NAMES: Goddess Kamakhya has several meanings attached to her names. Kamakhya: She Who Grants Desire, Kameshvari: Supreme Goddess of Love, Kamakshi: She Whose Eyes Are Full of Desire, Lalita: She Who is Easy to Approach, Maha Tripura Sundari: The Great Beautiful One of the Three Worlds, Shri Raja Rajeshwari: She Who is the Ultimate Ruler of the Universe, Kali: She Who is Beyond Time, Durga: She Who is Difficult to Approach, Chandi: She Who Tears Apart Thought, Mahamaya: Great Goddess of Illusion and Mahadevi: Great Goddess.
DEPICTION: In pictorial art and sculptures, Kamakhya is pictured as a young goddess, 16 years old, with four arms. She is also shown with twelve arms and six heads of varying colors, representing a powerful goddess who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. She is ornately dressed, typically wearing a red sari, opulent jewelry and red flowers such as hibiscus. She holds in each of ten hands a lotus, trident, sword, bell, discus, bow, arrows, club or scepter, goad, and shield. Her remaining two hands hold a bowl, which is made either of gold or a skull. She is seated upon a lotus, which symbolically emerges from the navel of the corpse of Shiva, who in turn lies atop a lion. It is to be said that pictorials of Kamakhya are produced on the basis of Puranic accounts while she stands symbolically as a yoni in the Kamakhya Temple.
KALIKA PURANA: In this Purana, Kamakhya is referred to as Mahamaya or the Great Goddess of Illusion. She takes many forms depending on her moods. According to this Purana she is identified with Goddess Kali ‘who is in all things the form of wisdom.’ The Mahavidya mantras reveal a close identity with Kamakhya quite explicitly.
SHAKTI PEETHAS: The temple is primary amongst the 51 Shakti Peethas related to the myth of Sati, and remains one of the most important. The Sati myth is too familiar but shall be mentioned briefly for comprehensiveness. Daksh’s yajna turns out to be a disaster and Sati commits suicide. Shiva arrives and picks up his loving wife and began a Thandava dance hither and thither in frantic sorrow. Vishnu pacifies him and uses his sudarshana chakra to cut the body into parts. The spots on the earth where each part fell was identified to be Shakti Peethas.
It was not known for some time where her Yoni or uterus fell. Yoni is to be taken as vulva, womb or source. Kamadeva, the God of Love was under a curse by Lord Brahma and he had to find the yoni to regain his body. This place is now located as Kamagiri near Guwahati in Assam. Thus the place came to be known as ‘Kamarup’ giving rise to the present Kamakhya Temple. It is a natural cave with a spring. The presiding deity is Kamakhya meaning ‘one worshipped by Kama’. The temple has a beehive like shikara and locally known as Sodashi.
Another version states that the goddess came secretly to these mountains to satisfy her armour or kama with Shiva. Markandeya Purana traces the origins of Goddess Durga and builds a complete myth based on Durga Saptasati. Uma, Kali, Karala, Chamundi which were independent goddesses now came to be regarded as Durga’s manifestations. This assimilation process went on until Devi Bhagavata Puarana treated all manifestations as Goddess Devi's. The story of Sati’s dead body and the Thandava differ in points of reference. Hence Kamakhya is referred as a place ‘dear’ to Devi and no part is said to have fallen.
There was a new twist when Goddess Kamakhya and tantric worship rose to importance. Thus in the later Kalika Purana, the plot is rehandled to emphasise that the yoni did fall here. Feminine worship was also predominant elsewhere and were made to identify the goddess to Durga worship. There was a further attempt to affiliate Kamakhya to Bala Tripurasundari, the eternal feminine, the symbol of beauty and sex. In Tantra, Bala worship is highly sensual involving the worship of the sex organ of a virgin girl. That implied importing a goddess from outside. In any event local practices and faith on Kamakhya had sunk deep within the hearts. No logic or reason could change Kamakhya beliefs about the congenial soil on which the part fell.
WORSHIP: Bhaktas queue at the entrance porch and move in slowly into a semi-dark sanctum santorum. Images of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are carved on the walls. Kamakya alongside other deities is kept on a throne. Bhaktas follow a narrow alley behind the throne to enter the sanctum sanctorum to reach a small subterranean pool by taking a flight of stairs to the bowel of earth. It is in some way a mysterious chamber. Bhaktas squat by the water’s edge and offer puja. It is from this spot that they get to see the symbolic yoni described as a big crevice in the bedrock. It remains covered with a red cloth or sari, flowers and vermillion. It is often claimed that the ‘mantra yoni’ is kept hidden behind red cloth.
AMBUBACHI is the fertility festival associated with Goddess Kamakhya. It is also related to the mythical menstruation period of the goddess. This is invariably reflected in various idols. So the temple is kept closed symbolically for the three days and draped in white sheets. On the fourth day it is opened for festivities. Bhaktas are now exposed to vermillion colored red sheets. That is distributed to devotees as torn up bits.
The highlight is the darshan which is not by sight but by touch. Bhaktas get to connect with the cleft in the bedrock moistened by water flowing from the underground spring. Water from this spring is drank as prasada. Vermilion is handed by the priests in attendance. After darshan, bhaktas lights lamps and incense all around the outside perimeters. Clockwise circumambulation completes the prayers.
This festival, as also on other days, carries on the practice of ‘bali’ or ceremonial sacrifice of animals and birds such as goats, chicken and pigeon. The practice here is said to one similar to Kali bali. Ordinarily, the females of all animals are exempted from sacrifice.
TANTRA: Mother Goddesses are simply love. By and large prayer is individual discretion. One should worship in accordance to one’s own means and customs. The Kalika Purana states that all forms of worship of Devi, is acceptable. Devotion and worship of Goddess Kamakhya grants moksha or spiritual liberation. Tantric worship, however has its own syllabus.
Tantric worship by nature is secretive; tantric worship of Goddess Kamakhya is very secretive. The word Tantra is derived from the combination of ‘tattva’ and ‘mantra’ referring to the science of mystic sounds and vibrations. It is the application of cosmic sciences for spiritual ascendancy. ‘Tanyate vistaryate jnanam’ means the scripture by which the light of knowledge spreads. The Atharva Veda is considered as one of the principal scriptures.
Tantric practitioners and bhaktas usually attach more significance to some particular deity just as in the bhakti tradition. Kamakhya is often synonymous with Tantric Shakti worship. Yogini Tantra suggests that Goddess Kamakhya worship is non-dual. It is ‘vamachara’ or the left-hand path in nature. In such practice ‘pancha-makara’ substances during the rituals are designed to transcend desire and ego. Pancha-makara are the use of madya-wine, mamsa-meat, matsya-fish, mudra-cereal, also meaning ritual gestures and maithuna- ritualistic sexual intercourse for bliss. Kamakhya worship also includes yantra with sindoor and the chanting of her bija mantra. As such tantric worship of Goddess Kamakhya is orthodox in nature. It has been nurtured by tantrik priests down the generations.