Periyachi Amman - The World's Most Fearsome Goddess

Undoubtedly, Periyachi Amman has the most frightening appearance of all Gods in the world. She tops the list when compared to Hindu Goddess Kali, Mayan God Ixchel or any of the Greek mythological creatures. While seated comfortably, she disembowels a woman and chews on her intestines. Simultaneously, she tramples on a man while impaling him with her trident. All this happens while she is holding a baby in one of her hands with her face showing murderous rage. Why do women put their newborns under this God's feet and pray? What is the story behind this Goddess with such a terrifying appearance?
Periyachi - Impales a man below, disembowels a woman eating her entrails while holding a baby
The history of Periyachi Amman is one of the most intriguing, interesting and fascinating pieces in Tamil religion. Periyachi Amman's history is over 600 years old and her legacy is carried on mostly by Tamil diaspora in south east Asia. Unlike the Hindu Gods, this is an ancestor who is worshiped as God due to her heroic deeds.

History:
Around 1400 A.D, Periyachi was a woman who was working as a maruthuvachi (doctor) in Kondithoppu village in Thondai Nadu (now Chennai, India). She was well known for her proficiency in delivering babies. It is also mentioned that she was well versed in martial skills such as sword fighting, and spear throwing.
Periyachi Amman statue - The small stone altar in front, used for animal sacrifices 
In 1406 A.D, King Vallalan IV, the son of Rajanarayana Sambuvarayar III (1356 - 1375 AD) had been dethroned and was hiding in the jungle with his entourage. He had grown bitter and lost hope of recapturing the throne. He raided and plundered the nearby villages, and had become a bandit. His wife Kaarkuzhali, was about to deliver a baby.

Periyachi was dragged to the forest in the middle of the night to deliver the baby of Vallalan. It was a complicated delivery due to two reasons. One, it had to be done in the forest where there were no facilities. Two, Vallalan was a strong believer in astrology who believed that the baby should not touch the earth.

Periyachi performed this delivery skillfully. She put Kaarkuzhali on her lap while seated on a boulder in the forest. She delivered the baby by cutting open her abdomen (Caesarean section) and held the baby in one of her arms. At this point, both the mother and the baby were in good condition.
Periyachi Amman - Serving Justice
However, King Vallalan had other plans. He had been advised by his astrologer to kill the baby as well as anyone who touched the baby with their hands. This means that Periyachi should be killed as well. When Vallalan drew his sword out, Periyachi was enraged and showed her military prowess. She impaled his heart with a spear, and then put him under her legs to ensure his death. The wife who tried to help him, was disemboweled and Periyachi ate her intestines, in a fit of rage. During the entire time, she held the baby safely in her hand which was later brought up as her own child. She named him Seeralan.

Periyachi became a hero for killing the bandit who was terrorizing Thondai Nadu. She was praised by people for saving the baby's life. During her lifetime, Periyachi became an icon among pregnant women. It is said that no matter what, Periyachi will ensure the safety of babies. Tamil folklore often praise her of being the best obstetrician and pediatrician.

Scientific Improvements:
Ingenious Tactic: Periyachi advocated that couples should not stay together during the Tamil month Aadi (July-August). Why? How could separation during a certain month be beneficial? If a baby was conceived during Aadi month, it would be born in the month of Chithirai (April-May) which is the height of summer in South India. The infant mortality rate would peak during this month, due to the scorching heat. This temporary separation is still practiced today in the name of faith, oblivious to the scientific principle.

Medical Enhancements: Periyachi is also known for creating several surgical instruments and enhancements in the field of medicine. Note that surgery was invented in India, around 6th century B.C. Her innovative instruments were depicted on the original Periyachi statues, although the current ones may not reflect history accurately.

The ancient Periyachi statues held surgical instruments along with weapons
Temple Or Memorial?
The first Periachi Temple was erected in Kondithoppu village, soon after her death around 1475 A.D. In modern days, it would have been called "Periyachi Memorial". She was awarded the suffix "Amman" which comes from Tamil words "Amma Aana" (one who became mother). Her foster son Seeralan acted as the first priest of this temple. The temple was small with a crudely cut, single black stone. Note that the creation of memorials was an ancient Tamil tradition called "nadukkal". Pregnant women and mothers with sick infants became regular visitors. Also, women who are infertile prayed to her to become pregnant.

