In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Kāmākhyā

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Śakti Pīṭhas
  • Blood and Sexual Rites at Kāmākhyā: Past and Present
  • Living Traditions at Kāmākhyā

Hinduism Kāmākhyā
Paolo E. Rosati
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0256


Kāmākhyā is the presiding goddess of the temple complex that is on top of Nīlācala (blue mountain) in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam. In the Sanskrit sources, the hill is also known as Kāmagiri (love-making mountain). There, the Goddess is worshipped in the non-anthropomorphic form of a yoni (vulva) stone that is housed inside the garbhagṛha (sanctum) of her temple. The garbhagṛha is an extremely dark and claustrophobic chamber under the ground level, where a natural stream flows through the rocks and is poured out from a cleft of the yoni stone. Hence, the sacred stone is covered permanently by the water, so that the devotees have to touch it in order to experience darśana (seeing). Recent scholarship refers to Kāmākhyā as a trans- and cross-cultural goddess who intersected, fused, and superimposed elements from Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical milieux. The main festival dedicated to her, the Ambuvacī melā, occurs every year in the month of āṣāḍha, during the monsoon, to celebrate her menstrual cycle. At the beginning of the festival, the temple’s doors are closed for three days. On the fourth day, the doors are opened and many thousands of pilgrims belonging to different strands (e.g., tantric, Śākta, tribal) enter the complex to worship Mā Kāmākhyā. The worship of a menstruating yoni closely relates this peculiar Assamese cult to the Earth goddess. In fact, according to the early medieval Kālikāpurāṇa—a northeastern purāṇa devoted to the worship of Kāmākhyā—the Kirāta cult of Kāmākhyā was incorporated into the Brahmanical tradition by King Naraka, who was conceived by the Earth goddess during her menstrual period. The yoni pūjā (worship) is justified within the Hindu-tantra tradition through a northeastern variation of the Purāṇic story of Satī’s sacrifice—which is part of the dakṣayajña (the sacrifice that was organized by Dakṣa) myth. According to this regional variation, after the death of Satī, her corpse was dismembered, and her body parts fell on earth originating the śakti pīṭhas (seats of power). Among her dismembered parts, the yoni fell on Nīlācala, which became the most eminent among the śakti pīṭhas. According to a less-known late medieval myth—which is preserved in the Yoginītantra, another northeastern source—the yoni pīṭha originated from the tejas (energy) of Kālī, who was identified in the text with Kāmākhyā.

General Overviews

Kakati 1948 is a pioneering work on the cross- and trans-cultural roots of the goddess Kāmākhyā; although dated, it is worth consulting. Urban 2009 is the most comprehensive and updated historical-religious study on the Kāmākhyā cult. This study is based on textual, epigraphic, and material evidence. Shin 2010 is a very intriguing study that analyzes the relationship between the dynastic changes and the development of the Kāmākhyā cult in medieval Kāmarūpa. Dold 2004 and Rosati 2016 consider the cultural dialectic at the origin of Kāmākhyā through a socio-religious approach. The women’s role within the ritual praxis in medieval texts related to Kāmākhyā is thoroughly analyzed in Biernacki 2007. Van Kooij 1972 introduced the cult of the Goddess in light of her most ancient sacred text, the Kālikāpurāṇa. From a more historical perspective, Barpujari 1990 is a useful tool investigating through very different disciplines—such as sociology, mythology, ethnography, philology, art history, archaeology, etc.—the history of Kāmarūpa and Kāmākhyā. A final appendix on Kāmākhyā with a glance on the dialectic between the Brahmanical tradition and the tribespeople of Assam is presented in Bhattacharyya 1999. Saran 2006 speculates that a wide tantra tradition survives in northeastern India because Assamese society is less puritanical than other South Asian regions, which the author attributes to both a later British colonization of this region and a sociocultural influence of indigenous tribes that inhabit northeastern India.

  • Barpujari, Heramba Kanta, ed. The Comprehensive History of Assam. 4 vols. Guwahati, India: Publication Board, 1990.

    Among the most complete reference works on the history of Assam, from its ancient period up to contemporary history. A number of contributors address numismatics, myth, ritual praxis, and other topics belonging to cultural history.

  • Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath. The Indian Mother Goddess. 3d enlarged ed. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.

    This is a comprehensive work on the Mother Goddess’s cults across the Indian subcontinent. Its Appendix IV is a short monographic study of Kāmākhyā. The author, who was a leading authority on tantra, speculated on the tribal origins of the Kāmākhyā cult. The theory of the link between the name Kāmākhyā and the Austroasiatic language is outdated, but the work remains useful.

  • Biernacki, Lorielai. Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex, and Speech in Tantra. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Discusses tantric rituals and women’s role in ritual praxis in the light of a large number of unedited and unpublished Tantras compiled in northeastern India throughout the premodern period, most of which are not translated into European languages in addition to being unpublished.

  • Dold, Patricia. “The Mahavidyas at Kamarupa: Dynamics of Transformation in Hinduism.” Religious Studies and Theology 23 (2004): 89–122.

    DOI: 10.1558/rsth.v23i1.89

    Discusses Kāmākhyā as one of the ten late medieval Mahāvidyās through interrelating some fieldwork data with Mahābhāgavatapurāṇa’s account of the Satī’s sacrifice, the act that originated the yoni pīṭha at Kāmākhyā. The author theorizes the stratification of Sanskritic and local beliefs and practices within the cult of Kāmākhyā.

  • Kakati, Banikanta. The Mother Goddess Kāmākhyā, or, Studies in the Fusion of Aryan and Primitive Beliefs of Assam. Guwahati, India: Punya Prasad Duara, 1948.

    Dated but pioneering study on Kāmākhyā. It analyzes both the mythology of Satī, which is preserved in the Kālikāpurāṇa, and the cosmogonic myth preserved in the Yoginītantra, pointing out the influence of different tribal groups in the construction of the mythologies of the rise of the Kāmākhyā-pīṭha. Reprinted by Publication Board Assam in 1989.

  • Rosati, Paolo E. “The Yoni Cult at Kāmākhyā: Its Cross-Cultural Roots.” Religions of South Asia 10.3 (2016): 278–299.

    DOI: 10.1558/rosa.35343

    This study, through a comparative analysis of textual sources, enters into the details of Satī’s sacrifice, which stands at the origin of the Kāmākhyā-pīṭha. The author attempts to deconstruct the cosmogony of Kāmākhyā and its Vedic mythological roots in order to outline the history of the yoni cult as a cross-cultural tradition.

  • Saran, Prem. Tantra: Hedonism in Indian Culture. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2006.

    This work includes three sections on Assamese tantra, one of which is dedicated more specifically to Kāmākhyā and its modern context. The author speculates that Assamese tantra was widely influenced by indigenous traditions of northeastern India; he also considers Assam a stronghold of tantra in India because it suffered British colonization later than other Indian regions.

  • Shin, Jae-Eun. “Yoni, Yoginīs and Mahāvidyās: Feminine Divinities from Early Medieval Kāmarūpa to Medieval Koch Behar.” Studies in History 26.1 (2010): 1–29.

    DOI: 10.1177/025764301002600101

    A fundamental study on the religious history of medieval Assam from the fourth century up to the fifteenth century, with a glimpse of the ancient mythohistorical period of Naraka. Shin, considering Sanskrit literature and inscriptions, connects the evolution of the Goddess’s cult in Kāmarūpa (Assam) to the dynastic changes that took place in the area.

  • Urban, Hugh B. The Power of Tantra: Religion, Sexuality and the Politics of South Asian Studies. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

    This is the most comprehensive and fundamental study on the cult of Kāmākhyā in Assam. Urban considers the cult from its enigmatic origin up to its postcolonial developments. Its extensive bibliography and footnotes are useful instruments to plan any further research on every aspect of Kāmākhyā.

  • Van Kooij, Karel R. Worship of the Goddess According to the Kālikāpurāṇā. Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1972.

    This is a partial annotated translation of chapters 54 to 69 of the “Bombay edition” of the Kālikāpurāṇā. The translation includes a detailed introduction to the Kālikāpurāṇā, which focuses on ritual and religious data.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.