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Kamakhya - The Menstruating Goddess

Article by - Prachi Ajitsaria

(Student at National Law University, Assam)

Paintings by - Nijhum Roy

(Student at National Law University, Assam)


In an era in which the shame associated with menstruation makes us anxious and ashamed to think about and believe in superstitions, a hill temple in Guwahati, Assam that not only honours it but reveals the moral irony of looking at menstruation as a taboo. The Kamakhya Temple, located in the lap of Nilachal Hill is known to be one of the 108 shakti peethas of Goddess Shakti. It is believed that Goddess Shakti leapt into the fire after her husband Lord Shiva was mocked by her father, who then performed the tandava while holding the flaming body of Shakti. Unless Shiva had finished the tandava, he would have ruined the world. To stop him from doing so, Lord Vishnu released his Sudharshan chakra which divides the body of Shakti into five parts. The Kamakhya Temple had been built where the womb and genital of the goddess fell. The mela is celebrated during the Monsoon Season, which falls during the Assamese month of Ahaar, around the middle of June, when the sun transits to the Mithuna Zodiac, when the Brahmaputra River flows in spate This mela is also known as ‘Mahakumbh of the East’ or Tantric Fertility Festival since it is closely associated with Tantric Shakti cult prevalent in eastern parts of India. The temple is kept closed during these days.


On the 22nd of June 2020, the mela began at the Kamakhya temple with the message of ‘unity and prosperity’, without mendicants, hermits, and devotees for the first time in almost 500 years as the Kamakhya temple administration agreed to keep the premises locked due to the global pandemic. There is no idol in the temple; the goddess is worshipped in the form of a yoni-like stone over which a natural spring flows. Inside the temple, the yoni is covered with a red cloth which at the end of the festival is removed and distributed among worshippers as Prasad. The Prasad is spread in two forms – Angodak and Angabastra. Angodak means the fluid portion of the body-spring water and Angabastra means a strip of red skin used to cover the stone yoni during menstrual days. Every year lakhs of pilgrims, starting from sadhus to householders, from all over India, come to Guwahati to observe this festival. The only ones that avoid the temple are the descendants of the medieval Koch royalty, who had reconstructed Kamakhaya temple in 1565, because the Goddess is believed to have cursed the king and his brother Chilarai, as they secretly watched her dance. The history associated with the celebration of Ambubachi Mela is to strengthen womanhood and her ability to bring about a new life into existence, as the goddess menstruates at this period. A similar custom is followed at the Devi Temple at Chengannur town in Alleppey district of Kerala. Thus, this festival tells us that bleeding is nothing to be embarrassed about but something to rejoice and be honoured with because we all belong from here. Maa Kamakhaya’s legend essentially praises the ‘Shakti’ in every woman.


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