The Kamakhya Temple is a Sakta temple dedicated to the mother goddess Kamakhya. It is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas. Situated on the Nilachal Hill in western part of Guwahati city in Assam, India, it is the main temple in a complex of individual temples which is the most comprehensive representation of the ten Mahavidyas of Saktism, namely, Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamalatmika. 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 Hindus and especially for Tantric worshipers.
Originally an autochthonous place of worship, the Kamakya Temple became identified with the state power when the Mleccha and then with the Pala kings of Kamarupa, and finally the Koch and the Ahoms patronised it. The Kalika Purana, written during the Pala rule, connected Naraka, the legitimizing progenitor of the Kamarupa kings, with the myth of the goddess Kamakhya representing the region and Kamarupa kingdom.
In July 2015, the Supreme Court of India transferred the administration of the Temple from the Kamakhya Debutter Board to the Bordeuri Samaj.
The current structural temple and the rock-cut sculpture strewn in the vicinity indicate that the temple has been built and renovated many times in the period 8th–9th, 11th–12th, 13th–14th centuries and even later. The current form, from the 16th century has given rise to a hybrid indigenous style that is sometimes called the Nilachal type: a temple with a hemispherical dome on a cruciform base. The temple consists of four chambers: garbhagriha and three mandapas locally called calanta, pancharatna and natamandira aligned from east to west.
Shikhara and garbhagriha
The shikhara over the garbhagriha has a pancharatha plan that rests on plinth moldings that are similar to the Surya Temple at Tezpur. On top of the plinths are dados from a later period which are of the Khajuraho or the Central Indian type, consisting of sunken panels alternating with pilasters. The panels have delightful sculptured Ganesha and other Hindu gods and goddesses. Though the lower portion is of stone, the shikhara in the shape of a polygonal beehive-like dome is made of brick, which is characteristic of temples in Kamrup. The shikhara is circled by a number of minaret inspired angashikharas of Bengal type charchala. The shikhara, angashikharas and other chambers were built in the 16th century and after.
The inner sanctum within the shikhara, the garbhagriha, is below ground level and consists of no image but a rock fissure in the shape of a yoni (female genital):
The garbhagriha is small, dark and reached by narrow steep stone steps. Inside the cave there is a sheet of stone that slopes downwards from both sides meeting in a yoni-like depression some 10 inches deep. This hollow is constantly filled with water from an underground perennial spring. It is the vulva-shaped depression that is worshiped as the goddess Kamakhya herself and considered as most important pitha (abode) of the Devi.
The garbhaghrihas of the other temples in the Kamakhya complex follow the same structure—a yoni-shaped stone, filled with water and below ground level.
Calanta, Pancharatna, and Natamandir
The temple consists of three additional chambers. The first to the west is the calanta, a square chamber of type atchala (similar to the 1659 Radha-Vinod Temple of Bishnupur. The entrance to the temple is generally via its northern door, that is of Ahom type dochala. It houses a small movable idol of the Goddess, a later addition, which explains the name. The walls of this chamber contain sculpted images of Naranarayana, related inscriptions and other gods. It leads into the garbhagriha via descending steps.
The pancharatna to the west of calanta is large and rectangular with a flat roof and five smaller shikharas of the same style as the main shikhara. The middle shikhara is slightly bigger than the other four in typical pancharatna style.
The natamandira extends to the west of the pancharatna with an apsidal end and ridged roof of the Ranghar type Ahom style. Its inside walls bear inscriptions from Rajeswar Singha (1759) and Gaurinath Singha (1782), which indicate the period this structure was built. The outer wall has stone sculptures from an earlier period embedded in high relief.
Site of Kamakhya
Historians have suggested that the Kamakhya temple is an ancient sacrificial site for an Austroasiatic tribal goddess, Kameikha (literally: old-cousin-mother), of the Khasi and Garo peoples; supported by the folk lores of these very peoples. The traditional accounts from Kalika Purana (10th century) and the Yogini Tantra too record that the goddess Kamakhya is of Kirata origin, and that the worship of Kamakhya predates the establishment of Kamarupa (4th century).
The earliest historical dynasty of Kamarupa, the Varmans (350-650), as well as Xuanzang, a 7th-century Chinese traveler ignored the Kamakhya; and it is assumed that the worship at least till that period was Kirata-based beyond the brahminical ambit. The first epigraphic notice of Kamakhya is found in the 9th-century Tezpur plates of Vanamalavarmadeva of the Mlechchha dynasty. Since the archaeological evidence too points to a massive 8th-9th century temple, it can be safely assumed that the earliest temple was constructed during the Mlechchha dynasty. From the moldings of the plinth and the bandhana, the original temple was clearly of Nagara type, possibly of the Malava style.
The later Palas of Kamarupa kings, from Indra Pala to Dharma Pala, were followers of the Tantrik tenet and about that period Kamakhya had become an important seat of Tantrikism. The Kalika Purana (10th century) was composed and Kamakhya soon became a renowned centre of Tantrik sacrifices, mysticism and sorcery. Mystic Buddhism, known as Vajrayana and popularly called the "Sahajia cult", too rose in prominence Kamarupa in the tenth century. It is found from Tibetan records that some of the eminent Buddhist professors in Tibet, of the tenth and the eleventh centuries, hailed from Kamarupa.
There is a tradition that the temple was destroyed by Kalapahar, a general of Sulaiman Karrani (1566–1572). Since the date of reconstruction (1565) precedes the possible date of destruction, and since Kalapahar is not known to have ventured so far to the east, it is now believed that the temple was destroyed not by Kalapahar but during Hussein Shah's invasion of the Kamata kingdom (1498).
