TEMPLES IN KUMBAKONAM
Kumbakonam is reckoned to be one of the holiest places in Tamilnadu with its fair share of temples and ‘theertham’. There are many temples in this town of which four are more famous than the rest. Three of these temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and one to Lord Vishnu. There is also a temple dedicated to Brahma, which is very rare. Most of all, Kumbakonam is famous for the ‘Mahamaham theertham’ where the Mahamaham festival takes place on a grand scale once in 12 years at which devotees from all over the world gather.
Kumbakonam is on the Madras – Thiruchi route of the Southern Railway. It is also served by bus from major towns in Tamilnadu. The nearest airport is in Trichi.
The town of Kumbakonam boasts of not just one famous temple but a multitude of temples among which the most famous for Saivites is the Adikumbeswarar temple and for the Vaishnavites, Lord Sarangapani temple.
This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is situated in the heart of town and occupies an area of about 190,000 square feet. The main ‘Gopuram’ is 128 ft in height. There are four corridors or ‘praharam’ to this temple on which there are shops, houses and various shrines. The ‘Devi’ in this temple is known as Mangalanayaki. The other two temples dedicated to Lord Shiva are Someswarar temple and Kasi Visvanathar temple.
LORD SARANGAPANI TEMPLE
The temple of Lord Sarangapani is the third most important temple for Vaishnavites in Southern India; the first is Lord Ranganathar in Sri Rangam and the second is Lord Venkadachalapathy of Thirupathi. The main ‘gopuram’ of Lord Sarangapani rises to a height of 146ft and is a very imposing structure.
In addition to the temples this town is famous for the various ‘theertham’ among which the Mahamaham tank is the most famous. The tank covers an area of about 20 acres and is surrounded by sixteen ‘mandapam’. It also contains other smaller ‘theertham’ in the form of springs. Every year in the month of ‘Masi’ (February/March) the image of Lord Kumbeswarar is taken out in procession. Once every 12 years a grand festival is conducted. It is believed that water from the Ganges and other holy rivers flows into the ‘Mahamaham’ tank during this auspicious time. A dip in this ‘theertham’ during this time is considered to absolve one of all sins.
Once Brahma, the creator, approached Lord Shiva and submitted to him that he could foresee the deluge that was going to engulf the whole world and requested his advice to save the seed of creation. Lord Shiva advised him thus; “Obtain a pot and put the seeds of creation in it. Cover it with the ‘nectar’ of life. Arrange a circle of mango leaves on the rim of the pot. Close the opening with a coconut. Put ‘thetpai’ grass on top of the coconut, and cover the pot with holy thread (poonool). Then put this ‘kumbam’ on top of Mount Meru”. Brahma did as he was advised.
During the deluge that followed even Mount Meru went under water, but the ‘kumbam’ prepared by Lord Brahma floated in the water and moved with the current and came down to the South of India. The coconut, the grass and the mango leaves fell from the ‘kumbam’ and settled at various places. A Sivalingam appeared at each of these places to indicate the sacredness of these places. Finally the ‘kumbam’ itself settled down when the water of the deluge drained away.
Lord Shiva knowing that the ‘kumbam’ or pot had settled down came down to this place in the disguise of a hunter and shot the ‘kumbam’ with an arrow. The nectar contained in the pot spread over an area of 5 ‘krosas’ (a measure of area used in the olden days) which formed into various ‘theertham’. He then formed a Sivalingam by mixing the nectar with the soil and became one with it. Thus this place derived its name ‘Pancha krosa sthalam’. Goddess Parvathy having realised the situation arrived at this place and took her place next to Lord Shiva and thus the God came to be known as Adi Kumbeswarar and the Goddess as Mankalanayaki.
In addition to the temples, there are many ‘theerthams’ in this town. The ‘Mahamaham theertham’ situated in the middle of the town occupies an area of about 3 acres. Once every 12 years during the ‘Mahamaham festival’ thousands of devotees from all over the world arrive here to have a dip in the waters of the theertham.