Kamakhya Temple – The most revered Shakti Peeth
The famous Kamakhya temple is located at Nilachal hills in Guwahati. With 3 Km uphill road from the base, it is a smooth ride up to the temple premises. People all over India visit this sacred temple to seek the blessings of Maa kamakhya. It is the place where the yoni (genitals) of Goddess Sati fell during the tandav dance of Lord Shiva with lifeless body of Goddess Sati on his shoulder.
Legend behind becoming the Shakti Peeth
The legend goes back to Satya Yuga when Lord Brahma, Vishnu and other Gods brainstormed ideas to make Lord Shiva more responsible towards his duty as destroyer. Lord Shiva used to prefer isolation than to remain in the company of Gods and in a state of seclusion he used to sit for meditation which sometimes would have been for thousands of years. Knowing that the practice of such prolonged meditation would disturb the natural cycle of creation, preservation and destruction, Lord Brahma in discussion with Lord Vishnu and other Gods decided to seek help from Goddess Vishnumaya. Lord Brahma pinned all hope on Devi Vishnumaya knowing that her incarnate charm would distract Lord Shiva’s usual practice of meditation and would make him more responsible towards his actual duty. Goddess Vishnumaya assured Brahma to incarnate as daughter of King Daksha (Brahma’s son) but with a caveat that she would end her life in case of any insult done by the King. The incarnation of Goddess Vishnumaya as Sati brought huge relief among the Gods. As Sati grew up to a charming lady, Lord Vishnu paid visit to Lord Shiva’s abode on an auspicious day and persuaded him to get married. Lord Shiva did not turn down the request as he was confident that no girl would be able to captivate him. The meeting between Lord Shiva and Sati was arranged and as plan chalked out earlier, God Madandeb shot Kaam baan (love arrow) from a hidden place which hit Lord Shiva and did cast a love spell in him. Lord Shiva, under the spell, promised to marry Sati. Thus on an auspicious occasion, Lord Shiva accepted Goddess Sati as his better half and the twosome had happily settled in Kailash. In the meantime, King Daksha started a grand yajna in Kankhal (near Hardwar). As a ritual he invited all Gods to be present in the venue. But as luck would have had it, he did not feel it worthy to invite Lord Shiva in the yajna and neither had he thought it necessary to invite his daughter Sati. Feeling insulted, Sati exhaled her last breath through maha kumbhaka (retention of breath). The news of Sati’s death infuriated Lord Shiva. True to his role, Lord Shiva started destroying everything that had come on the way, with lifeless Sati on his shoulder. Concerned about untimely destruction of the Universe, Lord Brahma, Vishnu and other Gods conspired to bring down the body of Sati from the shoulder of Lord Shiva. Taking miniature form, they managed to enter inside the lifeless body of Goddess Sati. They started cutting the body parts from inside and had thrown them in various places on the earth. The 51 pieces of Goddess Sati thus fell on the earth turned out to be 51 Peeths, the sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindu people. Kamakhya is considered the most revered Shakti Peeth among others. The Earth did not have enough strength to hold the genital part of Goddess Sati, so Lord Shiva created the Neelachal Hill from his own body to provide buffering. Brahma and Vishnu stood as guards in the form of two hills adjacent to Neelachal hill.
When we talk about Maa Kamakhya, it is inevitable that the reference of King Naraka will also be there. In Satyayug, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Varaha avatar to slew the demons and had retrieved mother Earth from the ocean. Incidentally, Lord Vishnu as Varaha avatar fell in love with Bhudevi (Mother Earth). This made Bhudevi to conceive. But the time of conceiving by Bhudevi was not auspicious. Lord Brahma sensed the ominous power of child in Bhudevi’s womb and hence had engineered cessation of womb activities in her till such time the burden on Earth would get lessened with killings of demons like Ravanas and others. It was a painful experience for Bhudevi to carry the labor pain till such prolonged period which would see crossover from Satya Yuga to Treta Yuga. Understanding this, Lord Vishnu helped Bhudevi to get relieved of the labor pain by touching his conch shell in her abdomen. Thousand years later when Ravana and other demons got killed, Bhudevi met King Janaka in Mithila and had requested him to allow her delivering baby at the sacrificial ground (Yajnabhumi) made by him. The child was Naraka and as grown up boy, he turned out to be very pious in nature. As per the wish of Bhudevi, Lord Vishnu granted boons to their son to be all-powerful and to have long life. When Naraka was sixteen years of age, Lord Vishnu took him to Pragjyotishpur and had asked him to fight the Kirat tribes to take possession of their land. On emerging victorious, Naraka was coroneted as king of Pragjyotishpur. Pragjyotishpur is the land of Maa Kamakhya and knowing this Lord Vishnu advised his son to perform puja of Maa Kamakhya regularly and to remain in the path of righteousness. However, being the preserver of Universe, Lord Vishnu could foresee what the future would be under the rule of Naraka. He secretly told Bhudevi to call for his help in case she would feel that Naraka be killed due to unpardonable sins. As fate would have had it, the pious Naraka became evil in association with demon named Banasura. He started doing all the wrong things that he was not supposed to do.
