ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The yoni-pūjā at Kāmākhyā: Cultural memory against the religious oblivion


Rosati Paolo Eugenio - Università La Sapienza, Roma, Italy


23 – Engaging the world through contemporary South Asian tantric and shamanic traditions


 The temple of Kāmākhyā (Assam) is the most famous śakti-pīṭha in South Asia where the Goddess is worshipped in multifarious forms. According to the Kālikāpurāṇa (ca. XI century) and other north-eastern pre-modern and modern texts the main cultic object is a yoni-stone, which is described as the yoni of Satī. Its worship (yoni-pūjā) symbolizes the rebirth of Satī (Urban 2009)—the fundamental mythological event that stands at the origin of Kāmākhyā-pīṭha.

In the pre-modern times, the yoni-pūjā was a secret and sexual rite associated to the Kaula tantric school, while during the British colonial period, its sexual elements were sanitized and sweetened. Today, the yoni-pūjā is a public rite that is performed into the restricted sanctum, and the yoni, from an etic perspective, seems a desexualized object.

The yoni cult of Kāmākhyā, however, is closely intersected with the village community, which shares the same symbolic universe and symbolically/unconsciously preserves the esoteric tradition associated to the Kaula tantric school through the daily yoni-pūjā.

This paper aims to explore the cultural preservation of the pre-modern Kaula identity of the yoni cult at Kāmākhyā (against the collective amnesia) through an anthropological approach in the study of religious oblivion and cultural memory.