This is an incident for which I have as yet found no convincing explanation, and which has got me slowly believing in folklores!
At 3 pm on the second-last day of our stay in Guwahati, Assam, my husband suddenly said we have to immediately go the Kamakhya temple. His tone brooked no argument and pushing away the mists of sleep I woke our daughter. We got ready in record time and made our way in a rickshaw. Our original plan was to visit the temple the following day. He gave no explanation for this change in itinerary and -- very unusually for me -- I did not argue!
I am recounting an incident that occurred in 1996, when we were leaving Assam, having been posted elsewhere.
We had come to Guwahati two days before our scheduled departure to leave no sight unseen in the city. The majestic Brahmaputra was awe-inspiring and the Mula-Mutha river in my city (Pune) paled in comparison!
An important part of our two-day stay was a visit to the famous Kamakhya temple on the last day. A visit to this shrine is a must when in Assam and we were keen to pay obeisance there.
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We had lived for a long time in Punjab, travelled to Kashmir too but somehow could not visit the Vaishnodevi temple. That always saddened me but seniors had consoled me that if the goddess wants you to, she will make sure you reach the temple.
The Kamakhya temple is one of the 16 shakti sthaan (power spots, literally) in India.
There are several legends that explain its origins. It is located on the Nilachal hill in Guwahati and is associated with Shakti worship and Tantric practises. The exact age of the temple is not known but it was destroyed in the 16th century to be later rebuilt by King Nara Narayana of Cooch Bihar in the 17th century.
Durga Puja is a huge festival here celebrated in Navratri in the month of Ashwin (usually September or October).
The Ambubasi festival in the month of Ashad (in summer) is yet another important festival for the Kamakhya temple. The local guide told us that the temple actually remains closed during this time for three days and re-opens with huge celebrations on the fourth day.
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The rickshaw took us right to the temple entrance. On entering the premises we were struck by some powerful vibrations. I looked around. There was no loud music being played, yet the feeling persisted.
The main temple has a dome shaped like a beehive. I have visited several temples in India, but this was like no other.
We had to go down a flight of stairs in the central structure, which was actually a cave. It was dark. The only light illuminating the path was from flickering lamps. Trusting our instincts and those ahead of us, we walked downwards. At the bottom is a spring emerging from a fissure in a rock. It was covered with flowers and a sari. Like everyone else, we offered our prayers here, as this is the residing deity. There is no main idol as we see in temples elsewhere in the country.
It was the month of April, yet there was a large crowd at the temple. The walls of the cave had carvings of different gods and goddesses. Outside the central chamber there are separate chambers for offerings to the goddess as the temple is of the Tantric sect.
The disturbing vibrations continued to surround and fill us as we walked around the temple complex. None of us wanted to talk, preferring instead to let the power seep into us. Was the goddess trying to reach out to us? Was she trying to convey something? I prayed for our good health and the well being of everyone.
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We walked around and got a wonderful view of the city and the magnificent Brahmaputra from atop the hill. There were quite a few couples of all ages and our guide told us Kamakhya is associated with fertility and that several childless couples come to the temple with great faith and hope.
We spent a couple of hours at the temple before making our way back to the hotel. The packing was done sombrely. There was a feeling of having encountered something special, but we could not quite put a finger to it.
The next morning there was huge line at the reception. We were advised not to go out, as there were rumours of violence. The situation was tense as some people were reportedly injured and killed. We spent our time trying to get stray news from people who ventured out and the latest news on train departures on radio and television. We learnt that trains were on schedule, which was a big relief.
Taking a chance we walked to the station, which was close by. There were not many rickshaws or people around, yet the station was bustling with activity.
There we got some information that hit us like a bolt of lightning. The violence that morning had occurred in the same area where we had gone the previous day.
As the train chugged out, I realised that if we had gone to Kamakhya temple as per our original itinerary, we would probably have been exposed to the skirmishes. The all-knowing goddess had seen what lay ahead and hence directed us to visit her the previous day. She had indeed called us to her abode.
I left Guwahati with a lump in my throat and gratitude for the goddess.
By air: Guwahati has an airport and is well connected to Kolkata and Delhi.
By train: Regular trains link Guwahati to all parts of the country.
In the city, public transport or private vehicles can be hired to visit the temple.
For more information, check the Assam tourism website.
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