Kamakha Through Prayerful Eyes
This “finely crafted, lyrical exploration of a sacred site” creatively captures the complexity and mystery surrounding Kamakhya Temple, an ancient place of fertility worship in India’s northeastern state of Assam. This temple is unique among Hindu temples of the Devi (the Goddess) in that it enshrines no image of Her.
In the corner of a dark cave is a rock with an impression of the yoni (the female sexual organs) of the Goddess. This rock is moistened by the waters of a natural spring and it remains covered at all times. Devotees and visitors prostrate before this rock and touch it to connect with the Goddess. No one sees Her.
Yet when one steps out of the cave one encounters a rich panorama of visual representations of the Goddess and Her temple, ranging from the ancient sculpture on the temple faþade, devotees´ private photographs, Hindu bazaar arts, crafts, and non-objective painting. Filmmaker Aparna Sharma’s deft and imaginative imagery and editing luminously reveal the myriad ways by which devotees visualize Kamakhya, the Goddess who resides in Secret and is not Seen.
Fertility worship at Kamakhya dates back to ancient times when the temple complex was a conglomeration of large rocks used by the matriarchal tribes: the Khasis and Garos of Assam. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the temple was assimilated into mainstream Hindu culture. But the film examines visual renditions that are distinct from and more complex than the dominant Hindu narrative relating to the site. It begins by evoking the Goddess through a poem by Assam´s acclaimed poet, Nilmani Phukan, that is visualized in an immersive montage situating the temple complex in the Assamese landscape.
After a portrait of everyday proceedings at the temple, the film moves to two artists who live in its vicinity, depicting their creative motivations, how the Goddess inspires them, and how they give Her form. The film follows the artistic methods they practice on a daily basis and shows how their creations sit within the broader social community surrounding the temple. The film combines observational and reflexive methods to explore how devotees of different socio-cultural backgrounds and aesthetic persuasions imagine and give form to the Goddess who exceeds visual representation.
Kamakha Through Prayerful Eyes is at once a riveting ethnographic documentary and an innovative work of filmic art itself. It achieves what its subjects aspire to do: to visualize a Mystery that is not visible. In doing so its impact on viewers is mesmerizing and memorable.
Kamakha Through Prayerful Eyes will generate thought and discussion in a wide array of classes in Asian and Indian studies, cultural anthropology, religious studies, women’s studies, and film studies. It was produced by Aparna Sharma, a documentary filmmaker, film theorist, and Assistant Professor in the Dept. of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA. An informative Instructor’s Guide written by Prof. Sharma accompanies the film.