September 28, 2009

Vishvakarma Festival and Kamakhya Devi Temple

Filed under: Assam,Religion — namanpugalia @ 3:43 pm

Upon arrival in Guwahati, I noticed that all vehicles were sporting colorful ribbons on their bumpers and windscreens. Before I could request my friend, and host, to explain the significance of the paraphernalia, he told me that the city was celebrating the Vishvakarma festival. That also meant that Guwahati was observing an unofficial holiday. Informal local holidays and bandhs (quiet curfews) are regular features in this part of the country. Alacrity is not a virtue widely possessed  in Assam and the state prides itself on a lahe-lahe (slowly-slowly) culture, indicative of going about business in a sluggish manner.

Decorated rickshaw during Vishvakarma pooja

Decorated rickshaw during Vishvakarma pooja

Lord Vishvakarma is considered the divine engineer of the world. Every year, on September 17th, industrial houses, mechanics, artists, craftsmen, weavers and other professionals (workers) pray to the Lord, thanking him for all his creations. Demographics of a region seem to play an important role in determining religious practices, as is evident in Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand – eastern states which have a large number of industrial workers and, as a result, a vibrant Vishvakarma pooja (prayer). It is an occasion when industrial workers take over the streets, representing a coming out party of the poor.

Pooja stall during Vishvakarma festival

Pooja stall during Vishvakarma festival

Later in the day, I visited the Kamakhya Devi temple, an ancient reservoir perched on a hill with splendid views of Guwahati. It is believed that a piece of Goddess Sita’s abdomen was found at the site, rendering it to be one of 18 holy Maha-Shakti Peethas in India. Priests at the temple claim that everyone can find her/his origins at this temple and that by “touching the water in the reservoir, one will feel his/her roots.”

Kamakhya temple in Guwahati

Kamakhya temple in Guwahati

Different  beliefs can, and do, exist simultaneously and in close proximity in India. This very concurrence is often viewed as the secret behind India’s survival in spite of the rampant heterogeneity that is reflective of our society. Certain priests on a hill proclaimed that their Goddess is the creator of all, whereas down below workers chanted vociferously to thank their God for all that he has created. The creations are tangible; the creator is one’s own version.


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