- Situated near the top of Nilachal Hill in Guwa-hati, overlooking the majestic Brahmaputra River, Kamakhya Temple is a famous pilgrimage site. It is the most important of the SHAKTI PITHAS, or centers of devotion for the GODDESS. According to Hindu mythology, when SHIVA carried the body of his wife, SAT I, her YONI fell to Earth, where the Kamak-hya Temple stands today. According to local mythology, it is here that Shiva descends to unite with the goddess’s yoni. Thus, Nilachal Hill is the symbolic site of Shiva and the goddess’s eternal sexual union and is the primordial or original seat of the goddess.This association points to Kamakhya Temple’s strong tantric tradition (see TANTRISM). It remains one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in India for tantra practitioners, who associate it with the powerful creative force of the mother goddess. It is a center of tantric worship and transmission of tantric traditions by devotees, adepts, and GURUS.The image of the goddess Kamakhya (also called Kamarupa, the shape or form of desire) at the shrine is actually a stone, the matri yoni or “Mother’s mound of Venus.” Steep stone steps lead from the entrance of the temple to a cave deep in the earth, where Ma Kamakhya sits along-side stones of Matangi (SARASVATI) and Kamala (LAKSHMI).Kamakhya herself is a form of Shodashi, or Tripura-Sundari, one of the DASHA MAHAVIDYAS, each of whom has a dedicated temple on the hill. Kamakhya is also associated through various Hindu and tantric traditions with SRI LALITA and PARVATI.In June, during the height of monsoon season, the spring that flows inside the cave is said to turn to menstrual blood, signifying the start of one of the holiest festivals in India. In fact, the water that washes over the stone at this time of year has a reddish color due to its chemical components. During AMBUVACHI (Ameti) Festival, the temple is closed for three days, as are all the temples in the area; then it is believed to be inauspicious to start new ventures, cook food, study scripture, plant seeds, or till the earth. On the fourth day, the doors open to tens of thousands of scarlet-clad pilgrims, who carry flowers, sweets, and other offerings. The goddess’s blessing is given in the form of angadhak (ritu), the water that is the menstrual blood of the goddess, and angabastra, a piece of the red sari draped over the stone during its menstruation.The origins of the first temple on this site are shrouded in mystery. Some say it was built by the demon Narakasura, whom KRISHNA fought when he tried to marry the beautiful goddess Kamakhya (she foiled his plans by outwitting him). The orig-inal temple was destroyed in the 16th century by Mughal invaders and then rebuilt in 1665 by King Nara Narayana. This temple has a beehivelike structure, surrounded by carved panels pictur-ing figures such as GANESHA, CHAMUNDA, temple dancers, animals, and women menstruating and giving birth. Harkening back to its origins as an ancient sacrificial site, goats are sacrificed to the goddess daily, particularly during the height of festival seasons.Further reading: Subhendugopal Bagchi, Eminent Indian Sakta Centres in Eastern India: An Interdisciplinary Study in the Background of the Pithas of Kalighata, Vakresvara, and Kamakhya (Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1980); David Kinsley, Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.