The ritualistic, socio-religious and socio-cultural structure of the Kamakhya Temples’ Complex (or Kamakhya group of temples) located on the Nilachala Hills represents a system unlike anywhere else in India or the world. Temple rituals are performed by initiated priests and are restricted only to those initiated priests who belong to the Sebait families. In addition to the daily rituals, the Kamakhya temple complex celebrates a number of festivals, pujas, and rituals which have a unique and distinctive character.
Some of these include:
This festival celebrates the annual menstruation of the Mother Goddess during the onset of monsoon, typically in late June. The temple closes for three days, and on the fourth day reopens with great fanfare. Over 400,000 – 500,000 pilgrims from around the globe attend the festival, and the festival is especially famed for drawing thousands of Tantric practitioners.
Manasa Puja and Debadhanni
Celebrated during the Manasa Puja or worship of the Snake Goddess and Debaddhani, this festival is closely linked to tribal worship. At the center of this festival are the Debadhannis, non-brahmin men possessed by the different deities of the Nilachala Hills become vehicles of divine power. For several days, each is possessed by a particular deity. They dance in a state of trance possession for three days (the final days of their possessed period) with minimal rest, performing incredible feats such as dancing with bare feet on the sharpened blades of swords. Thousands of devotees attend for a chance to have a glimpse and blessings of the living vehicles of the deities.
Although the autumn celebration of Durga Puja and Navaratri are pan-Indian festivals, they are celebrated in a unique way at The Kamakhya Temples Complex or Kamakhya Group of Temples. There are no Murtis (idols) worshipped at The Kamakhya Temples Complex or Kamakhya Group of Temples, but the Peetha of the Devi is lavishly decorated with sari and jewels, the Chandi is recited, and a special Kumaripuja (worship of virgin girls) is performed each day. Outside the temple, tens of thousands of devotees crowd into the complex each day.
Raja Rajesvari Puja
Celebrated during the spring Navaratri, the Raja Rajesvari Puja holds special importance for men and women who are practitioners of the Kulacara Tantra Marga of Kamakhya. Elaborate pujas are arranged and performed privately in the temple(s) around the complex, and non-initiates are not allowed to enter or participate.
Kumaripuja (worship of virgin girls) is celebrated all over India, but its importance to the day-to-day culture and religious system as well as the style of puja may well be unique to the Kamakhya temple complex. It is performed in the individual or group level, according to the desire of the devotee and performed by the devotee himself or herself, with the guidance and assistance of a priest. According to local history, Kumaripuja became an inseparable part of the tradition from the time of Koch King Naranarayana, who renovated (or re-built) the Kamakhya temple in 1565 CE and started pujas of all the deities of the Kamakhya temple complex in the Nilachala Hills according to Shakta tradition. The Kumaripuja is associated with all the major festivals, pujas, and rituals of the Kamakhya temple complex. For devotees in general, this ritual is performed regularly as per their personal preference irrespective of any particular or auspicious day.
Sri Krishna Janmastami
Though the Kamakhya temple complex is a Shakti Peetha, the Vaishnava festival of Sri Krishna Janmastami is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm in every household in the Nilachala Hills.
Vratas/Bratas (Ritual Vows)
Though the Kamakhya temple complex is most widely known as a Shakti Peetha and a centre of Shakta Tantrika worship, there are other interesting socio-religious practices which have been practiced here from time immemorial, such as Vratas/Bratas (or Varat/Barat as they are also called).
These rituals are performed solely by the women of the Kamakhya temple complex, typically to ensure the health and good fortune of their husbands and families. There are five types of Vratas or Varats: Satha Varat, Katyayani Varat, Doul Varat, Savitri Varat and Manantara Varat.