Mother Prays to ‘Bleeding Goddess’ to Heal Son’s Cerebral Palsy

Monika Deb Nath begins her morning with a prayer and a dip in a holy pond, all the while praying for her son, Gopal.

Monika Deb Nath offers prayers before taking a dip in the temple pond at the Kamakhya temple during the Ambubachi festival in Guwahati.

Her days are spent caring for him — feeding him, taking him to the toilet, bathing him, keeping him hydrated. When she's not praying, Nath hovers around the 17-year-old with a small fan, trying to give him some relief from the heat and humidity.

Monika Deb Nath uses a hand fan and rests on the floor with her son Gopal at the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.

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Nath, 45, and her husband have visited the Kamakhya temple for the fourth year for the annual Ambubachi festival, praying for a miracle to heal their son from cerebral palsy, which has left him with almost no control over his body.

Years of medical treatment did not help, she said, and the family is now seeking the blessings of Kamakhya, the most important deity of tantric worship, an esoteric form of Hinduism.

A devotee dressed as goddess Kamakhya attends the Ambubachi festival in Guwahati.

Kamakhya, one of the many traditions of Hinduism, celebrates the woman's power to give birth. As a mother, Nath's faith in the mystical powers of the mother goddess to heal her son remains strong.

How one chooses a deity out of the pantheon of gods and goddesses is varied — some families have traditionally worshipped one for generations, some choose according to their understanding, some look for a specific power of a deity to yield a desired result, some are influenced by their guru, or religious leader.

A Sadhu blesses devotees during Ambubachi festival at Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.

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The four-day Ambubachi festival marks Kamakhya's yearly menstrual cycle, and it brings hundreds of thousands of devotees to the temple in Guwahati in Assam state.

The temple doors are closed to devotees for the first three days of the festival, akin to the way menstruating women are often kept in seclusion in this region. Menstruation is associated with impurity in large parts of India and conversations around it are still taboo.

Devotees perform rituals beside idols of goddess Kamakhya during Ambubachi festival in Guwahati.

Rituals on the fourth day include purifying the deity with panchamrita, the five nectars: honey, cow milk, liquid cane sugar, yoghurt and clarified butter. Devotees receive a piece of red cloth that was used to cover a sculptured representation of the goddess for those three days and is believed to have been moistened with her menstrual fluid.

"This is our belief, it is an ancient belief," said Kabindra Prasad Sharma, 56, a priest who helps run the temple. "And whoever receives this and prays with purity of heart and faith will have their desires fulfilled."

That fulfilment is what Monika prays for.

Monika Deb Nath feeds her son Gopal at the Kamakhya temple during the Ambubachi festival in Guwahati.

Her life is not easy. But her faith in Kamakhya and her love for her son gives her strength.

"If he suffers, I feel the same. I feel his every breath," she said.

(Published in an arrangement with Associated Press)

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