Kamakhya Temple as a Cultural Text: An Analysis of Kamrupia Shakti-Culture, its Origination, Authenticity and Reproduction with reference to Indira Goswami’s The Man from Chinnamasta
The most ancient idea of Shakti across many cultures and traditions, often, is found to evolve from the core idea of Nature or Mother Prakriti. Accordingly, in the belief system, she is the one who bestows us with life and also it is again she with whom we merge after death. Kamakhya is one such form of Mother Goddess, worshipped and preached in Assam and Kamrup. The paper attempts to critically engage with the concepts of Shakti and how these are realized in Assamese writing, in this particular case, Indira Goswami’s The Man from Chinnamasta.
Keywords: Shakti, Kamkhya Temple, Indira Goswami.
In and around 5th century CE, in India, there arose a new and revised Hindu tradition of belief, meditation and ritual practices. It was termed as Tantra, also called as Tantrism. The origin of this concept is controversial. The term Tantra often simply means “Treatise” or “Exposition”. Literally it can be said to mean “loom, warp, weave”, hence “principle, system, doctrine, theory”, from the verbal root “tan” – “to stretch, expand or extend”, and the suffix tra”-instrument”. In Tantra or Tantrism, we find two important poles of energy. One being “Shiva” and the other “Shakti”. On one hand, pure consciousness is personified as male deity - Shiva and on the other, the objective aspect is the creative power which is personified as the female deity Shakti. “Shakti” is the Tantric title for the Great Goddess. (Devi) Shakti is a Sanskrit word derived from the verb root “Shak” which means “to be able”, “to do” and “to act”. The common idea that we draw from the concept Shakti is that we regard her as personification of divine feminine creative power. Sometimes she is also known as “The Great Divine Mother” or Nature that is “Prakriti”.
The most ancient idea of Shakti across every culture and tradition, often, is found to evolve from the core idea of Nature or Mother Prakriti. She is the one who bestows us with life and also it is again she with whom we merge after death. Kamakhya is one such form of Mother Goddess, worshipped and preached in Assam and Kamrup.
twang devi jagatangmata
jurnirmudre namuhostute. (Kamakhya Tantra 20)
O Supreme Shakti Kamakhya! you reside in your abode of Nilparvat (Blue-hills) and bestow us with your blessings. We are thankful to you, and we salute you. (Kamakhya Tantra 20)
The shrine of Goddess Kamakhya is located about five kilometers from the city of Guwahati on the Nilachal hills overlooking the river Brahmaputra. Kamakhya temple, also known as temple of menstruating Goddess, focuses on worship of symbolic Yoni. Yoni literally translated to vagina or womb, is the symbol of Goddess Shakti, the Hindu Divine Mother. The Yoni is also considered to be an abstract representation of Shakti, the creative force that moves through the entire Universe. The Yoni is not only where life begins, but also the source of wisdom and values. Many believed that Kamakhya, also known as “Kameikha” by Khasi tribes, is Goddess of crematorium – a place which indicates the end of an existence and also birth of another.
Present Assam was referred to as Kamrup in many of the ancient Indian literature. It was also known as Pragjyotishpur due to astrological or “Jyotish Sashtra” practices that prevailed in this part of the country during that time. However “Kamrup” became a more predominant name in the later part of history. The reason behind the naming of this place as “Kamrup” and the creation of Shaktipeeth are interlaced.
Creation of Kamakhya
Kalikapurana (a shastra of the 10th century AD) gives us a detailed narration of the story behind the formation and origin of this peeth – Kamakhya. A legend connected to its origin is the famous love tryst with Narakasura and how Goddess Kamakhya finally slays him. Mention is made of this in two Shastras, the Kalika Purana and the Yogini Tantra (16th century AD). Legends and myths have multiplied through the ages and they have overlapped in such a manner that it is not possible to place them chronologically, as characters have mingled and events mixed. According to Kalika Purana, it was the beginning of creation or “Shristi”. Brahma and Vishnu were all engaged into it, except Shiva, which actually made the entire process of creation incomplete and hence impossible. At last, Brahma in a helpless state, headed towards Raja Daksh and asked him to satisfy Jagatmatri Mahamaya by a Puja, so that she takes birth in the form of his daughter and later marries Shiva. After years and years of extreme meditation or “tapashya” of Dakshya , Mother Nature or “Jagatmata” was satisfied and she said, “As you have wished, I will take birth in the form of your daughter and later marry Shiva, but whenever I will be disrespected, I will sacrifice that bodily form.”
