Ambubachi Mela and an unknown part of ancient history

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Ambubachi Mela and an unknown part of ancient history

Avishek Sengupta | June 23, 2018 14:58 hrs

GUWAHATI: The annual Ambubachi Mela, the biggest religious congregation in the northeast of India at Kamakhya Temple here, that began this June 22 with the message of “unity and prosperity”, however, brings a sense of “exclusion” among the descendants of Naranarayan, the Koch king credited with renovating the temple, mainly due to two reasons – the curse of the Goddess and the apathy of the government.

The Koch royal family, according to legend, was barred from entering the temple premises by the Goddess for a mischief done by Naranarayan and his brother Chilarai back in the 16th century.

The descendents of the Koch royalty were again not invited to this year’s inaugural ceremony of Ambubachi at the Sonaram Field on Thursday last. Chief Minister of Assam, SarbanandaSonowal, along with ministers of his cabinet, had inaugurated the Mela sharing the stage with leaders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), all the religious heads of the indigenous communities of Assam barring the Koch along with religious heads and heads of the akharas from all over the country.

“We were barred from entering the temple premises, but not the Sonaram Field. We, after all, are the descendants of the king who renovated the temple twice out of rubbles,” Pranab Narayan Dev, the 16th generation descendant of the Koch royal family, told G Plus.

Though according to archaeologists, the temple dates back to around the 7th-8th centuries, the first historical evidence of the temple was found in the 16th century when Koch king, Vishwa Singha, along with his brother Siva Singha, who ruled from Koch Behar, now Coochbehar in West Bengal, discovered the ruins of the temple in Nilachal Hill when they strayed from a battle with the Ahom Kingdom near Guwahati.

He started the renovation work which was further carried out by his son Malladeva who assumed the name Naranarayan and his brother and trusted general Sukladhwaja who assumed the name Chilarai.

Later, in 1553, after the Mughal general Kalapahar, who had attacked Assam, destroyed the Kamakhya Temple along with other Hindu shrines, Naranarayan and Chilarai built the temple back from the rubbles and threw it open to public in 1565.

“During renovation, there were inscriptions made on the walls inside the main temple in ancient Borjuli language narrating how it was rebuilt by Naranarayan and Chilarai after being demolished by Kalapahar. However, very few know about it as it is not well maintained and there were no lights put on the walls,” Dev said.

The history is not very clear about the exact date, but it was between 1565 and 1584, when Naranarayan died, that the curse was put on the family.

About the curse, Arup Jyoti Das, director of Guwahati-based Centre for Koch Rajbonghsi Studies said that according to legend, Goddess Kamakhya used to dance inside the temple when Kendukoli, a priest during Naranarayan's reign, performed puja with his eyes shut. Naranarayan and Chilarai convinced the priest to allow them to watch the Goddess's dance. This act angered Her and She not only punished the priest but also cursed the duo and the Koch king’s descendants debarring from visiting Kamakhya Temple.

After the death of Naranarayan, the Koch kingdom was divided into Koch Behar and Koch Hajo. Koch Behar was ruled by Naranarayan's son Lakshmi Narayan and Koch Hajo, which covers large parts of present-day Assam, was ruled by Chilarai's son Raghu Narayan. This marked the demise of the Koch kingdom.

“The descendants still abide by the curse and don’t enter the temple premises. They send their offerings through others. We, on the other hand, always start our first rituals of Ambubachi by paying our obeisance to the monuments of Narnarayan and Chilarai, which are there on the inside gate of the temple,” Mohit Sarma, the head priest of Kamakhya Temple said. 


We don’t identify the “saffronised” Ambubachi Mela: CKRF

The inaugural ceremony of this year’s Ambubachi Mela that was held at Sonaram Field on Thursday last saw the RSS and all the other religious indigenous communities of Assam on the same platform for the second time after the RSS organised the Luitporiya Hindu Samavesh last January; a move termed by the Consortium of Koch Royal Family (CKRF) as “saffronising the mela.”

The consortium urged that Kamakhya Temple, besides being one of the 51 Shakti Peeths, is also closely imbued with the Assamese culture which is taking a major hit due to Hindu idealism making its ingress from mainland India.

“We don’t identify with what the Ambubachi Mela has converted into now. To invite more tourists, it has been molded into a mela, like the Kumbha or Shravan Mela of mainland India. We have no problem promoting the mela to garner more sadhus, but the government should also make efforts to promote the Assamese history, traditions, beliefs, prayers and rituals associated with Ambubachi Mela,” Pranab Narayan Dev, the general secretary of the consortium, said.

The consortium had a long pending demand of building a statue of Naranarayan and Chilarai along with a plaque describing the history of the temple, which has been ignored by the current government over the last three times that the mela was organised after it took over the helm of affairs in Assam.
“After BJP came to power, they started the mela in a big way and we thought of asking the government to include or associate the contributions of our forefathers along too. The government initially assured us of taking necessary measures but that has not been done even for this third time,” Dev said.

The opposition Congress’s spokesperson, Pradyut Bordoloi, drubbed the BJP saying it brought the Namami Brahmaputra last year as a tribute to the Brahmaputra River to ensure inwards of “saffron elements” in Assamese affairs.

“They have very less regard for the indigenous people and their culture and tradition. The head butting of the RSS and promoting their perception of Hindutva was evident during the Namami Brahmaputra when they had brought priests from north India instead of allowing the indigenous Brahmins and Pujaris to do the rituals. The non-inclusion of the Koch royal family is another such instance,” Bordoloi said.

Further, the tourism department’s attempt to bring more pilgrims from mainland India has been remarkable over the last three years as is evident from the road shows and direct trains to Vaishno Devi that were arranged.

“This has however hindered the dedicated devotees of Maa Kamakhya who had been coming here since the temple was built in its modern avatar in 1965. The temple still attracts a lot of devotees from lower Assam, Coochbehar and Siliguri of West Bengal, the areas that were once part of the Koch Dynasty. They are the devotees of Maa Kamakhya while for others, this is just one of the 51 Shakti Peeths of India,” Dev added.

According to the Puranas, the origin of the temple is associated with King Daksha and his son-in-law, Shiva. Daksha, angered by his daughter Sati’s marriage with Shiva against his will, organised a yagna with all the Gods except Shiva. Angered by her father’s act, Sati plunged onto the yagna fire.

Shiva, holding his wife’s charred body broke into the tandava nritya - the dance of destruction. To save the world, Vishnu, the Supreme God, used his sudarshana chakra to cut Sati’s body into pieces. Her yoni (genitals) fell on Nilachal Hill, turning it blue, while Shiva went to Kailasha for a deep tapasya (meditation). Ambubachi Mela is an occasion to pay obeisance to the Goddess’s annual menstrual cycle of three days.

“Accordingly, the people of Assam, considering the yoni as the source of all creation, respecting her menstrual cycle, do not do farming, pluck fruits, chew betel nuts or paan during the three days of the Ambubachi mela. Those traditions are getting lost with the current moves to saffronise the festival. It is losing its sanctity,” Dev added. 

According to Yogini Tantra, when Sati was reborn as Parvati, and with the help of Kaam Deva breaks Shiva from his tapasya to reunite again, Nilachal Hill, where her Yoni fell, was built by Lord Bishwakarma as the Kamakhya Temple, a place where the duo would retire in leisure.

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