Pilgrims from all parts of India take a holy dip once every 12 years during the Mahamaham festival in the Mahamaham tank. An estimated 2 million pilgrims participated in the festival during the 2004 event. Govinda Dikshitar constructed the sixteen mandapams (shrines) and stone steps around this tank.
It occurs in the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) in the star of Magam. During festival times, special trains and buses are operated from various important place in South India to the place of venue, Kumbakonam, a famous temple town of Tamil Nadu closely associated with Hinduism, though-provokingTamil tradition and Hindu culture.
Festivals are part and parcel of Hinduism and have been followed by the people for more than 1500 years. Every Indian festival is unique and has a built-in significance and meaning; so are the various thought-provoking legends behind them.
There is a legend behind this great festival -Mahamaham. The whole world became submerged in a deluge on account of the wrath of Hindu god Shiva, the destroyer for the unaccountable sins committed by humans on this earth. Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, recreated the world during the beginning of current Kali Yuga (Iron Age). Lord Shiva (Easwara) pronounced that after the end of previous era, a divine Celestial Pot carrying nectar -”the essence of life,”would reach a holy place and rest there.The Celestial pot floated down the flooded water across several places and at last settled down at a spot near the river Cauvery where the town Kumbakonam is located.
Lord Shiva , taking the guise of a hunter, shot an arrow at the divine pot and broke it, making its contents spill and the pot disintegrate into small fragments. The spilling of essence of life resulted in the revival of life on the planet. Kumbham meaning the pot and Konam meaning crooked – the pot that was broken by Shiva’s arrow. Here in the heart of the town, the pot broke into many parts and scattered around. The various spots became the sites of a score of temples in this town. Kumbeswara, Someswara, Kasi Viswanatha, Nageswara, Kamata Viswanatha, Abimukeshwara, Goutameswara, Banapuriswara, Varahar, Lakshminaryana, Sarangapani, Chakrapani and Varadharaja, etc. Brahma prayed to Shiva to allow pilgrims to visit the tank during the sacred occasion Maham. Accepting his request, it is believed, Shiva along with Vishnu and other celestial deities made their divine presence at the center of the tank.
From Astronomy point of view, when the planet Jupiter passes over Leo on the day of the festival, it is believed, it will bring all water bodies together and enrich the tank with minerals. Similarly, a lake in Kotihar in Jammu and Kashmir gets full supply of water the same day, which otherwise remains empty during the other 11 years.
Throughout India, Brahma has very few temples dedicated to him because of a curse from Lord Siva (Easwara). Since Brahma was instrumental in recreating the world after the great cataclysmic event – Pralayam (the great deluge), there is a temple dedicated to Brahma in Kumbakonam, not withstanding Shiva’s curse.
There is a huge temple dedicated to Lord Shiva who broke the celestial pot that had floated down to Kumbakonam and helped revive the life on this earth after the annihilation of the whole world. The place where the nectar – the essence of life spilled.