chapter  4
16 Pages

Pilgrimage to Kāmākhyā through text and lived religion: some forms of the Goddess at an Assamese temple site


Hindu traditions use a variety of strategies to convey the nature of divinity, to convey worshippers’ beliefs about the nature of divinity, or to express both local presence and transcendent essence of a god or goddess. In Śākta (goddess-centered) traditions, one strategy for describing divinity is to invoke groups of divine females such as the seven Mothers, the nine Durgās, the 64 Yoginīs, or the ten Mahāvidyās. Sometimes, groups of goddesses are presented as different manifestations or forms of one all-encompassing goddess. So the goddess Kāmākhyā, the presiding deity of an important goddess-centered temple site in Assam, dwells there with her ten major manifestations, the Mahāvidyās. In the following section, I describe some of my experiences in field research at the Kāmākhyā Temple site. My description draws upon interviews, audio and video recordings, and field notes from three periods of field research at this site: a brief visit in 1992, a two-month stay in 2008, and a three-week stay in August 2009. Much of this fieldwork was collaborative. To record, transcribe, and translate religious songs (Nām) sung by women residents of Kāmākhyā, I worked with Ms. Jayashree Athparia, a local authority on the folk traditions of the site. Our work on these Nām is wholly dependent on the generosity of many of the women of Kāmākhyā who allowed us to record their singing. Several of the song performance leaders have given me permission to use their real names.