Mahamaham' is a Hindu festival celebrated every 12 years in the Mahamaham pond 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 February 22, 2016 with over a million 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 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. Lord Shiva accepted the demand and is believed to arrive along with Vishnu and other celestial deities at the centre of the tank.
Astronomically, maham or magha is a nakshatra (constellation) in Leo sign (Simha Rasi). Since Sun takes a year to go round (as viewed from earth, as if earth is stationary), this festival is celebrated in the month when full moon occurs as moon is passing Magha nakshatra (Leo sign) and Sun is on the other end in the opposite Aquarius sign (Kumnha Rasi). Jupiter or Guru takes twelve years to go around to complete one full revolution and during this sojourn, it spends one year in Leo once every twelve years. Mahamagham occurs once in twelve years when the planet Jupiter's residence in Leo coincides with full-moon in Leo. This is also considered a powerful astrological combination since Jupiter and Moon will be on the same constellation with Sun on the other side, which is considered very auspicious and highly beneficial. 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 of 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 kumbakonam in the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) in the star of Magam. Vast crowd of devotees gather at Kumbakonam to have a dip in the tank, along with saints and holy men. 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.
During the time of Mahamaham festival, it is 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. The images of the deities indicating the legend, is housed in the nearby Kasi Viswanatha Temple.
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 Lord 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.
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.
Connected Shiva Temples
Twelve Shiva temples are connected with Mahamaham festival which happens once in 12 years in Kumbakonam. They are Kasi Viswanathar Temple, Kumbeswarar Temple, Someswarar Temple, Nageswara Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, Gowthameswarar Temple, Abimukeswarar Temple, Kambatta Visvanathar Temple, Banapuriswarar Temple, Kahahasteeswarar Temple, Koteeswarar Temple, and Amirthakalasanathar Temple. Of these twelve, first ten temples temples are located in Kumbakonam town itself.  Of them 10 temples are in Kumbakonam.
Connected Vishnu Temples
Five Vishnu temples are connected with this festival. They are Sarangapani Temple, Chakrapani Temple, Ramaswamy Temple, Rajagopalaswamy Temple, and Varahaperumal Temple. All these temples are in Kumbakonam.
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