The genital part of devi Sati which was in a cave so far had been covered by a stone temple, built by Naraka and the legend goes that Devi Kamakhya in order to teach a lesson to the arrogant king, once appeared before him in the form of a beautiful woman. King Naraka wanted to marry Devi kamakhya seeing her beautiful womanly form. On being proposed, the Goddess playfully put a condition before him that if he would be able to build a gorgeous stone temple, a pond and a staircase from the bottom of Nilachal hill to the temple within one night, she would marry him. Naraka took it as a challenge and had completed building the temple and the pond well before the scheduled time. He was almost about to complete building staircase before dawn. Panic stricken Goddess strangled a cock and had made it to crow untimely to give the impression of dawn to Naraka. Duped by the trick, Naraka left the work halfway through. His desire to marry the Goddess remained incomplete. But the lesson did not deter him to be more demonic. Naraka’s shambolic rule turned worse with the passage of time. He even started thinking himself as the guardian of Goddess Kamakhya. Entry of the pilgrims inside the temple was at his discretion only. One day, the arrogant king disallowed sage Vashistha from entering inside the temple. Returning without darshan made the sage sad and angry. He cursed Naraka to perish at the hand of humanly incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of Krishna. Earning curse of a sage made Naraka afraid and he had approached his good friend Banasura for helping him out. As per the advice of Banasura, he did penance of Lord Brahma to get rid of the curse. When Lord Brahma appeared before him to give boon he forgot the main reason for his penance. He sought boon for immunity from Gods, Goddesses and had wished that he could live a long life with all earthily pleasures. Lord Brahma granted his wishes. Obviously this did not satisfy Banasura and instead he advised his good friend to go for war against the Gods. Naraka followed his friend’s advice. Naraka, thereby, started unleashing the reign of terror on universe. This made his mother Bhudevi very sad. She asked Lord Vishnu to terminate her son and as fait accompli Naraka had met with the consequence.
With the passage of time, Pragjyotishpur and the adjoining areas including the Mahapeeth turned into jungle. The fierce Kirat tribes started reigning the territory again. The pre-historic temple of Goddess Kamakhya built by king Naraka was safe until in 1498 AD, Nawab Hussein Shah of Gouda invaded the Kamata kingdom. His soldiers spotted the prehistoric temple and true to their passion had destroyed the holy temple. But the Mahapeeth remained as it was, in the shelter of the cave created by Lord Shiva, amid the dense jungle. After few years, king Bishwa Singha of Kochbihar invaded the area to drive out the Kirat tribes. While on the way towards battleground, the king somehow lost contact with his soldiers and wandering all alone in the jungle he had reached near the Mahapeeth unknowingly. The legend goes that the tired king could see an old woman there. He asked water from the lady to quench his thirst. The lady while offering water told him the importance of this place. She also told him to touch the water from the nearby stream which would fulfill his wishes. This made the king curious. While praying for meeting his lost soldiers, king touched the holy water. Soon the king was able to reunite with his lost army. This made the king to promise a temple at that place. Another legend says that the king dug a hole near the stream and put a diamond ring having his name engraved in it along with three straws. The king promised to build a golden temple for Goddess Kamakhya there, if he would find the items, placed in the hole, in river Ganga near Kashi. The busy schedule of governance made the king to forget about the incident. After a few years, the King was in Shibala near Kashi and while taking bath in Ganga, he found his diamond ring back along with the three straws. The King could recollect his promise. Without further delay, the king proceeded to Pragjyotishpur and had started the temple construction work at the Mahapeeth. The construction work was in full force but then the masons reported repeated weird events to the king. The masonry was getting collapsed every time on its own, resulting to vain attempt by the laborers. This King was very much worried on hearing this. Then, one night, the king received an oracle wherein he was reminded of his promise to build the temple with gold. Panicked king prayed to the Goddess to show him path as the preserved gold would not be sufficient for building golden temple. Goddess solaced him by saying that the temple work would not be hampered if each brick used in temple construction was mixed with a grain of gold. King happily complied with the instruction. The temple for the Goddess thus got completed within a few days. The temple constructed by king Bishwa Singha continues to be in existence till today except the pinnacle which was reconstructed by King Naranarayan and his younger brother Chilaray (Shukladhwaja) in 1565 AD due to the damage caused by Kala Pahar, a Muslim General of the Bengal Sultanate. The temple turned out to be a great Hindu Pilgrim site under the patronage of King Naranarayan. But the tragedy lies with the Koch dynasty is that no one from this dynasty can ever enter the temple premises. This was due to the curse given by the Goddess to King Naranarayan. During Naranarayan’s rule, the main priest of the temple was kendukolai. He was a tantric of highest order and was a devoted priest of Goddess Kamakhya. It was believed that his devotion could bring the Goddess alive. Goddess Kamakhya in the form of a little girl used to dance to the ‘aarati’ performed by Kendukolai during night time. The sound of ankle bells coming out of the closed temple doors could be heard by many but no one ever dared to venture there during night time. This divine event reached to King Naranarayan’s ear. The curious king requested Kendukolai to arrange for his viewing of Devi’s dance. At first Kendukolai did not agree but very strong persuasion made by the King changed his mind and he made a peephole on the wall for the king to do the live viewing. Goddess, knowing the conspiracy already, got furious when King Naranarayan in reality tried to view the event through the peephole. Her wrath turned Kendukolai into stone. The King and his dynasty was doomed to death had they ever dared to enter the temple premises ever. Since then no one from Koch dynasty ever visited the temple and this is being followed strictly as on date.