Distribution Of Temples:
Periyachi Amman's fame spread like wildfire and resulted in thousands of temples in South India, mostly in Tamil Nadu. Sporadic temples were also built in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The first Periyachi Amman temple built abroad was in Malaysia in early 14th century, by Tamil traders now called Malacca Chitty. While Periyachi Amman statues are still in good shape in Malaysia and Singapore, her home country has neglected her in the past century. Periyachi Amman temples have become a rarity in Tamil Nadu, although some do exist.
A Periyachi Amman Temple in Villukudi village, Thiruvarur in Tamil Nadu
Current Status of Periyachi Amman Temples:
Like most Tamil or Dravidian temples, Periyachi Temples are on a rapid decline. In Tamil Nadu, Periyachi Amman Temples have slowly been converted into Shakti or Kali temples in the past century. This is done to gain the "Agamic Hindu Temple" status, which is beneficial to acquire donations and Government funds. Chennai, her hometown, has no known Periyachi temples today. There are just a handful of temples in Tamil Nadu, particularly in Thiruvarur and Tiruvannamalai districts. These temples are on the verge of demolition, due to lack of funds. The current age Tamils do not support the ancient Tamil temples and often look down on them. Many Periyachi temples have been shut down or moved into jungles due to ban on animal sacrifices as well.
A Periyachi temple left midway during construction in India, due to lack of funds
However, the Tamil diaspora who left centuries ago to Malaysia and Singapore have maintained her legacy abroad. In Malaysia, many of these temples have been demolished in the past decade. One of the most famous temple is located in Penang, Malaysia. It is called "Devi Sri Periyachi Amman Temple". In Singapore, Periyachi resides as a secondary deity in Veeramakaliamman Temple and Mariamman Temple. Some temples are also present in Mauritius and Fiji. Dolls of Periyachi Amman are also sold in Little India, Singapore.
Periyachi Amman dolls are sold in Little India, Singapore
Religious Beliefs:
There are four phases in which women worship Periyachi actively.

Non - Pregnant Women: Ladies who are deemed infertile or who are longing to become pregnant pray to her everyday. Recently married women visit her temple and make a silent wish to become pregnant. The women wear black saris when visiting the temple and generally bring rice, meat or fruits and leave it near the statue. Unlike Hindu practices,  these women are encouraged to eat meat or fish before visiting the temple.
A side view of Periyachi - Mariamman temple, Singapore
Pregnant Women: As soon as women achieve pregnancy, they provide free food in the temple on the nearest Tuesday or Friday. 7 black saris are also donated on this day to other female devotees. Husbands also pray for the well being of the wives and the unborn children.

Newborn babies: 7 days after the baby is born, it will be placed at the feet of Periyachi Amman. The mother of the child will back away and leave the child for several minutes, to show her loyalty to Periyachi. It is believed that during this time, the Goddess talks to the baby and heals any sickness. A black hen will be sacrificed on the stone altar of the temple. This sacrifice is called "Karum Kozhi Padaiyal". The flesh and blood of the hen will be placed near the Goddess and will then be cooked for the devotees.
A priest goes into trance and will provide remedies for sick women and children
Sick Children: Infants and toddlers who get sick often, or who are suffering from extreme conditions will be brought to the temple. They will be dressed in black clothes and will be asked to pray to Periyachi alone. In cases of unidentified sickness among children, the priest (kodangi) will go into a trance and give a solution. It is believed that Periyachi Amman's psyche enters the priest's body and provides a solution through him.

Religious Practices:
The Tamil month of Aadi (July-August) is famous for Periyachi Amman rituals. This is the time when the women stay temporarily separated from their husbands. The important days of worship are Tuesdays and Fridays.
Periyachi Amman - Adorned with lemon and flower garlands
Theemithi (fire-walking ritual): This ritual is performed mostly in evenings or nights. Men and women gather in front of an area where burning charcoal is setup on the floor. Devotees walk on this fiery patch to pay for their wrongdoings.

Entertainment: Different Tamil dances such as Karagaattam and Oyilaattam  are performed inside the temple. Drama such as Therukoothu and Songs through Villupaattu are used to spread the history of Periyachi Amman.
Carrying fire pots, frightening make up and self imposed punishments are done to appease Periyachi
Penance: Self imposed punishment for wrongdoings is also very common among devotees. Carrying fire pots with bare hands, tongue and skin impalement and flagellation are encouraged to get rid of devotees' guilt.
Periyachi temples are moved to jungles, to operate without Government's intervention
Animal Sacrifices: This was a commonplace practice until the last 50 years, before Governments' ban on such activities. However, goat and chicken sacrifices are still carried on secretly. Unable to perform animal sacrifices openly, many Periyachi temples have moved to jungles and have gained a "cult like" status.

Name Confusion:
Note that Periyachi Amman belongs to Tamil or Dravidian religion as opposed to the Hindu religion dominant in India. The name Amman comes from the Tamil words "Amma Aana", meaning "the woman who became the mother". A similar female figure, Madurai Meenakshi Amman built a fantastic temple in Madurai. The similar attachment given to Tamil male gods is "Aandi", which comes from the word "Aandavan" which means ruler.
A Periyachi statue inaccurately named as "Pechi Amman"
There is certain amount of confusion that she is Kali, a goddess of Hindu religion. This arises mostly because of the uneducated Tamil people who attach the name Kali to any fierce goddess. In the last few centuries, there has been lots of name changes due to this attachment. Therefore Periyachi Amman is sometimes even called Periyachi Kali Amman. This is similar to the name change of Veeramakali Amman, while the original name of the ancestor is Veerammal. A similar attachment called "Eeswaran" is given to Male Tamil gods as well, for example Muni is changed to Muneeswaran.
Another Periyachi Idol erroneously labeled as "Pehchai Amman" 
Another important point is the name change due to lack of education, and lack of passing on history to future generations. Periachi Amman is often erroneously spelled as "Pechai Amman", "Pechi Amman", etc.
On the right - a woman offers her baby to Periyachi, the most fearsome Goddess in the world    
In the current state of affairs, Periyachi temples would become extinct in another 50 years. The legacy of a great woman would be erased off the pages of history. Unless the Tamil people actively rebuild and renovate Periyachi Amman temples, the future generation will have no clue about this great hero. Unfortunately, the chances of rebuilding her temples are slim at best and it is quite possible that this immortal Goddess will in fact, perish.

