Kamakhya Temple sitting on top of Nilanchal hill is the most important Shaktipeetha in the whole of India. We know, there are many Shaktipeethas spread across the length and breadth of Bharat – the region that lies between the Himalayas and the three oceans.
Shaktipeethas takes us back to the story of Sati, daughter of Daksha Prajapati and wife of Shiva. She immolated herself in the yagna organized by her father at Kankhal, as she could not take her husband’s insult. Shiva in his anger destroyed the yagna and carried the body of Sati on his shoulders. To pacify him, so that the world is not destroyed, Vishnu cut her body using his Chakra.
Wherever her body parts fell became a Shaktipeetha, as a part of Shakti resides there. Different scriptures give us different lists of Shaktipeethas. They number anywhere from 4 to 108. Adi Shankracharya wrote a stotra mentioning 18 of them. No matter which list you refer to Kamakhya is always there.
This is the place where the Yoni or Vagina of Sati fell. We know that this is a reproductive organ, the part capable of giving birth to a new life. So, this represents the creative power of Shakti – making it the most powerful and venerated place of all. No wonder it has a deep association with fertility as well as Tantra.
Legend of Kamakhya Temple
Being an ancient temple, this temple has lots of legends associated with it.
Region Kamrupa extended between Karatoa and Dikkarbhashini. The district here is still named so. It was divided into four regions, one of which is Kamapeetha, located between rivers Swarnakosha and Rupika. Kamakhya is the presiding goddess of this region.
Pragjyotishpur is another ancient name that finds mentioned in the scriptures.
The name Kamakhya literally means the Goddess of Desire. It is said that Kamadeva, the lord of Kama or desire had initially built this temple. He was once burnt to ashes by Shiva when he tried to play cupid between him and Parvati. He meditated here till he regained his former beautiful form and built a temple to Kamakhya Devi with the help of Vishwakarma.
Narkasur whom Sri Krishna killed to save 16,000 women, was king of this place. It is believed that Devi appeared before Narkasur and he desired her. To dissuade him, Devi asked him to build four stone staircases leading to the top of the hill overnight. He did so, and Devi created an illusion of a cock announcing the morning. The four gates on the hills – Monkey gate, Tiger gate, Celestial gate, and Lion gate are attributed to Narkasur. Belief is that climbing the hill using these paths bestows benefits like wealth, glory, salvation, etc.
Another legend says that the temple originally belonged to the Khasi tribe who used to worship a Goddess called Ka-me-Kha, which became Kamakhya over a period of time. Some texts like Kalika Puran and Yogini Tantra also tell us about the Kirata origins of the Devi. Kirata means mountain people.
Kamakhya is the seat of Tantra followers both in Sanatana Dharma as well as by Vajrayana followers in Buddhism.
History of Kamakhya Temple
The temple is ancient. The oldest parts of the current temple probably date back to 8-9th CE. The majority of the current temple was built in the 16th century by the Koch kings, specially Nar Narayan who ruled the region then. Unfortunately, the royal family of Cooch Behar has a curse and their descendants are barred from visiting the temple. Even looking at the temple it seems has materialized the curse.
Sculptures in and around the temple can be dated to different periods from 8-16th CE. The temple was indeed built using old stones and stone sculptures.
The region came under the Ahom Kings of Sibasagar and they continued maintaining the temple. This indicates continuity and potential renovations carried out by different kings and devotees.
Kala Pahar is believed to have destroyed the earlier temple structure but it could be another invader as well.
Sevayats or Temple Priests
Bardeuries are the traditional priests associated with the temple. There are Bura and Dekha Berdeuries who are responsible for daily worship of the temple. Hota is responsible for Homa or Yagna. Bidhipathaks oversee that all the processes are followed.
Apart from there are Chandipathaks who read Chandi Path or Durga Saptashati. Another Brahmin called Supakar is responsible for preparing Bhoga or food.
Read More – 50 Cities in India Named After Devi
Then there are different people responsible for other activities like taking care of the warehouse, accounts, Bali, etc.
