The river that flows in the Assam valley, after winding through the plateau of the Tibet, through some of the most impressive canyons in the Chinese Himalayas and the Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh. Persistent monsoon rains and highland thaw have paused three months ago.
Its flow is slow and muddy, parallel to the city's long seafront. “This is the only male river in the India, repeat, proud, the resident guides. Son of Brahma, creator of the Universe, and of the wife of the sage Shantanu, child who assumed the form of water.”
As we contemplated the mostly natural scenery to the north, limited to the river and a line of measured mountains, we gave in to the thought that Brahma was quick to take a break. And yet, it is enough for us to reverse the direction to see that, in Guwahati, their services succeed each other like never before.
At the moment, the inhabitants stay by the million, number, in the megapopulous India, expressionless. But it is not the current demography that impresses, on these sides, it is its evolution.
At this rate of migration and population increase, it is estimated that by 2025 the city's residents will reach three million. The houses dotted with tropical vegetation and the infernal traffic of Guwahati expand accordingly.
For several days, we lived through the great city of Assam from its aorta artery, sclerotic from every imaginable business, from luxury hotels to stalls that serve masala teas by the cup non-stop and so entice countless Hindu souls (85%), Muslims (13%), Jains and Christians (both less than 1%) who vie for it, numbed by routine and – at the time of our visit – by the occasional wintry mist.
GS Road – A Frantic Crossroads of Northeast India
It makes sense that this GS Road, promoted to road, turns out to be the most disputed. As its initials indicate, it crosses much of Guwahati and proceeds to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, the neighboring Indian state and Christian par excellence that precedes the Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal.
From dawn, to the dark night, the two lanes, separated by a railing, travel along its two lanes, motorized rickshaws, cars and buses, cyclists, pedestrians, carts and even some sacred cows and other stray cattle. At rush hour, the artery congests with gravity only seen.
Most of the victimized drivers are, however, Hindu. Their devout and patient way of fulfilling such mundane fate prevents them from succumbing to fits of nerves or rage.
Instead, they keep an eye out for traffic and conquer every inch of road with a fascinating pent-up eagerness.
A Region that Fights Geographical Retreat
Guwahati also has a way to go. The city is the engine of the development of Northeast India, a group of almost enclave states of the India, closed between the Bangladesh to the west, the northern kingdom of Bhutan and the Myanmar to the east.
Aware of the relative geographic deviation from the vast Indian “triangle”, its authorities make all and more compensatory efforts.
A few days before we landed there, games of Portugal in the Under-17 Football Championship. Only in loco did we realize that Guwahati had welcomed them. The posters and promotional panels of this event had not yet been removed, as several other attendees were already announcing international badminton tournaments.
Bodybuilders from all over the world showed off their bloated physique in competitive competitions, directors their films at a film festival, agents and tour operators concentrated on a tourism fair, to mention just a few of the promotional achievements of 2017.
A committed force of local entrepreneurs and employees appreciates the employment and income generated by such dynamism. Young Panku Baruah and a colleague are just two of them. The organization of the event in which we participate will instruct their companies to assist international guests.
Panku and Lena – A Picturesque Couple of Colleagues
For three or four days, they accompany us, determined to resolve any and all difficulties. In farewell, Panku reveals a secret to us and other journalists.
“I'll tell you something. Lena and I are engaged. Let's get married in the meantime.” Some of the participants are surprised and congratulate him.
For others, largely female, there seemed to be nothing new in the communiqué. “It seemed to me that it was too tender to just work together” hiss intriguing southern European languages.
Panku was rejoicing. According to the Indian and Assamese order of things, the marriage would take place with more or less pomp, certainly as gaudy as it was festive.
The couple would generate shoots and thus contribute to Guwahati's unstoppable growth. All under the more or less tantric auspices of Kamakhya, whose revered shrine, in the image of countless families and partners, would return to visit.
Something macabre as it happens so often within Hinduism, the mythological origin of time matches the comic – sometimes tragic – reality of many Indian families.
The Macabre Mythological Relationship of Shiva and Sati
According to legend, Sati, Shiva's wife, disillusioned her father and god-king Daksha with a bad choice of husband.
When Daksha performed such a Yajna ceremony of devotion, he invited neither Shiva nor Sati. Furious, Sati threw herself into the fire of her father's ceremony, aware that this would make the ceremony impure. Shiva was stunned by the pain and anger at the loss of his wife.
