July 06, 2017

India: Draping of Naga sadhus in BJP’s Assam

The Tribune - 2 July 2017

Draping of Naga sadhus: It happened in BJP’s Assam
Bijay Sankar Bora in Guwahati

NUDITY - even of the religious ilk — is now officially accursed. It sends across a wrong idea about Hinduism. So runs the official line. And such is the power of authority that even the Naga sadhus had to fall in line at the ancient Kamakhya temple sitting atop the Nilachal hills. Protest, or whatever you may call, was subdued by coercive persuasion. Good for the pilgrims, good for the BJP-led Assam government and even better for the religious revisionists and the so-called revivalists. For the record, it was unprecedented - never before in the history of Ambubachi festival the ash-smeared, levitating and care-for-nothing sadhus have been subjected to government restraint.

Yet around 500 of them were there, sheltered in a separate zone inside Abhayananda ashram, the western part of the temple. “The government hardly does anything for us. And now these restrictions… Naga sadhus are a part of Kamakhya temple since ancient times. No one can stop us from doing what we have been doing here. We do not create trouble for anyone,” said a Naga sadhu, as a fellow sadhu stood holding a trident crowned with, what is said to be, human skulls.

Jayanta Malla Barua, chairman of the Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC), said the ATDC arranged an exclusive accommodation for Naga sadhus so that they could perform their rites without hindrance. “We conveyed to them that they could perform their pradakshina (circumambulation) of the temple as they want, and advised them not to take out any public procession.”

“Many people visit the temple during the fair with their families and they feel uncomfortable at the sight of these sadhus. They have understood this,” said the head priest of the Kamakhya temple, Pabindra Prasad Sarma Doloi.

Guwahati is historically known as Pragjyotishpur. One of the most popular pilgrimage destinations for Hindus is Kamakhya temple. Dedicated to the presiding deity, Mother Goddess Kamakhya, the temple is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti shrines and has special importance for tantric worshipers.

Kamakhya temple is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to the 10 Mahavidyas: Kali, Tara, Sodashi, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala Out of these, Tripurasundari, Matangi and Kamala reside inside the main temple whereas the other seven have individual temples.

Thousands of pilgrims throng the temple during Ambubachi Mela which falls in the third week of June. The four-day fair (June 22-26, this year) is believed to mark Mother Goddess Kamakhya’s annual menstrual cycle. It is a celebration of the reproduction capacity of Mother Nature. The whole Temple resounds with the chants of “Prithibi Rajashala Hoi” (Mother Earth is menstruating). Because of this belief, the temple seems to be obsessed with the colour red. The ATDC this year set up nine star-category tents fitted with air-conditioners and class-1 furnishing, apart from the ATDC’s Prasanti Lodge up on Nilachal Hills for high-end tourists. A luxury cruise, Mahabahu, was anchored on the Brahmaputra just below the Nilachal Hills, where all 23 suites were booked well in advance.