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JUNE 17, 2012

SEVEN SISTERS

NELit review
her various incarnations and representations derive from tribal religions as well as recall various avatars in the Hindu pantheon. Additionally, the diverse modes of veneration and worship prescribed for appeasing her from tantric and bamasari rituals to Vedic also point towards the goddesss mixed lineage. At a time when the goddesss abode in Nilasal, Guwahati, is agog with preparations for Ambubasi that eagerly awaited annual event when her devotees from all over the world converge to celebrate her womanhood NELit review has decided to explore one of her multiple facets: as a literary figure. A lot has been written in literature about the goddess, and a lot of literature has also been written with the goddess as protagonist. In this issue, we look at Bengali, Assamese and English writings on Kamakhya. We carry the translated and abridged preface to a book, more than a century old, that was written in Bengali. The extract succinctly places before the reader some of the most prominent myths and legends prevalent about the goddess. The mother goddess has also manifested herself in various forms in the literature of Assam throughout the ages. In the land of the goddess, every woman is considered to be a goddess herself. But every woman writer has perceived the goddess from her own perspective. Womens status in society, especially in the locality around the Kamakhya temple a world of its own is one of the major concerns in Ruplekha Devis novel Anyatra Birala Devi which won the Munin Barkotoki Award in 2010. We carry a conversation with the author. Women writers in English have been more critical of the goddess, though equally intrigued by her. Nitoo Dass poem in this issue is topical as the Ambubasi mela begins on 22 June this year. Finally, in Other Words, Aruni Kashyap reviews Namita Gokhales book and finds that she deals with mythologies as part of everyday life. The woman and the deity, in short, are all the concerns of this issue. T

FIFTH

WALL

Inditing the goddess

M
UDDIPANA GOSWAMI
Literary Editor

OTHER Goddess Kamakhya is, to my mind, the quintessentially Assamese goddess. She is an entity unto herself and yet, she is inter-ethnic , belonging as she does to every community of Assam, settler or indigenous. She is the sum total of the divine feminine worshipped by almost every tribal community of the land and is also the supreme mother goddess of Hinduism. In her, the diverse strands of Aryanism and non-Aryanism meet and manifest themselves

Mother Goddess Kamakhya


UDDIPANA GOSWAMI

The glory of Kamakhya


T
HE kingdom of Kamarupa is situated in the eastern province of Northeast India. It has been known as Kamarupa from time immemorial since the time when Kamdev, god of love, was reborn in his former glory here after he was burnt to ashes by the fury of Lord Siva. According to the Jogini Tantra, Kamarupa is divided into four parts: (1) Kampeeth (Abode of Love), (2) Ratnapeeth (Abode of Gems), (3) Swarnapeeth (Abode of Gold) and (4) Soumarpeeth (Abode of Peace). The place where Goddess Kamakhya resides is known as Kampeeth, and it stretches from the Swarnakosh River in Goalpara district to the Rupika River in Kamrup district. The area where the home of God Jaleswar Siva is situated is called Ratnapeeth. It extends from the bank of the Karatoya River, now in Bogra district of Bangladesh, to the Swarnakosh River. The place where the Champawati River is located is known as Swarnapeeth or Bhadrapeeth. It stretches from the Rupika River to the Bhairav River, now in Tezpur. Soumarpeeth is where Goddess Dikkarbasini is. It covers the area from the Bhairav River to the Dikrang River, now just some distance from Sadiya. The great Brahmaputra River, while flowing through Kamarupa, has divided this country into two parts. There were a large number of holy places in Kamarupa, but now it is very difficult to list all of them. The ravages of time have either caused some to become extinct or made some blurry; some others have also been swallowed up by the Brahmaputra. The abode of Goddess Kamakhya lies atop the Blue Hill (Nilasal), two miles from the ancient capital of Pragjyotishpur, now Guwahati, adorned by hills on the south bank of the Brahmaputra. Mythology says the place became known as Kamakhya after the sexual organ of Sati, wife of Siva, fell on top of Nilasal. Kamakhya is one of the leading places of pilgrimage for the Hindus. In this holy land of India there are many religious places where Hindus can get peace of mind, but Kamakhya is unique in the sense that it is the seat of sacred peace that captivates ones mind and heart, a confluence of love, knowledge and beauty. Once upon a time it was a magnificent granite temple, said to have been built by Kamdev. There are 64 images of Yogini and 18 images of Bhairav inscribed on the temple wall. Now only the lower portion of the original temple exists. It appears that the upper portion of the temple was destroyed during some religious war and with the passage of time the abode of Kamakhya and the remaining part of the temple had gone into oblivion. However, in the 15th century this shrine was restored to its former glory... For quite a long time, people here have been familiar with a legend about the construction and discovery of the Kamakhya temple. It goes like this: King Viswa Singha of Cooch Behar annexed Kamatapur by defeating the local tribal chieftains who later re-assembled and started their counter-attack. In order to crush the rebellion, King Viswa Singha and his brother, Siva Singha, along with their soldiers, gradually

