Friday 7 December 2012

A temple to the Goddess of Plague

It is Friday morning and I saw a group of women heading towards a temple in Thyagarajanagar.
The temple is built on a corner and at a casual glance it looks like any other Hindu structure. The temple itself is nothing much to speak about. Nor is it architecturally important.
But what makes this temple stand out from the rest of temple sin Bangalore is that it is one of the few structures that is dedicated to a Goddess who can cure diseases. In this case, this is a rare temple dedicated to eradicate plague and. hence, it is called the Plagueamma Temple.
This is one of the handful of temples in Bangalore dedicated to the eradication of a disease. Fridays are a particularly holy day for this goddess and women come out in large numbers to pray here.
The temple priest told me that the goddess is basically Rajarajeshwari. However, the temple became famous after people began coming to the deity for solace from plague. Slowly, the deity began to be known as Plagueamma.
Is this the only such temple, I ask. The priest smiles and says there are any number of temples dedicated to goddesses for curing small-pox and even AIDS. But this could be the only temple specifically for Plagueamma.
Locals and historians trace the construction of the temple to the epidemic of plague that rocked Bangalore several decades ago.  The outbreak of Bangalore plague as it is known, led to a mass migration of people from old areas of Bangalore, particularly Blackpalli (now Shivajinagar) and two new localities came up-Basavanagudi and Malleswaram.
Unlike the petes or old areas of Bangalore, the newer extensions of Malleswaram and Baavanagudi were very well planed and beautifully laid out. They still are among the  best of the localities even today.
Well, coming back to the Plagueamma Temple. The plague to Bangalore was believed to have been transmitted by the Railways. The plague was “carried” to Bangalore by a butler from Hubli. The butler was an employee of a Railway officer and he died in Bangalore on August 15, 1898. It is to him goes the dubious credit of  bringing plague to Bangalore.
The plague first struck the petes or old areas of Bangalore like Sultanpet, Balepet, Ulsoor, Blackpalli and even areas surrounding Lalbagh in 1898-1899.
The plague had a disastrous effect on the life and times of Bangalore. The population of the city declined sharply and hundreds became victims-one estimate says 3,000 people died . Over 30,000 people fled Bangalore for safer areas.
Meanwhile, people felt that plague had come t Bangalore because of wrath of the Grama Devethe and other Goddesses. Many temples dedicated to Mariamma came to be built. The Plagueamma temple also came to be built.
People believed that the Goddess here could cure them of plague or keep them safe from contacting the dreaded disease. Even today that belief continues and people come here to ward off  the evil of diseases.  
The plague was a blessing in disguise for Bangalore, the then Mysore and British Government (Mysore controlled the old areas and the British held sway over Cantonment) joined hands to come up with a new drainage system. New telephone lines were laid out and these were used in plague control. New extensions were planned.
A plague control officer was appointed and the city was divided into four wards for efficient plague control measures. Disinfection work was taken up on a war footing and people were paid to kill rodents.
On their part, people realised the importance of keeping the City clean. Old houses, which had been deserted by people who fled after the outbreak of plague, were demolished, New  building regulations were put in place.
Old-timers of Bangalore decided to take one more precaution, After conducting pooje at the Plagueamma temple, they wrote on their front doors, “Plagueamma, Naale Ba”. (Plague amma, come tomorrow). This slogan was written in the belief  that the Amma could visit each house and come to stay and give the householders the dreaded disease. She would, however, go back once she saw the writing.
Devotees thronged the St Mary’s Basilica in Shivajinagar also. praying for protection against plague.

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