The Kamakhya Temple, also called as the Kamrup Kamakhya, is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess Kamakhya and it is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas in India. Situated on the Nilachal Hill in the western part of Guwahati city in Assam, India. It is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to ten Mahavidyas – Kali, Tara, Tripurasundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamaltmika. Among these, Tripurasundari, Matangi and Kamala reside inside the main temple whereas the other seven reside in individual temples. It is an important pilgrimage destination for the Hindu community, especially for the Tantric worshipers.
The temple is a unique temple, unlike any other in India. While a large percentage of population of India refrains from talking about menstruation and other women’s issues, the Kamakhya Temple celebrates the Kamakhya Devi, who is revered as the bleeding Goddess. It is believed that the garbhagriha or the sanctum sanctorum of the temple houses the mythical womb and the vagina of the Hindu Goddess Shakti. Curiously, every year during the month of Ashaadh, the Brahmaputra river turns red near the Kamakhya temple. It is believed that the Goddess menstruates during this time period. The temple remains closed for 3 days during this time and holy water is distributed to the devotees. Contrary to everywhere else in the country, where a woman is shamed for menstruating and has to hide it from everyone, at the Kamakhya Temple it is revered as the woman’s ability to conceive.
Legend has it that Goddess Sati fought with her husband to be part of the grand yajna that her father was offering to appease the Gods, to which both were not invited on purpose. Paying no heed to her husband’s advice, Sati headed to the yajna where her father not only insulted her but also her husband, Lord Shiva. Unable to bear the insult, Sati leapt into the sacrificial fire. When Lord Shiva came to know of what had happened, his anger knew no bounds. He ran to the site of the yajna, and carried his wife’s burnt corpse on a rampage with his ‘Tandav’, as his third eye opened, causing widespread destruction around. While all the other Gods shivered with fear, Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakra to cut Sati’s body to pieces to calm down the angered Lord Shiva. It is believed that after this Goddess Sati’s body ended up in 108 pieces, each of which landed in a different location all across India. The place where Sati’s womb and vagina fell is where the Kamakhya Temple stands today.
‘Kamakhya’ finds its name from the Hindu God of Love, Lord Kama. It is believed that when Kamadeva lost his virility to a curse, he sought out Goddess Shakti’s womb and genitalia. As a tribute to Goddess Shakti’s power to be able to get Kamadeva back his potency, the deity of Kamakhya Devi was installed and continues to be worshiped here even today. This spot is also believed to be the place where Lord Shiva first courted Sati.
During Navratri (twice a year), the temple sees devotees from everywhere visit the place. The temple is also quite crowded everyday of the year. There is a facility to pay a certain amount at the temple office and obtain a VIP pass. When I was there (in 2017), it was Rs.500. This will help you skip the long queue. Generally, the queue is so long that is goes all around the huge temple complex and around. With the VIP pass, you get put into batches, and the only waiting time would be say an hour or an hour and a half at max (the wait time for devotees without VIP pass is way, way longer). You get a special queue to the temple. I don’t personally believe in this VIP culture, however, for people who pressed for time, or do not seem too excited about spending an entire day in the queue doing nothing else, VIP pass seems a feasible option. The queue then winds up through two gates and into the main temple area. Behind the main idol area, there is a dark, stone staircase that takes you downwards towards another area of worship. Bend down here, touch the ground with your forehead in reverence and take a sip of the holy water with your hand. The area is very, very dark; and the staircase is very narrow. There is barely 2-3 feet space at the bottom, and with the volume of people the place sees every minute, do not expect to spend a lot of time inside the main temple. Once you come out of the temple, you can spend time in the chowk outside, light the lamp and incense at a designated area outside and revel in the peace and holiness of the place.
Like most temples in India, the place sees a lot of ‘brokers’ and ‘pandits’ who promise quick and special darshans or special pujas. My personal suggestion would be to avoid such people and make your way to the temple on your own. These brokers and pandits generally charge a very, very hefty fee for their ‘services’. The footwear stand is at the entry to the premises, and is free of charge. There are a lot of shops selling handicrafts and religious items on the way leading to the temple. You can get some really great stuff at these shops, but bargain tough as these shopkeepers generally quote a much higher price than the giving price.
It is advisable to reach here early in the morning, so one can get into the queue early. You could easily spend half a day here. The paltan bazaar is nearby. The Brahmaputra also flows close to the temple, so one can plan the route of the trip accordingly. It is also important to keep in mind that daylight difference that Guwahati experiences as compared to other parts of India. On a normal summer day, it might be bright and sunny in say Mumbai or Delhi or Ahmedabad, it would be close to sunset in Guwahati. Similarly the sun rise is also much earlier here than other place towards the west of Guwahati.