iNKPOT
PREFACE

RRRRRRT G

IN the past, most people were afraid to come here fearing ferocious wild animals and other dangers and also because of the legend that whenever people came to Kamarupa, they turned into sheep
people worshipped. Hearing that, the king offered obeisance to the deity, praying for reunion with his retinue. His followers soon appeared there by the grace of the deity. The royal brothers were stupefied by the magical power of the goddess and enquired about how she had been worshipped. The old woman said that the goddess could be worshiped by sacrificing animals such as goats and by offering vermillion, jewellery and red female dresses. The king thought that it must be some shrine of the Goddess of Power (Shaktipeeth). So he prayed and pledged that he would build a golden temple if his kingdom became peaceful and free from strife by the grace of the goddess. Before returning to his kingdom, the king worshipped the goddess following proper rituals. His kingdom gradually became peaceful. However, King Viswa Singha, amazed at the blessings of the powerful deity, convened a meeting of priests and scholars to establish the identity of that hidden deity. The scholars, after consulting old books and scriptures, came to the conclusion that it was the home of Kamakhya Devi. Convinced now, the king returned to Nilasal with his men and equipment to keep his promise of constructing a golden temple there. They cut down the banyan tree and excavated the places where the mound and spring were located. After digging for a few days, they found remnants of a temple with a stone carving symbolising the yoni (female organ). As they dug deeper, the base of the temple came out. King Viswa Singha ordered construction of the upper portion of the temple over its base found underground. To honour his promise, he put half a gram of gold under every brick. The temple built by King Viswa Singha was destroyed in 1553 AD by Kalapahar, the notorious army general of the sultan of Bengal. At that time, Naranarayana, son of King Viswa Singha, ascended the throne of Kamarupa. He undertook the reconstruction of the ruined temple in 1555 and the work was completed in 1565. After establishment of the temple, he arranged for regular worship of Kamakhya Devi and other deities. The king invited priests from places like Kanauj, Mithila, Kashi, Gour and Nabadwip for performing puja and related rituals. There is also a legend about the stone steps leading up to the Kamakhya Hill. According to chronicles of Assam kings, once upon a time, a demon called Narakasura, deeply attracted by the beauty of Kamakhya Devi, desired to have her as his wife. Sensing danger, Devi tactfully told the demon that if he could build four roads in the hill and one rest house made of stone in the span of one night, she would marry him. The demon instantly agreed to Devis offer. After constructing the four roads, the mighty demon started building the rest house. Kamakhya Devi was surprised by the demons actions and she ordered a rooster to let out its morning cry even before it was dawn. Then she said, Oh proud demon, you have failed to keep your promise. Its morning; just listen to the rooster. A furious

KAMAKHYAMAHATMYAM
Shivakrishna Sarma Panda and Bishnukanta Sarma Panda Bani Prakash Mandir, 2011 `130, 171 pages Hardcover/Non-fiction
chased after the enemies towards the eastern point. They finally came up to Guwahati. One day, while travelling, the king and his brother reached Nilasal. They were tired and thirsty and also had lost contact with their retinue. There were only a few tribal huts in the area. The king and his brother searched for someone to get water to quench their thirst. When they were returning disheartened, they saw an old woman resting under a banyan tree. There was a mound near the tree. The old woman took due care of the brothers offering them water and fruits. The brothers asked the woman about the mound from which water was oozing out. She replied that the mound was the deity the local

