ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

‘Unperforming’ Sparxan: Isolation of Menstruating Goddess Kamakhya and the Social Echo of Menstrual Stigma


Pradhan Prerna - Jawaharlal Nehru University, Theatre and Performance Studies, New Delhi, India


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


 This paper explores Ambubachi mela, a ritual festival held at North-East Indian State of Assam to celebrate tantric Mother Goddess Kamakhya’s annual menstruation. It will be an attempt to conceptualize menstruation in a sacred site vis-à-vis the social construction of menstruating bodies. Menstrual fluid holds a significant presence in the tantric school of thought, and so does Kamakhya’s divine menstruation. The usual mode of worshipping Kamakhya is through ‘sparxan’, the ritual of touching the stone crevice believed to be her yoni, located in the faintly-lit garba griha, the womb-chamber. However, during Ambubachi the temple’s transformation into a menstrual landscape causes the doors to remain shut for three days and purified on the fourth day. While the deity’s yoni stone becomes inaccessible, it is pertinent to interrogate  whether the meaning of menstruation in the imagination of social alters when a deity menstruates or the ‘goddess needs rest’ is just another disguised form of acquiescing to the established social custom of isolating the menstruating body. As a mode of departure from elemental tactile tantric sensibilities, is the act of glorifying Kamakhya’s divine menstruation ‘from a distance’ a way to solidify the well-defined boundaries of pollution and purity? Is the menstrual seclusion a deliberate attempt to accommodate tantric ritual practices within the vedic fold of sanitized cultural norms of sacred and stigmatized bodies?