PILGRIMAGE TO MA KAMAKYA: THE GREAT YONI AND MAHAVIDYA SHAKTI TEMPLES
Festival time at the Kamakhya Yoni temple draws a variety of tantrics and tantric clans (kulas) from the region, many clad in crimson and black. Pilgrims and shakti devotees of every stripe arrive mostly from India’s northeast frontier and West Bengal. Souls from throughout India are mixed with a sprinkling of tantrics and Shakti devotees from western countries. The Kamakhya temple in Assam is widely accepted as one of the most powerful Shakti temples on the Indian subcontinent. It is graced by an energy vortex that has drawn practitioners of yoga and tantra to her for more than two thousand years.
This image, Ambubachi menstrating, is thought by some to be one of the most ancient reliefs in the temple.
In ancient times, the marriage of Shiva and his lovely Sati was celebrated by the forces of light. Sati had aspired to marry Shiva but her father, Daksha, the king of Devaloka, forbade it. He had always despised Shiva for hanging out in graveyards with ghouls and goblins and all manner of disembodied souls. When Sati married Shiva against his will he was incensed. “I am a king”, he bellowed, “I refuse to have a son-in- law who crudely rides on a bull and spends his time meditating on animal skins with snakes.” Thus, when he organized a great yajna, he deliberately did not invite Shiva or Sati to the fire ceremony. Sati was distraught when she heard about the plans for the sacred fire. Shiva advised her not to go, but out of attachment to the social etiquette, she did nonetheless. When she arrived, Daksha ignored her, mocking and ridiculing the divine couple in front of all the guests. His scathing attack left her emotionally crushed and mortified. Overcome with the illusion of shame, both for herself and for Shiva, she jumped into the flames of the yajna and perished. When Yogi Shiva heard of her immolation, he emerged from tranquility in great turbulence. He sent his lieutenants to destroy the palace and fire sacrifice. In his monumental grief, he lifted her half-burned body in his arms and began wandering aimlessly through the either. The great disturbance was felt throughout the universe. Puja, meditation and sadhana could not be done due to the disturbance in the universal web of consciousness, into which Shiva is so fully integrated. Assembling in urgency, and seeking to restore balance to the universe, the Devas determined that if the body were to disappear, Shiva would be able to regain his transcendental state. Thus, the principle of “out of sight – out of mind” was applied. Vishnu agreed to follow Shiva and gradually dismember Sati’s body with his alchemical discus. He did so, and at the locations where her body parts fell, Shakti temples sprang up to become fifty-two in number, each with a unique and powerful energy. The Pitha-nirnaya Tantra recorded that these fifty-two peeths are found in sites in present day India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Pakistan. Most of these temples are located in India’s Northeast region.
Kamakhya henceforth became the most sacred shakti peeth of all since her organ of manifesting both pleasure and life landed at the sacred spot. Thus her yoni ended up at the very place where their marriage had been consummated; the sacred hill of Kamakhya. The tantras correctly state that only though the grace of the divine can a pilgrim visit all of them.
No one knows exactly how many centuries Kamakhya has been a place of pilgrimage. Radiocarbon isotope studies by the department of Geo-Sciences, University of Guwahati, determined that there are two ancient levels of construction under the temple. The oldest is 2200 years and the second 1500 years. The location may have been a tribal pilgrimage long before more extensive constructions. Taken together with other evidence, it is accepted that the temple has been rebuilt multiple times over the millennia. No inscriptions could be found associated with the 200 BC construction. A stone inscription dating to 500 AD attests to the latter. The current temple was constructed in 1520 AD. In the 11th and 12th centuries, there were repeated lootings by Muslim commanders at which time damage to the temple occurred and was repaired.
The temple was an important and long established tantric center described in the Hevajra Tantra, (800 AD). Adding to the sanctity of the great temple the Kalika Purana, a work from the 10th century, glorifies the temple as the ancient spot where Sati, the spouse of Shiva, would retire in secret to satisfy her physical love with Shiva. The Yogini Tantra, a latter work, associates Kamakhya with the goddess Kali and emphasizes the creative symbolism of the yoni.
The ten Mothers of Wisdom, shown here as emanations of Maha Kali , are integral to Tantra. Each holds an important place at the Kamakya.
