June 25, 2017

n the peak of the monsoons, when the River Brahmaputra is at his powerful best, Assam celebrates the yearly menstruation cycle of the GoddessKamakhya. This year, the Ambubachi Mela started on June 22 and will continue till June 26.

In this nation of paradoxes, it is an pleasant anomaly that menstruation is celebrated. Indians worship women one minute and silence them the next, it is time to celebrate femininity and its natural functions, the way they were. A UNICEF studyinvolving nearly 100,000 girls in India, discovered that almost half of them did not know about menstruation until the first time they got their period. This disturbing finding is at variance with the celebrations that mark a young girl’s step towards womanhood. In South India, especially in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,  a girl’s “coming of age” is  celebrated in a festival called Ritu Kala Samskaram, where she receives gifts and a ceremonial half sari to mark her reaching puberty.

The Ambubachi Mela  is spread over four days and is happening at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. Dedicated to the Goddess of Desire, it is one of the 52 temples dedicated to various forms of Goddess Shakti. Known for its association with tantric traditions, the temple is a revered (and often feared) pilgrimage spot.

 Ambubachi Mela
 Ambubachi Mela

The festival attracts thousands of tantric sadhus and aghoris, as well as the simple devotee, each eager to get their share of Shakti. The Goddess is considered to be extremely powerful during this time, and it is said the Earth is cleansed of its sins through her blood. On the last day, the deity is bathed, signifying the end of her menstrual cycle. The devotees receive a piece of red cloth soaked in what is believed to be the menstrual fluid of the Goddess – a highly auspicious token, considered to bring good luck.

Every year, thousands of pilgrims, starting from Sadhus to householders, from all over India, come to Guwahati to observe this festival. Image Source
Every year, thousands of pilgrims, starting from Sadhus to householders, from all over India, come to Guwahati to observe this festival. Image Source

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Text by Subhalakshmi Roy