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A Socio Cultural Study
Author Name : Nihar Ranjan Mishra,
Binding : Hardbound
10 Digit ISBN : 8124602514
13 Digit ISBN : 9788124602515
Edition : 1st edition
Year : 2004
Pages : xx, 220 p.
Bibliographic Details : 2 Maps; 8 B/w photographs; 76 Col. illustrations; Appendix; Glossary; Bibliography; Index
Size : 25 cm
Weight (approx.) : 750 gm
Price : $ 33

About The Book

This is a comprehensive work on the Kamakhya temple complex in Assam: the complex processes of the deity's sanskritization and the temple's role in integrating the people of this region with the mainland. Incorporating details from interviews with temple priests and other temple staff and from literary materials on the temple, it deals with the socio-cultural life at the temple complex with respect to rites of passage relating to marriage, birth and death, arts and crafts, food, dress and folk medicine. With illustrations of the temple structure and sculptures and religious and cultural activities, the text makes a detailed study of the temple rituals, festivals and personnel -- their kinds and functions and changes in the body of the temple staff with time. Importantly, it provides a background to the study by examining the spread of shaktism over different periods in the Eastern Indian region and specifically Assam.

Book Contents


1. Shaktism in India with Special Reference to Assam

General Overview of Shaktism in India

Meaning of Shaktism -- Origin of Shaktism -- Shaktism in Pre-Vedic Period -- Shaktism in the Vedic Period -- The Tantra and Its Origin -- The Tantra and Its Affiliations

Shaktism in Assam
Shaktism in Ancient Period
Shaktism in Medieval Period
Current Beliefs and Practices
Worship of Female Deities in Assam

Durga Puja -- Vasanti Puja -- Kali Puja -- Jagaddhatri Puja -- Lakshmi Puja -- Snake Worship and Its Origin -- Snake Cult and India -- The Cult of Manasa -- Manasa Puja -- Apeshvari Puja -- Subhasucani Puja -- Shitala Puja -- Kumari Puja

Mother Goddesses of Different Ethnic Affiliations

The Ahoms -- The Bodos -- The Deuri Chutiyas -- The Khasis -- The Lalungs -- The Rabhas

Tantrism and the Vaishnavites of Assam
Shakta Tamples in Assam
Shakta Literature in Assam

The Kalika Purana -- The Yogini Tantra -- The Devi-Bhagavata -- Assamese Shakta Literature in Written Form -- Assamese Shakta Literature in Unwritten Form

The Shrine of Kamakhya at Present

2. The Process of Sanskritization: The Case of Kamakhya

Meaning of Sanskritization
Sanskritization and the Origin of Goddess Kamakhya
Sanskritization and Re-Christening of Goddess Kamakhya
Sanskritization and Puja Rituals of Goddess Kamakhya
Sanskritization as Reflected in Literature
Sanskritization and Religion
Sanskritization and Assamese Language
Sanskritization and Caste Formation

3. Rituals and Festivals in the Kamakhya Temple Complex

Rituals and Festivals : Nature and Significance
Rituals and Festivals Observed in the Kamakhya Temple
Rituals and Festivals Observed by the People

Vaisakha -- Jyestha -- Asadha --  Shravana -- Bhadrapada -- Ashvina -- Karttika -- Agrahayana -- Pausa -- Magha -- Phalguna -- Caitra

4. Temple Personnel: Their Functions and Sociological Significance

Brahmana Personnel and their Functions
Non-Brahmana Personnel and their Functions

Athparia -- Balikata -- Duari -- Bharalkaith -- Bharali -- Sonari -- Tamuli -- Bhog Paneri -- Snan Paneri -- Caulkara -- Guwala -- Khateniar -- Kharikata -- Gayan and Bayan -- Candratap -- Cilaikara -- Dhoba -- Dhulia -- Dandadhara -- Darmaria Dartemi -- Kumar -- Jagamukti 

Personnel of Adjacent Temples 
Change in the Body of Kamakhya Temple Personnel and its Sociological Significance

5. Socio-Cultural Life in the temple Complex 

The Family 
Familial Relationships 

Bhai-Bhani -- Giriek-Ghaniek -- Shahu-Bovari -- Bhaisahur-Bovari -- Dewar-Bou -- Nanand-Bou -- Juai/Bhanijuai-Bou -- Bie-Bieni -- Ata-Nati/Natini 

Rites de Passage 
Beliefs and Taboos during Pregnancy 
Rites During Pregnancy
Birth of the Child 
Rites Following the Birth of a Child 

Annaprasana -- Cudakarana -- Upanayana 

Puberty Rites 

Teldia -- Day of Marriage -- Suagjhara -- Marriage Procession -- Marriage Proper -- Pandekhua -- Tamulbhana -- Pasakhela -- Athmangala 

