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History, Legend, Mythology ...

In Guwahati, the Goddess
Has Her Periods

          Have you heard of the goddess who menstruates ? Only 8 km from Guwahati railway station is located the most famous temple of Assam, the Kamakhya temple, dedicated to Goddess Sati, an incarnation of Durga, according to ancient Indian scriptures.
           One of the 51 ‘peethas’ or holy spots, Kamakhya temple is also known as ‘yoni–peetha’. Every year,

Kamakhya temple in Guwahati

beginning on the 7th day of the Indian onth of Ashaad (June–July), Kamakhya temple observes a unique festival called ‘Ambubachi’ when, it is believed, the goddess menstruates. The festival draws a large number of pilgrims to temple.

          The legend : Despite her husband Lord Shiva’s disapproval, Sati had gone to attend the universal ‘yajna’ organised by her father Daksha. Shiva was not invited, and was also abused by Daksha. Unable to bear the insult, Sati committed suicide. Upon hearing the news , Shiv arrived on the scene, picked up the body and began a dance of destruction. Vishnu tried to pacify Shiva: the body was cut into 51 parts. The spots on earth where each part fell was identified as ‘peetha’.

           But the place where her uterus fell was not known till the god of love, Kamadeva, searched it out to rid himself of a ceratain curse of Brahma’s. Kama regains his body here. The place came to be known as ‘Kamarup’ and the presiding deity as ‘Kamakhya’ or one worshipped by Kama.

          The Temple : Although little is known about the early history of the temple, the first reference to the place has been traced back to the Allahabad inscriptions of Emperor Samudragupta. The present temple was built in 1665 by King Naranarayan of Cooch Behar. The main temple has seven oval spires, each topped by three golden pitchers.

           Pilgrims have to queue up at the entrance porch from where they move slowly into the semi – dark sanctum sanctorum. Images of gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon are carved on the walls. The image of the Goddess alongwith other deities is kept on a throne. Pilgrims follow the narrow alley behind the throne to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Inside, a short flight of stairs will take you to a small subterranean pool. Pilgrims squat by the water’s edge and offer their ‘puja’ (worship). From here they can see the symbolic organ that remains covered with a red cloth.

           On an ordinary day, the temple remains open from 8 am till sunset, with a couple of hours break after 1.30 pm.

           The Festival : Every year, on the seventh day of Ashaad ( in 2002 it falls on 22 June), it is said that the pool containing the uterus turns red for three days.While there is no scientific backing to the event ( many believe that lots of vermillion powder is poured into the water, which then turns red). The holy water is distributed by the priests among the pilgrims.

           The temple remains closed for three days thereafter and on the fourth day its doors are re-opened to pilgrims with much fanfare.

- Uttara Gangopadhyay

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