It’s difficult to make your way through the bustling crowds at the normally serene Kamakhya temple in Assam during Ambubachi Mela. MAA’s energy is wild and potent, and She is alive in the palpable energy that pulses through the throngs of Her devotees gathered outside Her temple. Almost every square inch of the grounds is covered with crimson-clad devotees who sing, chant, meditate and shout their devotion to the Divine Mother, positioning themselves just outside Her most holy shrine during the time of Her annual menstruation.
In the month of Ashara (Sanskrit: Ashadha, Hindi: Ashadh), when the Sun is in the house of Mithuna Rasi and steps into the first pada of the constellation Adra, after Mrigasira, the period of Ambubachi commences and continues until the fourth day. Mother Earth is said to enter the period of menstruation in this time.
Kali is often spoken of as the goddess of destruction, or of time, and there is truth to these descriptions, mythologically and linguistically speaking. While these simplified terms can be helpful when trying to apply the mythological stories and lessons of Kali psychologically to whatever we might be facing in life, ultimately these are just very simple ways of speaking and thinking about her, and don’t even begin to scratch the surface.
So I want to urge you for a moment to stop thinking about Kali as the sword-wielding, black-skinned goddess wearing a skirt of severed arms and a garland of heads. Just for a moment, let’s think about her differently.
The Ten Mahavidyas (Daśa Mahāvidyāḥ) are central to the practices of Shakta Tantric tradition. Kamakhya is primarily and equally identified with Durga (especially as Mahiṣāsuramardinī), Kālī, and Ṣoḍaśī (also known as Mahā Tripurāsundarī, Lalitā, or Rājā Rājeśvarī), but she is also closely identified with all of the Mahavidyas, as is revealed in these mantras. Thus her traditions are diverse, expansive, mysterious, and unique in the world of Tantra.
In her powerful and insightful book Goddess Durga and Sacred Female Power, Shakta devotee, scholar, and yogini Laura Amazzone writes that a pilgrimage begins the moment you decide to undertake it. For those who embark on their journey with conscious intention, yatra (pilgrimage) has a profound effect on consciousness and has the power to transform your life.
“The folklore that crystallized around Gorakhnath bears witness not only to the tremendous impression that his magical powers made on the popular imagination but also to certain shamanic elements that confirm the archaism of the myths and symbols launched by the appearance of the Siddhas. The well-known story of the drought in Nepal has come down to us in several versions. Gorakhnath, not having been received with fitting honors in the course of a visit, shut up the clouds (or the Nagas who governed them) in a bale, sat down on it, and remained there for twelve years, lost in meditation. The King begged Avalokiteshvara (= Matsyendranath), who was living on a mountain named Kapotal (near Kamarupa), to save the country, and the saint came to Nepal; upon seeing his guru approach, Gorakhnath got up from the bale, the clouds escaped, and rain began to fall. After this service, Matsyendranath-Avalokiteshvara became the tutelary divinity of Nepal. We may note in passing that this legend clearly points to a historical fact: it was from Kamarupa (= Assam) that “Matsyendranath” brought tantrism, or more precisely, the new “revelation” of the Siddhas and Nathas, to Nepal.”
p. 311, Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009/1954).
Kamarupa is none other than Kamakhya, home of the Sri Sri Kamakhya Temple, our Mother. According to legend, Matsyendranath (also called Macchendranath) was initiated into a system related to what is now called Tantra by yoginis (female yogis) at Kamarupa (where Kamakhya is located), and that he then codified, Sanskritized, and disseminated its secrets throughout India and Nepal.
Artwork credit: SessionSpace
I am a Shakta, and for me, MAA (an informal word a child uses for its Mother, like “Mama”) is the representation of Infinite Being, of pure existence from which all things emerge.
Essentially, we are all MAA, we are all just in different phases/states/stages of realized awareness about the nature of Her existence. The best of gurus teach their disciples to listen to their own Atman (and how to listen, through sadhana) as the supreme guide, because Atman is not separate from Brahman/MAA/Infinite Being (these words are interchangeable), rather than relying on them totally. They may give us guidance and advice, but ultimately they will encourage us to first begin to hear, and then begin to listen to MAA directly. We must each come to our own realization, do our own sadhana, make our own mistakes, and release our own “I” in order to emerge from the darkness of non-awareness.
Kamakhya is one of the most important goddesses in the history and development of Tantra and Shaktism, but she remains obscure today, somewhat fitting for a goddess presiding over esoteric rites and rituals. Many people have never heard her name, nor do they understand what her name means. But even those who do understand the Sanskrit meaning of her name, and its explanations in various Tantras and Puranas, often do not know the pre-Vedic, hidden history of this truly ancient Mother Goddess.
Worship of the Mother Goddess and related Tantra-based rituals have their endless fount atop the Nilachal Hills: the sacred shrine of Sri Sri Kamakhya. Situated on the southern banks of the Louhitya, known as the mighty river Brahmaputra, these hills are part of the metropolis of Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. Situated within these hills are the temples of the Dasamahavidya, Anga Devata, and other temples dedicated to various deities. Mention of this Shakti temple of Kamakhya is found in Bhagavatas, Puranas, several of the Tantras, and many other ancient Scriptures.
This is sacred land of spiritual upliftment, a land yearning after what life is beyond. The rest of the world is agog with material pleasure, the life that is present seems to be the summumbonum of mankind, so there is a race for drinking the pleasure of life to the dregs.
The holy Nilachal Hills, where the famous temple of Mother Goddess Sri Sri Kamakhya has been shining with pride and glory, is now a part of the metropolis Guwahati, the gateway to Northeast India. The mighty Brahmaputra, mentioned as Louhitya in Sanskrit epics and Puranas, is flowing on the northern side of these sacred hills. Near the holy shrine of the Mother Goddess there are temples of the Dasamahavidya, Lord Shiva, other Deities and numerous Gupta Peethas scattered all around.