A Brief History of how Maha Kali or Mariamma worship was brought to Guyana
While our Hindu ancestors endured some of the hardest conditions in rural farming communities, crossed the seas to a land not of their own and suffered hardships under their bounded masters, they retained their worship of Devi (Amma / Mother). Generally, in North India, the Divine Mother is worshipped as Kali Mai, while in the South, She is worshipped as Mariamman. On May 5, 1838 our ancestors migrated as indentured servants to the various British claimed colonies, where their ancient beliefs were suppressed in order to promote local customs and traditions (e.g. conversion to Christianity, change of last names, break away from speaking native language and speak English). Although, there were differences in caste, customs and traditions, British officials would group similarly skilled laborers and put them to work on plantations. Periodically, there would be an addition of new “bound coolies,” which caused an increase in population and a rise in unsanitary conditions. Since the land was not properly cultivated and hospitals were not readily accessible illness and demoralization occurred. During this time, the Divine Mother was not worshipped the same as She was in India.
In a state in India, Madras, or currently renamed as Tamil Nadu, the Divine Mother was worshipped for cures of illnesses, prosperous crops and protection from evil forces. Specific pujas of Madrassi decent, such as the Karagam or “Big Puja” were no longer performed to give thanks and praise to the Mother for Her year round blessings for the land we exist on and take from. Being that the Karagam puja was not performed, sickness started to afflict the local people. These illnesses were not easily cured by modern science. The ailments were especially deadly towards children; the next generations of family lineages were now endangered. The village elders and knowledgeable priests decided to offer prayers and salutations to the divine Mother in order to counteract the deadly issues plaguing the people. Shakti in the form of Mother Ganga, the Mother of rivers and oceans, invoked herself upon one of the attendants. She instructed the group to bathe the ill children in Her holy water from the river mixed with neem leaves, tumeric powder and sindoor. After the priests executed Her orders, they noticed that children were beginning to heal and the sickness mysteriously left their bodies. Mother Ganga then instructed the priests to build a Temple for Mariamman on a piece of flatland where She will reside. Since Mariamman worshipping was now practiced in the new land the Karagam puja was once again performed annually to give thanks and praise to Devis and Devatas for all their blessings and healings year round, with the same ancient traditions from India.
The Karagam puja requires young boys, in their preadolescents, to carry the essence of Mother and Her sacred materials in a vessel (pot) on their heads around the village to bless the land and people. The Karagam is a vessel built and decorated using only natural ingredients taken from the Earth. Some of these ingredients are neem leaves, tumeric powder (dye), sindoor and oleander flower. Also, each ingredient is considered one of Mother’s tools used to prevent and draw-out ailments and negative energy from Her children. The Karagam is first constructed and invoked upon by the waterside before taken to Amma’s temple. Reason being, science has proven that life started in the ocean, prior to making its way to land. Hence, builders of the Karagam believe that it is important to first give respect to the source of life.
Mariamma’s Temple was first erected in Albion, Guyana. Their first Big Mother’s murti was carved out of wood from the sacred neem tree. With Big Mother’s Mandir now built and devotees now connecting with the Devi and receiving the fruits of their prayers, word started to spread among the locals. People from all walks of life began to seek refuge in Big Mother within the new land. Devi temples started to spring-up around various parts of the country. Eventually, Mariamman worshipping made its way to other parts of the Caribbean and various parts of the world. In 1997, the first Shri Maha Kali Devi Mandir Inc was officially registered and recognized in New York, U.S.A, under the licensed priest, Basdeo Mangal.