The post of Mundagakanni Amman temple (‘Fifth Friday of Aadi’) drew a response from Srini, who asked what ‘mundaga’ meant. I thought it meant ‘head’. He said that it meant ‘lotus’. Guru google throws up a news story from Hindu newspaper, which says that mundaga-kanni means “lotus eyed Goddess”.
Mundaga also means ‘forehead’ or ‘head’. And if you see the pictures of Mundaga-kanni amman, you will see just a ‘head’ – no body. The idol mounted on ceremonial-chariot that was outside the temple was just that – ‘the face of the Goddess’.
As the temple is dedicated to Renuka Devi, I felt that the name alluded to that too. Renuka Devi is depicted as the “head”. As per legend, Renuka is wife of Jamadagni, the sage. She is kidnapped by Kaartaveerya, a Hyhaya King. Her husband, Rshi Jamadagni gives his powers to his son, Parasurama and asks him to rescue her. Parasurama kills the Hyhayas and rescues his mother. However, Jamadagni believes that her holiness has been tainted. So he asks Parasurama to severe her head, which he does. But the head continues to live. Parasurama then prays to Jamadagni to restore Renuka, which he consents. That’s the story in brief.
In this story, the King symbolises ignorance, ‘body identification’ and sense enjoyment; ergo, ego. ‘Renuka‘ is radiance in the individual, which gets deluded by the ego. Jamadagni is Iswara. Parasurama is Knowledge, which destroys ego, beheads the ‘body identification’. With the beheading of individuality, Renuka merges with Iswara, and that then is the radiant Kingdom of the Self-abidance.
So it is that Renuka Devi is depicted as the ‘head’ that is divinity-alive.
She it is, who is revered as Mariamman across South India. And as Mundaga-kanni Amman in Mylapore.
(Afternote: The symbolism that is suggested here is from purely non-dual view point. A more appropriate and better explanation on the symbolism, from the ‘human’, ‘here and now’ viewpoint, is given in the comments below by Smitha…)