The Goddess Who Bleeds
Sayandeep writes: Driving up the Nilachal Hill in West Guwahati, one would find the Kamakhya Temple. This Temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess ‘Kamakhya’. Kamakhya as a manifestation of ‘Shakti’ has been worshipped in the ‘Tantric’ sect of Hinduism. Goddess Kamakhya is also celebrated because of how some believe that she is the most ‘sexually liberated’ manifestation of Sati. And in this intricate dialogue between religion and mythology, Kamakhya is also rendered divine because she menstruates. Kamakhya Temple has been an epicentre for the holy belief that ‘menstruation’ is sacred. Oh wait, but they don’t allow menstruating women inside the temple! Paradoxical enough?
Carved Sculptures on the Temple
Source – Wikimedia
History and Mythology
The exact age of the Temple is not really known. However, archaeologists believe that the oldest structure of Kamakhya was built in the 8th or the 9th century AD. This was during the time of the Kamarupa Classical Period in present day Assam. Kamakhya Temple had become the centre of Tantric practices and mysticism in this region. In the medieval times, the temple was invaded and destroyed. But the source and information regarding this is not very known. However, the temple was rebuilt again. Several dimensions of architectural designs were added over time. Kamakhya Temple is also one of the 51 ‘Shakti Peethas’ of the Indian Subcontinent. Legend says that Goddess Sati wanted to be a part of the grand ‘Yajna’ which was hosted by her father. Lord Shiva, Sati’s consort, advised her to not go to the ceremony. Paying no attention to Lord Shiva, Sati headed to the ceremony, where she was insulted, along with Lord Shiva. Unable to bear this, Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire. Hearing this, extremely angry was Shiva. He carried Sati’s burnt corpse on his shoulders and performed the ‘Tandava’. To calm Shiva down, Lord Vishnu used his ‘Chakra’ to cut Sati’s body into 108 pieces, each of which fell into different locations on the Indian Subcontinent. Kamakhya Temple is said to be the spot where Sati’s vagina and womb fell on. And hence, this has become the place where a human’s vagina, the process of menstruation and fertility are considered holy.
A Menstruating Sculpture in Kamakhya Temple
Goddess ‘Kamakhya’ gets her ethereal name from the word ‘Kama’, meaning pleasure. Goddess Kamakhya signifies a woman who is in control of her own sexual space, pleasure and the ability to love. She is in charge of her own sexuality and doesn’t shy away from the patriarchal society just because she is a ‘woman’. The fact that she bleeds is her ultimate exhibition of power and femininity. The ‘Ambubachi Mela’ or the fertility festival is a three day long annual fest, celebrated in the middle of June, during which it is believed that Goddess Kamakhya goes through her annual cycle of menstruation. The temple is closed for three days and opens up with great pomp and celebrations on the fourth day. The river Brahmaputra turns red near the temple, during this time frame. It is often characterised as a mysterious phenomenon. However, some believe that this happens because vermillion is poured into the waters, around this time period. The offered ‘prasad’ is a piece of cloth known as the ‘Rakta Bastra’ which is soaked in the ‘divine menses’ of the goddess.
‘Periods’ as a term is often heard only in low whispers. Menstruation as a phenomenon if talked about loud, is considered nearly as a ‘blasphemy’ in so many societies. Of course, all of this is a result of deep-seated patriarchy. People carrying around basic sanitary pads like some sort of an illegal drug, is often the case in patriarchal conservative societies. And there lies this other belief where Menstruation is a symbol of divine femininity and power. These two narratives don’t really go along, do they? Kamakhya Temple does not even allow women who are menstruating inside the temple. This has to be the zenith of hypocrisy existing in our society!
We all need to understand the fact that not everyone who bleeds is a woman. And perhaps, the narrative of Kamakhya is for everyone who goes through the cycle of menstruation, but shivers under the taboos of the society. We all need to come together to make menstruation and other factors related to it more talked about, raise our voice against policing of bodies and recognize it as one of the most fundamental aspects of the anatomy of the ones who bleed.