Perundevi Srinivasan

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:


Māriyammaṉ is a goddess, widely worshipped in Tamilnadu in South India. Although she has been predominantly identified as the smallpox goddess, she is said to govern approximately fifteen varieties of contagious afflictions, including chickenpox, German measles, and herpes. The goddess is believed not only to cause and cure these afflictions but also to “arrive” upon humans during these afflictions. In her association with pox afflictions, she is similar to Śītalā, a goddess worshipped in connection with poxes in northern and eastern India. During Māriyammaṉ’s “arrival” in the form of affliction, the house of the afflicted person receives a distinct mark in the form of a bunch of margosa twigs hung over the entrance to indicate the goddess’s “presence” at the house. Margosa is special to the goddess, and one often comes across this plant in her iconography, myths, and rituals. In addition to her worship during affliction, the goddess is also celebrated in connection with rain, as indicated by the Tamil term māri, which means rain. On the occasion of drought, it is a common practice to conduct a festival at Māriyammaṉ’s temple, with special prayers to her to bestow rain. Even though Māriyammaṉ is often referred to as a “village goddess,” worship of her prevails in towns and cities as well, cutting across caste and family lineages. Further, Māriyammaṉ’s deep-rooted and distinct connection with a locality or place is reflected in names such as “Bannari Māriyammaṉ” and “Collector Nagar Māriyammaṉ,” where Bannari and Collector Nagar refer to a small town and a neighborhood, respectively, in Chennai. Like place names, her attributes also form part of her name. For instance, karu, meaning “dark” in the name KaruMāriyammaṉ, indicates her dark complexion. At the same, the name also indicates her vengeful nature as a black cobra on the one hand and her compassionate nature as a dark rain-bringing cloud on the other, as her myths articulate.

Article.  4177 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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