So accordingly, Dakshya Raja’s wife Birina was pregnant with Devi Aadya Shakti Mahamaya who came to be known as Sati after birth. Sati satisfied Mahadev Shiva with her dedicated “Archana” and worship and later got married to him. Lord Shiva married Parvati, the daughter of Dakshya, a very powerful king of that time. The king however, did not like his son-in-law for some reason and therefore did not invite him for the Yagna (The great sacrifice) ceremony which the King had organized in a great fashion. It was a deliberate attempt on his part to shame Shiva. Sati was made aware of it by Naarad. She begged permission from Shiva to attend the Yagna, uninvited though. Shiva rejected the proposal and did not allow her.Sati with her “Krodhadipta Nayan” that is eyes brightened with anger looked at Shiva and her third eye opened up flashing fire and also took form of Shyama, the four armed form of Shakti.
Shiva Then said:
Taang Dhabomanang girisang
Dristura dakhyayani sati
Ma bhoi mabhoiriti gira ma Polayotye wasana
Tatha pyenang polayantang
Dosomutridhobou devi dosodikhyu sibekhyita (Kalikapurana ).
O Supreme Sati! Your majestic form scares me, my heart cries as destruction follows now. And I will run to save myself from “Mrityu” or death (Kalikapurana ).
At last, the narrative goes, Shiva made way for Sati. Sati and Shiva were disrespected and insulted by Daksha for their uninvited presence. She could not resist her father’s attitude of irreverence towards Shiva and stepped in the sacred fire of Yagna and sacrificed her life. To overcome the grief of Sati’s death, Shiva began a grim penance and wandered about the world carrying her dead body on his head. Shiva’s “Dance of Death” and penance alarmed all the Gods because it threatened to destroy the world. In order to stop the frightful wanderings of Shiva, the supreme God, Vishnu, cut the dead body of Sati, into 51 pieces with his “Sudarshan Chakra” (Discus). The pieces fell onto the Earth in 51 different places and wherever they fell, the ground was held to be sacred.
One of the important organs of Sati fell on the Nilachal Hill in Guwahati and the place was henceforth held sacred and it is said that the famous Kamakhya temple had originated from Sati’s organ only. The name of this hillock has been derived from this legend. It is said to have gone blue when the severed part of Sati’s body fell on it and hence the term “Nila” meaning blue, was affixed to the term “Aanchal” which means “Parbat” or hill. Kamakhya is mentioned in the Kalika Purana as the most important Goddess of tantric worship and is referred to in the text as Mahamaya – “the great Goddess of illusion”, who takes on many forms depending on her mood. She is identified with Kali in Kalika Purana, Yoginitantra and Kamakhya Tantra. She is associated with “Dasa Mahavidyas.” Kamakhya is pictured as a young Goddess, 16 years old, with 12 arms and 6 heads of varying colors, representing a powerful goddess, who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. She holds in each of her ten hands a lotus, a trident, a sword, a bell, a discus, a bow, arrows, a club, a goat and a shield. Her remaining two hands hold a bowl made either of gold or silver. She is seated upon a lotus, which emerges from the navel of Lord Shiva, who in turn lies atop a lion.
Hence, exploring the narrative history and origin of the Shakti-peeth of North-East India named Kamakhya helped us trace the origination of the very name of the state presently known as Assam, earlier known as Kamrup. Similarly, a reading of the Kamakya Peeth and its ritualistic practices will help us read through then Kamrupia now Axomiya Shakti-Culture. To do so, I have focused on The Man from Chinnamasta, which is one among many gem from Indira Goswami’s oeuvre and it definitely pricks at our social conscience. The writing of the novel The Man from Chinnamasta was provoked by her encounter with the temple of Goddess Kamakhya. From the fertility cult of distant past and tantric worship in the Middle Ages, to Ambubachi and other ceremonies still prevalent today, the practices of worship of mother goddess flourished with devotees thronging the place from all over India.
