Kumbakonam is the temple town of South India situated in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. It is a fertile area on the banks of river Cauvery and one of its tributaries Arasalaru. The town is famous for the Mahamaham festival that is celebrated once in 12 years in the Mahamaham tank located in the heart of the city.
Kumbakonam is flooded with temples of large size. There are as many as sixty temples, in and around Kumbakonam within 40-km of radius. Of the many temples in Kumbakonam, the oldest Shaiva fane is the Adikumbeshwara and the oldest Vaishnava fane, the Sri Sarangapani.
Sri Adikumbeshwara Temple
This is the largest and the oldest Shiva temple located in the centre of the town of Kumbakonam. The presiding deity of this temple is Lord Kumbeshwara and the presiding Goddess is Sri Mangalambigai. There is a shrine dedicated to Adi Vinayaka (Lord Ganesh).
A Chola King built the temple and the temple building itself would seem to have been renovated by the Nayak King. Some of the old images like Sri Ambal, Sri Durgaiamman and Sri Kirathamoorti bear the impress of the antiquity about them.
The temple contains some wonderful pieces of sculpture and architecture. Its main Gopuram is 128 feet high and has many intricately carved sculptures on it. On a single block of stone in the Navaratri Mandapam all the 27 stars and 12 'Rashis' (signs) have been carved out.
The image of Lord Subramanya, enshrined in this part of the temple, is a rare specimen. It has six heads but only six hands holding different kinds of weapons. There is an excellent collection of silver Vahanas (palanquins) used to carry the deities at festival times.
Legend connected with the Temple
Tradition goes to say that during the "Mahapralaya" (Great Floods) after "Dwaparayuga", a 'Kumbam' (Pot) full of Amritham (also spelt as Amrit) and seeds for creation was set afloat by Lord Shiva. It was proclaimed by Shiva Himself that the place where the pot touched theground and had its rest would be considered as the holiest places in the world.
Since the said Kumbam, as announced by the creator of the world, had its rest in this place, this ancient place is named as "Kumbakonam" after that Kumbam. Immediately after its rest Lord Shiva appeared in the guise of a hunter and broke thesaid Kumbam full of Amritham with his arrow.
The nectar settled at two places one of which became the famous Mahamaham Tank. Out of the pieces of the broken pot Lord Shiva made out a ShivaLinga and entered into it. This is now enshrined in the temple, and hence the name Adi Kumbeswara, meaning - one who entered the Kumba or vessel long long ago.
It is to be noted that this MahaLinga unlike other Lingas found in other temples, is not made of granite stone and as such Abishekams (also spelt as Abhisheka) cannot be performed with watery substances lest it should dissolve the shape of the Linga (also spelt as lingam).
Idol of Kirathamoorti
The idol of Kirathamoorti is a special feature in the temple and it is a standing monument to commemorate the incidence that, Lord Shiva Himself has created the present MahaLinga.
The Shaivaite Saints, Appar and Sambandhar who flourished prior to the 7th century AD have sung devotional songs ("Thevarams") in praise of the presiding deities of the temple.
Sri Sarangapani Temple
The Vaishnavaite temple of Sri Sarangapani is some two thousand years old in its traditional origins. The earliest Alvars, Bhutam and Pey, have sung of the Lord. In fact seven of the Alvars in all have sung His praises. It was in this temple that Nathamuni redacted the Vaishnavaite Tamil hymns. Tirumazhisai attained salvation here.
While the temple structure dates back to the Pallava times and even earlier, the Lord's shrine, which is in the form of a chariot, was built under the later Cholas, in the 12th century.
A Traditional Feature
According to the tradition once a sage named Bhrugu, piqued by the fact that Lord Vishnu, whom he went to see when He was in the company of the Goddess, ignored him awhile, kicked him in the chest. The Lord merely asked whether his feet were paining him. But the Goddess resented the Lord's indifference to the insult and came down to the earth. After some time she realised that she was in the wrong. To regain Her place by the Lord She began severe penance on a thousand-petalled lotus in a tank named "Pottamarai", in Kumbakonam.
Bhrugu was born in his next birth as Guha, the boatman who helped Srirama, and subsequently as a sage named Hema. He remembered that he had caused a separation between the Lord and the Goddess and to expiate his sin he began severe austerities.
Pleased with him, the Lord asked what boon he wished for. He said that Goddess Laxmi should be born as his daughter and that the Lord should marry Her. The Lord granted the request. The sage came to Kumbakonam and adopted the Goddess as his daughter, giving Her the name of "Komalavalli". Subsequently the Lord, entering a chariot, named the "Vaidika Vimana", believed to be an offshoot of the "Pranava Vimana" of Srirangam and a replica of the one presented to Vibhishna at Sri Rama's coronation, came to the Pottamarai tank in Kumbakonam. Subsequently He married Komalavalli. There are two entrances to the Ratha (chariot) shrine, both from the sides. Each is kept open for half the year.
On the first tier of the entrance Gopura there are labelled sculptures depicting the poses prescribed in Bharatha's text on the dance. Some scholars believe that they were brought here from another temple.
Sri Nageshwara Temple
Possibly the oldest in Kumbakonam, the Nageshwara temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja is one of the finest early Chola temples, noted for the quality of its sculpture. This temple is believed to have been completed during the reign of Parantaka I (907-c.940). Though the temple is small but it is known for its marvellous architecture that exceeds many of the other Chola temples.
The Nataraja shrine here is shaped in the form of a chariot, and the shrine dedicated to the Sun God is of great sculptural significance.
Sri Chakrapani Temple
The Sri Chakrapani temple enshrines a legend according to which the Sun God engaged in a competition with the Chakra, or the discuss, which Lord Vishnu carries, as to who shone brighter. The discus triumphed. The Lord allowed the Sun God to regain his brightness by retracting somewhat of His discus' splendour. The Lord is called "Chakrapani". The Goddess is "Vijayavalli Thayar".
Sri Ramaswami Temple
Raghunatha, the Nayak of Thanjavur, who ruled from 1600 to 1635, built the Sri Ramaswami temple. It is said that the Nayak obtained the images of Sri Rama and Sita when a tank was being dug. To enshrine them he built this splendid temple about 1625. The Lord in the sanctum is in His coronation ensemble, not in the customary standing Kodandarama one.
In the Mahamandapa there are several pillars on which are sculptures depicting the "Ramayana". The carvings are sharp, and at the same time, they exude devotion. On the walls around the Prakara the "Ramayana" is again told, this time in murals. These have been often restored and renovated.