>Solace in the time of plague


Doorways of hope in troubled times

 The year was 1898. Plague had broken out in the rabbit waren like lanes of Blackpalli. Unhygienic living conditions in the congested bazaar area, lack of proper sanitation facilities, houses packed side by side like biscuits, open drains and sewers made it an extremely vulnerable target for the dreaded killer that had decimated the population of Europe several times over in centuries past. An estimated 15,000 cases made it to the hospital, of which 12,000 people never made it at all. ( Origin and growth of Basavanagudi, N Lakshman Rao, IAS /The City Beautiful, TP Issar) People fell like swatted flies. In the midst of this turmoil, temples were built in the area to invoke the rural Goddess Mariamman, an incarnation of Sakthi, consort of Shiva,  the ` Plague Deity ‘ who protects her children from viral diseases like small pox, measles and of course the plague. The Dandu Mariamman Temple is prominently located at Shivaji Square. Dandu means  `Cantonment, as did `Lashkar’, both of which are names for Shivajinagar.

Watching over the helpless 

Starting out in Bangalore, the plague soon spread across many districts in Mysore state. The then Dewan of Mysore, K Seshadri Iyer, fought a bitter battle across the region with this cunning enemy. Drive by fear, people fled from the crowded bazaar area, seeking wide open spaces, fresh air and cleaner environments on the outskirts of the city. To manage this exodus, the suburbs were looked at more closely and plans were drawn up for new layouts to be built covering approximately 1000 acres. Among these were Malleswaram, Basavangudi and Frazer Town. The epidemic also prompted the municipal administration to investigate options for developing a formalised sanitation system.The new layouts were laid out in grids, with narrow lanes known as `conservancy lanes’  running behind them.The modern, underground sewage drains and the mighty storm water drains had not yet been thought of.

Mariamman’s colour is yellow, and her symbols include turmeric, neem leaves and rain, all possessing cleansing properties. She is also represented by an earthen pot in rural Tamil Nadu, and hereby hangs the link between her and the Yellamma worshippers in North Karnataka. It makes for a fascinating story. The pot ( feminine power ) is also the key feature in the Karaga celebrations held in Bangalore every year. In Tamil Nadu, the Karagam is dedicated to Mariamman.

In rural South Indian villages all communities come together to participate in her festivals. In Bangalore, as the Karaga procession weaves its way across Cottonpet in the old city, it makes a compulsory stop at the Dargah of Hazrat Tawakkul Mastan Saheb ( RA ), as per the wishes of the 18th century Sufi Saint who is buried there. Religion evidently was once just a way of life that has now been compartmentalised by politics.

One comment

  1. massoom · · Reply

    I participated in Thimithi festival 2 times in the kovil of Mauritius. I was facing a lot of problems in my life with my husband. After 7 years of marriage i beome a mother. I give birth to a little daughter. I was thinking that my husband would live peacefully with my child but later I learnt he is committing adultery, beating me always, leave conjugal roof and gone to live with his mistress. His mother and all his family was coming to sack me out from my house. I was so depressed with my life. Then I surrendered myself in the lap of Mother Goddess Mariamman. I did thimithi 2 times and I was possessed by mother Goddess Mariamman. I dance like mother Goddess everybody says. I took my baby in my hands and woork in the fire. I played a lot. I am happy that Goddess mariamman is protecting me and my child. I keep fast for mother Mariamman on each Tuesday and Friday.

    I love mariamman. She is the mother of the Universe. Adiparashakti.

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