Her novel focuses on the ritual of animal sacrifice, which has been going on since prehistoric days. Since her childhood, she has been horrified by the shocking practice at the Kamakhya temple, in Nilachal hill, at Guwahati where she grew up. She soon learnt that there were regular sacrifices at several other temples in her native place. In fact, the mighty river Brahmaputra, was known as “Red River”, as a result of all the blood that flows into it from various temples. In her novel, she vehemently condemned the rituals of animal sacrifice at Kamakhya, especially the buffalo sacrifice that has been going on for two thousand years.
Kamakhya Temple in The Man from Chinnamasta :
The temple doors were shut. The Mother Goddess was menstruating. Her loins were covered with a red cloth. Every year, on the seventh day of the month of Ashaad, the temple closed for three days. It reopened on the fourth day. (79)
In the month of Ashara (Sanskrit: Ashadha, Hindi: Ashadh), when Sun is in the house of Mithuna Rasi and steps in the first prada of constellation Adra, after Mrigasari, the period of Ambubachi commences and continues until fourth day. Mother Earth is said to enter the period of menstruation in this time. It is interesting to note that this occurrence of the Sun’s entry into the first Prada of Adra constellation invariably takes place on the 6th and 7th day of Ashara in Indian calendar. Generally, it starts on the 7th day of Ashara.
The traditional belief is that our sacred Mother Earth is also like a fertile woman. The Earth cultivates and germinates seeds and grows crops – becoming pregnant as if in coition. This is why woman’s womb is compared to “Kshetra” for “Krishi” (cultivation land). Ambubachi symbolizes this phenomenon of an ancient agricultural concept. According to tradition, we are the children of Mother Earth. Thus, the concept of Ambubachi possesses agricultural, social and religious ideas that contributed to the emergence of this phenomenon.
The Man from Chinnamasta, as the title suggests, addresses conditions of local knowledge in context of contemporary realities, and in this respect Ambubachi being one of the site for examination and analysis.
Tomorrow, the doors would be thrown open…the rush of pilgrims was indescribable
[…] some had painted their bodies with ash […]
The representation of conflicting cultural identities provides an interesting setting for the novel’s narrative, which also encompasses Ambubachi. This helps Goswami in organizing the story within a chosen cultural matrix. The difference in perceptions, attitudes and perspectives also gets clear, which helps us to determine the relation between the characters and also in the same way makes it difficult for the readers to analyze and understand. The condition often goes beyond the personal plane to reflect the preoccupations that situate people in the society.
The Ambubachi was over. Devotees were streaming back to their homes. Those who stayed […] A Couple of British Officers who had turned up for shooting practice happened to see the tantriks’ boobing heads. They thought they would have fun. They fired into the air to scare them out of their trance. But the tantriks did not budge. So deeply were they meditating that it seemed as though even a bullet through the heart could not disturb them. (116)
One of the many places of pilgrimage in India, what makes Kamakhya Devi – the menstruating Goddess – different is that, it has no deification in the form of sculpture to worship. It is only Kamakhya’s Yoni or vagina. Ambubachi is regarded as the temple’s annual fertility festival, in which the Goddess is said to be going through her yearly menstrual cycle that is.the regular natural change that occurs in the uterus and ovaries that make pregnancy possible. As we all know, Shakti is behind every “creation” or “Shristi”. She is also therefore similar to Nature or “Vasundhara”. Hence, like any female being, it is very essential for her to undergo this cycle to get pregnant with new existence or for creation. What is most ironic about the temple is that bleeding women are not allowed to enter the temple when they are menstruating. It is also ironic that people visit the temple and some even claim that it is the most auspicious place in the country, but the conversations turn into whispers when we talk about menstruation. When a girl menstruates, those are her three days of impurity, according to Shakta cult. Menstruation is often regarded as a word synonymous to (in)auspicious.
Another most important Tantric tradition found to be discussed and highlighted almost throughout the novel was “Bali prathaa” or “Animal sacrifice”, definitely in an extensive and elaborate way. This man from Chinnamasta was used as an interesting site to re-read this cemented stereotypical Hindu traditional belief. Goswami definitely used Jatadhaari, as a means to interrogate the logic of ritualized spirituality in the novel. Jatadhaari, according to Goswami, is a medium to interrogate the logic of ritualized spirituality in the novel The Man from Chinnamasta, is a courageous novel, for at its heart, is an impassioned protest against the horror of animal sacrifice: “As the third round of worship ended […] a dog ran to join them”(92-93). Chinnamasta Jatadhhari was a hermit who leads the effort for a change, in the cruel ritual of animal sacrifice. “Jatadhaari raised his hands ,Ma…Ma…Ma! Cast off your blood stained robes” (53).
