Guwahati, the city of temples, is the gateway to North-East. The city is spread along the banks of the Brahmaputra river. Way back in school, I had heard of this majestic river which is the 10th largest river in the world that flows through China, India, and Bangladesh. I was happy to finally visit this gigantic river, and enjoy a sunset on its wide river banks.
Quick Fact: In the early days, there was a large market (‘Haat’) for Beetlenuts (‘Guwa‘) on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Hence the place came to be known as Guwahati.
Guwahati is also home to the famous Kamakhya Temple – An important place of pilgrimage for the Hindus, especially for the Tantric worshippers. I had heard of many stories and secrets of Tantric worship that originated at this temple. None of them can be corroborated by any fact. Nonetheless, the myth and the legend behind this temple is fascinating, making it a must-visit place in Guwahati.
Legend of Kamakhya Temple
Kamakhya temple is believed to be one of the 108 Shakti Peeths. The legend behind the Shakti Peeths is that,
“Once upon a time, Sati fought with her husband Shiva to attend her father – Daksha’s grand yajna. At the yajna, Daksha insulted Sati’s husband – Shiva. Sati was angered and in her shame, she killed herself by jumping into the fire. When Shiva heard that his beloved wife had committed suicide, he went insane with rage. He placed Sati’s dead body on his shoulders and did Tandav – Dance of destruction. To calm Shiva down, Vishnu cut Sati’s dead body with his chakra into 108 pieces. The places where these 108 places of Sati’s body fell are called as Shakti Peeths. Kamakhya temple is special because this is where her vagina and womb fell.”
The inner sanctum of the temple, or the Garbhgriha, is a small dark cave that can be reached by stone stairs. Inside, there is a sheet of stone that slopes downwards from both sides meeting in a yoni-like depression some 10 inches deep. This hollow is constantly filled with water from an underground perennial spring. This vulva-shaped depression is worshiped as the goddess Kamakhya herself.
In the month of ‘Asaad’ (June), it is believed, that the Goddess Kamakhya bleeds, and the waters of the Brahmaputra river near Kamakhya temple turns red. The temple remains closed for 3 days, while the waters are distributed among the devotees of Kamkhya Devi. There is no scientific proof that actual blood turns the river red. Most probably it is the red vermillion that is mixed in the river to make it red. Nonetheless, a city that celebrates menstrual blood, which holds a deep stigma in our society, should get a place of mention in today’s day and age.
Kamakhya Temple perched on top of Nilachal Hill
Situated in the western part of Guwahati, on top of the Nilachal hills is the Kamakhya temple. From the main city, the Kamakhya temple is a sizeable distance away. We took one of the mini city busses that ply on the main M.G.Road in Guwahati. The bus travels along the Bhramaputra river, until it reaches Kamakhya town. From here, one can either walk nearly 2Km up the hill where the temple is situated or hire a shared taxi which hauls passengers at Rs.20/- per person.
We took the shared taxi, as we were already running late and the temple closes in the afternoon at 1pm. Once up, there are clear markings for the temple complex. Also, the temple management has taken significant effort to keep the place clean and tidy despite the animal sacrifices and enormous queue of pilgrims that throng this place.
There is a paid darshan which charges Rs.500/- for a quick darshan, or the general queue which is free. We took the general queue and arrangements are made here to provide benches and water coolers to the pilgrims. After nearly 90 minutes, we got our chance to visit the temple and then the inner sanctum – “Garbhagriha”, where the vulva shaped depression is worshipped as the Goddess Kamakhya. The queue to the temple circulates through the point where goats are sacrificed for the Kamakhya devi. Ever 20-30 minutes, one hears the screeching screams of a lamb who is aware of its impending death. The soul-stirrig screeches are followed by a slick cut with the sword where the lamb is beheaded. I cringed each time I heard the scream.
The temple itself is very clean, and flowers are offered to the deity. Goring inside the Garbhagriha is a bit claustrophobic. The pundits asked us to bend down, touch the water from the spring near the yoni, and then slammed our heads with vermillion. The entire experience is worth the long wait in the queue.
Having done the main darshan, we roamed around the temple complex admiring the Nilachal architecture of the temple and the various carvings that adorn the temple walls.
The Nilachal hill is a site of pilgrimage with temples dedicated to 10 Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Sodashi, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala.
At the top-most point of the hill is the Bhuvaneshwari temple. We walked up the stairs towards the temple. Even here, inside the Garbhagriha the same structure is followed —a yoni-shaped stone, filled with water from below ground level. This structure is followed inside all the temples on the Nilachal hill.
After the darshan, we sat down and took in the views of the Guwahati city from this vantage point. IIT Guwahati complex stood straight in front, while the city sprawled to the east. A special mention to the Common Black Kites that are found in abundance on the Nilachal hills.
Having spent the better part of the day in Kamakhya, it was late afternoon. We walked down the hill through a broken set of stone stairs. The route is much shorter than the road, and in no time we made our way to the bottom at the main road. We flagged down a city bus, to make our way to the Umananda Temple. Do check out our detailed post on our visit to the Peacock Island and Umanada Temple here.
Read More: Umananda Temple and the sunset over Brahmaputra.
Hope, this post tickled your interest in the mysteries of Kamakhya temple. If you plan a visit here, or need further information on this place, then do let us know in the comments.