Antyesti Samskara 

Approach of Death -- Just after Last Breath -- Rites of the Dead Body -- Funeral Procession -- At the Cremation Site -- Rites after Cremation --  Shraddha -- Taboos During this Defilement -- Second and Third Day -- Fourth Day -- Tenth Day -- Eleventh Day 

Food and Drinks 
Social Stratification 
Sources of Livelihood 
Traditional Games and Theatrical Performances 

Dara-Kaina -- Kardoi Khela -- Kaori Khela -- Kari Khela -- Phul Khela -- Theatrical Performances 

Folk Medicine 

Skin Allergy -- Boils -- Bodyache -- Cough -- Constipation -- Diarrhoea -- Eyesore -- Headache -- Fever -- Nasal Pain -- Pox -- Menstrual Disorder -- Magico-Religious Medicines 

Social Change in the Complex 

6. Oral Literature 

Nature of Oral Literature 

Songs of Prayer or Supplication -- Songs of Ritualistic Association -- Songs of Life-Cycle Ceremonies 

Prose Narratives 

Myths -- Legends -- Folktales -- Riddles -- Proverbs -- Rhymes 

7. Arts and Crafts


Dola -- Pirha -- Pera -- Bris -- Darja -- Bathi 

Bamboo Items 

Matha -- Murial -- Durga Pratima -- Carai -- Shobheri 

Temple Architecture 

The Vimana -- The Calanta -- The Panca-ratna -- The Natamandira 


8. Summary and Conclusion


Appendix - Specimen of Oral Literature

Comment By Dr RD Choudhury
Appeared in The Assam Tribune, Guwahati

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.

Comment By Haripriya Rangarajan
Appeared in The Hindu

This book provides an insight into the religious and socio-cultural life of the Assamese society with special reference to worship of Goddess Kamakhya in the temple located on the Nilachala Mountain in Guwahati in Assam.

It also provides information about the different royal dynasties of various ethnic communities including the Ahoms, Bodos, Devrichutiyas, Khasis, Lalungs and the Rabhas who had worshipped Mother Goddess in the past. Some of these practices still continue to a certain extent in the State.

While explaining the close connection between Saktism and Tantricism as followed in the Kamakhya temple, the author opines that the Goddess probably has a folk origin. This is corroborated by Her name and the puja rituals being performed at various levels by different ethnic communities in the temple complex.

Among the traditions, rituals, festivals and the taboos followed in Assam, the author specially brings to attention one ritual that is followed in the Kamakhya temple. It is called "Ambuvaci" or "Ameti" in Assamese which refers to the Deviís yearly turn of menstruation period.

During this time people refrain from going to the temple and doing any auspicious work including digging the soil. To avoid any calamity or any dreadful disease, people often offer a pair of pigeons or goats or simply a plate of vegetarian food to Kamakhya.

Besides Goddess Kamakhya, people also worship the major Goddesses Durga, Kali, Jagaddhatri and Lakshmi. Among the minor Goddesses, Apesvari is popular even among the Muslims. She is associated with the nymph Apsara.

In the northern parts of Kamarupa people believe that nymphs frequently cast their shadows on the ground. It is believed that if by any chance a child stamps on these shadows, it will be cursed with epilepsy or paralysis.


Forms of worship

Ethnic communities worship Sitalamata as Ai and believe that she is the remover of all diseases. Kumaripuja or virgin worship is very popular in the Kamakhya temple. The temple of Dikkaravasini in Sadia region, the Kamakhya temple at Silgat in Nowgaon District of the central region and the temple of Mahamaya in the western border district of Dhubri are important shrines visited by people often.

Assam has a rich stock of Sakta literature in both Sanskrit and Assamese. The Kalika Purana and the Yogini Tantra in Sanskrit give the legend of Kamakhya in detail. The unwritten or oral literature consists of Karati mantras and Dharani mantras which are curative and preventive in nature respectively.


Socio-cultural Tradition

While explaining the socio-cultural life of the people in the temple complex of Kamakhya, the author explains the family system, their livelihood and some of the social taboos. Since the temple celebrates several festivals as well as rituals, the residents include Brahmins and other communities.

The author discusses the important myths still prevalent in the temple complex. These are related to the origins of Goddesses Kamakhya and Kumaripriya and that of Vamachara practice.

With regard to the exquisite artefacts of Assam, the author writes that the people are experts in arts and crafts and they make various kinds of art materials exclusively based on the architectural aspects of the Kamakhya temple.

Lastly, the book conveys the message to the readers that Kamarupa now called Assam is the most sacred place on this Earth. Kamakhya is the "Yonipitha" and hence the fourteenth head of all creation.

This book will be useful to scholars and others interested in knowing about the temple of Kamakhya and the rituals associated with it.

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