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In This Ancient Assamese Temple, A Bleeding Goddess Is Worshipped Year After Year

By Nasreen Habib:

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Quick Facts

  • The Kamakhya Temple was re-built in the 17th century by the kings of Cooch Bihar
  • There are three crowns inside the inner temple, representing three forms of the Goddess: Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kamakhya
  • The temple overlooks the city of Guwahati and the Brahmaputra River. There is also a natural viewpoint for an exquisite view of the surrounding hills and the bustling city


10 lakh people had made it to the Ambubachi Mela last year.  This year, the numbers are expected to rise further as the weather is more favourable. The festival is observed every year at the Kamakhya temple, a natural cave with a spring, nestled atop the Nilachal Hills in Assam.  As you descend down the steps into the inner temple, it is like going down into the earth’s subterranean core, a warm yet moist cocoon, far removed from the outside world. Kamakhya is one of the 51 shakti peeths in India, and Kamakhya Devi symbolises the essence of female energy.

What is it about this ancient festival that attracts people from other parts of India and the world? “This is my third time in the festival. I have been coming to Kamakhya for the past three years. There is a strange energy to this festival.  This is the seat of Shakti after all,” shares a saffron-clad Baba with matted hair who has come from neighbouring West Bengal.

Symbol Of Female Strength

Ambubachi marks the annual menstrual flow of Goddess Kamakhya. For three days, the temple is closed in honour of the menstruating Goddess.  It is believed that Goddess Kamakhya’s yoni (reproductive organ) fell on the Nilachal Hills, the exact same spot where the temple now stands. Thus, the main deity in the temple is a red stone in the shape of a yoni, a symbol of female strength. An underground spring covers the Yoni and keeps it perpetually wet.

Believers say red-coloured water flows from it for three days, after which the main temple is opened to devotees. In an ancient text, ‘Kalika Purana’, Maa Kamakhya is mentioned as the Goddess who fulfils all wishes. Even today, devotees crowd the narrow entrance of the inner sanctorum to seek her blessings.  During this period, the inner temple is covered with swathes of white cloth. Later, the red-coloured cloth, believed to be stained by the Devi’s menstrual blood, is cut up and distributed among devotees. It is refreshing to see that despite the modern-day taboos associated with menstruation, an ancient festival celebrates it.

The Legend of Kamakhya Devi

Ambubachi Festival at Kamakhya temple
Source: Rituraj Shivam/Getty

Legend has it that Sati once fought with her husband Lord Shiva to attend her father’s great yagna. Despite his disapproval, she goes on to attend the yagna. At the great yagna, Shiva is insulted by Sati’s father, Daksha. Out of deep shame, Sati jumps into the fire.

Lord Shiva is furious. Placing Sati’s dead body on his shoulders, he performs the tandava – the dance of destruction. Trying to convince Lord Shiva to let go of his wife’s dead body, Lord Vishnu cuts Sati’s body with his chakra, parts of which then fall at 51 different places – all of which later came to be known as Shakti Peeths. Sati’s womb is said to have fallen at Kamakhya temple.

Diverse Crowd

Ambubachi Mela also sees a fair amount of diversity. Sadhus with beaded hair and flowing robes, foreign tourists with DSLRs around their necks, middle-class men and women who offer animal sacrifice to appease the Devi, all come to Maa Kamakhya and the bride of Shiva welcomes all with open arms.

This article was first published here in Eclectic North East.

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  1. Sanghamitra Kar

    And when did Kamakhya become assamese temple?

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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