Jatadhaari also tried to influence many other characters, notably Ratnadhar, a sensitive youth, who falls to the ground and sobs when he sees a buffalo being dragged to slaughter. He therefore, at first raged this protest silently, by releasing sacrificial buffalo. Zealous followers of the Mother Goddess exclaimed, “One by One, more than twenty animals intended for sacrifice have disappeared […] We know exactly who the culprit is” (119). He was later found to be an integral part of the march against animal sacrifice, which was headed by Jatadhaari. “Plans were underway for protest march […] Jatadhaari would announce the date and time” (54). Ratnadhar was found taking part actively in motivating the people and collecting signatures, of those who were against animal sacrifice.
We find another, named Bidhibala, who strongly stood against animal sacrifice and even encouraged Ratnadhar, in his act of releasing the sacrificial buffaloes and other animals. “Listen carefully. People say, you […] can show you now” (104). She says she would rather offer her songs to the Goddess, songs created from her tearful unspoken words. She shall smash the stones weighing down her heart and offer their dust to the Goddess along with flowers. But she was very reluctant to indulge herself in anything that has to do with spilling the blood. Dorothy Brown, an apparent outsider is presented as an example of movements across distinctive cultures. This presence of “Western” perspective, as it were, invites us to think about the possibilities and possible modernity that may contest and challenge traditions. Dorothy’s shock at witnessing a sacrifice stands at one extreme of such a possible perception of “traditional” practice, while the satire about outmaled ritual offers another possibility. “What will he do? Firmly holding onto the student’s hand […] A cry of distress” (173).
Clifford Geertz pioneered or popularized the metaphor of “Culture as Text”. He wrote in ‘Deep Play’, his description of the Balinese cock-fight, that,
The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong. (Geertz 1973a, p.452)
Moreover, in his article, “Thick Description” he commented on these ‘texts’:
[W]hat we call our data are really our own constructions of people’s constructions of what they are and their compariots are up to… (Geertz 1973b, p.9)
According to Yuri Lotman, Culture and Cultural elements are Semiospheres or ‘semiotic spaces’. They are self-referential systems insofar as they tend to define themselves and evince isomorphic semiotic spaces at mutual inclusive levels and metalevels.
Based on these theories and ideologies when we analyse and read Kamakhya temple as a Cultural Text to trace the Shakta Culture of Kamrupa, we will often find it claiming its inception to a text which is known as Kalika Purana. The Kalika Purana (Sanskrit: Kālikā Purāṇa), also called the Kali Purana, Sati Purana or Kalika Tantra, is one of the eighteen minor Puranas (Upapurana) in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. The text was composed in or near medieval Kamarupa (modern Assam). It exists in many versions, variously organized in 90 to 93 chapters.
The word “Ambubachi” if broken down is- “Ambu” meaning Water and “Bachi” meaning Baahi in Assamese and “Stale”, hence impure or inappropriate to accept. The water here probably means fluid, indicating menstrual blood which thereby makes it “bachi” or impure. Hence, this most celebrated festival of Kamakhya is “Celebration of a Bachi or impure state of feminine power”. Yet, the novel clearly states inability of Bidhibala to enter the temple during her menstrual cycle. When we question the authenticity of these rules we are bombarded with established traditions, often claimed to be quoted from Puranas.
The 58th Chapter of Kalikapurana , entitled “Devi-Tantra” states about the concept of Purity. According to it, within our body we contain five “Pranans”. “Prana” can mean breath, energy, life, air, respiration or vitality. These are five “Pranas” that takes things in, “Apana” takes things out, “Samana” assimilates, “Vyana” circulates and distributes and “Udana” expresses, especially speech. Any obstruction to the free flow of any of these causes imbalance and disease.“Apana” in the body is predominant as there is the outward flow of various forms of physical element (uterine tissues) as well as repressed emotions (mood swings). But this constructed traditional practice titles these outward, flows as “Impure”, hence prohibiting entry to a “pure” abode of Shakti. This impurity construct also suggests that when we make any offering, whether as prasadam or homa, we are offering to the supreme spirit, menstruation creates certain smell, which according to the ideological belief gets attached to the offerings, and hence making it unfit to be offered.
