All About Kamakhya and Kamakhya Devi Temple
The temple complex referred to as Kamakhya Devi Mandir or Kamakhya Devi temple is located around the Nilacala (“the blue hill”), nearby the City Guwahati, the capital of Assam. The complex is formed by about twenty temples, the largest and most visited one being the temple of Goddess Kamakhya Devi. The hill is inhabited by the people that serve in the temples; they reside in a village nearby. The complete portion of the hill is known as Kamakhya or Kamakhya Devi
The temple is of great antiquity and, as outlined by various sanskrit texts, enshrines the yoni (vagina) of Goddess Sati, fallen on the hill following the splitting of the Goddess’ dead body. The sanctum is actually a cave, situated underneath the soil; it enshrines an aniconic simulacra: an all-natural rock furrowed by a long slit from where water flows naturally. It represents the yoni of the Goddess.
Pilgrims from all over South Asia pay their visit to the temple day in and day out. The Bengalis, who’re especially dedicated to the Kamakhya Devi (goddess), outnumber others. The temple complex is recognized as tantric both by local residents and also by persons belonging to other parts of South Asia, so many individuals who aren’t interested in tantric cults tend not to visit the complex or are not even informed about its existence. On the other hand, many Hindus who aren’t involved in tantric cults pay their visit to the temple complex. They’ve faith in Goddess Kamakhya Devi and worship the shrines, but stay away from the rites that do not effectively belong to their traditions. Animal sacrifice and initiatic rites are constantly practiced in Kamakhya Devi Temple and quite often arouse the contempt of the Hindus that do not perform them.
The principle purpose of this article is to highlight the ‘development’ Kamakhya Devi has been undergoing over the past 15 years in various aspects of life, for example housing, work, marriage expectations and the sphere of values. Yet another goal of this article is to analyse Kamakhya Devi’s policy and ways in which the spot has been controlled throughout the last decade. The following observations are collected during two periods of field work lasting altogether seven months. During such periods, I decided to reside in Kamakhya Devi Temple in order to observe people’s everyday life, rites and festivals. Besides formal interviews, my method was to interact with as many people as is possible, talking unformally with them about different subjects. This way of proceeding enabled me to obtain a comprehensive picture of life in Kamakhya Devi, which serves as a background to the main objective of my research: today development in Kamakhya Devi.
Many individuals from Kamakhya maintain the fact that number of pilgrims visiting the temple complex has risen considerably over the last decades. Consequently the business around the pilgrimage has risen. Many people today work and earn their living by lodging, feeding and transporting the pilgrims or by selling them various goods. Moreover the pilgrims have to be guided to carry out the numerous rites. This guiding, obviously, can be done, with a few exceptions, only by the males Brahmans of Kamakhya Devi Temple. What’s interesting is the fact that, even though entire business around the pilgrimage is a profitable affair, many people from Kamakhya Devi today choose occupations that have absolutely nothing to do with it. A number of them start new businesses in town, while other prefer to get an education. Being educated provides a special prestige in Kamakhya Devi. It’s also interesting that numerous Brahmans work as priests as a part-time job, while having a second occupation too. Typically these people are not educated and their second occupation is business. On the other hand, educated persons attempt to avoid business and to get a job associated with their education.
Although a lot of people move to town, the village is developing quickly. New cement buildings replace that old houses, constructed with mat, wood and bamboo. The number of new constructions really is impressive: almost everyone who is able to} afford it starts a new building in Kamakhya Devi. I frequently heard people praising the beauty and comfort of these new constructions. Owning a new house has now become a status-symbol which reflects the sharp contrast between old and new housing.
About women status, I observed that today progressively more women start to work. Moreover, nowadays parents have concerns with regards to their daughters’ education. Marriage retains significant importance however in the life-planning of young women from Kamakhya Devi it’s frequently postponed or accompanied by the aim of obtaining a good education, a good job and “being successful”.
The other item of this article is Kamakhya Devi’s policy. Since 1998 the temple complex continues to be controlled by Kamakhya Debutter Board (KDB). This organisation is formed by people from Kamakhya; it collects and utilizes pilgrims’ donations and pays the salaries to temple’s employees. Since its existence KDB has achieved many results, among which you’ll find the establishment of a ticket system for the accessibility sanctum, the construction of a parking zone as well as the opening of a guest-house for pilgrims. Since 2007 “the Kameswari Music and Dance Festival” has been started too. Recently KDB has built a tall construction that will host a museum inside the temple campus. KDB’s members belong to different castes (although brahmans strongly outnumber others). That’s the reason why, during an interview, KDB secretary said that KDB is “democratic”. The activities as well as the very existence of KDB are challenged by various organisations of Brahmans who maintain that this very autority in Kamakhya was and must be the doloi, an individual selected by Brahmans only from the Brahman families. The hostility between the different parties has moved to the court, but hasn’t yet been solved. While asking people relating to this matter, I observed many were uncomfortable speaking about it.
Assam Government has tried in several ways to gain control of the hill area, but met with resistance and has never been fully successful. Since 1967, after passing the “Assam Acquisition of Lands Belonging to Religious and Charitable Institutions of Public Nature Act” (1959), Assam Government has begun to forcefully acquire the lands donated by the kings of the past to Kamakhya Devi temple. As outlined by a panphlet edited by KDB, Assam Government was likely to “demarcate an area including the Temples’ Complex as well as the lands appurtenant thereto”, but never did so. Nowadays the hill area is often accepted as under the KDB control, but there aren’t any fixed borders to it: Kamakhya Devi’s policy is within scenario of continuous uncertainty. Law hasn’t been applied uniformly: lands located within the town area or other profitable positions have been acquired by the Government, while other less fruitful ones happen to be left with their owners. On this point I encountered among the commonest anthropological problem: the problem of the concepts the anthropologist brings with to the field. Getting used to concepts for example municipality and constituency which imply sharp divisions, I was not able to deeply understand the uncertainty in which borders are left in Kamakhya Devi.
It’s noteworthy that, while law is merely partially applied, many unwritten traditional rules continue to be followed up to day. For instance, those who are not from Kamakhya Devi aren’t permitted to buy land and properties in Kamakhya Devi, the only real exception to this rule being the case of an outsider who marries a woman from Kamakhya Devi. This old rule is fully adhered to, while there is no official law of Assam Government which formalizes it. In a similar manner}, the entire system of rotation of the persons active in the cult (both Brahmans and non-brahmans) is regulated by traditional rules.