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Friday, September 25, 2009

Shakti cult and Goddess Durga

— Tapati Baruah Kashyap The advent of Goddess Durga every autumn reminds us of the age-old tradition of Shakti cult in Assam. People invoke Shakti or energy in them by worshipping Goddess Durga during this season. Shakti is the life-force or moving force of the universe. Durga’s annual visit to earth symbolises the fact that Shakti is the ultimate root of our very existence. Goddess Durga, through her incarnation as shakti is all-pervasive in strength and her absolute power can transform the evil on earth into good.

The worship of Shakti or Shaktism has been prevalent in Assam from time immemorial. Ancient Assam was one of the most important seats of Shaktism. Eminent historian and scholar Dr H K Barpujari, in his five volume, The Comprehensive History of Assam had said that traditionally Kamrupa has remained the principal centre of the Shakti cult with the Kamakhya temple being its epicentre.

According to Barpujari, “The concept of Shakti or primordial energy symbolised in a woman is an amalgam of many elements drawn from various sources, pre-Aryan, non-Aryan, Aryan and aboriginal. The processes in fertility and motherhood and the active and energising forces involved therein apparently led to the emergence of the concept of a supreme Goddess who is considered to be the repository of all energy governing the universe. In this aspect she is said to preside over creation (srishti), preservation (sthiti) and destruction (samhriti).”

Another eminent scholar Dr Satyendra Nath Sarma on the other hand has said, “It was King Narakasur who initiated the cult of Shaktism. Narakasur for the first time worshipped Shakti in the form of Yoni as well as Kamakhya. Subsequently Kamakhya became assimilated with Devi Durga.” Thus, from about l3th century till 15th century, worship of Shakti was the most dominant religious activity among the people of Assam.

The Hindu influence on the primitive religion and also a tribal influence on Hindu religious ceremonies can be noticed right from the very beginning in Assam. According to Dr Barpujari, “This process of mutual influence was obviously preceded by the introduction of the Hindu religion in Kamrupa. The religious leaders responsible for the import of the Hindu rites and rituals were the Brahmins. The type of religion propagated by them in those days may be designated as the Brahminical religion. The worship of innumerable Gods and Goddesses came to occupy important position in the religious system. Some of these Gods and Goddesses gave rise to special cults and sectarian rites and beliefs. There arose various religious myths in connection with these sectarian deities. The epics, and mainly the Puranas, were composed for the propagation of the sectarian cults. The extent of the Brahminical religion may be best understood only if the form and extent of sectarian cults like those connected with Siva, Shakti, Vishnu and Surya are properly surveyed.”

Noted Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang on the other hand stated that he saw hundreds of Deva temples in Kamrupa during his visit here. He was a personal guest of Kumar Bhaskarvarman, one of the most illustrious kings of ancient Kamrup. Hiuen Tsang’s note is a definite evidence of the spread of the Brahminical religion in ancient Assam by the early seventh century. Moreover, in the Chinese records King Bhaskarvarman is mentioned as a Brahmin by caste. In the Harsha Carita, he is described as a devotee of Siva from his very boyhood. Kumar Bhaskarvarman incidentally was as a personal friend of Harshavardhana, a contemporary king of central India.

According to the Kalika Purana, Naraka, the mythical ancestor of the Kamrup kings, deliberately established in his kingdom, a large number of families who were masters of Vedas and other Shastras. “Naraka brought in Brahmanas from outside and settled them in his own territories and who were responsible for the propagation of the Brahmanical cult.” The Kalika Purana, composed in Assam in the 11th century, is not only the most extensive treatise on the Shakti cult, but also on Tantra.

The Kalika Purana records that before the arrival of the Aryans, ancient Kamrup was inhabited by people who were worshippers of Siva. Naraka’s contemporary Asura king Bana of Sonitpur was also a devotee of Siva. Thus, the earliest Hindu faith which had a place in Assam was Saivism, which was later heavily encroached upon by Shaktism.

In the Brahminical system Saivism had been the most dominant faith in Assam from time immemorial as is known from tradition, both literary and epigraphic. The Kalika Purana states that Siva was regarded as the guardian deity of this territory even before the time of Naraka and that it was ‘reserved’ by Siva as his own royal domain. Siva was primarily a non-Aryan deity and the Kalika Purana has a list of as many as fifteen sacred places in Assam associated with the worship of Siva.

According to Prafulladatta Goswami, “The ancient religion of this land, according to the authoritative Yogini Tantra was of Kirata origin. The Kirata religion was Saivism, itself an Aryan importation. The Aryanized conquerors under Narakasura later made an attempt to put it under a ban and impose the Shakti cult in the shape of Kamakhya worship.”

From about the 13th century till the 15th century, majority of the people of Assam worshipped Shakti. Like Saivism, Shaktism is the cult of worshipping a female goddess as the supreme deity. This deity is variously called Devi, Durga, Kali, Kalika, Uma, Kamakhya, Tara, Chandi, Chamundra, Sakambhari and so on. Different names imply diverse manifestations or aspects of the same goddess. But shakti may be taken to be the common name for all the various forms of this female deity.

According to the Comprehensive History of Assam, in Kamrup the goddess is superior to even the supreme godhead in so far as He has to remain inert without the inspiration drawn from the Goddess Shakti.

In Hinduism, Durga represents the empowering and protective nature of motherhood. Dr Nirmal Prabha Bardoloi, in her famous work Devi, discussed widely the significance of the concept of Mother Goddess. According to her, “From prehistoric times, Yoni worship had been prevalent in Assam. And the worshipper believed that it would increase the fertility. Burhi Gosani worshipped by Jaintias, Goddess Kamaika of the Khasis, Khamakha of the Bodos, Kechaikhati worshipped by the Chutiyas and the Deoris, Goddess Tamai of the Rabhas, Goddess Haramdi of the Dimasas, Goddess Kalika of the Tiwas and the Mother Goddess Phajaw of the Garos — all these names bear testimony to the fertility cult as Shakti cult of Assam.”

The origin of the tradition of Shakti cult has a deep-rooted past. Hence, the annual worship of Devi Durga reminds of the supreme and bening power of the Goddess. Human beings are being blessed by Her supreme power from time immemorial. ASSAM TRIBUNE

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