The ten great Mother Goddesses of Wisdom, collectively known as the Das Mahavidyas, are integral to Tantra and each holds an important place at the Kamakhya Yoni Temple. They are Shodashi, Matangi, Kamala, Dhumavati, Tara, Kali, Bhairavi, Baglamukhi, Chinnamasta, and Bhuvaneshwari. They are familiar to Shakti devotees and are sometimes displayed in relief at various temples in India’s northeast region.
Shodashi AKA Kamakshi Devi
Kamakshi, who manifests the eternal soul essence of both Maha Kali and Sri Lalita (Tripurasundari), is the great Goddess of Desire. She emerges from the navel of Shiva, flanked by Brahma and Vishnu, both of whom pay her homage, for she is truly the Omnipotent Goddess.
Kamakshi Devi, the resident diety of Kamakhya, is indeed Shodashi, the youthful goddess of sixteen summers, named so as she is perpetually sixteen years of age. Pronounced locally as Surashi, and also referred to as Tripura Sundari, she is beloved by all who approach her. The most sacred point in the planet for Kaula Marg Tantrics is the location of her Yoni, called the Yoni Mudra Peeth. Approaching the goddess, the power increases in intensity. One enters the temple, descending down a dark narrow staircase with many uneven and irregular steps. The subterranean vault is hot and humid and yet one feels completely safe and protected in the dim light. The underground cavern has a dome high above, and barely visible. Voices echo beautifully off the ancient stone chamber. Devi sits in a pool of holy spring water with a canopy over the top. A stone crack under the water is naturally formed in the shape of a yoni, from which water flows. Here, devotees make offerings of red kumkuma to Devi. The pundit guides the inexperienced through the process of paying homage and receiving darshan at the sacred Yoni of Kamakshi Devi. Then all in turn move to the right to where Lakshmi, Sri, and Saraswati reside. Saraswati, too, is in the form of a yoni and Lakshmi is partly represented by a three dimensional Sri Yantra. Once again, one kneels in humility, touching the water and offering kumkuma. The priest sometimes gives Shaktipat by firmly tapping the center of the back. It has the functional benefit of reminding people to keep moving, as the lines are long and the space in the sanctum is very limited. The priests are kind and supportive amid high energy.
Shodashi is Latika Devi, the creeper goddess, inferring that she is intertwined with her legs wrapped around and embracing Shiva’s legs and body, as he lies in repose. Shodashi is the third of the Mahavidyas. She is ravishing in her beauty and soft in her aura, although her energy can occasionally be challenging. Anatomically she resides in the outside upper right quadrant of the yoni lips. As a digbanda force, she rules the northeastern direction from whence she gives grace and protection. Astrologically she is linked to Mercury. The Shodashi Tantra refers to Shodashi as the “Beauty of the Three Cities,” or Tripura Sundari. As Shodashi, Tripura Sundari is represented as a sixteen-year-old girl, and embodies sixteen types of desire. Shodashi also refers to the sixteen syllable mantra, which consists of the fifteen syllable (pancha dasakshari) mantra plus a final seed syllable. Shodashi is said to have taken birth to save the celestial world. Kama, the incarnation of sexuality and physical love attempted to distract Shiva from his meditations. Shiva burned him to ashes with his third eye. Well meaning attendants to Shiva used the ashes, mud and other elements to form the shape of a man. Then using yogic powers, they breathed life into him in such a way that he was animated and very capable of sadhana. He began sadhana to gain power over others. Fully conscious of an emerging scheme, Shiva played along when he was asked for a boon by the man to have half of the power of his adversaries. Since one of his adversaries had been Shiva himself, he gained massive Shakti and began creating great harm and tribulations in all the three worlds. Facing great humiliation and defeat, the divine beings approached Tripura Sundari for help. Taking up all her weapons she charged into battle with the demon and vanquished him, thus saving the realm of the Gods.
On the way toward the outside of the temple, there are additional opportunities to pay homage in small alcoves dedicated to Matangi and Kamala.
Within the walls of the main temple of Kamakshi Devi also resides the form of Matangi, who is essentially the tantric Saraswati. Matangi is placed in the innermost sanctum (garbhagriha) of the main temple to the east of the Yoni Mudra Peeth, easily visible as one leaves the sanctum sanctorum. Outside, Tantrics can meditate upon her as she sits on a bejeweled throne. On her forehead she displays a white half-moon. In her four arms she holds a kharga, khetak, lasso and spear. Puja is done for her with offerings of rice custard sweetened with sugar.
