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Ambuvachi Mela (Guwahati, 2019)

A brief history:

The Kamakhya temple is situated on the Nilachal hill in Guwahati on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra river in the Kamrup district of Assam. The Kamakhya temple is a place of pilgrimage for innumerable devotees. According to the scriptures, when Shiva was furious and was wandering around the world carrying the dead body of Sati, Vishnu saved the situation by detaching the parts of the dead body with his “sudarshana”. The body parts fell all over Bharat (from Gandhar – present day Afghanistan to Kanyakumari). All the places where the parts fell are revered as shakti pithas. The one that fell in Kamakhya is the “yoni”, and is the genital organ of the devi.

In order to trace and understand the history of Kamakhya temple, one is bound to rely on legends and myths. The exact time of establishment of the temple is not clear and thus it becomes important to rely on oral legends, legends in Kalikapurana, and those in the Yogini Tantra.

The Kamakhya temple is a host of two major annual fairs (melas), namely, Ambuvachi Mela and Deodhani Mela. The Ambuvachi Mela hosts chanting of devotional songs, commercial activities, and religious discussions among the sadhus, pilgrims, and devotees. The date of origin of the mela is not clear but it is believed that the festival came into limelight since the time of renovation of the temple by the Koch king Naranarayana in AD 1565.


The Kamakhya temple is on the top of the Nilachala hill, the Ambuvachi mela is hosted on the way to the temple. The main pitha remains closed for worship during this time period and no ritual activities are seen to be taking place. This is because according to legends about Ambuvachi, it is believed that Earth is the symbol of female power and during this time period, it is considered that the Earth is menstruating. Thus, activities such as digging, ploughing, felling trees, etc. are also prohibited. I saw sadhus sitting and with uncooked rice and oil with them, they also had a lot of fruits on which they would survive for the following days.

The mela opens gates for trade and commerce and people sit on the sides of the roads to sell items like sandals, shoes, t-shirts, shorts, night-lamps, bedsheets, camera selfie-sticks, necklaces, rings, mystical stones, and much more. It is interesting how the commodities vary from mystical stones to shorts and t-shirts with Adidas prints on them. This is one of the effects of globalization and how the festival has adapted to it. Globalization has a major impact on the festival, as the country is changing with the times, so are the activities and the people who partake in them. But on my visit to the mela, I saw continuity in the traditional activities along with the newly introduced material realities of globalization. Sadhus sat on the sides of the roads and held discussions with other fellow sadhus. Some of them sang bhajans while some played instruments. Some sadhus sand in a mic which was connected to an amplifier which seemed to be elevating the energy in the devotees while they sat and enjoyed the bhajans. I saw majority of the sadhus had a mobile phone and they used it often as they sat there throughout the day.

Another consequence of globalization that I observed was the presence of Assam Tourism banners and stalls at the mela. The mela holds a socio-religious value and serves as an instrument of maintaining social cohesion, thus a lot of people from around the country visit this mela. Assam government promotes several activities of the mela. The chief minister of Assam was present in the inauguration ceremony and thus this communicates with wider masses of the country. This is a win-win situation for the devotees, the people who are involved in trading activities in the mela, and the Assam government. With more institutions and people getting involved, bigger companies start getting attracted to the event. I saw stalls of L.G. water purifier on my way up to the Kamakhya temple. I also saw Prashanti tourist lounge which looked quite luxurious from the outside. Hotel OM regency is at the base of the hill as well as on the top of the hill. “OYO rooms” has tied up with this hotel and the opportunities of trade and tourism have blossomed. There are a lot of restaurants serving different cuisines such as Chinese, North Indian, etc. During the mela, these restaurants keep busy with a lot of customers coming.

The Assam Electricity Grid Corporation Ltd. also resides on the Nilachala hill. We can see how the infrastructure to support new technologies and the traditional activities mutually exist in this place.

One of the major issues that I noticed is that of waste management. There were banners in order to educate the people to not litter around the area and dustbins were also installed at regular intervals. Along with this there were workers who were collecting any waste materials that were found on the sides of the roads on the hill. Regardless of all these efforts made by the Assam government, a lot of waste was seen on the roads, and even on the hills. The areas which are occupied by the local inhabitants were definitely clean and thus it may be safe to assume that the tourism and the people who visit the mela are the cause of improper waste disposal on the Nilachala hill.

The local inhabitants of the area seem to be very close to the nature while accepting new ideologies. The hill is a home to a lot of monkeys, the locals feed these monkeys and it seems like they are co-existing in the same environment. Some houses have a small grassland where they pastor cows and goats. It would be safe to assume that the local inhabitants have not cut themselves off from their roots and they continue to live a life by maintaining a close relationship with the nature. It is important to note that these inhabitants are changing with the times too. Several buildings are being constructed on the hill and a lot of houses of the inhabitants have now been rebuilt according to the modern architecture.

According to the book, the incidence of visitors has always been large at the Ambuvachi mela and the Kamakhya authority partners up with Guwahati authority to handle the chaotic situations. There were stalls at regular intervals distributing free water and lemonade to all the visitors. Speakers were installed in the whole premises and announcements were made from the control room regarding important notifications. The announcements made were about individuals separated from their family, awareness about pickpockets in the mela, and instructions about lodging and so on.

The festival is a good representation of change and continuity.

1) Sadhus resting on the Ambuvachi Hill.

2) A Sadhu sings bhajanas on the mic.

3) Sadhus accepting offerings whilst sitting at the Kamakhya temple.

4) Lady dressed as Ma Kamakhya.

5) Women and a young girl dressed as Ma Kamakhya.

6) A man dressed as Ma Kamakhya accepting offerings.

7) A man putting up lights on the trees.

8) Sadhus resting on the sidewalk.

9) Sadhus resting on the sidewalk.

10) Market outside the Kamakhya temple.

11) A house made of bricks on the Ambuvachi hill.

12) People in the market outside Kamakhya temple.

13) People in the market outside Kamakhya temple.

14) Young boys and girls, and women, dressed as Ma Kamakhya, resting on the road.

15) Sadhu in sneakers.

16) Sadhu on amplifier.

17) A Sadhu on his way back to the foot of the hill.

18) A Sadhu on his way back from the Kamakhya temple.

19) Sadhus playing bhajanas.

20) Outside the entrance of the Ambuvachi hill.

21) A man selling huge balloons in the flea market on the Ambuvachi hill.

22) Man accepting food items from a visitor.

23) Storytelling via wall engravings.

24) Storytelling via wall engravings.

25) Storytelling via wall engravings.

26) Big brands like Saregama Carvaan, LG, etc. have now started setting up stalls on the way up to the Kamakhya temple.

27) Man selling maalas and posters of Hindu deities.

28) Framed pictures of Hindu deities.

29) Pendants for sale.

30) A shop selling maalas.

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