But a detailed reading of Sridurgasptashakti (Devi Mahatyam), Lalita Sahasranama, Vedoktam Ralri Suktam (Rig Veda X.127.1-8) and Tantroktam Ratrisuktam will help us know that:
God is beautiful, God is repulsive. Love protects as love can be frightening. God is in purity. God is in impurity. And God is also none of these things. (Rig Veda X.127.1-8)
Again Pancapretamancadhisayini states, “She rests on a couch made of five corpses”, this clearly says that the embodiment of auspiciousness can itself reside even in the most “impure” places, be it a corpse or a woman menstruating. Ya devi sarvabhute ut narupe a sa sthita (X.127.1-8) meaning, “To the Goddess who abides in all being in the form of attachment”. Here, the Goddess is referred to not as desire that creates, but also as desire that attaches us to this world and to material things. So, the flow of desires, during menstrual cycle, which makes a woman “impure” can clearly be stated as an ideological construct.
Even, Ya devi sarvabute u lajjarupe asa sthita ( X.127.1-8), “To the Goddess who abides in all beings in the form of shame”. Even if people try to shame her by isolating her and calling her impure, Shakti will be present with her even then in form of her shame. This counters the idea of menstruating women as impure hence becoming untouchable and restricted, and also in a way questions the origination and authenticity of the term “Ambubachi” in particular and the cultural tradition or festival in general. Bali or sacrifice plays an important role in Hinduism, although the ritual has evolved over Hinduism’s several thousand years of existence. The Vedic scriptures dictate the rule of sacrifice and priests follow highly structures methods of incorporating sacrifice into worship. We find prevalence of this practice, especially in Assam, to satisfy various ferocious forms of Devi Shakti. Kalikapurana and Yoginitantra provide us with elaborate description of the same.
The 55th Chapter of Kalikapurana states that a preacher/worshipper should satisfy their Lords with the following offerings: Ganesh with “Modak” (Sweet), Vishnu with “Ghrita” (Ghee), Shankar with “Sangeet” (Music) and Chandika with “Balidaan” (Sacrifice).Kalikapurana divides Balidaan or sacrifice into eight basic divisions: 1) Birds; 2) Pig, goat, buffalo, ox, lion etc.; 3) Tortoise; 4) Crocodile; 5) Meat; 6)Rabbit; 7) Horse; 8) Elephant. Amongst these, sacrifice of goat, elephant and human are regarded as supreme form or “Aatibaali”. Female counterparts are often not regarded as a part of this practice. But Yoginitantra states: Mithune diyamate tu na dusu jayate priye (Kalikapurana ), which means sacrificing a pair (male and female) together was acceptable.
In Hinduism, sacrifice or “Yajna”, to use the Sanskrit word, turns the profane into the holy. According to Anna Smorag in the article “The significance of sacrifice in Hinduism”, Hindus use it to get moksha, which is liberation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth and knowledge of the true self through a state of unity with Brahman, the Supreme Being. Smorag states that sacrifice has a special place in Hindu tradition because the ritual provides a separation between everyday activity and worship. Kalipkapurana also states about Devi’s thirst for blood, and her satisfaction with preacher’s blood: Naaren bolina devi sahasrang pariwatsabaan widhi dandena chapunnati tripting lakhyanay trivirnobhe (69/19) Sacrifice of an existence satisfies devi and quences her thirst for years to come. It also suggests that the sacrifice should always be done in a crematorium. Kalikapurana mentions about Heruk (north of Kamakhya) according to it, is a form of Shiva. After sacrificing a being or an existence, we must also light lamps in it to satisfy the Goddess.
Now if we critically examine this idea of animal sacrifice, we will find several analysis provided. This ideologically constructed cult often tries to justify their act by saying, “Maa (Goddess) is thirsty, and blood to quench her thirst”. Animals are sacrificed often in front of ferocious forms of Goddess, be it Durga or Kali. According to me, iconography and image of these Goddesses play a vital role in shaping a worshipper’s belief and ideology of one who worships and preach them. To talk about Goddess Kali, the image that comes to our mind is that a fierce woman with blood dripping tongue. But why does Goddess Kali drink blood? Why the image is portrayed so? Are Durga, Kali Kamkhya and many other ferocious forms of Shakti really blood thirsty?
