Guwahati is a pet city, much like Bhubaneswar or Kolkata. It has flashes of our cultural life that is akin to ours. When you visit the Assam State Museum, you find words like ‘Gohali’ or ‘Dhikisala’. Millennial babies will not understand this. Elders will appreciate the fact that we have similar sounding words in Oriya to describe the cowshed and domestic paddy-milling place. The inter-governmental coordination between Orissa and Assam to preserve the Bezbarua House in Sambalpur shows our fraternal affiliation. Called Pragjyotishpura in ancient times and it is a powerful sentinel of pan-Indian culture. Reference of Kamaksha Devi is often made in our scriptures including that in Mahabharata. Arjuna’s two wives — Ulupi and Chitrangada — hailed from the North East.
In a fortuitous visit to Guwahati in the last week of the year, we looked around the city on the day of Christmas. We had no difficulty recognising the streets and shops we were familiar with earlier; Bamunimaidan, Fancy Bazar, Paltan Bazar et al. The GS Road remains the pride of the city and the nerve center of the business activities. The mighty Brahmaputra remains graceful as ever. While most of our River systems are deciphered in the feminine gender, Brahmaputra is a masculine water body. It houses the largest river island of the world in Majuli and the longest river bridge in India in Dhola-Sadiya. People visiting Guwahati avail a sporting cruise in the river or a visit to Umananda Temple located on an island.
Though we had paid a visit to Kamaksha Temple in the past, we went to the holy shrine once again. There is a pool in the eastern flank of the temple where tortoises have grown to very large size. Devotees buy feed for them and throw the morsels to watch the tortoises grabbing them up. Fishes also join the tortoises to partake the eatables. Some he-goats were on the loose vying for the food. We fed a couple of them with a banana or two. Unlike the tortoises, these he goats will not live for long. They will soon be sacrificed at the altar of the Goddess. In the opposite flank of the temple, there is another pool where the animals are bathed before being sacrificed. Some fountains spray jets of fresh water to the pool to maintain the pollution level of the water. The head of a freshly sacrificed animal is often found in the sanctum sanctorum. Inside the temple precinct, an old man was vending live pigeons in a bamboo basket. Devotees buy them to sacrifice before the Goddess. How naïve it is to believe that sacrificing the little helpless bird will propitiate the Goddess to grant you a prayer!
Pigeons in a temple are often a symbol of deliverance. On the occasions of Independence Day, trained pigeons are set free as a mark of celebrating freedom. There were other pigeons fluttering around the temple walls and occasionally perched on the devotees standing on the queue. The practice of animal sacrifice often agitates the mind though we have such customs in most parts of our country. It is one thing to kill an animal for food in a slaughterhouse and another to impute religious motive in it. Faith has often overruled reason and we have no authority to pass a ruling. We have no guts to face the argumentative Indian. Somewhere inside our mind, we could see the reason for losing it the way in the dreary sands of dead habit. Our inner jest to join the Tagore bandwagon is somewhere halted. Religion remains the opium of the masses because no one can decode the mystery of nature. In our limited life span, we can always extricate a couple of superstitions passing off as religion.
During our stay over a week, we missed cultural events, especially a chance to see a Bihu dance on the stage. Generally, we found the people to be smart and trendy. While they could be emotionally rooted in Bihu, they could easily catch up with the latest in the world of design and fashion. On the day of our return, I visited Vasistha Ashram. The serenity of the place is maintained well. Devotees were enjoying sunshine over the rocks present in the rivulet flowing beside the temple. Before driving to Airport, we visited the Balaji Temple hailed as Purva Tirupati and repeated an old habit of buying Ladoos. Though we experienced a sense of completeness, we would love to go to Northeast again.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)