29 September 2009

Goddess Ankalamma

Yesterday evening during a shopping expedition to town, I paused to view a very nice procession of the Goddess Anakalamma parading through town on a chariot. On talking with a couple of bystanders, I learnt that this Goddess has a shrine on the way out of town on the Sathanur Dam roadway. The procession was in celebration of the Navaratri Festival.

As I am not familiar with this Goddess, I was interested to learn more. I was particularly delighted by the garlanded bow and arrow the priest took from the Goddess and (as her proxy) shot little wooden arrows into the watching crowd. I assumed that it was in some way associated with Kama the God of Love, however I was soon set right by some friendly bystanders who assured me that it was nothing to do with Kama but signified the Veera (power and strength) of the warrior Goddess.

On getting home I did some research on this fascinating Goddess and below write about some legends associated with her -- particularly those associated with her at the nearby Melmalaiyanoor Temple (35 kms east of Tiruvannamalai) to which the Goddess was supposed to have travelled, after leaving Arunachala.

Goddess Ankalamma is also known as Angalamma, Ankamma, Angamma, Ankali, Angali, Ankala Parameswari and Angala Parameswari and is worshipped in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

She is said to be one of the Seven Matrkas (Sapta Matrikas) and is also considered to be a form of goddess Ankali or Kali. Ankamma is considered to be the mother of the Trimurtis (i.e. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva) but like many Tamil popular deities, she seems to have originated as a fierce guardian figure. In the rituals dedicated to her she is appeased with blood. Ankamma also means Parvati, the consort of Shiva (in Telegu "Ankamu" means "Lap"). Hence Ankamma means the divine consort of Shiva who sits on the lap of Shiva.

It is held that that this Goddess has 1000 eyes and each red dot of kumkum indicates one eye of Goddess Ankamma. The devotees of Ankamma believe that the Goddess keeps a protective watch on her devotees through her one thousand eyes. Ankalamma's shrines are generally located outside villages in groves of trees and often in the form of simple stone structures.

One of the most famous Ankamma Temples is Sri Angala Amman Temple at Melmalaiyanoor, 35 Kms east of Tiruvannamalai. One of the fascinating legends of this temple is as follows:

Legend of Melmalaiyanoor

“With power of mantras and boons from Lord Shiva, Brahma performed a yaga to save the Gods and men from two demons known as Sandobi and Sundarar. Through this yaga Thilothama came to life as an apsara.

Attracted by her beauty not only demons but Brahma also followed her. For her protection she went to Kailash. As Brahma had five heads, Parvati mistook him for the five-headed Shiva and fell at his feet. But when Parvati realized the truth, in anger she prayed that Shiva would destroy the fifth head of Brahma. Shiva fought with Brahma and cut off his fifth head. But Brahma’s fifth head grew back. Shiva cut off Brahma's head nine hundred and ninety nine times and became fatigued. He made the nine hundred and ninety nine heads into a garland and wore it and then again cut off Brahma's fifth head which this time did not grow back. Shiva was affected by sin due to this.

The Goddess Saraswati, wife of Brahma cursed Shiva to have no food or sleep, and that his hunger and thirst could only be satisfied by bone. After this Shiva roamed the world. Saraswati was also cursed Parvati to become ugly, and that crane and peacock birds were to become her dress and her assistants were to be demons.

On hearing this, Lord Vishnu instructed Parvati that her ordeal would end when she became a snake in Melmalaiyanoor.

To win relief from these curses, the Goddess Parvati roamed around the world until she met the sage Kapil at Tiruvannamalai and took a bath in the Brahma Tirtham. From Tiruvannamalai, Parvati proceeded to Thazhanur where she stayed overnight and then moved onto Melmalaiyanoor.”

To read more of this legend go to this link here.

Below is an interesting narrative explaining the history of the Village Goddess and how that role has adapted over the years to fit changing times.

History of the Village Goddess

“Till about a hundred years ago, village goddesses as localised forms of Devi - the Goddess - constituted the single most important category of deities worshipped in the Indian countryside. In contrast to the great gods who were linked to the Universe as celestial space, goddesses were tied to the world and the earth. Bhudevi, for instance, was earth divinized.

The divinity rubbed off on the village goddesses as well. They were the presiding deities of their little kingdoms, their sovereignty being coterminous with the boundaries of the settlement. They were responsible for the protection of the populace within the village precincts. Agricultural production and human reproduction were also dependent on their grace. Thus Village India was dotted with countless shrines of Mata, Amman, and so on.

Whatever their local name or form, all village goddesses shared certain common features. The vast majority were represented without male consorts. Though not necessarily unmarried, they stood alone in their temples. The Tamil village goddess Angalamman, for example, was depicted both as an auspicious married woman with sons, and as a virgin without husbands. In both cases the male consort was absent.

Goddesses could stand and act alone because they embodied shakti, the energising power. Such single goddesses, however, were generally perceived as dangerous, quickly angered and bloodthirsty. They demanded animal sacrifices as appeasement, a trait which further set them apart from the great deities of Hinduism who., were, all vegetarian.

But in the modern era, village goddesses underwent a metamorphosis. Dietary reform now became the rage. The brahmanical commitment to vegetarianism was elevated to an all-India ideal. Overnight, Mahatma Gandhi made it the new moral imperative. By making all Hindus pure and superior, he struck a powerful blow at caste inequality.

The emphasis on vegetarianism had a telling effect on the position of the village goddesses. This triggered off a reform of village goddesses. They were either made vegetarian, or, if they still demanded animal sacrifices, abandoned. The overall result was a marked decline in the popularity of village goddesses.”

To read the full article by Meenakshi Jain go to this link here.

1 comment:

chandra said...

Dear Meenakshi Ammal, You are very fortunate to be living where you do and doing what you do.