Day 2 – Return to the Goddess – Sacred pilgrimage to India
Day 2 of Navaratri – Kamakhya Temple, Assam (North Eastern India)
An early morning flight from Jaipur and I arrive in Guwahati. I’ve travelled a lot in India but Assam is totally new to me It’s almost in Bhutan to be honest. I found out that the Art of Living Ashram is very close to today’s goddess temple (Kamakhya) so I uber to the riverside ashram. It’s for sure ‘off the beaten track’ and next to a very ‘real’ villgae. Villagers are washing their clothes in the lake and pumping water into urns just outside the ashram. There’s a few guys around to check me in and it’s clear that there aren’t that many guests outside of scheduled programmes. It’s low key and welcoming and I am offered a really tasty simple breakfast of Rajma and Puri. Homecooking and it’s nice not to have to be concerned about getting sick – this is for sure a sattvic environment with dedicated practitioners.
I head out to see where the road will take me today. A 10 rupee shared autorickshaw and 1 public bus later I arrive at the road which leads up to the temple and start exploring.
There is a temple and a few stairs which looks inviting, so I head up there. It’s a small temple. From there it looks like the stairs lead on, so I continue. The joy of not knowing where you are going and not being rushed for time! On the way, I start to see the ‘Awesome Assam’ advertising campaign, giving information on how many steps are left, so I figure if I continue, I will reach Kamakhya temple. Definitely right. There are actually quite a few steps!
At the top of the steps is the most well turned out Sadhu ever, he is really friendly and could grace the cover of any magazine. He has a range of neck ornaments including a imitation chunky skull piece and large orange stones. He also has some bangles and very nice headpiece with flowers. I offer him a mala I had bought in town and a small note. For the purposes of this blog and instagram I ask anther guy to take a photo while he offers a blessing with his ornamental horn. It was a really interesting moment.
Back at the top of the town the temple offering stalls start with various red tat, sweets and cheap jewelery items. I come to the first major temple. Inside is a huge catering set up which seems to be for literally everyone who has come to the temple. They are boiling vast vats in the kitchen. Again, quintessential India. I donate 50 rupees and receive a silver stainless steel thail plate. I am then served kitchari (rice and dhal), a pumpkin curry (like one I’d had in Delhi and I really love it) and a sweet rice dish.
There is a whole room full of women in colourful saris, some with children or babies eating. Indian women always look like the are ‘going somewhere’ and it’s really hard to differentiate when someone is ‘dressed up’.
This is one of the aspects of Indian culture I love, that you would dress up every day and never have to ‘tone it down’. We eat crossed legged and with hands. I of course join. I’m not used to eating with my hands and wouldn’t do it by choice but enjoyed the novelty and felt very adventurous.
So, then I try and find the actual temple. There are a few small temples next to the mass dining. The first is signposted Chinnamasta temple and I recognize the iconography. There is a painting outside covered in vermillion powder. There is a kind of cave to enter. It is unclear if you should enter at all; it’s dark with a few oil lamps, but there is a sort of sense this is the ‘main attraction. So barefooted I hold onto a rail and then proceed down into the abyss; a symbolic Chinnamasta moment. There is a small carving and an alcove with a Kundalini serprent which is a very potent symbol of spiritual awakening. I chant to Chinnamasta and meditate on my head as sky, as I has learnt in Awakening Shakti, Sally Kempton’s work. It was amazing to feel that even in a dark cave a sense of freedom and expansiveness. Thrilling.
It is unclear if you should enter at all; it’s dark with a few oil lamps, but there is a sort of sense this is the ‘main attraction. So barefooted I hold onto a rail and then proceed down into the abyss; a symbolic Chinnamasta moment. There is a small carving and an alcove with a Kundalini serprent which is a very potent symbol of spiritual awakening. I chant to Chinnamasta and meditate on my head as sky, as I has learnt in Awakening Shakti, Sally Kempton’s work. It was amazing to feel that even in a dark cave a sense of freedom and expansiveness. Thrilling.
Next stop, was the lead up to the main temple. On arrival, I see the entire (and not so small!) temple is covered with flowers. I mean decorated for a wedding style – totally garlanded to the max. It is really beautiful. There’s a small percentage of ornamental flowers at the top section but most of them are fresh. It’s astounding and I love it. Every time I can get away with it in my work as a yoga teacher and trainer, I celebrate with lots of flowers. I take loads of pictures and realize that I am running out of batteries! Ah!
On the side of the temple I notice the carving which first attracted me to the temple with the bleeding goddess as I saw on Psalm’s social media many years ago. It is slightly covered so I peak to check it is the same one. It is. It is covered with a skirt of red shiny fabric which is annoying. I consider taking it off but am not brave enough. A few ladies want to take photos with me so I pose and say ‘Jai Ma’. They seem happy. I am literally the only tourist here; again. I did see another few couples here and there during the afternoon but we are talking 99% locals here; all thronging for the visit and recieve the darshan (blessings) in the temple.
The lines to actually get inside the temple are massive. I meander around and check out various parts of the temple including a ‘museum’ which needs a curating overhaul. There is a yogi staring in the direction of the sun soaking up energy. Many people are studying on the auspicious temple steps.
I eventually try and work out how I will get into the temple. People re literally fenced in with gates and there is a line going all around the temple grounds. I talk to all ‘offical’ looking people and get nowhere. It is never easy to work out who is actually in charge in India.
I visit a few offices and get the information of the 500 rupees fast track that takes up to 2 hours. I am tired and decide to leave it for today. The festival will go on for many more days. I ask if it will be less busy in the morning and it seems well, er no it won’t. This is quite a temple and a lot of people want to be here. So I decide not to visit the inner sanctum and hold out for my next visit. According to Guru Mahesh who I met later in Delhi the stone goddess in the temple actually bleeds in a paranormal phenomenon known well in Christianity in Virgin Mary and Christ images.
Making my way back down an then it’s time for some spiritual shopping. I buy five 5 Mukha (the Rudraksha beads are divided into 5 sections or faces) Rudraksha which are for the women who have attended my Yoga of the Feminine course. Uma translates ‘Om Namo Shivaya’ as – With great respect and love, I honour my heart my inner teacher. I am looking forward to sharing them with the ladies. The Rudraksha specialist (seated on the street floor) shares some of his top beads, which have special shapes at a cost of 3500 rupees. They have special certificates and really must be good! He shows me a 10 mukha option. I remember that in the Shivaloka jewelry there are some malas with beads like this and they are super expensive (sacred jewellery!) Im pretty happy as he strings my five different rudrakshas on bracelets (although there is a bit of a confusion that I want 5 on the same one. Very blissful and authentic spiritual shopping!
I walk back down to the main road, typical India, honking, loud and frenetic. I eat a Samosa for 10 rupees (1 dirham). I notice that this part of India is VERY cheap, I am a big fan of Indian street food. I guess it makes me feel kind of ‘edgy’ and it’s super tasty and cheap. Then it’s an autoricksaw back to the ashram. A quick look around the riverside walk and back to the ashram room for a shower, to plug in all my devices and then to eat the food they are preparing in the kitchen right now. One of the guys recommends I go to Ummananda temple tomorrow. Of course, the name sounds appealing (Ananda is both my daughter and the inner biss state) so tomorrow’s goddess is sorted!