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Guardian Deities

Abodes of Shakti >> Guardian Deities


The worship of  nature or cosmic energy in the form of the divine mother is something native to populations all over the Indian subcontinent. Regardless of the region in question, some variation of Shakti worship exists. Thus the worship of Bhagawati is unique to Kerala while temples dedicated to Maariamman are seen throughout Tamilnadu.

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Shakti - graama devataa or the goddess native to a village is usually represented iconographically as a face with arms, the earth constituting the rest of the body. It is believed that the village goddess when happy brings peace and prosperity while when angry brings disease and drought. The peaceful manifestation of the graaama-devata is referred to as Seetala while the angry manifestation is referred to as Jari_maari. Animal sacrifices have been offered traditionally to graama devataas for generations; however this practice is on the wane.

Maariamman temples are seen throughout the length and breadth of Tamilnadu; the best known of these are the Maariyamman temple at Samayapuram and the Karumaariyamman temple at Tiruverkadu near Chennai. These temples have risen beyond the stature of localized village temples and they attract visitors from throughout the state.

The legend of Renuka Parameswari is associated with Maariyamman. Legend has it that Jamadagni Muni, the father of Parasuraama, an incarnation of Vishnu accused his wife Renuka of infidelity and ordered his children to behead her. All of his children with the exception of Parasuraama refused to obey his orders. A distraught Renuka fled for her life and sought refuge in the hut of a villager by name Yellamma. Parasuraama beheaded both women and then requested his father to restore them to life. In the process of restoring his mother to life, the heads and the headless bodies of Yellamma and Renuka got mixed up, and the restored women got elevated to the status of folk Goddesses held in great regard throughout south India. Yellamma shrines in Karnataka as well as Yellaiamman shrines in Tamilnadu depict images of the goddess with similar iconography.

Closely associated with the worship of the graama devata is the reverence accorded to snakes. Snakes are very closely associated with the element earth and are believed to be aware of the secrets of life and death. Snakes are commonly associated with fertility. It is not uncommon to see snake hills held in reverence in the vicinity or within the precincts of the temple of a graama devata. Actually, Shakti herself is conceptualized as the mystical Kundalini serpent which lies within the body of every being. The Kundalini is the potential that can be aroused through ritual postures and mantras.

Maanasa Devi associated with serpents and fertility is held in worship in northern India.

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