The Mahamaham — in retrospect

The Mahamaham tank brimming with water ... — Pic. by S. R. Raghunathan.  

WITH THE Mahamaham falling on March 6, "all the roads will lead to Kumbakonam." My mind goes back to 1933, when the Paramacharya, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi was present in Kumbakonam on the Mahamaham day which was March 8, Angirasa year, and blessed innumerable devotees. Periyava performed Vyasa Puja (beginning on July 17, 1932) at Bokkai, near Nagari. After completing the puja he proceeded to Tirupati on to Kalahasti and then to Tirutani. He arrived at Chennai on September 28 to a warm reception.Periyava desired to go to Kumbakonam for the Mahamaham. Kumbakonam, incidentally, is the place where the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam Math was established. Kumbakonam is also known as Sri "Bhaskara Kshetra" as the sunrays fall in a straight line on the Sivalinga at the Nageshwarar Temple during the month of Chitirai and the town is also the abode of the Trinity — Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.

What is the significance of Mahamaham? It was the time of great deluge with the whole world under water. Even before the advent of the deluge, Brahma asked Siva to recreate the world and Siva picked up a handful of sand, mixed it with ambrosia and stored it in a pot. He filled up the vessel with the four Vedas covered them with the leaves of the coconut palm and mango tree, Kusa grass and holy thread. He asked Brahma to place the pot at the peak of the Mahameru.

As the water level rose, the pot containing the nectar and seeds of creation floated towards the South and Brahma followed the path. A strong wind dashed against the pot letting loose the coconut that fell in a south-eastern place where a Sivalingam, worshipped as Narikeleswarar, appeared. The mango leaves and Kusa grass (darba) fell in the place called Thirupurambiam and again a lingam appeared there. In the place where the Holy thread fell a lingam called Suthiranathar appeared.

The pot proceeding in the southern direction, halted at a place and Lord Siva released an arrow that hit the pot. As a result of hitting the pot by the arrow the Nectar flowed in five directions and the five places through which it passed formed "Panchacosam". They are Tiruvidaimaruthur, Tirunageswaram, Darasuram, Swamimalai and Karuppur. The place from where Siva shot the arrow is called "Banapuri" and the presiding deity is "Banapuriswarar." A street in the town is actually named Banadurai. Kudavasal is the place where the mouth of the pot fell into pieces and the place where the holy pot remained stationary is called "Kumbakonam."

In this sacred place, Adi Kumbeswarar blesses his devotees. Kumbam means pot and konam means neck. Since the neck of the pot was broken by Lord Siva, it is called Kudamukku and Vaishnavaites refer to it as "Thirukudandai." The nectar finally remained deposited in the "Mahamahatheertham" and Pottramarai Theertham." This chain of events happened in the month of Masi, i.e., Kumba Masa. "Mahamaham" occurs every 12 during the conjunction of Simha Rasi and the month of Kumba. Scriptures say that the Holy "Ganga" flows into the Holy Mahamaham tank on that day and those who have a bath in the waters of the tank have the supreme satisfaction of having a had holy dip in the Ganga. In 1933, there was no war or famine and the people were happy and contented in all respects. Transport was not a problem with the Southern Railway having made all the arrangements for a comfortable journey and the police ensuring security. About six lakh people came to Kumbakonam to have a holy dip in the Mahamaham tank. A quarter of that population came from the adjoining villages by cars and on foot. The Municipal Corporation had made elaborate arrangements and merchants had advertised their goods. The pilgrims were entertained with dance and music performances. Philanthropic citizens had made food available aplenty. The "Annadanam" at the Sankara Math arranged by Thepperumal Nallur Sivan was the biggest feeding centre for the entire population visiting the Mahamaham. Periyava reached the Mahamaham Holy Tank at 5 a.m. and after performing Sankalpam, had the holy bath. His Sishyas and devotees followed suit. They prostrated before him and received his blessings. This year Sri Jayendra Saraswati and Vijayendra Saraswathi are proceeding to Kumbakonam.