A sadhu at Kamakhya temple in Guwahati on Monday. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati, June 19: Bare-footed tantriks, sadhus and devotees have climbed the stone stairs of Nilachal hills for ages every year during the Ambubachi mela. No one was invited and the sheer desire to have a glimpse of Goddess Kamakhya attracted hundreds to Nilachal hills during the time.
The number of devotees, including tantrik researchers, increased with the improvement of the 3.2km road, bus service and other facilities provided by the Assam government in the past few years.
For the first time this year, the state tourism department has printed cards and has invited devotees to the four-day mela beginning Thursday. From BJP chief Amit Shah, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Union ministers, all MLAs of Uttar Pradesh, devotees in Vrindaban, a Hindu pilgrimage - top politicians and Hindu religious heads figure among the invitee list.
Uttar Pradesh governor Ram Naik, former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Lucknow mayor Suresh Chand Awasthi, UP minister Mohendra Singh, Gujarat chief minister Bijay Rupani, Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot are other prominent politicians have been invited as well.
Some of the prominent Hindu gurus who have been invited include Prakash Puri ji Maharaj, mahant of Mahakal Mandir, Ujjain, Panchanand Giriji Maharaj, jagatguru of Juna Akhara and Devikananadan Thakurji Maharaj of Priyankant Ju Mandir, Vrindaban.
A group of young bikers who began a 37-day ride last month have already visited Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat, inviting prominent persons, religious heads, mediapersons and devotees.
"They have personally visited them and handed over the invitation letters. All have expressed their willingness to visit the Kamakhya temple during Ambubachi mela," said an official in the tourism department.
Ambubachi mela, said to be one of the biggest religious congregations, is celebrated to mark the annual menstrual cycle of Goddess Kamakhya and witnesses huge crowds of devotees every year. More than 10 lakh devotees, including tantriks, researchers from various parts of the country and nations like the UK, the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Nepal, Bangladesh and others visited the temple during the mela last year.
"This is for the first time devotees have been invited by the tourism department. Since ancient times, the devotees and tourists have come to the temple on their own. This time the department is inviting prominent people probably to promote tourism," Bhupesh Kumar Sarma, general secretary of Bordeuri Samaj, the society of the priests, told The Telegraph .
Apart from the 3.2km motorable road, there are three staircases that devotees climb to reach Kamakhya and several other ancient temples on Nilachal hills.
The department this year has launched a tour package comprising tents on Nilachal hills and a river cruise on the Brahmaputra during Ambubachi mela as part of its plan to put Kamakhya temple, one of the shaktipeeths, on the spiritual tourism map of the country.
In another first this year, the temple authorities last week decided not to allow naga (naked) sadhus on the temple premises, saying such sights put many devotees with families in discomfort.
A separate zone will be arranged for naga sadhus in Abhayananda ashram on the western part of the temple, a decision strongly opposed by the sadhus, saying they have visited and taken out a procession on the Kamakhya temple premises since ages. Ambubachi mela has largely remained a religious congregation but this year the BJP government is planning "big" to attract high-end tourists. The department has also launched a strong promotional campaign, including social media.