Goddess Amman in Paintings - A study

Most South Indians would have probably heard about goddess ‘Maariamman’, and if you are a Tamizhian (one who hails from the state of Tamilnadu in the southern most part of India), by chance, you may turn lot more serious in this topic discussion. There are lot many paintings of Goddess Amman you can see in this part of the world (and for all the good reasons!) Also known by the name “Mahamayi”, the supreme Hindu deity, Mariamman is all omnipotent and a symbol of absolute women power.

Nice thing to start with a story, ah: How many of you know the story of the mythical character Parashuram and the axe? OK, for those who’ve never heard of it, here is a quick mythological recap: Parshurama was the son of the Hindu Rishi (sage) Jamadagni and Renuka. Known for her great chastity and devotion to her husband, Renuka once looks at a group of Gandharvas, riding on a chariot, passing by in the sky, when she comes to the river to fetch water from the water in a pot made of unbaked clay. As desire fills her stare for a fraction of moment, Renuka realizes that the unbaked pot she held dissolves in the river. Meanwhile, her sage-husband, enraged on finding that his wife hadn’t returned home, comes to know of her situation through his yogic powers. On the other hand, Renuka waits at the river bank, knowing that his husband would be terribly angry with her for her act.

The sage summons his eldest son, hands him an axe and orders the boy to kill his mother. When the boy refuses, the infuriated sage turns him to stone; in the same way, he turns all his sons, one by one, into stone, except his youngest son Parashurama.

According to a popular legend, Renuka takes refuge in the house of a low-caste poor woman who tries to save her from being killed by her son. The boy, ever obeisant was he, now beheads both his mother, as well as the woman who wanted to save her. Pleased with his act, the sage grants his son a boon. Parashurama asks for his mother to be resurrected. But in the process, the father swaps the heads by mistake.

If you’ve have been to Samayapuram Mariamman Temple near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, you will be able to find two goddesses, “Mugam Mari Amman” (or “Face-swapped Amman”). The word “Amman” means a “Female Goddess”, and comes from the Tamil word “Amma” meaning ‘Mother’.

The story was forgotten with the passage of time and “Mugam Mari Amman” — for that’s how the supreme goddess was known and worshipped by her devotees — became “Maham Mayi Amman” which roughly translates into ‘Great Magical Goddess’. Also, “Mari” is Tamil for “Rain”, and it is widely believed by the ancient Tamil people that worshipping her will bring abundant rain to the land.