Exciting Mahamaham Festival at Kumbakonam,Tamil Nadu,

Mahamaham tank, Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, bathing ghats
www. flickr.com

Kumbakonam, often called a city of temples, is a very important pilgrim center for the Hindus and it is well connected with various towns and cities of Tamil Nadu by bus and other places of India by train. Several Hindu maths and Navgraha(nine planets) temples are located in the neighborhood of this historical place. Kumbakonam is also famous for an important Hindu festival - Mahamaham.This festival is celebrated every 12 years with great fanfare  and is important to all devout Hindus. It occurs in the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) in the star of Magam. During festival times special trains and buses are operated from various important places in S.India 

Legend has it, on the Mahamaham day all the holy rivers of India are said to meet at this holy tank  that happens once in 12 years. It is strongly believed that a bath on that auspicious day is equivalent to a combined dip in all holy rivers of India. Hence people who are unable to take a holy dip in renowned rivers like Ganga, Godavery, etc utilize this chance and come to Kumbakonam on the Mahamaham day.

The huge temple water tank is located in the heart of Kumbakonam town covering  an area of 6.2 acres and is not a perfect rectangle. The tank is surrounded by several bathing ghats with 16 small Mandapams and a "Nava Kannika Temple"(Nine rivers) on the eastern side. The tank has 20 holy wells named after 20 holy rivers flowing across India. People can get water - "Theertham" (Holy water) from  these wells.  Roughly more than a  million people from all over India come here for a holy dip and prayers at the temples here.
Mahamaham tank, Kumbakonam.wikimapia.org

There is an interesting legend behind this great festival.  After the great deluge (in Sanskrit ''Pralayam''; geologically massive transgression of the sea) and just before the arrival of Kaliyuga, the 'Celestial Pot' containing the nectar the ''essence  of life'' came to rest here. Lord Shiva in the guise of a hunter, shot an arrow at the pot and broke it, making its contents spill. This  resulted  in the revival of life on the planet. Kumbham meaning the pot and Konam meaning crooked - the pot that  was broken by Shiva's arrow. Hence the name Kumbakonam.Here in the heart of the temple town the huge old Aadi Kumbeswara Temple is dedicated to  Lord Shiva who broke the celestial pot and the place where the nectar fell is the Mahamaham tank.

Govinda Dikshitar's contribution and Mahamaham temple: 

Govinda Dikshita (Dikshitar) was an important minister under three successive Nayaks of Thanjavur, who ruled the region of Thanjavur in South India between the 16th and 17th centuries - CE  1515 - 1636.The Nayaks, who had close links with Vijayanagara dynasty of Andra, built lots of temples in this region.They made a valuable contribution in the construction of Sri Ranganathar temple at Srirangam. Govinda Dikshita was a versatile person - scholar, philosopher, statesman and musicologist all rolled into one. He was an orthodox Kannadiga Brahmin belonging to the Hoysala Karnataka community. Though he served as a minister in the region of Thanjavur under Achuthappa Nayak and Raghunatha Nayak, he had enormous power and the rulers were very much impressed by his trust, integrity and sense of duty. He lived in a palatial house in Patteeswaram, near Kumbakonam

Mininster Govinda Dikshtar and  his wife Nagammal.www.indian-heritage.org

 Above image:  Mininster Govinda Dikshtar  was instrumental in building all the 16 mandambam (small rooms with towers) and stone steps in the bathing ghats around the holy Mahamaham tank. Here, he is seen with his wife Nagammal. It is said that he lived in a lavish palace at Pateeswaram near Kumbakonam and was very much revered by the Thanjavur Nayak dynasty.

He played a vital role in the temple constructions- both Shiva and Vishu temples during the Nayak's period. In appreciation of his efficient administration, guidance and services to the Nayak dynasty, Acchuthappa Nayak is believed to have given sold gold equal to his body weight (in local parlance Tulabaram offer). Govinda Dikshitar, unselfish and philanthropic, as he was, used the gold to renovate the Mahamaham tank, the 16 mandapams and the tank steps in the bathing ghats. He was responsible for building  the vimanams for the mandapams. He also renovated the Aadi Kumbheswarar koil with a new Raja Gopuram (Tower) and the kudamuzhukku (consecration) took place during the reign of Sevappa Nayak. 

 The last Mahamaham was celebrated on March 06, 2004, The  bath on the Mahamaham day is believed to remove sins committed wittingly or unwittingly and after the dip, pilgrims offer charitable gifts in the hope of being rewarded longevity and peaceful life in the current life and subsequent lives. During the Mahamaham of 1992, the number of devotees reached 1 million. The govt.of Tamil Nadu makes elaborate preparations and arrangements for the safety and comforts of the visitors. Next Mahamaham comes in the month of March, 2016.

The annual 'Maham' festival attracts about 100,000 people and they take a holy dip on the Maham day here.