If we get to mythological stories, we will find that Demons or Asuras through severe austerities tried to obtain boons from Brahma. Brahma often denied as they wanted and tried to obtain boons of immorality. Instead, the demons are bestowed with boons, where they died only in specific and certain conditions. The Asura Raktabheeja obtained a boon from Brahma that every drop of blood that falls on Earth from his body will produce more demons. It was hard for the devatas now to fight with Raktabheeja and were sure about their defeat. Finally, mother Durga came up to their rescue in form of the terrifying Goddess Kali, who sucked up every blood that fell from Raktabheeja. This is the reason why images of Goddess Kali are shown with blood red protruding tongue, which might not essentially indicate her thirst. Goddess Kamakhya, who is often regarded as a form of Goddess Kali, is also regarded as blood thirsty. But again, this thirst for blood, might be a wrong interpretation of Sati’s quest for revenge from King Daksha. Another mythological story suggests that after Sati immortalized herself sacrificing her body in the “Agni or the Yagna”, Shiva was enraged, and he destroyed Daksha’s sacrifice. He further cut off Daksha’s head and, later to restore him with life, he replaced it with that of a goat. Probably, sacrificing goats to satisfy Goddess Kamakhya, might be an attempt to console Sati, by sacrificing goats in place of King Daksha, who insulted Shiva. Also, buffalo sacrifice was practiced as a consolation to Devi Durga, as they are regarded as a form or incarnation of Mahisasura.
But, if we analyze and get into deeper levels, we find that this entire idea of the Goddess being blood thirsty is a constructed ideology, to satisfy their own needs and requirements. There is necessity to argue for a more nuanced understanding of this constructed Tantra tradition in Assam by exploring the intimate relations among power, ritual and kingship as they have been played out in Assamese history. “Shakti” here operates in all domains of experience – as “power” in every sense of term – spiritual, social and political. Assamese tantric constructed tradition, essentially depict – Kali, Durga, Kamakhya and many other forms as blood thirsty, whose thirst gets quenched with the sacrificial blood of other existence, finally putting them in a negative light. Whereas Foucault argues that the power of Shakti is never simply a repressive, negative force or centralized authority imposed from the top to bottom in a social formation, on the contrary, power is a far more diffused and decentralized phenomenon, which emanates not from a single source, but from thousand scattered points in a social fabric. “Power is everywhere […] because it comes from everywhere” (Foucault 1980a:93).Thus, Shakti is positive rather than a negative force. Therefore, this means that Shakti or power is never only a force exercised by the strong at the top of social formation on the weak at the bottom, in order to dominate them. This makes it very clear that dragging a creature, unwilling to sacrifice its life, in the name of Shakti worship, is illegitimate in every possible way. Rather it is an improper and incorrect exercise of power. Foucault says, “Power comes from below”, emanating from the rules as well as ruling classes.
To problematise these constructed ideologies, we can also look into the concept of Kingship, very well associated by the idea of Shakti. Probably the single most important text in the history of early Assam – and a key document in this complex negotiation between Hindu and indigenous tradition is Kalika Purana, a large Sanskrit treatise in some ninety chapters devoted to the mythology and worship of the Goddess. By offering sacrifices one achieves liberation; by offering sacrifices one reaches heaven; by offering sacrifices a king defeats enemy kings (Kalikapurana 67.5-6). The king must be purified judging lawsuits, performing sacrifice and invading the enemy kingdom.(Kalikapurana 87.75-76) In Tantric traditions of Assam, power is not a purely a spiritual or transcendent affair. Shakti that is very much related to kingship, military strength and governance. As Orzech notes, the Tantras “were among the most important vehicles for the spread of Indian political and religious ideas throughout East, Central and Southeast Asia” (25-30). Arthasastra provides a detailed direction for economic affairs to be carried by a king, such as agriculture, forts, commerce, farms, and taxes (84.56-81). Above all it suggest that king should be a good patron of the Brahmans, funding their ritual performances. “You should first serve your elders, the Brahmans, who are seniors in knowledge, wisdom and austerity, who are well paid and free from jealousy. The king should always hear the Vedas and the Sastras narrated by them, and whatever wisdom they speak he should follow by action” (Kp:84.16-17). Here, it is clear that the text which is central to in this Tantric tradition is itself a product of negotiation between Sanskrit-trained Brahmans who created the text and kings in power.
