By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Kumbhakonam, KumbhakoNam, Kumbhakonam
The town of Kumbhakoṇam is one of the oldest centers of pilgrimage in South India. It is situated at a distance of 70 km.(43 miles) to the south-west of another famous pilgrimage named Cidambaram in Tamil Nadu. The rivers Kāverī and Arasalar flows on the two sides of this town.
The Amṛtakumbha was established by Brahmā, the creator. It was created at the instance of Śiva. Śiva is said to have stopped here after being carried by the waters of pralaya. Hence it is named as Kumbhakoṇam.
This town contains many ancient and rare temples. It has:
- Twelve temples of Śiva
- Four temples of Viṣṇu
- One temple of Brahmā
Temples in Kumbhakoṇam town
- Sārañgapāṇi Temple : The temple of Sārañgapāṇi (Viṣṇu) is the most imposing of all the temples of the town. Its central shrine is probably the oldest part of the complex, as eight of the twelve Ālvārs have sung its praise. Additions were made by the Nāyak kings during the period CE1300-1700. Its gopuram (tower) is 44 meters (146 feet) high. It is a 12 storeyed building. There are numerous ornamental figures.
- Kumbhakoṇam Temple : Two main entrances lead to the central shrine. The southern entrance is used during the dakṣiṇāyana period and the northern entrance during the uttarāyaṇa period. The shrine of Komalavallī (Lakṣmī, consort of Viṣṇu) is in the northern part of the temple. There is a puṣkaraṇī tank next to the temple meant for bathing by the devotees before they enter. The annual teppotsava is also held here in the month of Māśi (in March). The pujā and allied rituals are done according to the Pāñcarātra Āgamas. There are two big rathas made of wood with elaborate carvings. In addition, one ratha made of silver is used on special occasions.
- Kumbheśvara Temple : The Kumbheśvara temple is a big temple located in the center of the town. Its main gopuram is 38 meters (128 feet) high. It has many intricately carved sculptures on it. The temple has quite a few silver vāhanas used to carry the various deities during festival days.
- Nāgeśvara Śiva Temple : There is another temple of Śiva known as Nāgeśvara Śiva temple. It contains a shrine for Surya (the Sun-god) also. The rays of the sun enter the inner sanctum through the openings in the gopuram three times a year. These rays fall directly on the Sivaliṅga. This is considered as the worship of Śiva by Surya himself.
- Rāmasvāmi Temple : The Rāmasvāmi temple was built probably in the 16th century. It has the images of Rāma’s brothers apart from that of Sītā. There are sculptures on the pillars and murals on the walls depicting scenes from the Rāmāyana.
- Some of the other Vaisṇavite temples of Kumbhakoṇam are:
- Cakrapāṇi temple
- Varāha temple
- Gopālasvāmi temple
- Varadarāja temple
- Vedanārāyaṇa temple
Another important place for the pilgrims in Kumbhakoṇam is the Kanyātīrtha. It is more commonly known as the Mahāmāgham tank. It is a huge lake spread over an area of 20 acres (8 hectares). There are 16 towers with manḍapas all-round this tank.
Once in 12 years, on the purṇimā day of the month of Māgha (in February) when Guru (Jupiter) is in Simha (Leo) and Candra (Moon) is in the Makha Nakṣatra, a very big bathing festival is held here. This is called Mahāmākham or Mahāmāgham. All the sacred rivers are believed to be present in the water on this day.
Kāñci Kāmakoṭi Piṭham
There is also an ancient Maṭha or monastery belonging to the Advaita tradition named the Kāñci Kāmakoṭi Piṭham in Kumbhakoṇam existing since CE 1743.
- Amṛtakumbha means pot containing nectar.
- Pralaya means destruction of the world.
- Period of the southern solstice, July to January.
- Period of northern solstice is January to July.
- Teppotsava means floating festival.
- Pujā means worship.
- Rathas means temple chariots.
- Vāhanas means palanquins.
- Manḍapas means small halls.
- Purṇimā means full-moon day.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore