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Why is Mariamman A Gram Devata Or Village Deity?

Mariamman is seen almost in every village of Tamil Nadu. There is an interesting and legendary story as to why Mariamman is a gram devata or village deity.

Mariamman was originally called Renuka. She was the wife of a rishi by name, Jamadagni.

The sons of a cruel king by name Karthaveerya, killed Jamadagni. Seeing the cruel fate that befell her beloved husband, Renuka jumped into fire. But as she was an amsa or aspect of Shakti, her burning in fire would have terrible consequences for the world.

Recognizing this, Devendra, king of the devatas, who is also the god of rains, immediately rained over the fire to pacify Renuka.

The fire was extinguished. However, the garments that Renuka wore had all been burnt down and in the bargain, blebs had appeared all over her partially burnt body.

Finding a huge neem tree nearby, she immediately draped herself in bunches of neem twigs and leaves.  

She reached a small colony of people nearby. She was hungry and so asked them for food. Beholding such a beautiful woman in such a pitiable state, they offered her rice, jaggery and flour. They thought jiggery and flour will give her immediate relief from hunger and also provide with immediate energy. Seeing her burnt in some places and wanting to cool her body, they gave her tender coconut water and a watery preparation of jaggery called the paanagam. Some even offered her some dresses. Accepting all that was offered, Renuka went to the devaloka in search of Jamadagni.

The gods there pacified both of them. Lord Shiva then appeared before Renuka, Jamadagni and the gods. Since Renuka is an aspect of Shakti, the Lord reminded her of her responsibility of protecting mankind. The Lord also gave the following dictat and boons:
  1. Any bleb or pustule that appears on the skin of human kind will subdue and disappear by the grace of Renuka;
  2. The neem leaves that she wore will be instilled with anti-septic and anti-disease properties;
  3. The food offered to her by the village people will thenceforth become her naivedhya;
  4.  Since the rain God poured rain for her sake, she also will be known henceforth as ‘maari’ (meaning rain)
  5. And Maari would shower Her Grace like rain.
Renuka, who came down to the earth on Lord Shiva’s command, stayed at places where people would congregate. Thus, she came to reside under trees and at the common places.