She is the embodiment of kanta yuvati, youthful beauty enhanced by love. Matangi is the ninth of the great shaktis of wisdom. As a digbanda force, she offers grace and protection from the northwestern direction. She is associated with the upper left quadrant of the yoni. Matangi and Baglamukhi are the two Mahavidyas for whom tantric sadhana is done which leads to the attainment of siddhis, or miraculous powers. Matangi is a young sixteen-year-old woman with fully developed breasts. Matangi is a Goddess for those in relative poverty. Because of her affinity to the poor and downtrodden, she prefers to be offered left-over, even partially eaten, food. Matangi is considered as the Tantric form of Saraswati, the goddess of music and learning. Like Saraswati, Matangi governs speech, music, knowledge and the arts. The two goddesses are one. Her sadhana is prescribed to acquire supernatural powers, especially gaining control over enemies, attracting people to ones self, acquiring mastery over the arts and gaining supreme knowledge
Kamala Devi is considered the tantric form of Lakshmi at Kamakhya and she too, resides in the main temple. She is placed in the temple next to Matangi. She is meditated upon as she wears a crown of jewels, attired in crimson, and seated on a lotus. Like the popular Lakshmi form, she holds two lotuses, one in each hand. In her other two hands, she displays abhaya and vara mudras. Four white elephants surround and protect her as they perform a ritual bathing of her (abhisheka).
Kamala is sukla samsthita, that is, residing within the semen. Kamala is the tenth and last of the great shaktis of knowledge. As a digbhanda force, Kamala rules the southwestern direction. Kamala means “she of the lotus” and is a common epithet of goddess Lakshmi, who is identified in tantric temples, such as at Kamakhya. She is associated with the lower left quadrant of the external portion of the yoni.
Sweet Soul at the Dhumavati Temple
The Dhumavati Temple has recently had a new black marble floor and walls retaining the original moorthi in the back. The temple is very enticing looking but appropriate. Water runs through a channel in the sanctum sanctorum which was about three steps down from the main interior of the temple. There is a large annex to the left of the temple where, on occasion, groups of priests and special guests feast upon meat (mamsa). Though I appreciate the principle, I declined the offer. The sacred texts state clearly that of the five “M’s” all can be substituted except for ritual intercourse (maithuna). During my last visit, one of the priests identified a New York tantric and introduced him. The priests proudly showed an extremely rare buffalo head cutter in front of the temple which had recently been installed.
Dhumavati is Kundalini Shakti, the primordial energy of Self She is the seventh of the ten Mahavidyas. She is mostly seen as inauspicious but the great tantrics and yogis understand her much differently. Although she is a harbinger of illness, pain and death, this is a surface quality. Her sacred mantras (namavali) describes positive qualities as well. Most pointedly, she is the great teacher, is tender hearted and a grantor of boons. As the great teacher, she is the one who reveals ultimate knowledge of the universe, which is beyond the illusory divisions. She will absolutely grant success even in mundane endeavors and raise any sincere sadhak up through the mundane to the grand sublime spiritual goals that are consciously or unconsciously sought. She reveals the ultimate knowledge of the universe, oneness, beyond all differentiation. She offers grace and protection from evil or unconscious forces from the southeast. She is associated with the lower right quadrant of the external part of the yoni. Meditation on Dhumavati as chaotic but sacred energy results in high samadhi. The most powerful sadhana for Dhumavati is done completely naked in a cemetery during the descending moon cycle.
Swami Ayyappa outside the Tara Temple
The Tara temple is located very near the Kamakhya temple, about 20 yards short of the main temple gate. It is inset about 30 yards from the path of steps. One finds a gate and arch on the right and steps leading up to the temple. It is usually very quiet, offering an excellent place for sadhana.