While the staircase leading to the Shrine complex may not be lengthy enough but the queue, thereafter, will cause a pilgrim to wait for hours to do the darshan. On a crowded day, the darshan may take 4/5 hours’ time. The visitor in hurry may avail the VIP facility of darshan by paying Rupees 500/- at the counter inside the temple complex. The temple consists of five chambers such as garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum, antarala or vestibule, jagamohan or principle chamber, bhogmandir or ritual chamber and natmandir or opera hall. The visitor may purify him/herself in Soubhagya Kunda (pond) before entering the temple. Unlike other temples, there is no idol of Maa Kamakhya in the sanctum sanctorum. The only image can be seen is a symbolic one near the main entrance gate. The symbolic image of Goddess has six heads, eighteen eyes, twelve hands brandishing different weapons in each hand. There stands a lion on the altar upon which is lying Lord Shiva, supporting his head with left hand while his right hand remains hanging. Goddess sits on a lotus coming out from the naval of Lord Shiva with her right hand hanging and left leg resting on her lap. Both Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu can be found sitting on lotus by the two sides of Goddess. The path leading to the sanctum sanctorum is narrow and dark. After negotiating a few steps down, one reaches the main Maha Yoni Peeth. It remains covered with red cloth. The devotees offer flowers above that and touch both the Peeth and water coming from below the Peeth. Adjacent to the main Peeth, there are two small Peeths named after Goddess Laxmi and Saraswati. The main sikhara of the temple having sixteen sided polygon decorated with horizontal bands is unique in design. This design had been used later by many Architects while constructing temples in Assam. The Bhairava of Devi is Umananda who finds his place in a river island near Guwahati on river Brahmaputra.
Main Festival of Kamakhya Temple
Kamakhya Temple is also famous for Ambubachi Mela which takes place in the month of June for four days. During the period of Ambubachi, from the 7th to the 10th day of the Hindu month of ‘Asadha’, the temple remains closed as the traditional belief is that Maa Kamakhya, who embodies Mother Earth also, enters into the period of her annual mensuration. It is one of the biggest religious congregations with lakhs of devotees from all over India throng the temple premises every day during this period. The temple doors are opened on the twelfth day with ceremonial activities amid the presence of huge number of devotees who stand in a serpentine queue from the previous evening to get darshan of the Yoni Peeth. During Ambubachi, the devotees reach the temple premises mostly by walking as vehicular movement remains restricted.
How to reach
The Kamakhya Temple is easily accessible from all corners of Guwahati City. The Temple is about 20 kilometer away from the Guwahati Airport and from Guwahati Railway Station, the distance is almost 8 kilometer. Frequent availability of vehicles like public bus, cab, auto rickshaw etc., makes the visit to the temple site quite an easy and smooth affair. The visitor may approach to the Temple site through the newly constructed Pandu-Kamakhya Road also. The breath taking views of mighty Brahmaputra River from uphill track makes the journey all the more enjoyable. The devotees may go for the darshan at their own convenient time but must keep in mind that the temple door closes after 05:30 PM failing which they will have to wait till the gate opens on the next day morning at 09:00 AM.
In between moments of delirium and ecstasy, it is the dogmas of faith that connects us to the path of stability and the omnipotent Maa Kamakhya assures us the necessary peace of mind through the manifestations of benevolence. Her auspicious presence in this earth among the living beings exudes goodwill for all and the devotees feel blessed while submitting themselves before her by chanting:
“Kamakhye barade devi neelaparbata basini
Twang hi jagataangmaatah yonimudre namahstute”