A woman dressed as Goddess Mariamman, was seen distributing masks on the streets of Tamil Nadu. She was also attempting to spread awareness on the deadly virus COVID-19 that is wreaking havoc around the globe. In India, currently, Tamil Nadu is at number two on the list of worst virus-hit states.

People in Tamil Nadu, particularly in the rural areas, pray to Goddess Mariamman for immunity and good health.

Officials Dressing up as Gods and Goddesses — A Common Sight

Despite the surging number of cases, official reports from Tamil Nadu claim that around 30 per cent of the people in rural hotspots are not following guidelines. Earlier a short film titled ‘Kakkum Amman’ (The Guardian Goddess) was made to reach out to the locals, according to health officials.

Since the countrywide lockdown was announced in March, police and social workers have been trying their level best to get people to stay at home. They have often been spotted while being dressed up as gods and goddesses, asking people to follow the precautionary measures against COVID-19. In fact, ‘Yamraj’ (lord of death and justice) has been a common sight, from Delhi to Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, asking people to stay indoors.

Also Read: Devi or Devil : Why do we only look for good in our goddesses?

Hindu Goddesses and Their Worship during Pandemics

People in India have for long worshipped different Goddesses—it is always goddesses, not gods— of contagion, and often called upon their services before. Collectively known as ‘Amman’, or the Divine Mother, these goddesses have been deployed in many of the earlier pandemics that India has experienced. Some of the anthropological writings trace the first images of a contagion goddess back to the deadly Justinian plague of Rome (541-549 AD). The plague came to India via trade routes, killing between 25-100 million people globally. Nineteenth-century British colonial documents record an epidemic of bubonic plague around Bangalore. The same documents also report the desperate pleas of the villagers to a goddess named ‘Plague Amma’.

On the other hand, Goddess Mariamman takes her name from the word ‘mari’. It means both pox as well as transformation. In fact, Goddess Mariamman is sometimes also considered as the South Indian counterpart of the North Indian Goddess Sheetala. This Goddess Sheetala, her name meaning ‘the cold one’, is worshipped for her ability to cool fevers. Another thing to be noted is that the idea of all these goddesses is highly local, and they have always been worshipped primarily by lower caste, Dalit, tribal and rural folks.

Also Read: Dear Men, Offer To Help The Goddesses That Reside In Your Home

Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. 

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