Kamakhya is an important pilgrimage site in Assam and the ‘goddess of desire and love’, Kamakhya is one of the prominent Hindu Tantric goddesses. This unique attraction of Assam also has a very rich legend woven around it and interestingly, this temple celebrates menstruation. It is quite intriguing as it is still taboo to talk about this most natural biological process in many countries, including India.
In the bustling city of Guwahati, this progressive temple stands out on the Nilachal Hills with ‘The Bleeding Goddess’ as its main deity. Popularly believed by many that the ‘Garvagriha’ of the temple houses the mythical womb and genitalia of the goddess Shakti.
Goddess Shakti: Epitome of free spirit
The earliest mention of this Hindu Goddess, Shakti or Sati is made during the time of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and she is portrayed as a strong and empowered woman who married Lord Shiva much to the dismay of her father, King Daksha. The King is himself the son of another Hindu God, Brahma, i.e. a Prajapati.
Now, King Daksha is very much against Siva for the company he keeps, and the ghouls, the spirits, and the demons that follow him give the king quite a creep. Siva was no equivalent to the noble blood that King Daksha and his daughter shared as Siva lived among the downtrodden, smeared ashes on his body, and roamed the graveyards and the gardens alike.
Sati, here unnecessarily does not play the role of a damsel in distress but a rather free-minded woman with the ability to choose what she desires and believes in as in the case of choosing a husband from a humble background. This reflects Sati’s revolutionary perspective in a time when women were liked best when meek.
Her act conveyed that a woman of such high stature like that of Princess Sati did not necessarily conform to society’s guidelines of a perfect marriage to another rich King or noble. Her defiance against her father also speaks volumes of the atrocities and bashing a person of lower stature is subjected to.
Daksha-Yajna: Sati’s Demise
Daksha-Yajna is very instrumental in the legend of the Kamakhya deity. Legend has it that King Daksha organized a Yajna or sacrifice and Siva was not invited, including the princess herself. But, Sati made her way to the grand yajna that was organized to appease the gods.
Sati, a woman of strong resolution did not heed her husband’s advice, as she was furious upon her husband’s expulsion from the yajna as the King did not consider Siva as his equivalent. Sati only found herself at the receiving end of her own father’s insult.
Sati eventually leaped into the very sacrificial fire of the yajna organized by her father, when she could not bear the insults directed to her husband.
Siva was filled with such rage at the hearing of his wife’s plight that he took her burnt corpse and went on a rampage with his infamous dance of destruction or the ‘Tandava’. It was Vishnu who came to everyone’s rescue as he sent his chakra to cut Sati’s body to calm the god of destruction.
The bleeding Goddess Kamakhya and Princess Sati’s fertility
It is popularly believed that Sati’s body parts fell in 108 locations across the country, known as the Shakti Peeths and what makes the Kamakhya temple special is the legend that the womb and genitalia of Sati have fallen there.
Thus, the stone in the shape of the female genitalia happens to be the object of devotion and reverence for the devotees in the temple, instead of an idol. The temple also served as the place where Lord Siva first courted Goddess Sati, as some people tend to believe, marking it the auspicious spot where their romance blossomed.
Upon helping the Hindu God of Love, Kamadeva regains his potency by lending him Sati’s womb and genitalia to break free from the curse, the deity of Kamakhya was installed and worshipped and its prevalence is undeniable even in today’s time. The temple got its name from the Sanskrit word ‘love’, ‘Kama’ and the influence of Kamadeva gave its name: Kamakhya.
Womanhood, Fertility, and Menstruation
The temple and its worshippers hold a very positive approach to menstruation, hailing a women’s ability to bear and conceive, thus, her fertility. During June, the waters of the Brahmaputra River near the temple turn red for 3 days and this phenomenon has no explanation. Although, some speculate that the priests pour vermilion into the water.
However, many like to believe that it is during this period when the goddess menstruates and is not to be disturbed, and hence the temple remains closed during those 3 days.
One may also observe that the temple organizes the Ambubachi Mela and it is a celebration of the bleeding goddess in a country where a woman is exempted from even her basic household works such as cooking a meal for her husband.
Interestingly, the yoni of the Goddess inside the closed temple is covered with a red cloth and the same red cloth is accepted as prasad at the end of the mela or festival with much fervor.
In the big sea of worshippers and philosophy, we have forgotten the true meaning and symbolism about a woman’s position and importance in society, associating the biological processes that a female body goes through as unholy. It is high time that we embrace the women around us, in the same manner, we have embarrassed the mythological Kamakhya deity.