Talking about female genitalia, sex and menstruation is a taboo in India. Even inside the safety of closed doors, matters regarding female fertility is spoken in whispers and hushed voices. These important matters are looked down upon with disgust. Despite all of this, a Goddess named Kamakhya celebrates a woman’s fertility and desire.
Who is Kamakhya?
Legend says that when Sati took her life following a dispute with her father, her associate Shiva could not overcome his grief. He roamed the earth with her corpse, took her everywhere he went. It wasn’t until Vishnu cut the corpse into pieces that he finally did seem to give up. The places where the severed parts fell became the seat of Goddesses. The womb fell at Kamakhya.
Where is the Temple?
Kamakhya temple was built in Assam in the 17th century by the Kings of Cooch Behar. Originally it was a rock formation, a cleft in the sheet of stones closely resembling the vulva, the female genitalia. Believers say every year following the first rains, a red fluid flows out of the cleft. This fluid is known to be the menstrual blood of the earth. Hence, for three days, the temple doors are locked so the godless can rest and regain her fertility. On entering the shrine, one feels like entering the womb of the earth. Steps go down to a subterranean chamber. There are three crowns representing the three goddesss; Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kamakhya, the latter covered with red cloth and flowers.
How is Kamakhya perceived in different regions?
In Odisha, the earth is perceived as a Goddess and like all fertile women, she also menstruates. The famous Rojo Festival of Odisha, women are asked to rest and not step on the resting earth. Womanhood is celebrated and their bodies are seen as symbols of producing new life.
In Assam, she is visualised very differently as a six-headed, twelve-armed goddess seated on a lotus that rises from the navel of Shiva, who rests on the back of a lion.
Kamakhya is also seen as Bhu-devi, the earth-goddess who is the wife of Vishnu.