Gracious Maari Amman - Hindu goddess and interesting facts

Muth Maariamman temple Sri Lanka
Muth Maariamman temple Sri Lanka
Maari or Mariamman (Tamil: Maari; Marathi: Mariaai) is a typical South Indian Hindu  goddess of rain. She is  mostly  associated with curing of many dreadful diseases in the past such as smallpox and cholera. Even today people who are afflicted  with chicken pox, Jaundice, Measles, etc., visit the temple  regularly for cure. 
The goddess is also known as Muthu Maari (The Tamil word Muthu means pearl) the  poetic way of expressing the rain falls in droplets.  Muthu here also refers to the  small boils of  small pox in the past, but unfortunately it now refers  to the  chickenpox as well.  She is frequently referred to as Maari Aatha or simply Aatha. There is no village in the state of Tamil Nadu, in particular, that does not have a temple dedicated to her. She is a dominant Goddess in the villages and hamlets. The temple sizes may vary according to the income received by the them.  The Goddess is equally famous in all southern states and also in Maharastra. Maari Amman is actually a form of Goddess Parvathi, the consort of Lord Shiva. The North Indian equivalent is Sithala Devi. She is also  believed to be a form of Durga.

In Tamil, the word 'Maari' also means rain and 'Amman'  literally means mother, hence she is  "mother nature." It is believed that the ancient Tamils  worshiped  her to bring  copious rain  for the crops, etc. Plenty of rain assured them of good harvest, vegetation and potable water,  improving their prosperity and welfare.

In almost many villages, people strongly believe the goddess protects  their lands, crops  and the different communities living there, forming a strong religious landscape of the villages.

In many parts, she is considered an avatar of Kali, the Goddess who destroys the evil and saves the good. As a matter of fact in Tamil Nadu,  the people, especially women have an obsession  for her. Her mount (Vahana) is mostly lion and her defensive weapon is Soolam – trident. Though she is portrayed as a goddess with Ugraham –fierce looking, in reality, she has been kind to the dedicated devotees  who seek Her refuge, reposing lots of trust in her. Thousands of people, who sought her blessings and divine guide in times of trials and tribulations, are blessed with desirable  results

Major festivals associated with Maariamman are held  during the late summer, early autumn season of "Aadi". Throughout Tamil Nadu  "Aadi Thiruvizha" is celebrated  on a grand scale and devotion. Almost in all towns and villages in the month of April  people in groups take out procession, carrying a pot of milk on their head called "Paal Kudam" (in Tamil Paal means milk, Kudam means pot), walking barefoot to the nearest Maariamman temple. They sometimes walk several kilometers with their mind focused on the deity,  unmindful of scorching summer hot sun.  

Some  Amazing facts:

01. The goddess is believed  to cure heat related diseases like rashes, etc.  During  the summer months, devotees  carry pots of water mixed with turmeric and Neem leaves  and undertake padhayatra (walking barefoot) to the nearest  Maariamman shrine to ward off illnesses like the  measles and  chickenpox.

02. Paal Kudam, devotees carrying a pot of milk to the nearby temple,  is  a religious undertaking  commonly followed by millions of devotees  in Tamil Nadu. Both men, women and even children walk barefoot to the place of worship. When undertaking a religious offer, normally devotees walk barefoot for many kilometers to the temple to fulfill their  commitment or vow..

03. Normally Sunday is the most auspicious day and the Maariamman temples are crowded on  this day every week.

04. It is a taboo to go to  Marriamman temple without taking a bath. When undertaking a religious commitment, ardent devotees invariably avoid non-vegetarian food, liquor, etc.

05. Maariamman is also considered a fertility goddess and couples undertake Virutham - fast as part of their prayer.

06. Both Vedic and non  non-Vedic methods are followed  with respect to  worship of Maariamman in the temples.  Part of the worship includes  various kinds of folk dancing and these make the atmosphere vibrant. In many temples one can see women going into a trance and in extreme cases they reach a sort of semi-unconcious state.  In  small villages mostly Poojaris or Poosaaries  (non Brahmins) conduct the puja ritual with devotion in the Sanctum. However, when temple consecration is held, Brahmin pundits conduct the main rituals  helped by Poojaries.

07. At many Maariamman temples one can see one or more anthills, supposedly the abode of live cobra(s) and devotees  offer milk, etc to the anthills.

08. During festival times  cooking of Pongal or Koozu in earthen pots by women folks is  common. So are fire walking, nose and ear piercing rituals.  As part of fulfillment of their prayer,  lots of  devotees  have their head shaved. There is a separate hall for tonsuring near the temple premises.

09. The goddess is closely associated with Neem or Margosa tree. Her favorite garland is mainly  lemon fruits, besides flowers. 

10. Unfortunately only in remote villages in Tamil Nadu, animal sacrifices are common, despite the Government ban. Mainly male goats and roosters are sacrificed and there is a separate place called Bali Peetam. Temple poojaries appointed for this purpose conduct the ritual. Animal Welfare Association is fighting for a complete ban on this primitive practice.