Mariamman and Timeless significance of the Tamil month of Adi

published on July 30, 2010

Today is the 13th  day of the Tamil month of Aadi.  During the last four decades I have watched the processions of light and oil lamps in this holy month.  The great poet Rabindranath Tagore composed a beautiful poem dedicated to the Mother Goddess as a source of eternal light in the month of Aadi (July).  I cannot help repeating those sublime lines today:

Samayapuram Mariyamman
Thou hast come.  O Light of light, flooding with light.
Darkness from my eyes disappeared.
All the sky and the world are full of joy and laughter.
Where do I feast my eyes, everything is well.
Thy light dancing makes leaves of trees dancing with life.
Thy light arouses songs in the nests of birds.
 Thy light has lovingly fallen on my body,
Thy clean hands soothed my heart.


 During the last 2000 years innumerable great Tamil poets have immortalized several aspects of joy, gaiety and peace — festivities — associated with many important festivals, which fall in the month of Aadi.  Since these festivals take place in the month of Aadi, by convention and common usage, common people through the ages have popularized the use of the common generic name popularly known in Tamil as “ THE AADI VIZHA” which only means ‘The Aadi Festival’. The word ‘Aadi’ is derived from the Sanskrit word aash-adi. The months of the Indian Calendar are named after the 27 stars in the Zodiac system. For example, months like Chaitra, Phalguni, Vaishaki, Karthikai etc. are named after the stars. This year the month of Aadi started on 17 July 2010 and will last till the 16 August 2010.

The Tamil month of Aadi falls during the second half of the year known as Dakshinayanam when the Sun transits from the northern hemisphere to the Southern during July. The transition from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere in the month of January is known as Uthirayanam. From times immemorial, both these periods have been considered as auspicious for the worship of the Gods and Goddesses. Aadi Krithigai and Thai Poosam are important festivals for Lord Subramaniya. For the Goddess Maariamman also the month of Aadi is very auspicious. Aadi Pooram and Aadi Peruku are very popular festivals in the rural areas of Tamilnadu.
The new moon day in the month of Aadi month is celebrated as ‘AADI POORAM.’ This day is also celebrated as the birthday of AANDAL – the great Saint Poet who wrote Tiruppaavai and who is considered as a manifestation of the mother Goddess. Thousands of people view the month of Aadi as the sacred month of the Mother Goddess and women in large numbers partake in several rituals and ceremonies during this month. The Varalakshmi pooja observed by women falls in the Aadi month. Women observe fast (Vratha) on this day for the wellbeing of the family. The 10-day Aadi Mulaikottu festival at Madurai attracts huge crowds. The important event during the festival is the procession of Amman.
Farmers of Tamilnadu start the new agriculture season during the Aadi month. The 18th day of Aadi month is celebrated as Aadi perukku. This year Aadi perukku falls on 3 August 2010. Aadi month falls during the peak monsoon season and most of the rivers are seen overflowing during this period. PEOPLE CELEBRATE THIS OVERFLOW OF RIVER WATERS BY ASSEMBLING AND PRAYING ON THE RIVERBANKS. THEY OFFER FERVENT PRAYERS TO GODS TO KEEP THE RIVERS PERENNIALLY FILLED SO THAT THEY WILL HAVE ENOUGH WATER FOR AGRICULTURE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. This farmers’ festival is also known as Pathinettam Perukku and has been traditionally held for centuries along the banks of River Cauvery. But today, not only the farmers but also all sections of the population are celebrating this Pathinettam Perukku on the banks of all the tanks, lakes, rivers, reservoirs and beaches of Tamilnadu.  It is considered very auspicious to take a dip in the sea and rivers on the Aadi Amaavaasai day.

As I stated earlier, the month of Aadi is considered as very holy, auspicious and sacred for the South Indian Mother Goddess Maariamman or simply Amman. From the dawn of history, worship of this Goddess has been popular and predominant in the rural areas of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.  Though her origin is believed to be Proto-Dravidian or non-Vedic, yet Goddess Maariamman is also closely associated with Goddess Parvati and Goddess Durga.
The traditional mythological legends associated with the origins of Goddess Maariamman are quite fascinating. Maari or Marriamman originated in an ancient village Goddess related to fertility and rain.  Jump to: navigation, searchIn Tamil language, maari means rain. This goddess is a local deity, and thus is connected to a specific location, close to a specific tree, a rock or a special spot. These locations are mostly in rural areas.

Maariamman is usually portrayed as a young beautiful woman with a red-hued face, and wearing a red dress. Sometimes she is portrayed with many arms, representing her many powers and aspects, but in most representations she has only two or four arms. Her hands may display some mudra and her usual attributes are with the trident or spear and the bowl. Mariamman’s attributes are usually derived from the mythological stories told about her.

