Arulmigu Mariamman Temple, Udumalpet - History
One story about the origin of Maariamman is she was the wife of Thiruvalluvar, the Tamil poet, who was an outcast.She caught smallpox and begged from house to house for food, fanning herself with leaves of the neem or margosa tree to keep the flies off her sores. She recovered and people worshiped her as the goddess of smallpox. To keep smallpox away, neem leaves are hung above the main entryways of South Indian homes. This temple houses both Thiruvalluvar and his wife Vaasuki Ammaiyar. This is in sharp contrast to the life of Thiruvalluvar where in he advocated love for all. Hence this story cannot be taken to be credible.
The Tamil word Muthu means pearl and hence in the ancient usage of the language 'Muthu Maari' was a celebrating, poetic way of telling the rain falls in droplets which were related to pearls given by the nature god for property. Maariamman was also called 'Muthu Maariamman' which meant the goddess who gives prosperous rain. This was wrongly connected to the pearl-like small form of the boils that occur during chickenpox.
Another story involves the beautiful virtuous Nagavali, wife of Piruhu, one of the nine Rishis. One day the Rishi was away and the Trimurti came to see if her famed beauty and virtue was true. Nagavali did not know them and, resenting their intrusion, turned them into little children. The gods were offended and cursed her, so her beauty faded and her face became marked like smallpox. The Rishi returned, found her disfigured, and drove her away, declaring she would be born a demon in the next world and cause the spread of a disease which would make people like her. She was called Mari, meaning 'changed.' Both stories are reported by Whitehead and he remarks that in Mysore he was told that Mari meant sakti, power.
Local goddesses such as Mariamman who were believed to protect villages and their lands and represent the different castes of their worshippers have always been an important part of the religious landscape of South India. However, we can note periods of special significance. The eclecticism of the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565) encouraged folk religion, which became more important and influenced the more literate forms of religion. In the last century and a half there has been a rebirth of Tamil self-consciousness (see Devotion to Murugan). In the middle of the present century deities such as Mariamman have become linked to the "great tradition" as the strata of society which worship the goddess has become integrated into the larger social order.