Naina explains the history and present-day worship surrounding Kamakhya in Assam.
In Assam, the northeastern state of India, a very unique event is celebrated every year in June during the monsoon season in the historical temple dedicated to Kamakhya Devi, the Tantric Goddess, also known as Parvati, Kali, Durga, Sati and Bhagawati, all forms of Shakti, the consort of Shiva. The temple is primary among the 51 Shakti Peethas (places of worship consecrated to the female principle of Hinduism) located throughout India and besides being a sacred destination for Hindu pilgrimages, it is the hot seat of the tantric Shakti cult.
The 16th century temple is situated in the Nilachal hills near Guwahati and is locked down for the three days it is said the Goddess Kamakhya – who is worshipped as mother earth – has her menstrual period, and then reopened with great festivities on the fourth day. The fair, popularly known as Ambubachi mela is also known as Ameti or Tantric fertility festival.
During those three days thousands of sadhus and sadhikas among many other devotees encamp outside the temple where the fair is organized and sing and dance away as they wait for the reopening of the temple doors. Some restrictions are observed by devotees and the local people, such as no cooking. It is commonly believed that mother earth rests during this time and nobody should disturb her. All agricultural work like digging, plucking, plowing, sowing and transplanting of crops is suspended.
There is a beautiful story in the Indian scriptures about Shiva. His wife, Parvati, died, and he carried the corpse of his wife for twelve years all around the country, hoping that somewhere some physician may be of some help. Slowly slowly, limbs of the dead body started falling, but he continued his journey in search of a physician; some alchemist, some magician, some miracle-maker may do it. Crying, weeping, he went around the country.
There are in India twelve sacred places. It is said that these are the places where the parts of the body of Parvati fell. Wherever a part fell it became a sacred place.
Osho, Guida Spirituale, Ch 15, Q 1
Kamakhya is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to different forms of the Mother Goddess. Generally the garbhagriha is a windowless and sparsely lit chamber, intentionally created thus to focus the devotee’s mind on the tangible form of the divine within it.
It is believed that Parvati’s yoni fell in the garbagriha of this temple when Shiva carried her body after her death. Garbhagriha means the innermost sanctum of a Hindu temple where the murti [idol or icon] of the primary deity of the temple resides. Literally “womb chamber”, from the Sanskrit words garbha for womb and griha for house).
Here in Kamakhya the garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum is small and dark and reached by narrow and steep stone steps. There is no idol present but a stone slab slopes downwards from both sides meeting in a yoni-like depression some 10 inches deep. This hallow is constantly filled with water from a perennial underground spring. It is the vulva-shaped depression that is worshiped as the goddess Kamakhya herself and considered as the most important peetha of the Devi. Today, here burns the eternal flame which is worshipped as the symbolic presence of the deity.