He slung Sati over one shoulder and began his comic dance of destruction. He promised not to stop until the body had rotted away.
Afraid of their own annihilation, other gods begged Vishnu to calm Shiva. Vishnu is also a protagonist in the Cambodian temples of Angkor he sent one of his disc-shaped chakras to destroy Sati's corpse.
Fifty-two (according to other interpretations 52) pieces of his body fell in different parts of the Subcontinent, Tibet, Bangladeshi, Nepal and Pakistan.
The vagina landed on the hill of Nimachal, which would come to be worshiped by Hindus in general, especially by believers and practitioners of shakti, the tantric veneration of feminine spiritual power.
The rickshaw that was taking us there had only reached the middle of the rise, but we already understood the peculiarity of the place.
An alley lined with shops selling religious artefacts, traversed by believers dressed in their best traditional costumes, led to a portico tended by guards who, of course, force us to remove our shoes.
Kamakhya Temple: The Great Sanctuary of Desire and Fertility
It is thus, barefoot, that we inaugurate the visit to the temple of Kamakhya, much longer and more dazzling than we could ever have expected.
Kamakhya is the head of a complex of ten individual temples dedicated to the same number of Great Wisdoms (Mahavidyas) of Hinduism.
It appears embedded in a platform flanked by a bench like ghat, if we take into account the absence of a river. It was renovated and altered several times between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, in such a way that it has a peculiar shape today, with a kind of golden hemispherical bell resting on a cruciform base.
We started by climbing to one end of the bench and from there enjoying the building and an “assistance” of the faithful who rested there and meditated in a curious sharing of the space with goats, dogs and pigeons. From that top, we appreciate the movement of so many others to and from the building.
Divine Blessing Pool: Bathing Tank and Hinduism Reservoir
We found that the complex is cooled by a Swimming Pool of Divine Bendition, a tank that housed a colony of large turtles, this one, surrounded by ghats and split in two.
One half of it was devoted to cleaning the complex. In the other, the faithful cleanse themselves before proceeding to the interior of the temple.
The believers who passed by autonomously sprinkled their heads and faces with some of the water. After which they devoted themselves to prayers and offerings to a court of small monolithic and scarlet divine representations.
Others arrived in the company of priests from the temple of Kamakhya who guided them through a much more elaborate ceremony.
Already a bunch of kids used the reservoir for serious bathing purposes, dedicated to acrobatic dives and medicated swimming.
To the amusement of the local official, who seemed to envy them but was forced to expel them each time a new group of believers arrived.
From the Pool of Divine Purification, the passage to the sacred precincts of the temple of Kamakhya was anything but immediate. On the weekend we were there, the number of suitors was increasing visibly.
We find them, lined up in a long and winding barred passage, with the appearance of a momentary prison, although colored by glossy saris and animated by a respectful conviviality.
The Sacred Vulva of Garbhagriha
Tucked into that strange corridor, the believers gradually approach the Garbhagriha, the holiest part of the temple of Kamakhya, a small dark chamber accessible by a steep stone staircase. Inside, there is a slab in which a 25 cm vulva-shaped depression is nestled.
Photographs are prohibited there, but it is this reddish sculpture, permanently moistened by water from an underground spring, that we see Hindu and Tantra faithful touching, feeling and worshiping as the goddess of sexual desire and creation Kamakhya.
In June, during the wet season of the subcontinent's monsoon, Guwahati and the temple of Kamakhya also host an annual festival, the Ambubachi Mela, which celebrates the annual cycle of the goddess's menstruation.
Believers believe that, at this point, the creative and gestational power of your menstruation becomes transferable to all devotees.
Like the river Brahmaputra that appears dyed red, more because of the vermilion pigment placed there by the Hindu scholars than due to the blood generated by the period of the goddess. This, despite thousands of devotees preferring to believe in the supernatural version.
The temple itself and the belief that surrounds it is seen by many more enlightened believers as miraculous. In Kamakhya, faith does not appear centered around the usual pantheon of Hindu gods.
There aren't even real statues to worship. More than that. a little all over the India, menstruation continues to be seen as a taboo, something despicable that is supposed to be avoided in conversation.
For, in Guwahati and on the hill of Nimachal, it assumed an unlikely divine status. Even though, as with most Indian temples, many families continue to prohibit teenage girls and women from visiting during their menstruation periods.
Indian spirituality has long lived with these contradictions. It won't change anytime soon.