The Architecture of Kamakhya Temple
Temple has an unusual cylindrical-shaped shikhara, with grooves that are probably a part of the Tantric tradition. A kind of hybrid architecture with cylindrical or hemispherical shikharas and curvilinear roofs, this hybrid architecture gets its name from the hill – Nilachal.
It is a Pancha Ratha-style temple. There is one garbhagriha and three mandapas. Garbhagriha has a stone base on which many Hindu deities like Ganesha, Sri Ram, Rishis, and Devi are present. It indicates a Nagara style of architecture originally. The shikhara itself is made of bricks. Horizontal lines running across the Shikhara always remind me of a globe that has similar lines running around it. It is surrounded by small Chala-style temples all around called Angashikharas.
Calanta mandapa leads to the garbhagriha and has the Utsava Murtis of the devatas. Panchratna and Natyamandapa are the other two mandapa probably built in the 18th CE.
Inside the garbhagriha, it is the Yoni Peetha located a level below. It is just a rock in the shape of Yoni that is worshipped. An underground source of water fills it up. There is no Murti here.
In the good old days, people used to climb the hill on foot. Now, we have concrete roads, and you need not climb.
I wanted to visit the temple for many other reasons. Also, I did not want to visit it, as I was not sure if I can handle the Bali or animal sacrifice there. Bali is offered to the Goddess, almost every day.
The pull of the Mother Goddess led me to the temple. I was told that the place of sacrifice is away from the main temple and you need not necessarily look at that when you visit. But I found all the animals in the line of sacrifice all over the place with Tilak on their foreheads.
It is said that when the temple was built, a lot of human sacrifices were offered to the Goddess. There was a community that was only meant to be sacrificed to the Goddess. These men were fed well and had access to everything that they wanted in the kingdom before they were sacrificed.
Temple practices both the Vamachar and Dakshinapath which roughly translate to left and right-handed paths. Bali is a part of the former while the latter mostly uses flowers to worship.
Kamakhya Temple on Nilachal Hil
The temple is located on the hill called Nilachal hill.
Inside the temple, there is a Bhoga Murti in Ashtadhatu of Hara Gauri, also known as Kameshwar and Kameshwari. From here you take about ten steps down to reach the garbhagriha, where you can see the Yoni Peetha.
As you go around the temple, you can see various sculptures on the walls. I particularly liked a Lajja Gauri image that for me is a representative image of the place, the Goddess of fertility. If you observe a little closer you will see a lot of mother-child images embedded in various walls of the temple.
Other images on the walls include Mangalachandi, Kalki Avatar, Sri Rama, Batuk Bhairav, Annapurna, Nara Narayana, and some of the kings of Cooch Behar.
Dash Mahavidya Temples
The hill also has shrines dedicated to all Dash Mahavidyas or 10 forms of mother Goddess in the tantric tradition. Of these Tripursundari, Matangi and Kamala are a part of the main temple. The other seven Mahavidyas – Kali, Tara, Bhubaneshwari, Bahiravi, Chhinmasta, Bagalamukhi, and Dhumavati, have their own temples. There are also five Shiva temples representing the five faces of Shiva. There are images of Banavasini, Joy Durga, and Lalita Kanta in stone.
Read More – Devi Temples of Haridwar
There is a beautiful small pond called the Saubhagya Kund on the hill. As per beliefs, Indra had built it for the Goddess. Rituals like Tarpana and Shradhh are performed here. A parikrama or circumambulation of the pond is considered the equivalent of going around the earth.
A museum here houses all the old ritual material that was used for the worship of the Goddess. A collection of old doors of the temple not only makes a good view but also shows the evolution of doors in a certain way. There are items used in various ceremonies like utensils and musical instruments. You can see gifts given by the devotees.
The small garden around the museum has a lot of stone sculptures that I assume we’re a part of the temple or its surroundings sometimes. It would be a good study of the journey of prayer practices of the temple once this museum is complete.
