When Kama, the God of Love, gets Burnt to Ashes

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The UmaNanda Temple

Located on one of the smallest inhabited river islands in the world at Guwahati, in north east India, is this 17th century Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Only a handful of priests and temple-hands reside on this island which is also home to the Golden Langurs, an endangered primate species. This temple is one of the top attractions of Guwahati, and indeed taking a ferry to an island in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra river is quite a lovely experience. Devotees typically visit this temple first before proceeding to the more dramatic Kamakhya temple of the goddess of fertility.

Back off, priests!

I thought that the priests here were very aggressive… as soon as they saw us, they made us sit by the altar, mumbled some incomprehensible mantras, and promptly demanded (yeah, they wouldn’t let us leave) cash for their services. Not knowing how to react, we parted with a small amount of money which they didn’t find satisfactory and insisted on more. The incident repeated at another shrine, but this time we were quite adamant and loudly refused to dole out any more “donations”. At the third shrine, we refused to make any eye contact whatsoever and simply ignored them.

I was raised well; I usually leave a small donation at temples, churches, monasteries, and such places of worship in little donation boxes they have. Bullying visitors and demanding money just doesn’t work for me. This was probably the first and the only Hindu temple I encountered such aggressive behaviour. So watch out!

↑ Off with your shoes! Removing your shoes is customary before entering temples.

When the God of Love gets Burnt to Ashes…

The island is called Bhasmachal (Abode of the Ashes) in reference to a dramatic mythological incident. Lord Shiva, who was meditating on this island, was disrupted from his practise by Lord Kama, the God of Love. Kama, which is one of the four goals of Hindu life, means desire including sexual desire, the latter being the subject of the text that is widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature – the Kama Sutra.

Lord Indra, the king of Gods, had ordered Kama (one of his ministers) to make Lord Shiva fall in love with Parvati in order to produce a son that would then kill a demon that was bothering the Gods and his throne. Kama shot a love-arrow made of flowers at Shiva and interrupted his yogic meditation. Furious at this disruption, Shiva opened his third eye and instantly incinerated Lord Kama into ashes. Despite his sacrifice, the Cupid’s arrow that he shot earlier did work. Shiva and Parvati proceed to make love leading to the birth of Lord Kartikeya (the brother of Lord Ganesha).

In case you were wondering, Lord Kama was revived and brought back to life, but that’s a different story. I could read mythologies all day!

↑ Carvings of Lord Ganesha on the island. Ganesh is the son of Lord Shiva after whom the island-temple is dedicated.

Visiting

The island can be reached by ferries calling at the Kachari Ghat in a short ten minute ride across the narrow channel of the Brahmaputra river. This temple is one of the biggest attractions of Guwahati and is visited by devotees and tourists alike.

↑ Unlike the Kamakhya temple, there is not much to see at this temple unless ofcourse you are a devotee. What is does offer, is a lovely ferry ride and stupendous views of the river.