The ruins of the temple was said to have been discovered by Vishwasingha (1515–1540), the founder of the Koch dynasty, who revived worship at the site; but it was during the reign of his son, Nara Narayan (1540–1587), that the temple reconstruction was completed in 1565. According to historical records and epigraphic evidence, the main temple was built under the supervision of Chilarai. The reconstruction used material from the original temples that was lying scattered about, some of which still exists today. After two failed attempts at restoring the stone shikhara Meghamukdam, a Koch artisan, decided to take recourse to brick masonry and created the current dome. Made by craftsmen and architects more familiar with Islamic architecture of Bengal, the dome became bulbous and hemispherical which was ringed by minaret-inspired angashikharas. Meghamukdam's innovation—a hemispherical shikhara over a ratha base—became its own style, called Nilachal-type, and became popular with the Ahoms.
Banerji (1925) records that the Koch structure was further built over by the rulers of the Ahom kingdom. with remnants of the earlier Koch temple carefully preserved. By the end of 1658, the Ahoms under king Jayadhvaj Singha had conquered the Kamrup and after the Battle of Itakhuli (1681) the Ahoms had uninterrupted control over the temple. The kings, who were supporters of Shaivite or Shakta continued to support the temple by rebuilding and renovating it.
Rudra Singha (1696–1714) invited Krishnaram Bhattacharyya, a famous mahant of the Shakta sect who lived in Malipota, near Santipur in Nadia district, promising him the care of the Kamakhya temple to him; but it was his successor and son Siba Singha (1714–1744), on becoming the king, who fulfilled the promise. The Mahant and his successors came to be known as Parbatiya Gosains, as they resided on top of the Nilachal hill. Many Kamakhya priests and modern Saktas of Assam are either disciples or descendants of the Parbatiya Gosains, or of the Nati and Na Gosains.
Sculptures carved on the temple
The Kalika Purana, an ancient work in Sanskrit describes Kamakhya as the yielder of all desires, the young bride of Shiva, and the giver of salvation. Shakti is known as Kamakhya. Tantra is basic to worship, in the precincts of this ancient temple of mother goddess Kamakhya.
The worship of all female deity in Assam symbolizes the "fusion of faiths and practices" of Aryan and non-Aryan elements in Assam. The different names associated with the goddess are names of local Aryan and non-Aryan goddesses. The Yogini Tantra mentions that the religion of the Yogini Pitha is of Kirata origin. According to Banikanta Kakati, there existed a tradition among the priests established by Naranarayana that the Garos, a matrilineal people, offered worship at the earlier Kamakhya site by sacrificing pigs. The tradition of sacrifices continue today with devotees coming every morning with animals and birds to offer to the goddess.
The goddess is worshiped according to both the Vamachara (Left-Hand Path) as well as the Dakshinachara (Right-Hand Path) modes of worship. Offerings to the goddess are usually flowers, but might include animal sacrifices. In general female animals are exempt from sacrifice, a rule that is relaxed during mass sacrifices.
According to the Kalika Purana, Kamakhya Temple denotes the spot where Sati used to retire in secret to satisfy her amour with Shiva, and it was also the place where her yoni (genitals, womb) fell after Shiva danced with the corpse of Sati. It mentions Kamakhya as one of four primary shakti peethas: the others being the Vimala Temple within the Jagannath Temple complex in Puri, Odisha; Tara Tarini) Sthana Khanda (Breasts), near Brahmapur, Odisha, and Dakhina Kalika in Kalighat, Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal, originated from the limbs of the Corpse of Mata Sati. This is not corroborated in the Devi Bhagavata, which lists 108 places associated with Sati's body, though Kamakhya finds a mention in a supplementary list.
The Yogini Tantra, a latter work, ignores the origin of Kamakhya given in Kalika Purana and associates Kamakhya with the goddess Kali and emphasizes the creative symbolism of the yoni.
Due to a legendary curse by the Goddess members of the Koch Bihar royal family do not visit the temple and avert their gaze when passing by.
Local musicians singing bhajan at Kamakhya temple, Guwahati, Assam
Being the centre for Tantra worship this temple attracts thousands of tantra devotees in an annual festival known as the Ambubachi Mela. Another annual celebration is the Manasha Puja. Durga Puja is also celebrated annually at Kamakhya during Navaratri in the autumn. This five-day festival attracts several thousand visitors.
Kamakhya Temple is situated on the Nilachal Hills. You can hire auto rickshaw or taxi from any part of Guwahati. Regular buses of Assam Tourism Department also ply to and fro the temple from various parts of the city. ASTC also run bus services to the temple from the Kachari bus stoppage. The buses operate from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM at a gap of every one hour.
The temple belongs to the 8th century and has been renovated many times. Currently the temple has a typical Nilachal type structure with a hemispherical dome on a cruciform base. The temple consists of four chambers: garbhagriha and three mandapas locally called calanta, pancharatna and natamandira aligned from east to west.
The temple complex has ten devi’s who are worshipped in the given order: Kali, Tara, Sodashi, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala. It is an important pilgrimage destination for general Hindu and especially for Tantric worshipers. A scholarly study of the Kamakhya Temple was authored by Kali Prasad Goswami.
There lies a cave which slopes downward from both sides meeting in a yoni-like depression about 10 inches deep. This hollow is constantly filled with water from an underground perennial spring. It is the vulva-shaped depression that is worshiped as the goddess Kamakhya herself and considered as most important pitha of the Devi.