Tara Devi is poorna rakta yogini, the one who in union bestows complete passion. Following Maha Kali, Tara is the second of the great Shaktis of wisdom, the Mahavidyas. As a force of grace and protection, she rules the northern region. Astrologically she is linked to Jupiter, the Guru. Lord Shiva is said to have drunk the poison (alahala) that was created from the churning of the ocean in order to save the world. In the process it turned his throat blue. He fell unconscious under its powerful effect. Tara Ma appeared and took Shiva on her lap. She suckled him, the milk from her breasts counteracting the poison, and he recovered. This story demonstrates her great power. Her consort is Akshobhya, the Shiva form who calmed the agitation of the Gods and Goddesses when the deadly yellow poison first emerged by the churning of the ocean. She is seductive and draws those souls who are hers closer to her where she will expand their power from within. She cuts through the illusion once its purpose is served with her magical scissors as she places her leg upon the chest of her blessed chosen, to whom she reveals as none other than a form of Maha Shiva. She is associated with the upper hood of the yoni.
The celebrated tantric Sage Vashistha performed Tara sadhana here at Nilacala hill in Kamakhya for many years, yet Tara did not materialize. The frustration of Vashistha was reaching a zenith when the great goddess finally appeared before him. She instructed him to find Janardana-Visnu Buddha who had perfected her path. “Learn my secret from him for he is a master and from that, you will be successful” she said. When Vashistha found the Buddha surrounded by beautiful women practicing the five great practices (panchamakaras). Learning the techniques directly from Lord Buddha, Vashistha returned to Kamakhya, and blossomed into a tantric master. His legendary ashram is a short drive from Kamakhya and most definitely worth a visit.
The sacred fire inside the Kali Temple. This is a wonderful and clean place to meditate, especially on days when there are fewer pilgrims.
The Kali temple often quiet and is right next to the stair path leading to the main temple complex. It is maintained and very clean. Next to the yagya peeth is a great place to meditate. I always have a good experience at this lovely place.
The great devi spoke with power and authority, “I manifest with infinite forms and am one with all elements, permeating fire and water, earth and sky. I reside even within space itself and am yet outside space and time as well. I have siddhi over time. My body is nature and I am verily within natures laws and at once outside of natures laws. I am present in every joy and sorrow, resident in all light and darkness. I am the mother of the universe. I direct the spiritual family of tantrics (kula), the soul clusters that travel together from one life to the next. I am the reigning queen of all divine beings. I lead the Yoginis in their cosmic play. Like the commander of a divine army, I animate all beings in the performance of the dance of destruction of unconsciousness. Within my being are all the goddess of the waxing and waning moon. I am verily the eight original mothers. I am the ten great mothers of wisdom. I command the 64 yoginis and I am always one with the hordes of background goddesses as well. I am the sole source of expansion. I offer every devotee my eternal blessings through the awakening of Kundalini Shakti with the trident held firmly in my lower right hand. Indeed, no part of any universe exists without me. I nurture the devotee, I discipline the yogi and fill him with bliss. I give inexpressible joy to the tantric. My power is understood in the human sphere when the light of the moon recedes. As the lunar cycle darkens my true energy emerges. I am dark as the moonless night and as you approach closer I become ever more translucent until I am realized pure light. I appear to those in the relative plane to be purely dark. For those who are face to face I am nothing but pure light for I am the essence of every sacred tire and flame.
Swami Ayyappa Giri and a Bhairavi Devotee outside the Bhairavi Temple.
There are two Temple beautiful buildings in front of the “Turtle pond”. The Bhairavi temple is the building on the right as one looks at the temples from their front. The one on the left is a Durga temple. The priest is elderly and very obliging.
Bhairavi is Satya Sukrini, the Goddess of Supreme Purity. She is the sixth of the ten Mahavidyas Goddesses. As a digbhanda force, She rules the direction of the Nadir, the base, below, the root and provides protection and safety from that direction. At the last stage in the spiritual evolution of a sadhak, Bhairavi, the Divine Mother of Tantra turns into Vaishnavi Mata while awarding liberation to Her devotee, because only in the form of Vaishnavi does She award liberation. She is associated with the g-spot of the yoni.
Koti Lingam Cave and Parashurama's Kunda, overlooking the Brahmaputra;--
A favorite spot for many of us, Parashurama’s Kunda and the cave where he did practice are down hill from the main shrines at Kamakhya, and face the Brahmaputra. As in many of the caves, a small spring and pool of water offer a locus, as well as water for ritual practice..
