Anya-kshetrE-krtam Papam-punya-kshetrE vinasyati
Punya-kshetrE krtam Papam VaranAsyam vinasyati
VAranAsyaAm krtam pApam KumbakOnE vinasyati
KumakOne krtam pApam KumbakOnE vinasyati
You can sin anywhere and wash it away in a holy spot
You can sin in a holy spot and wash it away in Varanasi
You can sin in Varanasi and wash it away in Kumbakonam
But if you sin in Kumbakonam,
You can wash only in Kumbakonam
Located in the heart of Cauvery Delta, Kumbakonam is stepped in mysteries of time, dating as far as the Sangam Age and was ruled by every Hindu dynasty in South India, from the early Cholas to Vijayanagara kings, the Nayakayas, the Marathas and the British. Kumbakonam’s streets are studded with majestic and small temples and the air often resounds with the sound of Vedic chants.
Like every holy Tirtha in Hinduism, Kumbakonam’s physical and spiritual nucleus is its holy tank, Mahamaham. According to a legend, when Brahma’s pot (Kumbha), containing the seeds of life, was destroyed at the end of an epoch, its nectar flowed into this tank giving the town its name Kumbakonam (the corner where the Kumbha fell). Once in every 12 years, millions of devotees assemble here for a holy bath.
If you stroll around the tank, preferably in the early morning, what draws your attention is its 16 mandapas (shrines) around the corners and sides of the tank and devotees taking holy bath surrounding these shrines. These towers are considered to be forms of Lord Shiva.
Close to Mahamanam Tank stands Kashi Viswanathar temple, where Shiva is worshipped as Kashi Viswanathar and his consort Parvati as Visalakshi. The deity is revered in the 7th-century Classics, the Tevaram written by Tamil Bhakti poets known as Nayanars.
Kumbakonam is located at the heart of Cauvery Delta in Thanjavur District. A medium-sized town, Kumbakonam is a bustling business centre and well connected by road and rail network. It takes about 6 hours from Chennai to reach Kumbakonam by road. The town has plenty of choices for accommodation and food. Just outside the town is Darasuram Village where is located the UNESCO monument, the famous Airavateswara Temple. The other major landmark is the Brihedeswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram.
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Kashi Viswanathar Temple has two gopurams, the tallest being the western tower with 7 stories and 72 feet height. The present masonry structure built in the 16th century during the rule of Nayakas.
According to local mythology, Lord Rama and his brother Lakshman are said to have worshipped here during their search for Sita and acquired Rudrasen to enable them to fight Ravana. Later works suggested that Viswanathar of Kashi is believed to have manifested himself here at Kumbakonam.
The next important Shiva Temple is Nageswarswami Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the guise of Nagaraja.
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The temple, a masterpiece of Chola architecture was originally built in the 9th century. The orientation of the temple is structured in such a way that it allows sunlight inside the temple right on the sanctum sanctorum during the Tamil month of Chithirai (March-April). The temple is made in the form of a chariot.
According to legend, during the time when Adishesha was feeling under the weight of the earth, he did penance here. Parvati appeared and blessed him at this place to get strength. The water body in the temple is called Naga Theertam.
Adi Kumbeswara Temple is yet another majestic Shiva Temple at Kumbhakonam dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here Goddess Parvati is depicted as Mangalambigai Ammam. The temple is surrounded by 4 gopurams at 4 cardinal points, the tallest being the eastern tower, with 11 stories high.
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The temple was built in the 9th century by the Cholas and was later expanded in the 16th century by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayakas. It is believed that the temple has a legendary association with the town of Kumbakonam. Here the Kumbha (the mythical pot containing the seed of all living beings) is kept.
Adi Kumbheswara is the presiding deity of the temple and the shrine is located in the centre. The lingam is said to have been made by Shiva himself when he mixed nectar of immortality and sand.
Kumbakonam is also a Vishnu Kshetra. Two of its majestic Vishnu Temples are Chakrapani and Sarangapani, both Diyadesams.
At Chakrapani Temple, Vishnu appears in the form of charka to put down the pride of Surya (Sun), who subsequently became his devotees. Lord Chakrapani has a 3rd eye on his forehead.
According to a legend, once Vishnu sent his chakra to nether world to kill Jalandhara. The weapon is believed to have come out of the nether world through river Cauvery. God Brahma, who was taking bath in the river, got impressed and installed the image of Sudarshana in the place where the temple is located now. Surya, the Sun God, who was glowing in brilliance, had his brightness diminished by effulgent Sudarsana. Surya, the Sun God, who was glowing in brilliance, had his brightness diminished by effulgent Sudarshana. Surya worshipped Sudarsna and pleased by his devotion, Sudarsana restored all the power of Surya.
Sarangapani is the largest temple complex at Kumbakonam dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of Divyadeasam, 108 Vishnu Temple revered by 12 Alwar poets. Its Rajagopuram is the tallest tower in the town consisting of 11 tiers and 53 m.
Sarangapani is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who appeared for a sage Hema Rishi and performed penance on the bank of Potramarai Tank.
Once sage Bhrigu wanted to meet Vishnu at his residence in the Ocean of Milk. However, Vishnu did not give attention which made Bhrigu angry. In his anger, he kicked Vishnu on his chest. Mahalakshmi who resides in Vishnu’s chest became angry as her husband did not show his anger towards the sage. She left Vaikunta and reached earth and took the form of Padmavathy. Vishnu followed her and got married to her. Padmavathy had not forgotten the incident and was still angry with Vishnu. To avoid her anger, Vishnu resided in the underground chamber in the temple as Pathala Srinivasa. In the meanwhile, the sage Bhrigu sought his apology and requested Mahalakshmi to be born to him as Komalavalli in his next birth. The sage was born as Hema Rishi and performed penance to attain Mahalakshmi as his daughter. Vishnu was pleased by the penance and he wished the sage to get Lakshmi as his daughter. Lakshmi emerged from the Potramarai tank among thousand lotuses and was thus named Komalavalli (the one who emerged from lotus). Vishnu descended to earth as Aravamudhan in a chariot drawn by horses and elephants from his abode Vaikuntam. He stayed in the nearby Someswaran Temple to convince Lakshmi to marry him and the couple eventually got married. The name Sarangapani (“one who has the bow in his hand”) derives from the Sanskrit word Sarangam meaning bow of Vishnu and pani meaning hand.
After a night journey from Chennai, I arrived at Kumbakonam for a day and after visiting the above-mentioned temples of the town I realized the justification of Kumbakonam where Hindu epics and legends are celebrated with full pomp. It is also a great centre of Sanskrit learning and tolerance.
Author: Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org