora are also present in the temple complex. Also one Vishnu temple and a few shrines and temples of some other deities are there as well.

Mythological Origins:

Okay!! Time for a Hindu mythology lesson. Daksh Prajapati, a very prosperous king, didn’t like Lord Shiva at all. The fact that his daughter, Sati went on to marry Lord Shiva enraged him even further. Once upon a time he was performing an yagya and when Sati arrived at the place, he started hurling insults for Shiva infront of all the denizens of his kingdom. Distraught at this insults, Sati self immolated herself on the yagya pyre.

Enraged at the death of his spouse, Shiva in his Virabhadra avatar destroyed Daksha’s yagya and cut off his head. His anger not abated and immersed in grief, Shiva then picked up the remains of Sati’s body and performed the Tandava, the celestial dance of destruction, across all creation.

Poster courtesy: The Hindu

Lord Vishnu tried to pacify Shiva but failed. Later he dismembered the body of Sati into 51 pieces with his Sudarshan Chakra to put a stop to the Tandava.

The places where each part fell came to be known as the Shakti peeth. Kamakhya, is the place where the Yoni (the womb along with the female genitalia) of Devi Sati fell. The place was not known until Kamadev, searched it out to rid himself of a curse. He regained his rupa (beauty) after worshipping in this peeth. Since Kamadev regained his rupa here the entire place is called Kamarupa (Kamrup) and the deity is known as Kamakhya or one worshipped by Kama.

History of Kamakhya Temple:

The first written description of the temple is found in 9th-century Tezpur plates of the Mlechchha dynasty which is also backed by some archaeological evidence. Hence it is assumed that the earliest temple was constructed during the Mlechchha dynasty. Folk lore however suggest that this was actually a sacrificial site for the Khasi and Garo tribes, much before the dynasty came into being.

The main temple with reused stones from the original temple. The dome was created from scratch.

Thereafter the temple was destroyed and rebuilt a few times, the latest rebuilding is believed to have been done around 1565 AD, by Koch dynasty. The reconstruction used material from the original temples that was lying scattered about, some of which still exists today. They had to however build the main dome from scratch, using bricks, hence it resembles a lot like the domes seen on top of minarets of Bengal from that era.

The Main Temple:

It is the only temple in Assam that boasts a fully developed ground-plan. It consists of five chambers, namely, Garbhagriha or sanctuary, Antarala or vestible, Jagamohan or principal chamber, Bhogmandir or ritual chamber and Natmandir or opera hall.

It is interesting to see that the superstructure of each of the above chambers exhibits different architectural features. While the main temple contains a modified Saracenic dome, the Antarala carries a two-roofed design similar to the traditional thatched cottages; the Bhogmandir with five domes similar in appearance to the main temple and the Natmandir having a shell-roof with an apsidal end similar to some of the prayer halls found in Assam.

Sacrifices in the Temple:

Animal sacrifice do take place in the temple. Usually goats are sacrificed in a sacrificial hall adjacent to the temple during some special festivities. I am not sure if the sacrifices happen in any days apart from those specific days. Lately there has been some protests going on to stop this practice, which has had some success as the sacrifices has come down, but sacrifices are still very much a part of this temple.

One very interesting practice I saw here was offering pigeons to the goddess. There were many devotees who bought pigeons and placed them on the temple walls after offering their prayers. They were not sacrificed, just left on the walls to fly away.

The Darshan:

Endless queue of pilgrims waiting for the darshan

I was in Guwahati to attend the wedding of a very dear friend, and was short on time. I wasn’t sure whether I should go for the direct entry ticket or take the general route. Its only when I saw the long queue of pilgrims waiting, I relented and booked a direct entry. Can’t wait for hours in that queue.

The direct darshan queue was small, but it still had a good 30-35 people in front of me. There were some rituals going on inside the temple, hence the gates were closed and we had to wait till it opened. 40 minutes of waiting, observing other people in the queue, fiddling with the phone and then with one loud thudd, the door opened and a collective chant of ‘joy maa Kamakhya’ filled the air.

Pilgrims offering diyas (earthen lamps) at a designated stand.

Garbhagriha (inner sanctum):

Photography is prohibited inside the temple, hence you will have to imagine the place based on my words only. Lighting was minimal inside the temple, with only earthen lamps being the only source of light apart from the door. Tiptoing through the thick crowd, I finally reached the darshan point. The main hall of the temple houses the statue of the deity for representation purposes. People could offer prayers and offerings here as well, but this wasn’t the actual deity.

There was a Vimana over the Garbhagriha, which had a sculpture of five chariots. The lower part of the wall consisted of sunken panels with pictures of Ganesha and other Hindu gods sculpted on the panel.

The queue moved ahead and I was directed to a flight of stairs, which lead to a dark sanctum. It was a natural cave, lit only by the flicker of light from earthen lamps. The pathway was very narrow, around 3 ft wide with steep steps. The main deity of the Shakti peeth, lies right in the middle of the dark sanctum, fed perennially by an underground spring.

There is no image or sculpture, rather a rocky fissure in the shape of a yoni (the female genitalia), covered completely with kumkum (red powder) and garlands. The distinct features are not visible, but one can make out what the deity looked like even in the dark. May be that’s the power of devotion. The queue kept moving, and I had to move along with it as well. Though I had a very brief darshan, but a darshan that totally had its worth.

The experience:

It may sound like I am overselling, but it did feel like a divine power resided in the temple, a feeling I have never had in the numerous temples I have visited over the years. The relaxed walk back allowed me to take a good look at the Guwahati city from top of the hill, a view I had missed on my way up.

I left the temple premise with all the solace in the world. The narrow lane leading to temple seemed a little brighter and colorful as I walked back. Maybe it was all the light that Maa Kamakhya bestowed upon me.

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