Kamakhya as a Role Model
5.2. Kamakhya as folk, the regional and local identity with the woman
The name Kamakhya is derived from a tribal Mother Goddess. In this context, Dr.
Banikantaa Kakati remarked, "This mother cult of Kamakhya must have belonged to certain matriarchal tribes like the Khasis and the Garos" (Kakati,1989). And further, he mentioned that the area of the Kamakhya temple was an inhabitant of two aboriginal matriarchal tribes like the Khasis and the Garos. In addition, "As the innumerable names of Goddess are mostly names
of local Goddesses both Aryan and non-Aryan, it may be suspected that the formation Kama in Kamakhya is of extra-Aryan origin'' (ibid). Further, they stated that "Yoni-Goddess sprang up amongst peoples with leaning towards ancestor worship and believing in the protective powers of an Ancestral Mother and that she migrated into Assam with the migrations of the Austric peoples'' (ibid). It was thought that the mythical emperor, Naraka, was responsible for the foundation of the Devi worship in the Kamakhya temple (Choudhury, 1987).
The recurring mention of Kamakhya in Assam as a well-known site for worship and pilgrimage suggests a north-eastern Indian location of the Goddess as a regional deity primarily. This mention of Kamakhya (or alternatively Kamarupa) is often not in combination with the famous list of four holy goddess sites, Oddiyana, Jalandhara, Purpagiri, and Kamarupa, which is characteristic of early Tantras. While this is not definite evidence, it is possible that Kamakhya could be revered from afar. Nevertheless, it more likely indicates this region than elsewhere. During this period, other smaller kingdoms existed, such as the Koch kingdom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in western part of Assam. That included the district of Kamarupa, where Kamakhya was situated, and westward into Bengal. And also find additional smaller kingdoms, such as that of the Jayantias, the Kacharis, and Bhuyan landlords, concurrently with the Ahoms, who offered some form of acknowledgement to the Ahoms. A transitory exception to Ahom rule occurred under the Hinduized Koch king Naranarayan, who managed to subjugate the Ahoms for a short historical during the sixteenth century which we can see while exploring about the goddess Kamakhaya. This shows how intimately this regional Goddess is associated with the region, its history, socio political and cultural life of the people also with kings and their kingdoms. Finally, she remained patron goddess of Kamarupa and its ruling dynasty beginning with Vaishnava king Naraka who has connection with Janka Vishnu Krishna connection serving as custodian of the Goddess as mother earth.
As Kamakhya, the sacred complex evolved over a quite long period of time, it has been named differently in the past. There is extensive evidence to justify how Assam continues to be a shelter and a home to a crowd of ethnic communities. Among many local communities, there are several examples to illustrate women-domination, matriarchy, and supremacy of women, which provide explanations with the existence of Kamakhya’s cult. It is also a common belief that women of this province acquire the knowledge of black magic and witchcraft as the
Goddess shrine are to be associated with agriculture related fertility rites and magic, later added a different colour by its Tantric association.
There are many tribal communities, who represent Kamakhya in various ways and convey literal meaning with Her name.
a) Khasis- According to widespread Khasi faith, the Kamakhya shrine was originated by the Khasis in the ancient past when the area was under their control. In their mythical interpretations, it is stated that the Sanskrit name Kamakhya is a corruption of the Khasi word Ka-mei-kha, which means the paternal grandmother. Ka-Mei-kha, who is the mythical grandmother from the paternal side, is accorded an important position in the bone burial ceremonies of the Khasis.
b) Garos-According to the Garo tradition, the word Kamakhya has been derived from the Garo word Ka-Ma-Kha, which means ‘victory to my mother.’ The Garo tradition states that the Kamakhya temple was built by a Garo architect in honour of the mother-goddess.
c) Bodos-Kamakhya was identified by the Bodos with their chief Goddess, Kharia Brui. The prominence of female deities in no way corresponded to the actual position of women. They worship goddess Kharia Buri or Ai Kamakhya along with Lord Bathow for all-around development. Khanya-Bimakha, which is another name of the Goddess Kharai Buri.
d) Rabhas-They worships different forms of Mother Goddess like Khokci, Ranthak, Kaca – Khaiti and Manasa. As Khocki or Baikho, the Goddess is the deity of agriculture and harvest.
