This 20-acre square tank surrounded by Shiva Mandapams is believed by Tamil Hindus to be very ancient, and the holy confluence of nine Indian river goddesses namely Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna, Tungabhadra & Kaveri.
On the day of Mahamaham festival, the river goddesses and the Hindu God Shiva gather here to rejuvenate their waters, according to legend.
The Mahamaham tank is surrounded by small temple Mandapas with Vedic and Puranic Hindu deities, each with a Shiva Linga in the Sanctum. It also features the big Kashi Vishwanathar temple to its north.
At the entrance gate of the temple, there is the image of Shiva with nine Indian river goddesses : Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna, Tungabhadra, Kaveri, and Sarayu. Portions of the ancient tamil epic Periya Purana are inscribed inside the Mandapas and the temple.
The complete legend is found on the inner walls of the Kumbheshvara temple near the water pool.
Astronomically, Mahamaham festival is celebrated when full moon is passing Magha nakshatra (Leo sign) and Sun is on the other end in the opposite Aquarius sign (Kumnha Rasi). This comes once in twelve years when the planet Jupiter’s residence in Leo coincides with full moon in Leo.
On the day of the festival in the month of Magha, it is believed to bring all sacred Hindu rivers together and the water is rejuvenated.
The Festival :
Vast crowds of Hindu devotees gather at Kumbakonam to have a dip in the tank during this festival. All the rivers of India are believed to meet at the tank on this day and a purificatory bath at this tank on this day is considered equal to the combined dips in all the holy rivers of India.
Festival deities from all the temples in Kumbakonam arrive at the tank and at noon, all the deities bathe along with the devotees known as Theerthavari.
The temple cars of major temples in Kumbakonam come around the city on the festival night.
During the time of Mahamaham festival, it is believed that the famous Indian river goddesses Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati River, Sarayu, Godavari River, Tungabhadra RiverNarmada River, Krishna River, and Kaveri River arrive here to rejuvenate and get repurified through Ganga and with Shiva’s blessing.
The images of the deities indicating the legend is housed in the nearby Kasi Viswanatha Temple.
Mahamaham Tank :
The annual Masimaham festival held in the tank has 100,000 visitors and the 12 year Mahamaham festival has close to 2 million visitors.
The tank is located in the heart of Kumbakonam town. It covers an area of 6.2 acres and is trapezoidal in shape. The tank is surrounded by sixteen small Mandapams (shrines) and has 21 wells inside the tank. The names of the wells carry the name of Hindu god Shiva or that of Rivers of India.
Govinda Dikshitar, the chieftain of Ragunatha Nayak of Thanjavur, constructed the sixteen Mandapams and stone steps around this tank.
Connected Shiva Temple :
Twelve Shiva temples are connected with Mahamaham festival which occurs once in 12 years in Kumbakonam. They are Kasi Viswanathar Temple, Kumbeswarar Temple, Someswarar Temple, Nageswara Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, Gowthameswarar Temple, Abimukeswarar Temple, Kambatta Visvanathar Temple, Banapuriswarar Temple, Kahahasteeswarar Temple, Koteeswarar Temple, and Amirthakalasanathar Temple.
Of these twelve, first ten temples temples are located in Kumbakonam town itself.
Connected Vishnu Temple
Five Vishnu temples are connected with this festival. They are Sarangapani Temple, Chakrapani Temple, Ramaswamy Temple, Rajagopalaswamy Temple, and Varahaperumal Temple. All these temples are in Kumbakonam.