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The Yoni Cult at Kāmākhyā: Its Cross-Cultural Roots

Issue: Vol 10 No. 3 (2016)

Journal: Religions of South Asia

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.35343


In ancient Assam the mythology of Dakṣa’s sacrifice and the consequent suicide of Satī was transformed, in order to incorporate the yoni (vulva) symbol in the Brahmanic context. According to the North-eastern Purāṇas the limbs of the dismembered goddess’s corpse fell to the earth, originating the śākta pīṭhas (seats of the goddess); in particular, the yoni of Satī fell on Kāmagiri, a place that became well known as either the place where Śiva and Śakti met to make love, or the goddess’s tomb. Before Brahmanic cultural contact with the local traditions of Kāmarūpa, the autochthonous religion was the kirāta dharma (religion of Kirātas), and it was already developed within the Kāmākhyā cult, later absorbed in the Brahmanic religious fold. In her shrine, Kāmākhyā has been worshipped in
the shape of a yoni-stone. This non-anthropomorphic cult is the result of crosscultural
dialectic between autochthonous tribes and the Vedic and heterodox
Brahmanic traditions, which led to the fusion of local deities and the mainstream
Hindu goddesses, resulting in the goddess Kāmākhyā. Later, Kāmākhyā was raised
to the rank of royal tutelary deity to integrate local tribes and the Hinduized kings
of Kāmarūpa. Using inter-textual and intra-textual analysis as well as ethnographic
data, this essay aims to demonstrate that tribal traditions strongly influenced
the śākta-tantra developments of the yoni cult at Kāmākhyā.

Author: Paolo E. Rosati

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