I heard and believed in stories of how my mother’s ancestors had come from Kamarup and established a Hindu temple according to the farman of Murshid Kuli Khan, the then nawab of Bengal. My mother’s temple has no deity of the Goddess; instead there is a small figurine about six inches high which is seated on a lotus upon a waist high stem. Two female figures guard the lotus on either side and two old bearded men, one fair and one dark stand in the positions where Kartik and Ganesh stand in a Durga image. We assume that the two females are Lakshmi and Saraswati while the two bearded men are some sages, who they are we do not know. When we passed through a densely populated, well to do Nepalese village to reach to Kachugaon at whose heart lay a Santhal relief camp for our meeting with the balbandus meandering our ways through well fed and well cared for bovine population, I noticed a temple or two with exactly the same formation of the idols as in my mother’s village temple. Mother’s temple was not an anomaly; it was the way Kamakhya temples were usually organized. Kamakhya is invisible, she is an icon, invoking larger images through the hint of signs and symbols; she is niraakar, formless, empty. Her representations are not automatic as they must be sought and imagined. Whatever it is Kamakhya lends herself to imaginations, incantations and interpretations. All through the history of Kamatapur ruled by the Koch kings of Coochbehar, Kamakhya has united the left hand and the right hand of worship, the Brahminical and the Tantric worships and integrated the image worshipping Hinduism with the formlessness of Buddhism. Kamakhya is a unity in diversity, much like Assam herself, absorbing differences, resolving conflicts to integrate different paths into a common destination. I took a renewed interest in Ma Kamakhya.
What strikes me is the non visual aspect of the Indian culture. I have been only taught to understand the literate and oral cultures; it is now occurring to me that India has yet another axis, visual and non visual culture. Kamakhya belongs to the non visual tradition of the worshipper of the formless, Tantric, Alakh Niranjan, Nirankari, Bhakti, Sufi and other mystic branches of various religions. No wonder then the children of this region cannot “read” pictures. I could see from the face of the school teacher of Kaimari village of the Kachugaon bloc that he too was unable to interpret illustrations given in the book in a manner in which I did. Non visual cultures have a strong connection to non literate cognition in India, visual culture is perhaps related to literate cultures as well. Sensibilities of the two kinds are important to understand and build into pedagogy.
Kamatapur is also an area of metallurgy, of castings. Exquisite and delicate figurines from a mere inch in height to about eight inches are cast of alloys of as many as eight metals. It is an area of the textile trade, trade of betel leaves, arecanuts, jute fibre and now of coal, oil, natural gas and tea. Assam has always been the commodity hub of the land route of trade that would directly connect the Indian subcontinent to the Silk Route. Silk is produced in Assam as well. Assam is the last post for salt because after that when we trek eastewards, oil and salt disappear from the common person’s diet.
Kamatapur is also very central to the entire route of the Mongols from the north and the contending Pathans from the south eastern regions of Bihar and Bengal; it is the hub from where one proceeds via the cult of the Goddess into Himachal, Kashmir and from thereon to Punjab on one hand, to Nagaland and Manipur all along the Buddhist trail right upto China on the other. As for Bengal, one finds a tantric trail right from Nilachal Hills holding the Kamakhya Temple travelling all the way to Kolkata. Kamakhya, a deity that rose to prominence in the middle of the 17th century out of the patronage of the Koch Kings of Kamatapur is the very expression of its cultural diversity and the historical need for such pluralism.
Back in Delhi to 45 degrees dry heat from the cool rainy pre monsoon of lower Assam, or Kachar, or Bodoland.