Mahamaham is a Hindu festival celebrated every 12 years in the Mahamaham tank located in the South Indian town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, India. Hindus consider taking a holy dip at the Mahamaham tank on the day of Mahamaham as sacred. The last Mahamaham was celebrated on March 6, 2004, with people from various places taking the holy dip in the Mahamaham tank.
In the northern bank mandapa, there is an inscription of Tulapurshadana, a practise of weighing oneself against gold. The ceremony is observed during various times like equinoxes, commencement of an era (Yuga) and its ending, eclipses and Makara Sankranti. The ceremony is usually performed in sacred places like temples, rivers and tanks. The amount of gold thus weighed is distributed among deserving men. As per Hindu legend, after the end of each era, the whole world immerses in a deluge on account of the wrath of Hindu god Shiva for the sins committed by humans in earth. Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, recreated the world during the start of current Kali Yuga . Shiva declared that after the end of previous era, a divine pot would reach a holy spot. As the divind pot reached Kumbakonam, Shiva, in the form of a hunter, broke the pot with an arrow. The pot broke into many parts and scattered around, which became the cause for so many temples in the town - Kumbeswara, Someswara, Kasi Viswanatha, Nageswara, Kamata Viswanatha, Abimukeshwara, Goutameswara, Banapuriswara, Varahar, Lakshminaryana, Sarangapani, Chakrapani and Varadharaja. Brahma prayed to Shiva to allow pilgrims to visit the tank during the sacred occasion. Shiva acceeded to the demand and is believed to arrive along with Vishnu and other celestial deities at the centre of the tank. Astornomically, when the planet Jupiter passes over Leo on the day of the festival, it is believed to bring all water bodies together and enrich the tank with minerals. Similarly, a lake in Kotihar in Jammu and Kashmir gets full supply of water the same day, which otherwise remains empty during the other 11 years. Since Brahma reconstructed the world after the last deluge, there is a temple dedicated to him in Kumbakonam, though he is cursed not to have any temple for him anywhere else.
The antiquity of the event is deduced from the architectural and epigraphical patterns. The ceiling of the Gangatirtha mandapam carries the sculptural representation fo Tulapurushardava. It is believed that Govinda Dikshitar subjected himself to the event and donated the gold to the building of the sixteen mandapas. The visit of Krishandevaraya during 1445 is recorded in an inscription in the gopuram of Nagalpuram, a village in Chengalpattu district. That Krishnadevaraya visited the event is also recorded in the inscription found in the Shiva temple in Kuthalam.
The Masimaham is an annual event that occurs in the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) in the star of Magam in kumbakanom which is a very beautiful and ancient and holy place. Once in twelve years, when the planet Guru (Jupiter) enters Simha (Leo) sign a larger festival is celebrated at Mahamaham tank. Vast crowds gather at Kumbakonam to have a dip in the tank, along with saints and philosophers. All the rivers of India are believed to meet at the tank on this day and a purificatory bath at this tank on this day is considered equal to the combined dips in all the holy rivers of India Festival deities from all the temples in Kumbakonam arrive at the tank and at noon, all the deities bathe along with the devotees - it is called "Theerthavari". The purificatory bath is believed to remove sins and after the dip, pilgrims offer charitable gifts in the hope of being rewarded in the current life and subsequent lives. The temple cars of major temples in Kumbakonam come around the city on the festival night. During the Mahamaham of 1992, the number of devotees reached 1 million.
People are washing their sins on the holy rivers like Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati River, Sarayu, Godavari River, Mahanadi River, Narmada River, Pavoshnl and Kaveri River. These rivers wanted to get rid of their sins and approached Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma advised these rivers if you meet together and take bath in Mahamaham would wash off all the sins. Hence, during the time of Mahamaham festival, it is also believed that taking bath in the holy stream of water from the famous rivers like Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati River, Sarayu, Godavari River, Mahanadi River, Narmada River, Pavoshnl and Kaveri River, which are mixed together in Mahamaham tank, would get rid of sins according to Hindu religion. The images of the deities indicating the legend, is housed in the near by Kasi Viswanatha Temple.
