The sanskrit term ‘ambuvaci’, from which the local assamese word, ‘ambubachi‘ or ‘ambubosi‘ is derived, literally means ‘the issuing forth of water referring to the swelling of the earth’s water from the onset of monsoon.
Majority take this festival as celebration of goddess Kamakhya’s menstruation but infact it is the menstruation of the entire Mother Earth, but Kamakhya remains the prime focal point of the festivities since it is the seat of Goddess’s yoni(genitals).
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According to mythology, Daksh Prajapati intended to perform Yajna, a sacrificial rite to which all the deities except Lord Shiva were invited. Sati expressed her desire to go for the Yajna but when Shiva forbade her to go; she flew into a great rage and transformed herself into Shyama or Kali. When Mahadev (Shiva) sought to escape her wrath, she assumed ten different forms, the Dasamahavidya(which is found in the complex of Kamakhya), and surrounded him. Lord Shiva finally allowed her to go to Daksha’s yajna. However enraged Daksh insulted Shiva to show his displeasure towards his son-in-law. Unable to bear her father’s nasty remarks for her husband Shiva, Sati sacrificed herself in the holy pyre of the Yajna. Upon receiving the news of Sati’s demise, furious Shiva changed himself into the fierce Rudra and came to the yajna, destroyed the sacrificial ground, and beheaded Daksha. But following the fervent plea of Daksha’s wife, Shiva restored him to life by joining the head of the sacrificial goat upon his body. Driven insane with grief, he placed the dead body of Sati upon his shoulders and roamed the three Worlds. An alarmed Brahma and other Devas (divine beings) approached Vishnu, the preserver, to restore the balance of the world. So Vishnu sent his sudarsan chakra (discus) which cut Sati’s body to pieces. Wherever the pieces of her mutilated body fell on earth in 51 different places also denoting 51 Alphabets in Sanskrit, it came to be regarded as a “Shakti Peetha“, with immense sacred relevance. Each became a sacred spot, the divine decree. Her yoni (reproductive organ of Sati, genitals) fell on the Nilachal Hill where very sacred Kamakhya temple is located. This hill was said to represent the body of Lord Shiva Himself, and when Sati’s genitals fell on it, the mountain turned blue and came to be known as the Nilachal or the Blue hill (nila meaning blue; achal meaning mountain)
During the annual Ambubachi Mela (Tantric Fertility Festival), the Temple precincts are closed to the worshippers as it is believed that the Goddess, along with the Earth, goes through her menstrual cycle. During this festival held in the month of June (the seventh day of Ahaar according to the Hindu lunar calendar), when the sun transit to the zodiac of Mithun during the height of the rainy season, the red hematite present in the soil mixes with the water of the natural spring that moistens the yoni, leading credence to the commonly held belief of a menstruating goddess. The temple remains shut for four days. After the temple re-opens, the devotees rush into it to gather the unique ‘prasad’; parts of the cloth moist with the menstrual fluid of the Devi. This piece is regarded as highly auspicious. Each year marks around 5-6 lakhs pilgrims during annual Ambubachi Mela at the holy shrine.
The practice of tantrik rites is also prevalent on the Nilachal Hill. Tantricism flourished in the area during the reign of the Pala dynasty. To attain heavenly bliss, they indulged in orgies, relating to the practice of animal sacrifice, the eating of matsya and mamsa (fish and meat), drinking of madira (alcohol) etc. In past miraculous escape of a baby girl later named Tara after the goddess who was about to be sacrifice by mentally ailing father claiming as tantrik for blind superstitious belief that he will be immortal.
There is no image of Shakti here in Kamakhya. However, a sculptured image of the yoni of the Goddess, which is the object of reverence. A natural spring keeps the stone moist.
Farmers stop tilling land during this time, as it is believed that it amounts to disturbing menstruating Mother Earth. Even in homes, people do not worship their family deities and cover it with a cloth.