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The Kamakhya Temple And The Famous Ambubachi Mela In Assam

Munmi Barthakur

As one is very much prone to do, I did not fully comprehend and was rather matter of fact regarding the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, Assam. My growing-up years included innumerable visits to the temple whenever we had guests at home. I would take it as a part of mundane duties, although I remember being awestruck by the intricate carvings, etched into the ancient stone walls. Even from a child's perspective, having always been of an artistic bent of mind, I did realize their aesthetic value. Later, as I delved into the hallowed history of this famous temple, I could feel the deeply embedded hopes, desires, entreaties and understand the religious fervor of the devotees thronging its gates.

To briefly touch upon its history, this temple is dedicated to the Goddess Kamakhya and is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Peethas. These are shrines and pilgrimage destinations. Being a history buff, a trait seemingly a legacy borne out of the reading sessions of Amar Chitra Katha comics with my late father, I enthusiastically dug into the material I had at my disposal. In one of the books, I found a reference explaining how the Shakti Peethas came into being. It takes us back to the events surrounding the death of the Goddess Sati. On attending the yagya organized by her father Daksha without proper invitation, Sati was insulted when she was taunted for her choice of Lord Shiva as her husband. Unable to bear it, she sacrificed her life at that very moment. Devastated, the Mahadeva carried her body on his shoulders and started his destructive dance oblivious to anything else. It was imperative that he be stopped lest it destroyed the earth. Coming to the rescue, Lord Vishnu dissected the Goddess's body into 51 pieces, with his Sudarshan Chakra and it is believed the spots on which they fell became places of worship and were named Shakti Peeths.

Maa Kamakhya is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to the Goddess. It comprises four chambers −the Garbhagriha and the three Mandapas. The Grabhagriha is the symbol of fertility in a woman and Kamakhya is a manifestation of the very essence of life − that of procreation.

I would like to mention here a very important and famous festival celebrated every year − the Ambubachi Mela. It is often described as the Mahakumbh of the East and is observed during the monsoon season, usually in the month of June, when the River Brahmaputra is in its spate of fury. The popular belief is that this period symbolizes the menstrual cycle of Maa Kamakhya. The temple is closed for a period of three days and it is not considered auspicious for worship, reading of scripture, carrying out religious practices or even cultivation in the fields.

On the fourth day, the temple opens after the Devi Kamakhya and the premises are given the Holy Bath and prasad is distributed to the devotees. I must warn you that buffalos and goat sacrifices are a part of the various rituals. Hence, those with a squeamish disposition better avoid visiting. Devotees also offer pigeons during prayer.

The melting point of Tantrik practices and significant Hindu beliefs, the Ambubachi Mela welcomes all sections of the society irrespective of their caste and religion. Sadhus and sanyasinis come here seeking divine enlightenment. Many foreigners are also seen braving the serpentine queues and cloying sultriness during this time. Some take a dip in the water of Saubhagya Kunda (pond of good luck) too. A special variety of Vermilion available in Kamakhya only is used for protecting one's household, work and business from the evil eye.

As I got more engrossed in the research, I learnt certain facts, for instance, some sadhus would only venture out during this festival; the rest of the year, they would remain in seclusion. They would also display their psychic prowess. I, a person of rigid practicality and skepticism towards anything bordering on the supernatural or out of the ordinary, found myself hypnotized by their powers. Some could put their heads in a pit and stand upright on it. Others could even stand on one leg for hours at a stretch. It was a fascinating experience!

The ambience, the throbbing pulse of the city and the infectious excitement is extraordinary. Stalls with interesting knick-knacks dot the rocky path leading to the temple. Make sure you strike a good bargain! At night there would be music and singing, food and drinks in abundance and story-telling sessions. Some of the sadhus have the knack of spinning a good yarn and you are sure to love listening! Those interested in mysticism and religious folklore must visit the Mela. Its very atmosphere brings in a strange feeling of euphoria and unshakable faith in the Goddess's blessings.

The event holds immense pride for the city of Guwahati. Conveniently located in the heart of Assam and well connected with other parts of the country by air, train and road, Guwahati is an easy access. Visitors can get down at the railway station and take a taxi to the temple, which is about 8 kms from there. One can also ride on the Mini City Service Buses available.

After offering Puja on the fourth day, be sure to visit the cave temple where the central deity is believed to reside in the form of a black stone. You need not take a guided tour, as the people are very helpful and you would be able to navigate the temple premises easily.

A major focus of the tourism campaign, the festival is important for the Government. Thus, a bike rally to commemorate the event was flagged off by the State Education Minister this year. The district administration also strives to provide all the amenities needed to make it comfortable for the devotees and make it a safe and successful annual event.

The best hotels in Guwahati I can suggest for a comfortable stay are the Radisson Blu on NH 37 only about 3 kms from the venue, the Hotel Dynasty in Lakhtokia, about 4 kms and the City Park also in the same locality. There is also the Taj Vivanta and the Novotel. For detailed information regarding rates you can log on to www.goibibo.com.

The Kamakhya temple, steeped in legends and reflecting the history of Ancient Hindu mythology takes us back in time with its fascinating hues of transcendental musings brought to life by the followers of the Shakti cult each time the Ambubachi Mela is celebrated!