• Prathik Murali

Self Immolating Goddess - the story of thIpAnja nAcchi

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

- Prathik Sudha Murali Many a times my travels have made me encounter gods and goddesses who are not eulogised in classical sanskrit. Deities who would appear 'raw' to the public eye. The emotional outpouring of a devotee at a classical temple would be a teary eye, atleast, so has been my experience. This very emotion of attachment turns into a roar or a fiery affair in the rural temples. The mode certainly appeared contrasting to my eye, but the mood remains the same, that of utmost devotion.


I have always wanted to explore some of these gods, their stories, their ballards and festivities. My travel in the Kongu belt of Tamilnadu exposed me to deities like 'KannimAr' and 'ThIpAnja nAchi'. Regarding the former I had an oppurtunity to talk to a beleiver and listen to him sing his ballards narrating the story of the seven spinsters and how they eventually became goddesses. The latter's name literally translates to 'Goddess who jumped into the fire'. While I was wondering if this could be a Sati (Self immolating widow) who was being worshipped, there was no immediate answer. Further readings have been of great help and this post addresses the story of this immolating young girl !


Folklore has it that the armymen of Chola kingdom were hunting in a forest when they came across a small girl who was weeping alone in the woods. One of the armymen consoled her and adopted her as his own daughter. In a few years, he departed his body and was cremated. The young girl walked near his pyre and demanded in an affirming tone that there be another pyre lit with woodlogs along side the funeral pyre of the soldier. She took some lemons, betel leaves, turmeric, coconut, sacred thread and flowers and had them tied to her saree. To the surprise of the villagers she shouted a promise that she shall guard the village and be the protector of those who come to her refuge and jumped into the fire and ended herself. It is beleif that the items that she had carried with her into the fire did not burn and remained afresh after the fire subsided.


She is worshipped as 'thIpAnja amman' or 'thIpAnja nAchi' in Tamilnadu. Since the classical story of Ramayana, wherein Seeta proves her innocence by entering the fire and returning safely is remotely similar in plot, today, the rural folk deity is also associated with Seeta. She is worshipped alongside Rama and Hanuman, who are new additions to the folk pantheon of her temples.


The Author can be contacted at sahagamana@gmail.com



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