30 comments:

Superb info on PeriyaAChi..shenis indeed great..keep on your good cause..

Thank you for your encouraging comment Anand. I am planning on writing about many other deities. Have a great day.

thank you nice lovely thaiye devi thunai

@Anonymous above, Thank you for the comment. Periyachi Amman is Tamil's native God and I hope the worshiping tradition lives on for ever.

For the first time I being and Hindu did not know about Periyachi Amman. But after reading your article I understood what brave lady Goddess she was in early days. (A worrier herself).

By krishna

@Krishna above, thank you very much. Only a very few people are elevated to the level of God, but Periyachi Amman is truly the best of them. Her message is clear: I will protect a child from harm, even from its own parents if necessary. Have a wonderful day, my friend.

Thank u very much for the details.. my family has been praying to periyachi amman but did not really had much knowledge abt her.. this is for sure an eye opener..

@scorpion gal: thank you for your visit, I am glad to spread the information about Periyachi Amman, I hope her glory and history spreads around the world.

@SweetDevil : I am glad you liked it, have a wonderful day.

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Hi I would like to know what can you offer to periyachi Amman if there are no temples around for her where I live.what can I offer for her at my lamp as I am currently pregnant.

Wonderful history explained in layman's terms. All babies brought to her are blessed. In Malaysia, she is still worshipped and there are temples dedicated to her and mothers still take their babies to be blessed by her. The only animal sacrifice done is the black chicken. Faith works wonders.

Thank you so much for this explanation. I truly respect this knowledge. Only today after so much of years I got to know this. There were none of the God's history were passed down properly.. none of the grandparents even know these. Thank you.

Thanks for this very informative article. I am a Malaysian and I have been wondering about the Periyaachi Amman deity (the priest at the temple told me that her name is Pechiamman) since I have only begun going to temples recently and have been intrigued by this particular deity which is placed in between Nagaraja and Renuka Parameswari. Would you by chance be able to explain the rationale behind this placing of these three deities together? Btw, keep up the great work. :)

True i to dint new her real name but hurd of pachiamman this diety even has a small temple at teppakolam mariamman temple madurai but with two hands

Brilliant work! It was extremely informative. Keep up the great work!

Since young i was told that i am a unlucky child because i was born in aadi and in the day of tuesday. When i started to grow up i was wondering why i am unlucky when i was born in a day of where temples celebrates grandly. Now i truly feel so happy that from your research i feel positive vibes around me. Thank you. You will be always be blessed.

Thank you for the blog. When I visited Singapore, I could saw this Amman in 2 of the temples and wanted to know the story behind this. Then I came across your blog. Very nice and clear info. But Wikipedia info is different from this. Anyway thank you once again. Please keep up the good work.

But in both of the temples...they are having Vallala Raja statue also...if he is a bad King, then why they are worshiping him also...do you know any more information about this..I am a mother and I always wants to explain the story behind all of our God to my kid. Thank you once again.

Very full history about our god. Every one should know this

Sri Periachi Amman Story.Scientific proof. Divine Mother is the 'Amsam' of Goddess Saraswathy who came to this world as a 'Maruthuvachi' medicine woman or mid wife. The fact about Caesarean birth rather than only normal birth was established to the world some thousand years ago.
Vasectomy was performed on the Evil King by crushing his testicles. Thus establishing another surgical procedure to this modern world. The king was disabled from producing another evil being.

Dear all, Sri Pechai amman is the 'Amsam' of Lord sakthi who is sitting next to Lord shiva. She took revange on the king Vallala kandan and his four brothers...because the king vallala kandan meditate on Lord shiva for getting some powerful 'varams' like Lord shiva to be born as a child of king Vallala kandan and her wife named nisasani and also some more varam ...when this happens world comes to an end. So lord sakthi called by Lord vishnu and with the advise of Lord vishnu she came to nisasani palace as 'maruthuvachi' with her son ' sri agoraveerapathirar' in form of child and killed nisasani, valla kandan ,his four brothers , the total city and saved the child...this is the story of Lord Sri Pechaiamman...

Dear sir/Madam,there is bit confusion now.is it periyachi & pechayi amman is same goddess?

How come Government banned sacrifices ??? So many meat /poultry is being sold in butchery everyday.Is it for Tamils only ?? Things we can't understand is there no other religions practicing sacrifices??Really can't understand,this is pure discrimination

Great article Phenomenalplace. I am an undergrad student doing an ethnographyon Periyachi and have struggled to find textual sources on her. This is a very comprehensive article, would you be willing to share any textual sources you used to construct this piece?

Please can anyone provide the gayathri mantra for periachamman? Thank you.

Wow..........amazing.amma!!!!!periachamman!!!!!!!

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