Mahamaham bathing festival is concentrated on a single day, the concourse of pilgrims being all the more. During this festival, thousands of Hindu devotees come to Kumbakonam, and take bath in a tank named Mahamaham tank, generally followed or preceded by a dip in the kaveri river at Kumbakonam. The tank has 20 holy wells. These wells are named after 20 holy rivers flowing across India. People get themselves drained in these wells. These wells are also called as "Theertham" (Holy water).
The Tank is located in the heart of Kumbakonam town. It covers an area of 6.2 acres and is trapezoidal in shape. The tank is surrounded by 16 small Mandapams (shrines) and has 21 wells inside the tank. The names of the wells carry the name of Hindu god Shiva or that of Rivers of India. Govinda Dikshitar, the chieftain of Ragunatha Nayak of Thanjavur, constructed the sixteen Mandapams and stone steps around this tank.
Names of 20 Theertham (wells)
1.Vayu Theertham 2.Ganga Theertham 3.Bramma Theertham 4.Yamuna Theertham 5.Kubera Theertham 6.Godavari Theertham 7.Eshana Theertham 8.Narmada Theertham 9.Saraswathi Theertham 10.Indira Theertham 11.Agni Theertham 12.Cauvery Theertham 13.Yama Theertham 14.Kumari Theertham 15.Niruthi Theertham 16.Bayoshni Theertham 17.Deva Theertham 18.Varunai Theertham 19.Sarayu Theertham 20.Kanya Theertham
The Mahamaham Tank has four streets alongs its four banks. It is constructed with steps on the sides for people to easily access the tank and take dips. There are 16 Mandapas ( Gopuram Towers) around the corners and sides of the tank.These towers are considered to be forms of lord Shiva ( The Hindu God)
Names of the Gopuram Tower
1.Brammatheertheshwarar 2.Mukundeshwarar 3.Dhaneshwarar 4.Virushabeshwarar 5.Baaneshwarar 6.Koneshwarar 7.Bhakthikeshwarar 8.Bhairaveshwarar 9.Agasthyeshwarar 10.Vyaneshwarar 11.Umaibakeshwarar 12.Nairutheeshwarar 13.Brammeshwarar 14.Gangatheshwarar 15.Mukthatheertheshwarar 16.Shethrabaleshwarar
Mahamaham day worship
On the Mahamaham day people start with praying these Siva temples. This is continued by dips in the 20 wells, visit to Kumbeswarar Temple, dip in the holy tank and finally in Kaveri river to complete the process.
On the occasion of the festival, metal idols of the deities of the main temples of Kumbakonam is carried on palanquins or chariots and taken around the different streets of the town. There is an oft quoted popular saying in Sanskrit noting Kumbakonam as even as more sacred than Varanasi (Kasi). A sin committed at some ordinary place is washed off by a visit to a holy place, sin done in a sacred spot is washed off by going on a pilgrimage to Varanasi (Kasi). If one dares to commit a sin in that sacred city too, that sin is wiped off at Kumbakonam and any sinful act done at Kumbakonam is atoned for there itself.
- Ayyar 1993, pp. 320-323
- S. 2004, p. 240
- International Dictionary of Historical Places 1996, p. 503
- Bansal 2008, p. 126
- V. 1995, p.120
- Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dallapiccola
- Ayyar, P.V. Jagadisa (1993). South Indian Shrines Illustrated. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0151-3.
- Bansal, Sunita Pant (2008), Hindu Pilgrimage: A Journey Through the Holy Places of Hindus All Over India, Delhi: Hindology Books, ISBN 978-81-223-0997-3
- S., Gajarani (2004), History, Religion and Culture of India, Vol.3, New Delhi: Isha Books, ISBN 81-8205-061-8
- V., Vriddhagirisan (1995), Nayaks of Tanjore, New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, ISBN 81-206-0996-4.
- "VHP scare at holy dip". The Telegraph India. March 8, 2004. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mahamaham Festival.|