demon immediately killed the fowl, hence that area is still known as Kukurakota Soki. Some people say that the goddess killed the demon. The restoration and renovation of the Kamakhya temple and the arrangements for regular worship of the goddess were carried out by King Naranarayana. However, the king of Cooch Behar or his descendants had been barred from visiting the temple. There is a tale about that. There was a very pious Brahmin priest, named Kendukolai, who worshipped Kamakhya Devi every evening. Hearing his chanting and ringing of the bell, Devi used to appear before the priest. Somehow, King Naranarayana came to know about that and became very much eager to witness the living form of the goddess. He said to the priest, Oh great Brahmin! If you help me see Bhagavati Devi once I will give you money, gold and land, or whatever you want. The helpless Brahmin replied, Oh great king! Devi appears only before her devotees. Submit yourself to the goddess and pray whole-heartedly. Surely you will be able to see her. The king was quite adamant. He curtly said, Priest, why are you deceiving me? Just let me know when you are going to perform puja in the temple. If I can witness Devi by any means, you will not stop me doing that. The Brahmin said, Your Honour, do I have the power to prevent you? I have no objection if you can even see her by force. Every day, just after sunset, I go to the temple to offer puja to Bhagavati Devi. When, during the rituals, I ring the bell, Devi is kind enough to appear there. The king was very pleased to hear this. Offering his pranam to the priest, the king said, Oh sir, dont be unkind to me. If you are pleased, only then will I be able to realise my desire. The king went to the temple at the appointed hour. On hearing the sound of the bell, he peeped through a small hole in the window and attentively observed the puja being performed by the priest. Suddenly the inside of the temple was aglow with light which almost burned the eyes of the king. At that moment, he also heard a devastating, tragic message from heaven. Nothing is unknown to Almighty Goddess and she was aware of what the king and the priest were doing. A furious goddess severed the head of the priest, with a slap, and cursed the king: From today onwards, you and your descendents are forbidden to visit this temple and if anyone of you ever dares to ascend this hill, your entire generation will perish. Every year, a large number of pilgrims from different places of the country and abroad visit this holy hill to participate in various festivals in Kamakhya. In the past, most people were afraid to come here fearing ferocious wild animals and other dangers and also because of the legend that whenever people came to Kamarupa, they turned into sheep. Things have changed now, thanks to Eastern Bengal State Railway, Assam Bengal Railway and steamer services. Rumours about the cult practices are, however, not completely untrue. Most of them are almost dormant now. Pilgrims throng the shrine in large numbers during celebrations like Ambubasi, Debodhani, Durga Puja, Pungsobon and Basanti. As there was never a book for those wishing to have comprehensive information about the history, heritage and significance of this divine abode, a sincere attempt has been made in this book to fulfill this need with the help of some Sanskrit scholars. We will try to rectify in the next edition any mistakes that our kind readers point out to us. T (This is a translated and edited version of the preface originally written in Bengali)

I The world will end In a deodhanis dance Blood trickling from the corner of her mouth Black pigeon feather stuck to her chin. What is her prophecy today? No prophecy today, she only laughs. And somewhere in the background, A black goat bleats. The mother goddess loves blood. She drinks thirstily Goat-blood, pigeon-blood, bull-blood. And once a year, she menstruates. A great event: the only time her devotees Consider menstrual blood sacred. (You cannot worship a vagina And expect it will not menstruate.)

II There is a tortoise which has seen A hundred, five hundred xankarabdas now. Sunning the algae on its back, It dreams of a terrible goddess Fallen from the sky, A yoni on a phallic mountain. The birth of a noble generation And its gradual degeneration Later, the tortoise still suns itself And cringes, at the nightmarish vision Of a blood-bathed people. Its ancient limbs thrill at the sound Of taal, khol, dhol, mridanga. It has seen an eighty year old oja Dance two feet above the ground And a deodhani swing her torso Up, down, round and round. The bull calf s lowing is drowned The kharga falls to the ground, And the mother goddess is sated. III I, terrible goddess of Kamakhya, Have seen it all Have seen the beginning Now bear the end. My little world will end With the last bleat of the lamb. Death moss covered Will live on Feed on Blood. I created this nightmare.
Notes: deodhani: shaman; xankarabda: Assamese years; taal, khol, dhol, mridanga: percussion instruments; oja: practitioner of the Ojapali art form, performed mostly on religious occasions; kharga: a huge blade; cutting instrument.

iNKPOT
Ambubasi
NITOO DAS

We were told that the Goddess (unlike us regular lunar women) had the luxury of bleeding only once a year. So when long-haired fanmen hunting for a quick high in the hills amid the bloodshitpiss of sacrificed and to-be-sacrificed animals arrived and crowded around the trees, the caves, shirking schoolchildren and lovers, she sat wide-bottomed, spread-thighed behind closed doors and bled from a very dead vagina. O Devi O Mother O Whatever They chanted and sang and fed her and made much of her and the priests waited to see the waters in the sewers turn red.