The town of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu is renowned for its grandiose temples that have stood the test of time over many thousand years. In the heart of the town lies a magnificent pot-shaped tank covering a stupendous 6.2 acres housing 20 wells (that are named after the 20 holy rivers) in it and surrounded by 16 Mandapams.  The Mahamaham festival takes place in this very theertham where lakhs of devotees throng to have a holy dip in the sacred tank on the Mahamaham day. The festival is consecrated once in twelve years on the full moon day in the Tamil month of Masi (Feb-Mar) when Guru enters the Simha Lagna and the sun is in Kumbha rasi. All holy rivers are said to commix at this tank and a dip in the tank on this day is considered auspicious and to purify all the sins one has committed in his life. Deities from temples in and around Kumbakonam are brought to the tank to be bathed along with the devotees. This ritual is called Thirthavari.

On the day of Mahamaham, people take dips in the 20 wells after offering their prayers to Kumbeshwarar, followed by a dip in the Cauvery to complete the ritual.

The holy rivers that burdened people’s sins wanted to get rid of these sins. Lord Brahma advised them to mingle at the Mahamaham tank to purify themselves.

It is believed that during the deluge of Brahma, floods rose engulfing all life. In order to sustain life on earth, Lord Shiva placed seeds of life with elixir in Khumba (pot) placing it at the pinnacle of the Himalayas. When the flood had dried up, the pot settled in Kumbakonam. Shiva in the form of an archer split open the pot and its contents flowed into the Mahamaham tank. Life started flourishing once again.

The last Mahamaham festival occurred on March 2004 and the next will be celebrated in 2016.


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