Assam, the land of undulating plains and thick forests, is not just famous for its ethnic tribal groups, the lush green tea plantations or the Serengeti of India, Kaziranga.
Apart from the monasteries, the colourful cultural festivals, the beautiful river islands, the Ahom kingdoms and the One-horned Rhinos, one of the most intriguing and surprisingly unique attractions in Assam is the Kamakhya temple.
While in most parts of the country, talking about menstruation and related issues is considered a taboo, this temple stands way ahead of its time and celebrates one of the most natural biological processes. This progressive temple and all the worshippers here revere the ability of a woman to conceive.
Located on the Nilachal hills in the bustling city of Guwahati, the main deity of the temple is Kamakhya Devi, also known as The Bleeding Goddess.
It is believed that the sanctum sanctorum of this temple houses that mythical womb and genitalia of the Hindu goddess Shakti ( or Sati ), wife of Lord Shiva.
The Mythical History of the Temple :
The temple also has a very interesting story to its origin.
Once Sati fought with her husband, Shiva, to attend her father’s great Yagna to which, by the way, neither of them (Shiva and Sati) were invited.
At the Yagna, Sati’s father Daksha insulted her husband Shiva. Deeply humiliated and angered by her father’s disposition that night, she jumped into the fire to kill herself.
On hearing that his wife committed suicide, Shiva went insane with rage. He placed Sati’s dead body over his shoulders and performed the Tandav ( Dance of Destruction). All the Devas (Gods) were scared that this might lead to the destruction of the world and pleaded to Lord Vishnu for help.
To calm Shiva down, Vishnu cut the dead body with his chakra. The body parts fell at 108 places called the Shakti Peeths.
Kamakhya temple is special because the womb and genitalia of Devi Sati are believed to have fallen here.
The most fascinating fact about this temple is that there is no idol of the goddess inside the temple and only a stone that is carved in the shape of the female genitalia which happens to be the object of reverence for the worshippers.
The Name, Kamakhya :
The Hindu God of Love, Kamadeva, had lost his potency due to a curse on him. He sought out the womb and genitalia of the Devi and thus, got freed from the curse.
As a tribute to Sati and her ability to lend back Kamadeva his potency, the deity of Kamakhya Devi was installed and continues to be worshipped until today.
As the Sanskrit word for ‘love’ is ‘Kama’, and because of the story about Kamadeva, the temple was coined with the name: Kamakhya.
Some people even believe this temple to be the place where Lord Shiva first courted Devi Sati and as a result, it’s also considered to be a place where their romance blossomed.
Why is Kamakhya Devi revered as the Bleeding Goddess?
Interestingly enough, the Brahmaputra river near Kamakhya turns red in the month of June. Its believed that this is the period when the goddess bleeds or menstruates.
Whether the river turns red on its own or because of the vermillion that priests put into the river, this is a question that remains unanswered.
The temple is closed for three days because the deity is not supposed to be disturbed during this time. It’s so widely believed in throughout the state that even the farmers do not do any farming-related activity during the course of these three days.
On the fourth day, the temple reopens and the day is celebrated as the Ambhuwasi festival.
People dip their handkerchiefs into the red water and keep it with them as a sign of blessing and good luck given to them by the Devi herself.
India is full of mysterious histories and mythical legends but this one legend outrightly disputes the archaic attitude of India towards menstruation as unholy and impure and is rather, a display of the progressive approach that the temple and its worshippers behold.
True or not, this legend of Kamakhya celebrates womanhood and the ‘shakti’ or power within every woman to bring life into this world.