The Kamakhya Temple also known as Kamrup-Kamakhya temple by locals is a Hindu temple dedicated to the mother goddess Kamakhya, who is the goddess of desire. It is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas and is situated on the Nilachal Hill in western part of Guwahati city in Assam, India. The temple consists of four chambers: garbhagriha and three mandapas locally called calanta, pancharatna and natamandira aligned from east to west.
How the Temple Came to Be
The origin of worship ‘Shakti’ at the site is associated with the legend of Sati, who was the wife of the ascetic god Shiva and daughter of the Puranic god-king Daksha. Daksha was unhappy with his daughter’s choice of husband, and when he performed a grand Yajna for all the deities, he did not invite Shiva or Sati. In a rage, Sati threw herself onto the fire, knowing that this would make the sacrifice impure. Because she was the all-powerful mother goddess, Sati left her body in that moment to be reborn as the goddess Parvati. Meanwhile, Shiva was stricken with grief and rage at the loss of his wife. He put Sati’s body over his shoulder and began his tandava (dance of cosmic destruction) throughout the heavens, and vowed not to stop until the body was completely rotted away. The other Gods, afraid of their annihilation, implored Vishnu to pacify Shiva. Thus, wherever Shiva wandered while dancing, Vishnu followed. He sent his discus Sudarshana to destroy the corpse of Sati. Pieces of her body fell until Shiva was left without a body to carry. Seeing this, Shiva sat down to do Mahatapasya (great penance). Despite the similarity in name, scholars do not generally believe that this legend gave rise to the practice of sati or the voluntary giving of the wife’s body on the pyre of her husband .
According to various myths and traditions, there are 51 pieces of Sati’s body scattered across the Indian subcontinent. These places are called shakti peethas and are dedicated to various powerful goddesses. Kamarupa (“form of desire”) is the region in which the yoni (“vulva,” “womb,” or “source”) is said to have fallen to earth, and the Kamakhya temple was said to have been constructed on this spot.
Another legend says that the demon Narakasura fell in love with Goddess Kamakhya Devi once and he wanted to marry her. But as a goddess cannot marry a demon or asura, Goddess Kamakhya devi played a trick to save herself. She laid a condition that she would marry him only if he builds a mandir for her within one night. Narakasura agreed to it and almost finished building the temple overnight. This scared Goddess Kamakhya Devi and before the final steps of the temple were completed, a cock was sent to cry cock-a-doodle-do to announce the arrival of the morning, before it was actually dawn. This made Narakasura very angry and he killed the cock on that spot. But according to the condition Narakasura couldn’t marry Goddess Kamakhya Devi after that. It is said that the present Kamakhya temple is the same that Narakasura had made for Kamakhya Devi.
History of Kamakhya Temple
The earliest historical dynasty of Kamarupa, the Varmans, 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
Garbhagriha of Kamakhya Temple
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, the garbhagriha, is below ground level and consists of no image but a rock fissure in the shape of a yoni which is a ‘female genital’.
The garbhagriha of the Kamakhya temple 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 Goddess.
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 Areas of the Temple
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 skhikara. The middle shikhara is slightly bigger than the other four.
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 in the year 1759 and by Gaurinath Singha in the year of 1782, which indicate the period this structure was built.
The Kamakhya temple has been a centre for Tantra worshipers and hindu devotees who visit the place throughout the year but especially during the time of Ambabuchi. Another annual celebration for which the temple is famous is the Ma Manasha Puja. Durga Puja is also celebrated annually at Kamakhya during the time of Navaratri in the autumn season.
Tourists can travel to the temple by private or shared taxis which readily ply on the area and ferry tourists. We can provide tourist cars for Kamakhya tours at the best possible rates. You can book your Assam tourist car with us and pay later. Talk to us or chat to book a tour car.