Mariamman was popularly known as the Smallpox Goddess before this dreaded disease was eradicated in India in the 1950s. Even today, according to popular belief, she cures all so-called heat-based diseases like pox and rashes. During the summer months in South India (March to June), people walk miles carrying pots of water mixed with turmeric and neem leaves even today to ward off illnesses like the measles and chicken pox. In this form Goddess Maariamman is very similar in characteristics to Sitala Devi, her counterpart in North India.

Goddess Maariamman is also worshipped as a Goddess of Fertility in the month of Aadi.  People in all parts of the State offer prayers to Goddess Maariamman for progeny, a good spouse, etc. The most favoured offering is ‘pongal’, a mix of rice and green gram, cooked mostly in the temple complex or shrine itself in terracotta pots using firewood.
For several centuries, magnificent festivals in honor of Goddess Maariamman in the month of Aadi have been marked by massive processions of women carrying oil lamps and lights in the night.  Many travellers from Europe and other parts of the World coming to Tamilnadu, from the days of Marco Polo in the 13th century to the days of English and French Travellers in the 19th century, have left very interesting and exciting accounts of these light festivals of grace and charm allied to exquisite beauty.  Bishop Reginald Heber has referred to one such procession which he watched somewhere in Tamilnadu in 1824.  ‘I was transported to another world by the glorious scene of music, dancing and glare of torches, accompanied at intervals by the deep sound of the gong.

The double double  peal of the drum was there,
And the startling sound of the trumpet’s blare,
And the gong, that seemed with its thunders dread
To stun the living, and waken the dead’.

Though her origin is believed to be Proto-Dravidian or non-Vedic, Goddess Maariamman has been incorporated into the Hindu pantheon as the sister of Lord Vishnu (Sriranganathar) and called Mahamaya. The Samayapuram Maariamman (near Thirucharapalli) is also worshipped on the first day of the Tamil month of Vaikasi by the Iyengar/Srivaishna Brahmins of Srirangam. They claim that she is the sister of Lord Renganatha (A form of Vishnu) of Srirangam.
The other important temples of Goddess Maariamman in Tamil Nadu are in the towns of Anbil, Narthamalai,Thiruverkadu, Salem, Erode, Virudhunagar and Sivakasi. Another famous Mariamman temple is situated in the state of Karnataka, in the town of KAUP, 7 km from the famous temple town of UDIPI.


The Maratha Rulers of Thanjavur from the end of 17th century to the middle of the 19th century were all great devotees of Goddess Maariamman.  At Punainallur, near Thanjavur, there is a famous Maariamman temple.


We learn from local history that once Goddess Maariamman appeared before the King Venkoji Maharaja Chatrapati (1676 – 1688) of Thanjavur, in his dream and told him that she was in a forest of Punna trees at a distance of about 3 miles from Thanjavur. The King lost no time in rushing to the spot indicated to him and recovered an idol from the jungle. Under the king’s orders a temple was constructed and its idol installed at that place, which was called Punnainallur. Hence the deity of this temple is known as Punnainallur Maariamman. Mud replicas of the different parts of the human body are placed in this temple as offerings by devotees pleading the mother for cure for several intractable and incurable diseases. It is said that the daughter of Tulaja Raja (1729-35) of Thanjavur, who lost her eyesight following her illness, regained it instantaneously on offering worship at this Maariamman temple.
Chaturmas or the Season of Four Months begins in the month of Aadi (July) every year.  Chaturmas, or Chatur Mas, is the age-old cycle of four holy Hindu months in a calendar year. Hinduism and Nature are completely emmeshed with one another and Nature plays a major role in important rituals and festivals associated with Hindu Religion. The Chaturmas occurs during the monsoon season and most of the important festivals for the Hindus take place during this period. In 2010, Chaturmas begins on July 21 and ends on November 17. Hindus also observe different vows and fasting during this period of Chaturmas.
To conclude in the beautiful words of Sister Nivedita: ‘Here then in India to this day is played out every year the old time drama of the peasant in the spring; played, too, in a fashion of which, however it may annoy the Philistine, neither the scholar nor the poet could bear to sacrifice a single point.  The joy of simple peoples in the bridal of nature and the festival of the great democracy of caste and sex – these are two mighty impulses that have given birth to all carnivals and Holy Pujas that the world has ever known. And behind, watching over them, suggesting a thought of poetry here, a touch of sanctity there, and working to moderate possible excess only by her own benign presence and her kindly tolerance, stands the Mother Goddess of Hinduism’.

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