A vivid and massive fair in nature, the Ambubachi Mela in Kamakhya Mandir, Guwahati is an eye-catching festival dedicated to menstruating women.
Wrapped up in the opaque cloth of societal taboos and norms with no sunshine of freedom filtering through it are the blood-stained days and nights of women. Taking birth from the Latin word ‘mensis’, which translates to month, menstruation can be defined as the vaginal bleeding that transpires as a part of a uterus’s monthly cycle. The feathers of menstruation have flown to impact various aspects of mainstream society; particularly the heritage of a place at large.
In the land of festivals India, the film of menstrual taboos is directed by the religions with their credence producing it. Packed with known and a few unknown practices in its basket, taboos have spread their wings wide enough to reach the arena of food habits to physical activities such as the imposition of girls entering the kitchen during their period, etcetera.
Interestingly, however, in spite of every taboo minuscule or gigantic; India celebrates this blood flow in the form of the Ambubachi Mela celebrated in the Kamakhya Mandir. With no idol worship in functioning, the temple possesses a stone in the shape of a yoni (vulva) that is submerged in a natural spring arising in the cave of the temple which is located at the top of Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, Assam.
Originating from the mythological narrative centred around Sati’s sacrifice on her husband, Shiva’s insult by her father Daksha, the Kamakhya Mandir is believed to be one of the prominent shakti peethas where Sati’s yoni fell after her lifeless body was cut down into 52 pieces by Lord Vishnu to bring back Lord Shiva to his conscious self since the latter walked around the entire universe with his beloved’s defunct body; mourning the loss to the extent of abandoning his duties.
A 4-day celebration in being; the Ambubachi Mela marks the annual menstruation period of Goddess Kamakhya in the month of June which attracts lakhs of devotees around the world. The temple remains closed during the days of the goddess’s periods and reopens on the fourth day after she is bathed and the ceremonial rituals. One can witness the entire temple buzzing with the chanting of the mantra, “Prithibi Rajashala Hoi” which translates to “Mother Earth is menstruating” along with the hues of red colour all around the temple complex.
One of the most unique characters of this celebration is the hustle and bustle among devotees to receive the ‘prasad’ i.e. a piece of the large cloth that covers the stone during those three days and turns red due to the presence of iron oxide in the spring’s water and is considered to be the ‘period-blood stained cloth’ of the goddess.
Idolising women as goddesses and centring the discussion around menstruation towards women alone falsify notions of gender and womanhood. While the celebration normalises menstruation, one can decipher the traditional beliefs that follow.
Image Credits: Feminism In India