Pilgrim’s Trail History & Culture

Temples in the lap of Nature

The iconic Kamakhya temple   | Photo Credit: PTI

Assam is a land of famous shrines and a visit to Guwahati would be incomplete without paying obeisance to Kamakhya, as Goddess Parvati is known here. Described as one of the 51 Sakti Pitas, the temple rose to limelight recently, when it was declared one of the cleanest of its kind. Motoring up the scenic ghat road, which has hairpin bends, and a walk up steep steps takes one to Devi, atop the hill. Pushkaram is drawing a large crowd to Guwahati, a sizeable number turning up at the temple.

After a long wait and winding corridor, the shrine is reached, not before climbing down a few steps, hewn out of rock. Except for the glow of a few oil lamps, the place is dark. Deep inside a huge trough like structure, where water is perennially flowing, sits Devi. She has no conventional form, a richly decorated kalash worshipped as deity. You are urged to kneel down and scoop the water, which you can sprinkle on your head. Informed devotees carry small bottles to collect it.

From the river bank, the entire hill is considered Kamakhya. Also on the hill is a temple for Bhuvaneswari. “Devi’s forehead fell there. See those two thin towers. That’s the shrine,” points out a local. “She stands for wisdom and clear thinking and so students seek her blessings,” he says.

Steps on hte hill leading to Umananda temple

Steps on hte hill leading to Umananda temple   | Photo Credit: Geetha Venkataramanan

“Hurry now, the Umananda temple shuts at 4 p.m. and the last boat is at 5,” says the guide outside the temple. He has a reason to be anxious. Chaotic traffic — vehicles of all sorts vie for space on the undulating terrain — makes travel daunting. “Is it always this bad?” “Morning 8-10 and evening 4-8 it is a challenge,” shrugs Zakir Husain, the cab driver, and settles for a long wait as vehicles pile up ahead of him. We manage to reach the wharf just as the ferry is almost pulling away and manage to jump on board after negotiating the slippery ground, which slopes when you least expect it. The 15-minute ride is worth the ‘adventure’ as the setting sun lights up the waves in gold. The temple, nestling amidst trees on top of a hill, comes into view. It is believed that Parvati and Parameswara first met here and hence the ‘Joy’ in His name.

Purva Tirupati Balaji Mandir, Guwahati

Purva Tirupati Balaji Mandir, Guwahati   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Din and chaos prevail as devotees rush into a huge hall and try to form a line. The altar is situated down a flight of stairs. The sun has set but no lights are switched on. The threshold is reached in semi-darkness and you gingerly make the descent and have a glimpse of the deity in the serene illumination of candle and oil lamps. Outside is a decorated image of Annapoorani. “Come, come the last boat is leaving,” urges the guide. “Is it 8 p.m,” someone wonders looking at the ink blue sky. It is only half past five.


Where next? Purva Tirupati Balaji temple. “Traffic in any other direction will be a nightmare,” supplies Zakir Husain. The pristine white gopurams, bathed in soft light, and the cool green lawns drive away the anxiety and weariness of a long road journey. A priest is chanting Vishnu Sahasranamam and you lip-sync as the guide takes you round the shrines of majestic Ganapati, gorgeously decorated Balaji, His Consort Padmavati and a benign Durga. A brainchild of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, the temple stands as a testimony of national unity and has been the force behind the Pushkaram, guided by Sri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati. The ghee-flavoured warm coconut rice, offered as prasad by Ashish Roy, Administrator, at his office, tastes heavenly after a long day of unintended fasting. Fitting finale to a whirlwind pilgrimage. “Come back for a leisurely darshan and a detailed tour of our State,” smiles Roy, handing over an elegant Pushkaram badge as we take leave.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 4:04:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/temples-in-the-lap-of-nature/article29972202.ece

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