Guwahati: The famed Kamakhya Temple, a major seat of Shakti worship, observes the annual Durga Puja rituals for a fortnight unlike the rest of the country where it is celebrated for nine days and much of the rituals are held behind closed doors.
The celebration of Durga Puja at Kamakhya Temple, nestled atop the Nilachal Hills, is believed to date back to antiquity.
It begins on the ninth day of the waning of the moon or 'Krsna Navami' and ends on the ninth day of the waxing of the moon or 'Sukla Navami' of the Hindu month of 'Asvina' (from mid-September to mid-October), according to Biraj Sarma, a senior member of the Kamakhya Debottur Board, entrusted with the management and rituals of the temple.
"The Puja extends over a fortnight or 'paksa' and is locally called the 'Pakhuvapuja', he said.
"The most remarkable aspect of the Puja is that there is no image of Goddess Durga but the rituals are performed in the main 'pitha' or the sanctum sanctorum which is a conical shaped natural fissure about nine inches in length and 15 inches in width," noted scholar of the Board Pradip Sarma said.
Special pujas are held each day during the fortnight with the doors of the temple closed to devotees during rituals performed by a team of priests selected for the occasion.
The priests are usually selected on a rotational basis each year and they all stay together, away from their homes in the Nilachal Hills, in the temple during the fortnight.
Among them is the main priest who performs the puja at the sanctum sanctorum, while the other priests chant the holy scriptures or perform the role of the 'tantradharaka'.
Those who perform the yagnas are called 'hoota' and those who meditate 'brahma', Sarma said.
The priests begin the rituals since early morning, fast during the day and cook for themselves only one meal a day within the temple premises, Prosenjit Sarmah, a priest or 'panda' of the temple said.
The rituals in the temple during the fortnight are observed daily in three phases - the 'pratah puja' or the morning rituals, 'madhyahna puja' or mid-day puja and 'sahinna puja' or the evening puja.
Devotees from far and near flock to the temple, whose doors usually open at around 9 am after the completion of the morning puja by the priests, Board Secretary Naba Sarma said. The main Durga Puja is performed in the sanctum sanctorum but an earthen pitcher or 'ghata' is placed before the metallic idols in the next chamber called 'chalanta'. Two idols of Hara and Gauri, placed in the fifth chamber or 'natghar' of the temple, are also worshipped during the period.
The other significant rituals associated with Durga Puja at the temple are the 'Khagda' puja or the ritual of the sacrificial knife or weapons used during animal sacrifice and the 'Trishulini' puja or worship of the Devi's trident.
Sacrificial offerings to the Goddess is also an integral of the rituals. It begins on the day coinciding with the 'Saptami' puja and continued till 'Navami', a day before the rituals end, Biraj Sarma said.
Gourd, pumpkins, fish, goats, pigeons and buffaloes are sacrificed and ceremonial worship is held before it.
During 'Trishulini Puja', held at midnight, a figure akin to a life-size human being is made from flour and sacrificed before the Goddess as a substitute for the ancient tradition of human sacrifice. Only the main priest and the 'bolikata' or the executioner are present inside the temple at the time.
The body of the sacrificed birds and animals are returned to those who had gifted them and the heads are sold to devotees. The body part of the sacrificed buffalo is usually collected by some tribal communities living in the adjoining hills, Sarma added.
'Kumari' puja or worship of young girls, a popular part of Durga Puja, is also held at Kamkhya Temple. It begins from the first day of the puja fortnight with one girl worshipped on the first day. The number of girls worshipped increases by one on each consecutive day.
On the penultimate day of the Puja, the 'purnahuti' or the concluding rite is performed. This is followed by 'Devimatrika' puja which is completed before midnight.
The fortnight-long rituals conclude with the 'Jaya-Vijaya' and 'Aparajita' pujas, Sarma added.