Parashurama, one of the immortal sages, was sent here for sadhana by the Sage Dattatreya. A famed warrior and master of the martial arts, Parashurama returned from gathering sticks for havan (a fire ritual) to find his father beheaded as he sat in meditation. His mother Renuka, an incarnation of Bhadra Kali, said he had struck the ground 21 times after he was killed. In rage, Parashurama vowed to destroy 21 times the family of the king responsible for the murder.
He rounded up thousands of feudal lords and filled ponds with their blood. Each time he retired to the forest and did tapas, but when he heard of another such family rising up, he again left his practice and went to kill them. Finally, after 21 times, he asked his teacher Kashyapa for guidance. Kashyapa sent him to Dattatreya.
Here in Kamakhya, Parashurama put down his weapons and absorbed the grace of the goddesses of Kamakhya, transforming himself.
At his kunda (a stone-lined water tank for bathing), were 10 crore (1 crore = 10 million) of lingams. He consolidated them into the one in the cave we visited, now known as the Koti Lingam, to help pilgrims who wouldn’t be able to do puja of so many lingams. By worshipping the Koti Lingam, they (that’s us!) gain the merit of all 10 crore.
So we climb among the cabin-sized boulders, squeeze in beside the priest who is tending the lingam, and offer our garlands and flowers, recite our mantras, and again feel the pull to meditation.
Significance of the temple...Peacock Island - Umananda Temple;-
The Umananda temple is located on a small island on the Brahmaputra river. The island is called Peacock Island and perhaps is the smallest river island in the world. To visit this place you will need to take a ferry ride from the banks. There is a small hill on the island sheltering the temple namely, Bhasmacala.
In Assamese Uma means Hindu goddess Parvati, the wife of Shiva; and ananda means happiness which is also known as smallest inhabited river island in the world. This is one of the mostly visited temple in Assam which is devoted to Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva is said to have resided here in the avataar of Bhayananda at the Umananda temple. As per the legend goes according to an ancient purana, Kalika Purana, in the very beginning of the creation Shiva imparted knowledge to his wife Parvati on this hill and meditated here.According to legend, the deity Lord Shiva is said to have resided here in the form of Bhayananda.
As per the Kalika Purana, in the beginning of the creation, Shiva sprinkled ashes (bhasma) at this place and had imparted knowledge to Parvati (his consort). It is said that, when Lord Shiva was in meditation on this hillock, Kamadeva interrupted his yoga and was therefore burnt to ashes by the fire of Shiva's anger and hence the hillock got the name Bhasmacala. This mountain is also named as Bhasmakuta. The Kalika Purana also states that Urvasikunda is situated here and here resides the goddess Urvasi who brings Amrit (nectar) for the enjoyment of Kamakhya and hence the island got the name Urvasi Island.
The presiding deity for the temple is Umananda (Tatrasti bhagavan sambhu- ruma- nandakarah Prabhu) that is Lord Shiva. It is believed that, worship here on the Amavasya day when it falls on Monday brings the highest bliss. The Shiva Chaturdasi is the most colourful festival that is held here annually. Many devotees come to the temple on this occasion for the worship of the deity.
The Umananda temple was built in 1694 A.D. by the Bar Phukan Garhganya Handique by the order of King Gadadhar Singh (1681- 1696), one of the ablest and strongest rulers of the Ahom dynasty. The original temple here was however immensely damaged by a devastating earthquake of 1897. Later the temple was reconstructed by a rich local merchant who chose to inscribe the interior part of a Shiva temple with Vaisnavite slogans.
The Great Shiva Temple situated on the Peacock island in the middle of the Brahamaputra in Guwahathi attracts devotees from all over the country during Shiva rathri. One can visit the temple by crossing the river by country boat plying from kachari ghat. On the north bank of the Brahmaputhra, oppisite , Guwahathi, where the third Pandava Arjun is belived to have watered his horse while undertaking journey during Ashwamedh Yajna.
The Bagalamukhi Temple has been recently renovated.
Proceeding to the Baglamukhi temple, one is struck by the mammoth new temple structure. It had been several years since I had visited Kamakhya complex and it was obvious that this temple has undergone recent massive developments. The building itself is a pilgrimage as one wanders from one amazing relief to another each more interesting than the one before it. All of the ten Mahavidyas are beautifully depicted in relief.
