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Mahamaham is a Hindu Kumb Mela festival celebrated every 12 years in a town called Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, India. Hindus consider taking a holy dip at the Mahamaham tank on the day of Mahamaham as sacred. The last Mahamaham was celebrated on March 6, 2004, with people from various places taking the holy dip in the Mahamaham tank.
The festival is celebrated at an interval of around eleven to twelve years. The festival takes place at a particular time as determined by astrological position: during the full moon of the Tamil month of Maasi (February-March) when the conjunction of the moon with the lunar asterism (Magha Nakshatra) and when Jupiter is in the constellation of Leo.This Festival occurs when the sun is in the Zodiacal sign of Aquarius(Khumbha), Jupiter transists Leo(Simha) and the Moon is in conjunction with the constellation Maham. Generally all the these astronomical combination take place on a full moon day of the Tamil Month of Masi(Solar Kumbha Month) i.e. either in the latter half of February or in the first of March.
People are washing their sins on the holy rivers like Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati River, Sarayu, Godavari River, Mahanadi River, Narmada River, Pavoshnl and Kaveri River. These rivers wanted to get rid of their sins and approached Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma advised these rivers if you meet together and take bath in Mahamaham would wash off all the sins. Hence, during the time of Mahamaham festival, it is also believed that taking bath in the holy stream of water from the famous rivers like Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati River, Sarayu, Godavari River, Mahanadi River, Narmada River, Pavoshnl and Kaveri River, which are mixed together in Mahamaham tank, would get rid of sins according to Hindu religion.
Mahamaham bathing festival is concentrated on a single day, the concourse of pilgrims being all the more. During this festival, thousands of Hindu devotees come to Kumbakonam, and take bath in a tank named Mahamaham tank, generally followed or preceded by a dip in the kaveri river at Kumbakonam. The tank has 20 holy wells. These wells are named after 20 holy rivers flowing across India. People get themselves drained in these wells. These wells are also called as "Theertham" (Holy water).
Names of 20 Theertham :
1.Vayu Theertham 2.Ganga Theertham 3.Bramma Theertham 4.Yamuna Theertham 5.Kubera Theertham 6.Godavari Theertham 7.Eshana Theertham 8.Narmada Theertham 9.Saraswathi Theertham 10.Indira Theertham 11.Agni Theertham 12.Cauvery Theertham 13.Yama Theertham 14.Kumari Theertham 15.Niruthi Theertham 16.Bayoshni Theertham 17.Deva Theertham 18.Varunai Theertham 19.Sarayu Theertham 20.Kanya Theertham
It is believed that taking dip or sprinkling water of the tank on the bodies cleanses all the sins.
The Mahamaham Tank has four streets alongs its four banks. It is constructed with steps on the sides for people to easily access the tank and take dips. There are 16 Mandapas ( Gopuram Towers) around the corners and sides of the tank.These towers are considered to be forms of lord Shiva ( The Hindu God)
NAMES OF GOPURAM TOWER:
1.Brammatheertheshwarar 2.Mukundeshwarar 3.Dhaneshwarar 4.Virushabeshwarar 5.Baaneshwarar 6.Koneshwarar 7.Bhakthikeshwarar 8.Bhairaveshwarar 9.Agasthyeshwarar 10.Vyaneshwarar 11.Umaibakeshwarar 12.Nairutheeshwarar 13.Brammeshwarar 14.Gangatheshwarar 15.Mukthatheertheshwarar 16.Shethrabaleshwarar
It is believed that when the earth was transformed from one planet to other, the samples of all the living beings are collected in a " Kumbaham" meaning a pot in tamil. When the same slipped over the earth , it fell on the place where the Mahamaham tank is located. When the pot fell down and toppeled, the living beings are created in earth. Hence the name of the place "Kumbakonam" meaning "Pot Toppled" in Tamil.
There are three famous temple in kumbakonam from where the idols are prayed. These temples include the " Abimuhadeeswara Temple" , " Kasi Viswanathar Temple" and " Kumbeshwara Temple".
On the Mahamaham day people start with praying these shivan temples and start dips in the 20 wells and go to kumbeswarar Temple and dip in the holy tank and finally in kaveri river to complete the process .
On the occasion of the festival, Metal idols of the deities of the main temples of Kumbakonam is carried on palanquins or chariots and taken around the different streets of the town.
There is an oft quoted popular saying in Sanskrit noting Kumbakonam as even as more sacred than Varanasi(Kasi). A sin committed at some ordinary place is washed off by a visit to a holy place, sin done in a sacred spot is washed off by going on a pilgrimage to Varanasi(Kasi). If one dares to commit a sin in that sacred city too, that sin is wiped off at Kumbakonam and any sinful act done at Kumbakonam is atoned for there itself.
The next Mahamaham will be celebrated in the year 2016.
- Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dallapiccola