There are already two books on Kamakhya in the market. But these are small booklets and proper research methodology has not been allowed while writing them. Actually, these are meant for the common visitors to the Kamakhya temple. However, Dr BK Kakati made a great contribution by writing The Mother Goddess Kamakhya and Purani Kamrupur Dharmar Dhara (Assamese). As Dr Kakati was a scholar of high repute, his works were also supposed to be of high standard, though the books were small. Dr Pradip Sarma, Director of Research in the Vivekananda Kendra, Guwahati took up a project on Kamakhya for a detailed study. I understand that, with the grant of the Indian Council of Historical Research, he has been able to complete the work by now. One more book in Assamese is in the market of late. To my knowledge, the present work by Nihar Ranjan Mishra is the most comprehensive book on the subject written following proper methodology under an eminent scholar, Professor Birendranath Dutta.
The book is divided into eight chapters. At the beginning, he has given the background of saktism in India with special reference to Assam. Here he has traced its origin and evolution from the pre-Vedic preiod. He has also spoken of the archaeological materials that are available from the Harappan sites. He has also touched on the Vedic period. Then he has come to saktism which prevailed in ancient Assam. He, of course, cannot claim to originality here because a lot of works are available on this subject. There are many authorities also on saktism and tantricism in Assam. However, Mishra has profitably taken help from them. He has given brief descriptions of the various pujas performed on various occasions in Kamakhya. The author has also briefly mentioned the Mother Goddesses in various ethnic groups in Assam. This is dealt in length by Dr Nirmalprabha Bardoloi in her work, Devi. Mishra has also mentioned about the information available in the Kalikapuran and Yoginitantra. He has also mentioned about the location of the Kamakhya temple and shrines in the complex. The map given on the location of the various shrines will help the readers greatly.
The second chapter of the book embodies the process of Sankskritization; the case of Kamakhya in which the author has taken maximum help from the Kalikapuram and the Yoginitantra. In the third chapter, the author has discussed about the rituals and festivals in the Kamakhya temple complex. The discussion of the second chapter and the third chapter are of similar nature, though not the same.
The fourth chapter deals with the temple personnel ó their functions and sociological significance. To manage the huge affairs of the Kamakhya temple, which is visited by a large number of people, mainly from outside Assam, a team of personnel is required. Here an attempt has been made by the author to throw light on the various duties allotted to the personnel of various categories, in addition to the Brahmins. The author has utilized the information available in the Darrang Rajvamsavali. The charts given by the writer will be useful to the readers. In the next chapter, Mishra has given a graphic account of the socio-cultural life including marriage, upanayan, samskaras etc., in the temple complex. Mention of the various games played in Kamakhya and the herbal medicines taken to cure some diseases are also mentioned. The chart published by the author shows that a large number of devotees used to send money orders to the temple authority from various places such as Kolkata, Bangalore, Bhopal, Cuttack, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kapurthala, Lucknow, Chennai, Nagpur, Patna and Thiruvananthapuram during the Ambubachi mela and Durga puja, which are regarded as very auspicious occasions at Kamakhya. The number of marriages held at Kamakhya has been shown graphically.
The next chapter is on oral literature. Here discussion has been made about the origin of the Goddess Kamakhya, the rebuilding of the temple, and the construction of the staircase. He has rightly mentioned about the story of Naraka. In the seventh chapter, the author has initiated a discussion on the arts and crafts related to pottery, carpentry etc. In the same chapter, the author has briefly dealt with the architecture of the main temple with its groundplan. He has also mentioned about the Vimana, Sikharana etc. He has also discussed very briefly about the sculptures. It appears the discussion on temple architecture and sculptures is not original in nature.
The last chapter deals with the summary of his study and conclusion. He has said that during his study, both primary and secondary sources were utilised. He also did field work and interviewed important persons at Kamakhya in a bid to collect information for his study. he has also mentioned categorically about the help he has taken from some authors including Bani Kanta Kakatiís Mother Goddess Kamakhya. I think MIshra has made sincere efforts to complete his studies which is confined to only the socio-cultural aspect. He has given less importance to art and architecture.
Mishra has not devoted a chapter or sub-chapter on tantricism, which is very important in the case of Kamakhya. He has, however, not discussed why there are quite a few images of Venugopala in this Sakta Pith, the presence of a Vishnu image inside the Kamakhya temple and also why the pandas and their male family members sing songs of holi and move around the main temple while singing and playing colour in a Sakta tirtha during the Holi festival. In the Bagalamukhi temple, as far as I remember, two images of Venugopala flank the Sakta Goddess. This evidently shows the tolerance of the two faiths amongst the people of Kamakhya. Mishra has also not mentioned about the old Sanskrit tol, where Mahamahopadhya Dhereswar Acharya taught Sanskrit to the students, which has almost become defunct now. The concluding chapter should have informed the readers about the thesis of his study very clearly.
However, Mishra has done a commendable job, which is pioneering in the subject. He deserves praise for the good work he has done. The book has 84 illustrations ó both in colour and black and white. These are of high quality. The printing of the book is of high standard. The price is slightly on the higher side. The book can be profitably used by scholars and students. It is a must for the libraries ó atleast in North-East and Eastern India. We expect more such works in future from this scholar.