After a short puja and meditation on that level, I wound my way up through stairways to the sanctum of the temple, the ancient grotto of Baglamukhi. Here, I offered a yellow cloth and the priest laid it upon the small alter. To worldly folks, Baglamukhi is propitiated to prevent others from gossiping against them. She does indeed respond to those prayers but she is a far more complex consciousness that that. She is certainly strong against ego. The ancient site was a very small grotto, a rock overhang not deep enough to be called a cave. The old site remains and is the epicenter of the energy, but the new site is amazing as well.
Bagalamukhi Devi – The Celestial Rani who stops gossip in its tracks.
Baglamukhi is Guru Moorthi, the form of the guru. She is the eighth of the Mahavidyas. As a digbanda force, she rules the southern direction and offers grace and protection from all evils that emerge from the south. Baglamukhi and Matangi are the two Mahavidyas for whom their sadhana leads directly to Siddhis, or miraculous powers. Baglamukhi means “The Crane-Headed One”. The crane implies the essence of deceit. She rules magic for the suppression of an enemy’s gossip. She holds the tongue of a transgressor of gossip with her right hand while she drives a spike through the tongue with her left. Her third eye is always open. Her Shakta is Maha Rudra. Together, they dissolve the universe at the end of time. Worshiping them in union brings about oneness of consciousness. She is associated with the lower portion of the yoni.
Chinnamasta is the Queen of Siddhas who teaches how one can reabsorb their own tejas.
Chinnamasta’s temple is appropriately dark and mysterious. More than a dozen steps deep into the earth, each seeming to be more irregular and rough than the last, with no hand rail. It only adds to the mystery. There was a priest doing puja on reaching the depths and so we sat reverently behind him. After some time, he left and we enjoyed a short meditation. The energy was powerful.
She is the Goddess known as Yoni Vega, with dripping yoni. Chinnamasta is the fifth of the ten great shaktis of knowledge. Her name means one who is beheaded, a condition which reflects her mastery of the thinking mind, for mystic peace lies beyond all thought. As a protection force, she rules the easterly direction. She is associated with the right portion of the exterior portion of the yoni. I drink the stream of life blood flowing from my self decapitated body while my attendant shaktis, voluptuous and naked, absorb the energy of life blood from streams right and left. In my headless condition, I transcend the thinking mind. which flows like a fountain from the arteries of my very own neck. The jewel on my forehead is tied with the serpent of awakened kundalini. My full breasts are adorned with lotus blossoms. I sit erect above the god of love, who in union with his Shakti, is in bliss in my presence. By worshipping me with my beloved Shiva-Kabandha in union, one becomes lord of all siddhis.
Swami Ayyappa reflecting on the Transcendental Lady of the space element, Bhuvaneshwari.
The Bhuvaneshwari temple sits atop Nilacala Hill and is the highest point of the Kamakhya temple complex, 700 feet below. The walk up the hill offers a magnificent view of the Brahmaputra river. The natural scenery is inspiring. The wide open space at the top of the hill in all directions reminds one of Bhuvaneshwari herself since the root word “Bhu” means space. Lighting a clay ghee lamp and offer incense just outside the temple entrance prepares the mind and heart to enter into the sacred space.
Bhuvaneshwari is mantrini, the energy of all mantras. She is the fourth of the great shaktis of wisdom. Her universality and presence in all space establishes her as the supreme Goddess of the Universe. She provides grace and protection coming from the westerly direction. She can turn any situation according to her will. It is said that even the nine planets and the three forms: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are subject to her will.
Some Practical Suggestions
One should plan to carry Rs 20 to Rs 50 notes to offer at each temple or moorthi. The priests encourage all to give more at the end but this is not necessary. It’s a good idea to check out the quality of the energy around the temple and how long and crowded the line is before buying your ticket. That is because within the walls of the temple enclosure, there is an option to pay Rs 502 and gain a ticket. Doing this, one can bypass long queues to see Devi. On light days it may be beneficial as there is not much queue. Personally, I prefer to go to these main temples at mid week when there is no festival. There, one can tune into the profound underlying energy and peace produced by generations of mystics and devotees without much distraction. May Shakti Bless you on your pilgrimage.