The final text is probably a product of the late eleventh and twelfth century and was composed during the Pala dynasty. The last important ruler of the dynasty was Dharmapala, who was probably the most important for the development of religious life in early Assam. He also encouraged commerce and arts. Known as a generous patron of the Brahmans, rituals and sacred texts, he rebuilt the great temple of Kamakhya and revitalized the worship of the Goddess in Assam. “Being peaceful at home and war like abroad, Dharmapala not only established a reign of virtue with the kingdom but extended the bounds of Kamrupa by conquering the lost possessions in North Bengal…to the South West” (Choudhury: 241). Well, so the reason behind Kings like Palas supporting the composition of such a text, becomes very clear. It is a text unites the traditional Brahmanical rites drawn from the Vedas and indigenous rites drawn from the hill people of Assam. The brand of tantra found in Kalikapurana is therefore is a complex negotiation between Sanskrit educated Brahmans and royal patrons. Through these newly constructed ideas which they claimed as a “revitalizing attempt”, they actually tried to legitimize Assam’s Kings by providing them with Brahmanical ritual authority and subsume Assam’s indigenous tradition under a more encompassing royal system of power, and present it as something that center around Goddess, thus blurring the reality of power politics and expanded kingship.
Sexuality, is perhaps another most effective instrument in the strategic exercise of power. It is a cultural construction, rather than biological. “The sexual body is…not only primary target of the techniques of disciplinary power, but also is the point where the techniques are resisted and thwarted” (McNay: 102). Assamese society is a patriarchal society. By celebrating the Goddess, they are actually creating an illusion of surrendering themselves in front of female-spirited deity. Rather, using it as a scope, to construct ideologies and treat the females in their society according to their need and requirement, ensuring that their power and position remains intact. This might also be an act to show their higher position in the power equation by patronizing women and thus celebrating and worshipping them. This worship of women can be occasional, ensuring their desire fulfillment. What can be better example to site, than the involvement of prostitutes in the tantric tradition only in specific days and using the maati or soil of the brothel to make the idol of Shakti calling it “Punya Bhumi”. They are holy for few days of the year and unholy and ‘prostitutes’ for the rest. This clearly states their hypocritical attitude and how they mold traditions accordingly.
In this tradition, we find that the head of the victim is not only discussed but in fact, it becomes the very center and pivot of the entire paradigm. The crucial act of the ritual is the beheading of the victim with a sword, which is first worshipped in the most explicit terms as the terrible, thirsty drinker of blood. The crucial act of the ritual is the presentation of the severed head. The burning lamp is placed on its crown and it is offered, together with the fresh blood of the victim, to the Goddess, for whom it is transformed into the sweetest nectar, according to the prevalent ideology. The head has a central place in the complex web of symbolic meanings and cultural significance. As Brenda Beck observes, the head is often associated with sexual power and creative but has a dangerous potency of sexual fluids. In Indian Yogic tradition, the primary aim is to sublimate and redirect the flow of semen up to the top of head, the head is also associated with the ambivalent power of both menstruation and sexual intercourse.
Having accepted that Shakti tradition of worship is a female deity worshipping tradition, the ideological construct of animal sacrifice can be argued and subverted. Sacrifice, is a symbolic representation of sacrificing one’s own pride and lower animal nature to Goddess i.e. female beings. It might also be a symbolic hint at the end of domination and oppression on women in the patriarchal social setup. This end is depicted by beheading. As we all know, the head is something to which men are related to in Gender and Literature studies and women are often related to body and desires. This, therefore, might be an indication for the urgency in establishing equality in a social structure of existence. Hence, the sacrifice of animals and all other traditional ritualistic practices that we find in almost all Shaktipeeths, including Kamakhya, might be a result of incorrect interpretation or deliberate attempt to secure the power, position and economic zones of various dominating structures existing in the society. As we all know, local knowledge is often fed by various forms of discourses available. But these discourses can be corrupted enough to blur the contemporary realities of certain situations, traditions, rituals and culture. As the Deconstruction (critical) theory, suggested by Michael Foucault, the centrality of discourses is found in the history of a civilization and its culture. This history gives us knowledge and it is presented as truth, undeniable as are often supported by power structures. In this aspect, temples in Shakta cult, originally altruistic in nature, loses its spirit in the discursive web, of which it is both producer and the product or victim. It’s high time that we analyse these ideological believes and pay heed to the possible scopes available that claim these practices surrounding the idea of Shakti as mere constructions.
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