History & Culture

Celestial congregation

Devotees taking bath at the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam on Sunday last. PHOTO: G_GNANAVELMURUGAN  



Anyakshetre krutam papam punyakshetre vinasyati

Punyakshetre krutam papam Varanaasyam vinasyati

Vaaranaasyam krutam papam Kumbhakone vinasyati

Kumbhakone krutam papam Kumbhakone vinasyati.

Sarma Sastrigal’s reply comes in the form of this verse when requested to expand on the spiritual aspects of the festival. “Kumbakonam, especially Mahamagham, is the ultimate destination to get sins absolved,” he explains.

“The word Mahamagham itself is a combination of three words, sandhi as grammar would define it - Maha, Maa and Agham – meaning supreme, sin and 'won't come near' respectively,” says Sastrigal. A dip in the tank at the appointed hour is believed to wash away sins.

The timing of the festival is determined by the specific position of the sun, the moon and the stars. Generally this happens on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Masi (solar Kumbha month) - either in the latter half of February or in the first week of March.

The last Mahamakham was celebrated on Mar 6, 2004, and the festival this year got off to a grand start with Dhwajarohanam (ceremonial flag hoisting) conducted at several temples including Adi Kumbeswarar, Kasi Viswanathar, Abhimukheswarar, Kalahastheeswarar, Nageswarar in Kumbakonam in the presence of Sri Jayendra Saraswati, head of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Math, besides the pontiffs of several maths on Saturday last.

The focal point of this festival, of course is the Mahamagham tank located in the heart of Kumbakonam town, to the south-east of the famous Adi Kumbheswarar temple. It covers an area of 6.2 acres and is trapezoidal in shape. The tank is surrounded by 16 small shrines and has 20 wells named after the 20 rivers flowing across India.

To Govinda Dikshitar, chieftain of Raghunatha Nayak of Thanjavur, goes the credit of constructing the Mandapams and stone steps around the Mahamagham tank. Govinda Dikshitar, incidentally, founded several public institutions in and around Kumbakonam, including the 500-year-old Raja Veda Kavya Patasala.

A highlight of the festival is the ‘tirthavari,’ when decorated idols from Siva temples arrive at the tank amidst chanting of Vedic hymns and singing of Thevaram. People vie for space to have a dip at the auspicious moment.

For those not familiar with lore connected to the ritual, Sarma Sastrigal narrates. Legend has it that Siva directed the rivers to go to Kumbakonam and bathe in the Paapanodhaka Tirtha (Mahamagham tank) at the auspicious hour (avabhruta kala) to get back their purity. They had approached Him with the grievance that they were groaning under the weight of the sins deposited by human beings. Thus it is believed that on Mahamagham day that happens once in 12 years, all the rivers are present in the Kumbakonam tank and a dip here is akin to bathing in rivers flowing across the country. In fact, the entire Hindu pantheon of gods is said to be present there. There is another interesting story of the pot ( kumbham) of nectar (Essence of Life) that came floating down the swirling waters of Pralaya. The pot rested at a place on the banks of the Cauvery and shot by Siva’s arrow broke into smithereens, the nectar flowing to revive life on the planet. Spots where the shards fell became temples such as Kumbeswara, Someswara, Kasi Viswanatha, Nageswara, Kamata Viswanatha, Abimukeshwara, Goutameswara, Banapuriswara, Varaha, Lakshminaryana, Sarangapani, Chakrapani and Varadaraja.

Sengalipuram Anantarama Dikshitar’s treatise on Mahamagham and Kumbakonam is a veritable treasure on the subject, informs Sastrigal. The scholar’s ‘Jayamangala Stotram,’ has comprehensive information regarding the spiritual and historical aspects of the Kumbakonam Mahamagham festival.

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Another unique feature of Mahamagham is that all Hindus regardless of caste or creed congregate to soak in the special moment.

Now, what about those who cannot make it to Kumbakonam?

“Maaghe Skandam prapujayet” goes the saying. “A bath at home or in a temple tank with the mind meditating on Mahamagham, followed by a complete puja of Lord Subrahmanya and dana to Vedic scholars will bring equal benefits,” says Sarma Sastrigal.

The Hindu Religion and Charitable Trust Commission has arranged distribution of prasadam by post on payment of Rs. 150 at the HR and CE offices or at the offices of first and second-level temples. For details, visit www.mahamaham2016.in.

(As told to GEETHA VENKATRAMANAN)

(sarmasasthrigal@gmail.com)

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The Tirthas

The Mahamagham tank comprises 20 tirthas. They are: Vayu, Bhageerathi (where Maha Periyava usually bathed), Brahma, Yamuna, Kubera, Godavari, Eesaana, Narmada, Indra, Saraswati, Agni, Kaveri, Yama, Kumari, Niruruti, Payoshni (Paalaaru), Deva, Varuna, Sarayu and Kanya.


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 5:20:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/the-spiritual-aspects-of-the-mahamagham-festival/article8253034.ece

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