Sunday, May 20, 2007

God in his own image

The picture above is the welcome arch for this years celebrations.
The first line has the name of the goddess chapalamma dEvi
and the second one plEgamma dEvi
Come summer many small temples prepare for special celebrations.

Many of these temples are of minor gods and goddesses or bhootas or devvas or daivas. Many of them represent local deities and are said to have specific powers. Whereas gods do not harm you even if you do not offer prayers to them or propitiate them in any manner, many of these minor gods are said to harm you if you do not treat them ”properly” periodically.

Many of these minor goddesses are said to unleash an epidemic of some dreaded disease if not propitiated. That is why perhaps, these local festivals always take place around summer when these epidemics are rampant. Perhaps, they were more so in the past than now.

In any case, there are deities that carry the names of the diseases they have in their power to unleash. These goddesses are referred to as ammas – mothers. At the same time, some of these diseases themselves are called amma. Measles and chickenpox are two examples. Smallpox, which is a ‘more virulent – “bigger” – version’ (I do not know if the pathogens that cause these are in any way related or even similar, but the symptoms definitely are. With smallpox, it could even be fatal whereas chickenpox rarely is) of chicken pox is called doDDa amma, doDDa being “bigger”.

These Ammas, which are said to have power over a particular disease, are known by those names too. daDaara (rashes/measles) Amma, doDDa amma (smallpox) and so on.

But now, we have Plague Amma (Kannadised as plEgu ammanavaru) too. Many do not believe this when I tell them that there is a plEgu amma’s temple. I being an atheist, all that I say about gods is suspect. However, there is in fact a temple of the plague amma in NR Colony in Bangalore. This summer I found one, hardly a kilometre from where I live – in Jayanagar 1st block, Bangalore. This post was triggered by the elaborate arrangements being made this year for the celebrations.

Does the fact that the word plague itself is used in plEgu amma mean that plague is a disease that is new to India? (relatively speaking, that is. 400 years ago, in this context is new. We apparently do not have a kannada name for plague and hence the usage of the ‘English’ word before amma?)

If it is so, what was this amma doing before Plague came to India and where? No idea.

Even though some religions claim that god created man in his own image, perhaps
Ludwig Feuerbach was right when he said that man created god in his own image. If you are a theist, you may say that man gave his own image to god, so that he is more comprehensible. Why are most of these minor deities in charge of epidemics feminine Gods? As far as I know there are no appas (fathers) for any diseases.

Any ideas?


  1. The title should have been - 'God in her own image' :P

    Sir, its time for a new post...

  2. Touche! In any case since I was quoting someone I had to use his words, right?

    It is indeed time for a new post. I have some in the bank. I want to put up half a dozen at one shot. They are coming...........