Padmini Baruah, the CLAT 2011 topper, writes a different kind of piece altogether which transcends the mundane of evanescent worries.
Shakti – the eternal, primordial force – has always been and will always be an integral part of our religion and mythology. Interestingly, in a society where the man has always been accorded far greater importance than the woman, Shakti has always been personified as female. Sati, the consort of Shiva, entered into a terrible fit of rage at her father when he refused to invite his son-in-law to a yagna that he had organised. Woman’s anger – always awe-inspiring even as it is self destructive – manifested itself within her and made her undertake the ultimate of all sacrifices: self immolation. Needless to say, Shiva’s fury was stoked. He, in his grief, lifted the body and embarked on a march that, in its intensity, threatened to destroy the world. At this stage, Vishnu, the eternal Preserver, followed him and artfully sliced off Sati’s body little by little. And thus, when Sati’s body was no more, did Shiva calm down.
The basic reason why I talk about religion today is to relive the experience of Kamakhya. Kamakhya is supposed to be one of the most famous of the Shakti Peeths, where Sati’s womb is supposed to have fallen. Built atop the Neelachal Hills in Guwahati, this temple has innumerable legends attached to it (allow me to explore these in some later article). Nonetheless, this note is not going to be a travelogue or a religious discourse. I only wish to talk about what the temple is supposed to stand for, and where it actually is today.
Kamakhya is, at the basic level, meant to be a tribute to the eternal strength and fertility of woman. It is not a site where one can come and beg and plead before the Goddess. It is a place where one has to sense the power that lies latent within the Goddess; to experience awe at the unlimited capacity of the Goddess to foster creation as well as unleash destruction over the Universe. All who have visited Kamakhya will have noticed that the architecture of the place is stone-based, dark, and somewhat suffocating. The idea is to allow the Goddess to engulf you the moment you enter the shrine. There are no wide, open spaces: the mind must not wander here and there; only the Goddess can be your sole Mistress. As you plunge into the darkness to touch the sacred water, you can only focus your mind on the force of Shakti.
But, as I specified above, that is the idea behind Kamakhya. The reality of course, like all realities of ritual, is far removed. Kamakhya today is commercialization of religion, through and through. Right from the shopkeepers who accost you with deals of coconuts and incense to the red-garbed Pandas (to be very fair, our personal Panda was quite an upright man) to the people who keep shoving you – Kamakhya at the moment leaves no room for Divinity. A queue of epic proportions builds up at the gates of the temple even before the light of dawn has broken. After four hours of getting crammed through ghetto-ic waiting spaces (complete with prison bars), you are made to pass in an assembly line with the Pandas shouting “Aagot Jaok!” (in Assamese, it translates to – “Move Ahead!”) in your ears. The moment you try to summon Divinity, the person behind you gives you a push. Unceremoniously, you are thrown out of the shrine before you can even begin to appreciate the enormous significance of Kamakhya.
I agree that given the crowds, there is a need to rush the proceedings. However, doesn’t the Tourism Department/Kamakhya Board even feel the need for comprehensive renovation? A little more space, better waiting rooms, and a little more ambience (yes, ambience: maybe have mantras chanting on loudspeakers) would do wonders for the mood of all the pilgrims who are so keen to pay their tribute to Sati.
I am not one for ritual and superstition myself. Prayer is prayer, anywhere you choose to do it, and if you can be at peace without prayer, that is fine too. However, considering that so many people from all over the country come searching for a moment of divinity, a moment when they can bend their knees and express awe at the Immortal Might – when will Kamakhya truly recover its lost essence? That, seekers, is what remains to be seen.