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Why Is Mariamman Often Depicted With Only Her Head?

Devotees often find Goddess Mariamman in the form of only her head. The popular story behind this tradition goes like this: Jamadagni was a great rishi. Renuka, the beautiful daughter of Varma Raja, married the rishi.

They had four or five sons (there are differences in the number in various references; and differences in the names too). Thannuva, Anula, Viswavasu, Parashurama by one account; Vasu, Viswavasu, Brihudhyanu, Brithwakanwa, Bhadra Rama by another; Som, Ruthu, Turvasu, Megh, Parashurama by yet another. Whatever the list, the last son was Parashurama.

One day, Renuka was collecting water from the Ganga. As she was looking at the water surface, she saw the reflection of a gandharva flying through the skies. Attracted by Renuka’s beauty, the gandharva named Chithrasena kept circling the same area.

Attracted by the gandharva’s image repeatedly floating on the water surface, Renuka thought for a second – ‘How handsome he is!’ Jamadagni immediately knew of the incident through his jnanadrishti. Enraged that renuka could be attracted by another man, he ordered that she be beheaded.

The elder sons would not carry out the command. The youngest of the lot, though attached to the mother, agreed to fulfil the words of the father. And he did so. After beheading his mother, when Parashurama approached his father, Jamadagni praised him for his vairagya and courage. The son then sought a boon that his mother should be brought back to life. The disturbed Jamadagni gave waters empowered with mantra sakti to be sprinkled on Renuka’s body.

Parashuraama rushed to the spot where his mother’s head lay. He could find the head but not the rest of the body. As he frantically searched for her body, he was told that her body was thrown in an area where lay the bodies of several other women. In his anxiety, Parashuraama fixed his mother’s head over the body of some other woman. Renuka came alive and stood before Jamadagni, of course with a stranger’s body.

Jamadagni knew of her powers as the shakti amsa. Not willing to deprive mankind of her grace and benefits, he requested her to reside in the villages and places of human settlements. Since only the head was that of Renuka, these temples have only that part of the figurine.

SourceMaari – the mother published in Vedanta Kesari magazine May 2020.