Come summer, a typical scene in the evenings, near the Mysore Palace, is groups of men, women and children walking across the street holding an offering, which comprises decorated thambittu, a bunch of neem leaves, jaggery, tender coconut and curds. Sometimes they are accompanied by a band and are seen carrying out a procession. Ask them where they are headed, swiftly they reply - to chill Maaramma!
The people of Mysuru worship Kote Maaramma, who protects the palace, and Dandu Maaramma, who protects the military. Kote Maaramma temple is located outside Mysore Palace and Dandu Maaramma Temple is located in Veeranagere. During the days between Shivarathri and Ugadi, the residents of Mysuru offer special puja to Maaramma, which is known as Maari Jaatre.
Kote Maaramma has no priest, and the devotees make offerings on their own. Thambittu, a sweet dish made out of rice flour, jaggery, sesame seeds and coconut, is usually decorated with flowers or by pasting fried gram (hurigadale) like a chain around it. "Thambittu comes from the words thampu (cool) and hittu (flour). The devotees make it out of grains. Earlier it was prepared using an oralukallu (stone grinder)," says Dr M Nanjayya, associate professor, Kuvempu Kannada Study Centre, University of Mysore.
The devotees also perform an abhisheka using tender coconut water, buttermilk and curds on Maaramma, to chill her. After the ritual, they drink the blend as thirtha, sprinkle it on their heads and take it home. A few neem leaves are kept on the head of the deity and the devotees take it as prasadam. The ritual is done to ensure that Maaramma will not face the heat of scorching sun in summer. This is the beauty and the uniqueness of this practice.
During these days, the deity is decorated with a jacket (kavacha) made of metal. Interestingly, there is no definite shape for the goddess in the temple. She is worshipped in the form of stones, and there are two round stones inside and three outside the temple.
People participate in this ritual irrespective of caste and class. While devotees visit the temple with a number of wishes, for many, keeping the deity cool in summer is the only reason. Laxmi, a devotee, says that she has come to the temple to protect the goddess from the scorching sun by offering cold items. "After Ugadi, the temperature increases everyday. So, we believe that by offering all these items to the goddess we can keep Maaramma cool,'' she says.
For some, this Maaramma is a goddess of healing. For others, she is a village deity. For historians, she is the courageous wife of a soldier. It has been a tradition to make such offerings to this deity during the summers. After the ritual, men and women distribute thambittu, curd rice to the devotees gathered in the temple.
In the Maarijatre, the Dandu Maaramma is worshipped through the sidi ritual. Which involves the devotees piercing parts of their face and participating in a procession. It is said that Thimmayya, a soldier in the Wadiyar army, used to perform this ritual and a statue is erected in his memory near the temple. Today, devotees perform the ritual in front of his statue.