Nestled in the blue mountains of Guwahati in Assam, is a temple devoted to Shakti – the feminine power. This temple is unique in the fact that it celebrates the ability of woman to bleed every month; it hails her ability to conceive. This is the temple of Kamakhya Devi, where dwells the menstruating Goddess. Here periods are not something to be ashamed about, to speak about in hushed whispers; here the glory of womanhood is applauded.
The death of Sati
Legend has it that Sati (Shiva’s first wife) married him against the wishes of her father, the proud Daksha. Though well content in her marriage Sati nevertheless wanted to visit her paternal home once and see her mother and sisters. Her opportunity came when she heard that Daksha was holding a huge yagna where all the gods had been invited, except Shiva.
Not heeding her husband’s warning, Sati went to the yagna, thinking that she would be able to revise her father’s opinion of her husband. Alas! That was not to be. Daksha mocked and derided Shiva and unable to bear it, a furious Sati immolated herself in the sacrificial fire.
Insane with grief and rage, Shiva destroyed the yagna and taking his wife’s corpse on his shoulders he danced a dance of destruction around the world. Fearing that creation itself would be annihilated, Vishnu sent his chakra to cut Sati’s body into pieces. When his beloved had been cut out of his arms Shiva’s rage subsided. Creation had been saved.
Sati’s severed limbs fell in 108 places in India – now revered as the Shakti peeths.
In the Nilachal hills of Assam fell her womb and vagina.
Related reading: Godfire: Lessons learnt from the love of Shiva and Sati
When the river flows red
During the month of Ashadh (June), the Brahmaputra river near the temple flows red for four days. No one has been able to explain this phenomenon.
These few days are also revered as the Ambubachi Mela.
The priests place a white cloth over the stone symbolising the yoni during this time and close the doors of the garba griha. When they return the cloth is red and wet. They cut pieces of this sacred material and give it to the devotees. It is considered lucky to keep this cloth in the house.
Kamadeva thegod of love had sought out the Goddess’s womb and vagina to cure himself of impotency. The cured and grateful god vowed that the Mother would be worshipped in the shape of the yoni in this place forever.
There is no particular idol of the Goddess anywhere. The main item of worship is the yoni from which flows a perennial spring keeping it moist always. This stands for the sacred feminine womb from which all life springs.
Related reading: The God of desire
A joyous union of Shiva and Shakti
Here where the groves whisper and the trees hold secrets which only the river knows, Shiva was supposed to meet Sati in fierce and joyous love. As the Sanskrit word for desire and lovemaking is kama, the Goddess here is known as Kamakhya – the one who satisfies all desires.
The Kalika Purana describes Goddess Kamakhya as the yielder of all desires, the young bride of Shiva and the granter of salvation. A very special form of sindur available here symbolises this. It is made from rock and called Kamakhya sindur, believed to be a blessing from the Goddess herself.
Goddess Kamakhya is venerated as a life giver as every woman should be. She stands forth in her reproductive power, in her union with her Shiva…joyous and unashamed. This happens to be one of the few temples in the world where the Goddess is venerated as a woman in her biological aspect, as the giver of all life on earth.