No Ambubachi Mela at Guwahati’s Kamakhya Temple this year due to COVID-19

This is the first time in recorded history that the annual festival will not be conducted

April 23, 2020 12:17 pm | Updated 12:20 pm IST - GUWAHATI

A file photo of devotees waiting in queue to offer prayer during the annual Ambubachi festival in Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.

A file photo of devotees waiting in queue to offer prayer during the annual Ambubachi festival in Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.

The COVID-19 lockdown has claimed a festival marking the annual menstruation of the presiding Goddess at Guwahati’s Kamakhya Temple for the first time in its recorded history.

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Legends say the temple atop the Nilachal Hills, whose northern face slopes down to the Brahmaputra river, was built by the demon king Narakasura. But records are available only from 1565 when Koch king Naranarayana had the temple rebuilt.

Kamakhya is one of 51 shaktipeeths or holy sites for the followers of the Shakti cult, each representing a body part of the Sati, Lord Shiva’s companion. The temple’s sanctum sanctorum houses the yoni – female genital – symbolised by a rock.

“Tough times call for tough decisions. With a heavy heart, we have decided not to organise the annual Ambubachi Mela (fair) in view of the possibility of spreading COVID-19 infection even if the lockdown is eased after May 3,” Kabindra Sarma, a senior temple priest said on Thursday.

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“The festival will not be held for the first time in six centuries, but priests of the temple will perform the rituals in-house while maintaining social distancing,” he added.

The fair is organised from June 21-25 every year.

Temple priests said the ritualistic fair celebrating the Goddess’ period is one of the reasons why taboo associated with menstruation is less in Assam compared to other parts of India. The attainment of womanhood of girls in Assam is celebrated with a ritual called Tuloni Biya, meaning small wedding.

Health officials said Ambubachi Mela was also an occasion to promote menstrual hygiene through the use of sanitary pads.

Assam Tourism officials said the State records a footfall of at least 5 lakh devotees during the fair. A majority of the visitors are from West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. Many foreigners subscribing to the Tantrik cult of Hinduism visit too.

A similar custom is followed at the Devi Temple at Chengannur town in Alleppey district of Kerala. The temple is shut for the days the Goddess there is believed to undergo her period.

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