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Kamakhya Devi Temple- The Menstruating Goddess

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Kamakhya Devi temple

Conversation turns into whispers when we talk about menstruation in India. Menstrual periods are both a mundane fact of life and an oddly under-discussed subject. We often use several euphemisms to use the word period. It is considered as a cultural taboo and women feel uncomfortable opening about the same. Each religion has their different rules of menstruation but are united by a single verse which suggest that women are impure while on periods. In Judaism, a woman during menstruation is called “niddah” and may be banned from certain actions. A verse in Quran goes like: “And they ask you about menstruation; Say It is harm, so keep away from women during menstruation; And do not approach them until they become pure.”

In Buddhism -Theravada or Hinayana menstruation is viewed as “a natural physical excretion that women have to go through on a monthly basis, nothing more or less”. However, in certain branches of Japanese Buddhism, menstruating women are banned from attending temples. In Hinduism, menstruating women are traditionally advised rules to follow. During menstruation, women are advised not to “enter temple, work in kitchen, wear flowers, have sex, touch other males or females, or come in contact with any creative energies to ensure free flow of Apana.” Woman’s menstrual blood is considered to be impure in several important Jain texts.

Each of us has something to say about menstruating women. But let us take you through one of the most controversial temple that will remind about the hypocrisy of India. The Kamakhya Devi Temple is the home of the menstruating goddess where people from across the country come to seek blessing. Oddly enough, the temples gate are however not opened for the menstruating women! Hypocrisy or Culture, this temples has a lot in store.

Kamakhya Devi Temple, a place where bleeding goddess is worshipped but a bleeding women is despised

The Kamakhya Devi Temple, is a pilgrimage site situated in Guwahati, Assam is home to 10 different avatars of Kali. A temple entirely dedicated to tantric Devi worship not only Deity Kamakhya but also Dhumavati, Matangi, Bagola, Tara, Kamala, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Bhuvaneshwari and Tripuara Sundari who are different forms of goddess Kali. There is no statue or image of the Goddess inside the temple, but a sculptured image of the yoni or what we call the Vagina of the goddess, which is the object of worship at the sight. The mythical story of Kamakhya is interesting as well as intriguing. It is believed that once Sati fought with lord Shiva to attend a Yagna organized by her father Daksha. Despite the disapproval of Shiva, Sati attends, although Shiva wasn’t invited and was also abused by her father. Furious over the situation, Sati committed suicide by leaping over the ritual fire of yagna. On seeing the body of his beloved lifeless, Shiva takes up Sati over his shoulder and start performing Tandav which is said to be the dance of destruction. To calm the situation down, Lord Vishnu cuts the body into 108 pieces, all of which falls on the ground on different locations. The womb of the Sati was believed to be dropped at this spot and since then it came to be known as Kamakhya Devi Temple.

From where the name Kamakhya originated? 

Kamakhya Devi temple

The Kamakhya Devi temple found its name from the God of love- Kamadeva. It is said that the Kamadeva had lost his virility due to a curse and after sorting the genitals of Goddess Sati, he was able to break out of that curse. As a tribute to Sati giving back the potency of Kamadeva, the image of ‘Kamakhya Devi’ was installed. Many people also believes that Kamakhya is the same spot where Shiva and Sati had their romantic moments. Thus taking up from a Sanskrit word ‘Kama’ which means love, the name Kamakhya was given.               

Kamakhya Devi is popularly recognized as the bleeding goddess in India. The stories of womb and genitals of Shakti are places in the holy ‘Garvagriha’ or what we call the sanctum located at the corner of the cave of this temple. In the month of Ashaad (June), the goddess is believed to menstruates and it is during this time, when the Brahmaputra river near Kamakhya turns red. There is no scientific reason of why the river turns red, many people also says that the pandits of the temple put vermillion in the river, but nothing has been evident yet. However, the temple during this time remain closed for 3 days and the holy water is distributed among the devotees. Symbolically speaking menstruation is the symbol of a woman’s power to give birth and continue the human race. So, the deity of Kamakhya Devi celebrates this ‘shakti’, power within every woman of the world but unlike this celebration there also lays a different story.

Unlike the celebration of the bleeding goddess, the temple prohibits the entry of bleeding women. Yes, you heard it right, ironically enough women while menstruating are not allowed inside the temple. Though every year, a 15-day festival called the Ambubachi Mela takes place at the temple, less recognition is given to the bleeding women. Now this isn’t some amusing, it’s like a hidden code encrypted at every holy place of India of any religions: “women don’t enter.” Along with this, the temple permits only females to enter its premises during the goddess is at her menstrual cycle. Only female priests serve the temple where the menstrual cloth of Sati is considered highly propitious and is further distributed among the devotees.

This mentality doesn’t came out of nowhere but was instigated by the teaching we have been hearing since childhood. Menstruation is not a word that can be talked about loud. The conversation surrounding periods remains under the burden of silence and darkness. And this is exactly what we need to break out from. Topics that may otherwise seem sensitive or the debates surrounding the idea of sexuality shouldn’t stay out of reach but should be brought out and be heard. Be it a man or a woman, there shouldn’t be any boundaries defining their approach.

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