The Goddess Mari which is called as Mariamman, is also a Maariamma, sense “mother”. She is the chief South Indian mother deity, chief, biggest in the countryside areas of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Through her basis which is thought to be Proto-Dravidian or non-Vedic, Goddess Mari is very much related with goddess Parvati and goddess Durga.Mariyamman is an avatar of Shakthi, and is closely related to Mother Kaali/Durga. Like Kaali, she is generally the guardian goddess of a community. Like Kaali, her shrines have always been approachable to all people regardless of caste. So she is called “MantaiAmman”: “Lady of Common Ground”.Her priests ususally come from the “lower”, tribal and laboring classes. Also, she is quite favorably disposed towards gay and transgendered people. Furthermore, women play a strikingly more active and central part in her rituals than they do in other Hindu ceremonial circumstances.As Shakthi, she is the cosmic serpent with 5 faces, and in the local traditions, she is said to have created even the highest gods, the Thrimurthy. As such, she is called “Peddamma”: “Great Mother”.
Story of Maariamma
Renuka raja (father of Renuka) performed an yajna a ritual performed to maintain peace and good health. He was blessed with a daughter, who originated from the fire of this yajna. Renuka was a bright and active child and became the most beloved child of her parents.When she was eight, Agastya, who was the guru of the Renuka Raja, advised him to have his daughter married to Jamadagni when she reached maturity. Jamadagni was the son of Ruchik Muni and Satyavathi and had obtained the blessings of the gods by performing severe penance. Renuka and Jamdagni Muni lived in the Ramshrung mountains, near the present day Savadatti area of Belgaum district. Renuka helped the Jamdagni Muni in all of his tasks of performing various rituals and puja. Gradually she became close and dear to Jamdagni.Renuka would wake up early in the morning to bathe in the Malaprabha River with complete concentration and devotion. Her devotion was so powerful that she was able to create a pot to hold water made only of sand, one fresh pot every day. She would fill this pot, on the bank of the river and would use a snake which was nearby, turning it into a rope-like convolution and placing it on her head, so that it supported the pot. Thus, she brought the water to Jamdagni for his rituals of oblation.Renuka gave birth to five sons: Vasu, Viswa Vasu, Brihudyanu, Brutwakanwa and Rambhadra. Rambhadra was the youngest and most beloved, gaining the favour of Lord Shiva and Parvati and hence called Parashurama (the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu).One day when Renuka went to the river, she saw Gandharva spirits playing. These were young couples carelessly frolicking in the water with abandon. For a moment, she lost her concentration and devotion and fantasized about playing in the river with her husband. She wished she and her husband had such fun sometimes too, living so close to such a beautiful place. After some time, Renuka came to her senses and cursed herself for her indiscretion. She hurriedly bathed, as she had lost precious time, and tried to create the pot, but was unable to as she had lost her concentration. She even tried to catch the snake but it disappeared. Disappointed by this, she returned to the ashram in shame. Seeing Renuka returning empty-handed, Jamadagni became furious and angrily ordered her to go away.After being cursed by her husband, Renuka went east and sat in the forest to meditate. In her penance, she met with the saints Eknath and Joginath; she prayed to them and asked to gain the mercy of her husband.
They first consoled her, then instructed her to follow their advice exactly as told. They told her to purify herself, first bathing in a nearby lake, and then to worship a Shivalinga, which they had given to her. Next, she should go to the nearby town and beg for rice from the houses (this ritual, called “Joga Bedodu”, is still carried out by women during a particular month in Karnataka). After collecting the rice, she was to give half to the saints and cook the remaining half, adding jagriey, partaking of the cooked rice with full devotion. They said that if she performed this ritual for three days, she would be able to visit her husband on the fourth day.Knowing the anger of Jamadagni, they warned her that she may not be fully pardoned by him, and that she would have to experience the most difficult time of her life for a few minutes. “After that,” they said, “you will be eternally revered and will be blessed with your husband. You will be worshiped by all the people henceforth.” After blessing her this way, they disappeared. Renuka followed their instructions with devotion and worshipped the Shivalinga with full care and reverence. On the fourth day, she went to see her husband.Jamadagni was still furiously angry with Renuka and ordered his sons to punish their mother. He ordered their sons—first, second and third—to behead their mother Renuka Devi. But all refused, pleading that there was no precedent. However, their fourth son, Parasurama, agreed to carry out his father’s severe order. At once, Parasurama, the avatar of Maha Vishnu, beheaded his mother with his axe weapon.On beheading his mother, Parasurama turned to his father and said that he had carried out the order. Jamadhakni was pleased and offered to grant his son Parasurama a boon befitting the heavy task assigned to him.On being assured that the boon would surely be granted, Parasurama requested that his mother be back to life. Jamadhakni, though indignant at the outset, was compelled to grant the boon to maintain his word.Jamadhakni said that the water for that day’s puja had not yet been fetched.
However, a remnant of the previous day’s puja water kept in a kabandalam (vessel with handle and spout) was found and sprinkled on Renuka Devi’s body, attaching the severed head.On sprinkling water on the head and torso, Renuka Devi came back to life. However Jamadhakni told her that she no longer had any place in the ashram as she was an incarnation of goddess Parvati, henceforth called Mari Amma by order of Lord Shiva.Renuka Devi, or rather Mari Amma, was starting to leave the ashram when from a distance an army of brigands approached Jamadhakni asking for drinking water. The rishi was now in deep meditation (dhyana) and could not hear the tumult. The warlord of the brigands turned wild and told his followers to cut off the head of the rishi, which they did. Since Jamadhakni died in a sacred place surrounded by ashrams, his body could not be kept for long and, accordingly, a funeral pyre was built and his body was cremated.Renuka Devi, on seeing her husband’s body being burnt, returned and leaped upon the funeral pyre, as a last mark of respect for her rishi husband. Indra from heaven ordered Varuna, the rain god, to drench the fire with sudden heavy rain so that the fire would be extinquished. But in the meantime, Renuka Devi had been severely burned and her dress was also burnt partly.Then, badly burned but still alive, Renuka Devi managed to walk to a nearby village where, on seeing her familiar face, the villagers made her lay on a long plantain leaf coated with castor oil and applied turmeric powder and neem leaves. One woman touched Renuka Devi and, finding her feverish, ordered that she should be given tender coconut water and butter milk. Then Renuka Devi went to the next village inhabited by washer men who, upon seeing Renuka Devi’s burnt sari, offered her a pure white sari and a red sari that is normally worn by Mari Amma.On descending from Mount Kailasa , Lord Shiva appeared before Renuka Devi and pronounced her as none other than Uma Devi, Parameswari or Jagadeeswari. Ever since then, Renuka Devi has been called Mari Amman and other names according to local traditions.