Rantak is the deity of every household and worship her in the form of two earthen vessels full of rice and put her in one corner of their kitchen along with their traditional weapons. Kaca- Khaiti, as the dispeller of evil spirits and during her puja, which was held near a river, is the absence of animal sacrifice.
This folk regional demission of the Goddess also adds an autonomous identity of her own that can well be understood if we also place her character in the context of the northern and tribal rootedness of her character. Usually, north-east society is a mixed one, and originally Kamakhya reflects a folk goddess from a particular tribe, Khasis or Bodos. This also illuminates why usual women-centric discriminations associated with other patriarchal Hindu societies are not strongly visible among Assamese social values. It remained unheard of the vices of Sati, dowry death, girl child discrimination till recent times. Scholars find that the overall mosaic of an Assamese society is a mixture of tribal non-tribal values to a great extent
that late marriage time for women, allowing women to have free choice for their partner are also there. along with traditional kinds of arranged marriages, marriage by choice of one's own or eloping with the partners of her choice was accommodated on later as one kind of marriage.
During the Bihu festival, some such incidents keep happening and such marriages of choice by elopement came to be sanctified and accepted later. This keeps room for portraying Kamakhya as a folk goddess and a goddess with her own mind, with some autonomy with the adjectives such as a goddess who menstruates, a goddess who is desire (kama) personified, a goddess who decides whom to forgive and whom to punish and so on. When in other societies marginal, subaltern tribal and other women voices are not seen as free and autonomous agents; that the Feminist writings keep highlighting, usually lament that such women have lost their voices and remain passive as in the philosophy of Samkhya also we have seen Prakrti dances to attract the Purusa only. And here Kamakhya dances for her own pleasure, to please herself, a dance not meant for others, not even for kings who wanted to have a backdoor entry to it, when she became Hinduised with the story of Shaktipitha.
The related story of Kamakhya dancing for her own self, can also be addressed reflecting a feminist concern on the aberrant of the male gaze, which will not be dealt with in this study, only secondarily. That is, we just touch upon this issue only insofar as the idea of the gaze, especially the male gaze, related with the notion of subjectivity as to who may have the authority to be the 'seer' and who to be 'seen'. In Samkhya it is Purusha the seer and Prakriti the
‘seen’. This Kamakhya related story tells that when The priest Kendukalai gains her favour because of his great devotion toward her and is allowed to watch the Goddess Kamakhya's nightly dance in nude, he, unfortunately, tells the king, Naranarayan, about her dancing position at night, that in turn adds to the king’s desire to be the 'seer 'that will turn the Goddess to be
"seen". Further down, with pressure from the king, and to gain his favour, Kendukalai organizes to have the king viewing the goddess dance through a crack in the wall. The Goddess, of course, comprehends what is going on and kills the unfaithful priest, while the king and all his descendants are cursed to not ever be able to have the ability to see (darsana) the Goddess at Kamakhya. To this day, the story goes, when the king's descendants come near the temple, they must carefully keep a distance and hold an umbrella as a screen between themselves and the temple. The Goddess thus dances out of her joy and in dancing, spin an enchanting web of motion for those who watch, but with the sole authority of the Goddess at the center than kings and others. This definitely adds uniqueness to the regional, local folk identity of the Goddess.
Repeatedly woman in Hindu culture is represented or imagined as an object of male desire and male property mostly we also find in the histories of Western cultures. As with prakrti, in Samkhya philosophy, her existence is meant to enrich and assist the interests of the other half of the species Purusa. And while a number of scholars have proposed that locating a sense of female rights, empowerment and feminism in Hinduism depends upon forming women's agency. And generally typical view of a woman presents her as the second sex, dependent upon male supremacy. It may not be required to repeat here the often quoted verse from Manu, that stipulates that a woman never be permissible freedom, but instead that her father should govern her in youth, her husband in the prime of life, and her son in old age. But to the contrary when the Goddess at Kamakhya dances, however, she dances for herself, for her own delight.