I had a good conversation with the caretaker of the museum, who said everything happens with the blessings of the Mother Goddess. And eventually, over the conversation says Goddess is what we make of her.
Festivals at Kamakhya Temple
Also called Ameti or Amoti, it is the most famous annual festival of Ma Kamakhya. It happens from the 7th day or Saptami in the month of Ashadha, around June-July. Astrologically, this is the time when Sun enters the Andra Nakshatra in the Mithuna or Gemini zodiac.
This is the time when the river Brahmaputra is full of water. It is believed that this is the time Devi Kamakhya menstruates. It coincides with the annual rains, which indicate fertility for the earth. Goddess is indeed worshipped as mother earth and this is the time of her annual menstruation.
The temple remains closed for three days, as the Devi is taking rest. Devotees too do not engage in many activities like farming during this time. Temple doors are opened on the fourth day, after a ritual bath of the Devi.
Prasad offered after these 3 days is unique. There is water called Angodak literally means water from the body of Devi. The cloth used to cover the body during this time is called Angabastra and that is also given as prasad.
The huge Ambuvachi mela or fair attracts millions of devotees from householders to renunciate, from Sadhus in the Himalayan caves to curious foreigners.
Deodhani or Devadhwani Mela
Celebrated on Shravan or Kark Sankranti, when the sun enters the Cancer zodiac, this is a kind of dance festival. For three days, Deodhas, Ghora, and Joki people perform a ritual dance in the Nata Mandapa. It is also the time when Manasa puja is performed in the temple.
Being a Shaktipeetha, Durga Puja is an elaborate affair at Kamakhya Devi temple. A unique aspect of Navaratri here is the celebrations for 15 days or a Paksha. It starts on Krishna Navami and ends on the Shukla Navami. Mahasnana – the ritual bathing of the deity takes place during this time. Different offerings, including the Bali, are made to the deity.
Kumari Puja, the worshipping of young girls as Devi is done as part of this festival.
For Shakta worshippers, it is a great time to spend with the Devi. Do read more about this in our book – Navaratri – When Devi Comes Home
Dol Jatra – It is the spring festival of Devi that coincides with the Holi Festival.
Apart from this, the temple celebrates all other Hindu festivals.
Other Sacred Places in Kamakhya Kshetra
Urvashi Kund – Located on a hill in the middle of Brahmaputra, pilgrims touch the Pandu Shila here and take bath in the Kund.
Ashwakranta – Located on the other side of Brahmaputra, this has a Vishnu temple dedicated to Kurma Avatar and Sheshashayee Narayana sleeping on the bed of serpents. Vishnu’s footprints can be seen on the path leading to the river from this temple. Ashwakranta is well here.
Umananda – This is a small river island on the Brahmaputra. It has a temple dedicated to Shiva as Umananda. This is the place where Kamadeva was reduced to Ashes by Shiva, giving it the name Bhasmachal.
Mani Karneshwar – A Shiva temple located on the Northern bank of Brahmaputra
Vasishtha Ashram – It is a hill with several waterfalls and forests. A rock here is called Arundhati, who was Vasishtha’s wife. Pilgrims visit it during solar and lunar eclipses.
Navagraha Temple – Situated on Chitrachal hill, it used to be a seat of astronomical studies once. 12 Shiva temples were excavated from here.
Ugratara Temple, Chhatrakar temple, Shukreshwar temple, Janarsan temple, Baneshwar Temple, Pandunath temple, and Hayagriva Madhav are some other temples that fall in Kamakhya kshetra and can be visited from Guwahati.
It is located close to Guwahati. You can take a bus or a taxi from here to reach the temple. It takes 30 minutes or so to reach the temple.
Guwahati has good Air, Rail, and Road connectivity. Kamakhya station is closest to the temple.
The temple closes for Ambuvachi Mela, check the dates before you go.
Temple attracts huge crowds during festival times, so plan accordingly.
For more details check the official website of the temple.