Kumbakonam is known as a “temple town” due to the prevalence of a number of temples here and is noted for its Mahamaham festival which attracts people from all over the globe. Kumbakonam dates back to the Sangam period and was ruled by the Early Cholas, Pallavas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks and the Thanjavur Marathas. It rose to be a prominent city between the 7th and 9th centuries AD when it served as a capital of the Medieval Cholas. The town reached the zenith of its prosperity during the British Raj when it was a prominent centre of European education and Hindu culture and it acquired the cultural name, the “Cambridge of South India”. The name “Kumbakonam”, roughly translated into English as the “Pot’s Corner” it is believed to be an allusion to the mythical pot (Kumbha) of the Hindu god Brahma that contained the seed of all living beings on earth. The Kumbha is believed to have been displaced by a pralaya (dissolution of the universe) and ultimately came to rest at the spot where the town of Kumbakonam now stands. This event is now commemorated in the Mahamaham festival held every 12 years. Kumbakonam is also known as Baskarashetram and Kumbam from time immemorial and as Kudanthai in ancient times. Kumbakonam is known for its temples and Matt’s (monasteries). There are around 188 Hindu temples within the municipal limits of Kumbakonam, apart from these there several thousand temples around the town thereby giving the town the sobriquets “Temple Town” and “City of temples”.
Adi Kumbeswarar Temple is considered to be the oldest Shaiva (the sect of the god Shiva) shrine in the town, believed to be constructed by the Cholas in the 7th century. The Nageswaraswamy Temple has a separate shrine for the Sun god Surya who is believed to have worshipped Shiva at this place. Adi Kumbeswarar temple, Nageswaraswamy temple and Kasi Viswanathar temple are Shiva temples in the town revered in the Tevaram, a Tamil Shaiva canonical work of the 7th–8th century. Kumbakonam has one of the few temples dedicated to the god Brahma.
Sarangapani temple is the largest Vaishnava (the sect of the god Vishnu) shrine present in Kumbakonam. The present structure of the temple having a twelve storey high tower was constructed by Nayak kings in the 15th century. It is one of the “Divya Desams”, the 108 temples of Vishnu revered by the 12 Alvar saint-poets. The Ramaswamy temple, which has scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana depicted on its walls, was constructed by Govinda Dikshitar, the minister of successive Nayak rulers, Achuthappa Nayak (1560–1614) and Raghunatha Nayak (1600–34). He added a commercial corridor between the temple and the older Chakrapani temple, which in modern times is called Chinna Kadai Veethi, a commercial street in the town.
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.
Sri Sankara Mutt of Kanchipuram was moved to Kumbakonam during the reign of Pratap Singh (1739–63) and remained in Kumbakonam until the 1960s. There are also two Vellalar mutts in the nearby towns of Dharmapuram and Thiruppanandal and a Raghavendra matha in Kumbakonam. There is also a branch of the Vaishnava Ahobila mutt in Kumbakonam.
Nageswaran Temple otherwise known as “Koothandavar Kovil”. Chola dynasty constructed this temple during the 12th century.This temple stands as a great marvel of Chola’s architecture, building technology.The design and orientation are structured in such a way that it allows the sun rays inside the temple only during the month of Chithirai.The Karuvarai of Nageswaran temple has similarity with that of Sarangapani temple, as it is made in the form of a chariot.
Kasi Viswanathar Temple is situated very close to the Mahamaham tank and another one temple is placed in Solaiyappan Street. Here the main deity is Kasi Viswanathar/Visalakshi. The important and peculiar point about this temple is the Navakanniyar, which are the 9 holy rivers. It is believed that the Mahamaham function is closely associated with the 9 presiding deities namely Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Saraswati, Kaveri, Godavari, Tungabhadra, Krishna and Sarayu.
Adi Kumbeswarar Temple is the major one among the Saivite temples and located in the centre of Kumbakonam at Big Bazaar Street. Shri Adhi Kumbeswara is the presiding deity of Kumbakonam and Manthrapeeteswari Mangalambika is the lord’s Consort. The temple complex is huge and has beautiful artwork. This temple covers an area of 30,181 Square Feet with a length and breadth of 750 feet, and 252 feet respectively. This temple comprises three Praharas and three Gopurams in the eastern, northern and western directions.
Someswar Temple is situated in the southern portion of Sri Sarangapani temple. This temple faces east with a 5-tier Gopuram at the entrance. It also has an entrance in the south. The architectural style and element of this temple resemble the Dravidian Architecture of the 13th century of the Chola period. Arumugam and Thenar Mozhi Ammal are the other deities located in this temple complex.
Kalahasteeswarar Temple is a Shiva temple located at Kumbakonam. The presiding deity is known as Kalahasteeswarar. His consort is known as Gnanambikai. After installing Lord Kalathinathar, devotees wished to install Mother Ambika. Many idols were made but none was perfect. For quite long years, the temple remained without Ambika. Appearing in the dream of a devotee, Lord Shiva said that Ambika would emerge from Mulla Periyar River.
Gauthameswarar Temple is situated in the western bank of the Mahamaham tank, it is a Shiva temple. The presiding deity of the temple, linga, is known as Gauthameswarar. Sage Gautama cursed Indira for his immoral approach towards his wife. Yet, the incident greatly disturbed the peace of his mind. He came to this place seeking peace and worshipped Lord Shiva. For his puja, he made Ganga spring up here. The river that came at the request of the sage was known as Gautami.
Banapuriswarar Temple is a Hindu temple located in the town of Kumbakonam. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The presiding deity is known as Banupuriswarar. Gorakka Siddha came to this temple on his pilgrimage to Shiva temples. He stayed in a mutt here where many devotees were also staying. While he woke up at midnight, he was shocked to see a woman sleeping by his side and her sari on his hands. As repentance, he cut off his hands and stayed in the mutt for some time.
Kambattam Viswanathar Temple is a Hindu temple located at Kumbakonam at the south west of Kumbeswarar Temple. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The presiding deity is known as Kambatta Viswanathar. During the period of Cholas, there was mint in this place. So this place was called as ‘Kambattam’ (in Tamil), the place where gold and silver coins were produced.
Sarangapani Temple Of the many temples in Kumbakonam, the most striking is the Lord Sarangapani Temple, a Vaishnavite temple. This famous Pancha ranga kshetra is in the midst of the busy market place. Before the Sri Rangam Temple gopuram (tower) was built, this temple used to hold the place for the tallest Temple Tower in South Asia.
Chakrapani Temple is situated about 1.5 km North of Ramaswamy Temple. Here the main deity is Chakraraja. The Sudarshana Chakra is also here. The temple is also an exquisite exponent of the early temple architecture. The important and peculiar point about this temple is that Vilva (Bilwa) Archana which is normally performed in Shiva temples is also performed here for the Perumal (Lord Vishnu). As per legend, Chakra (also called Sudarshana), the discus, is the most powerful weapon of god Vishnu. He once sent his weapon to nether world to kill king Jalandasura.
Ramaswamy Temple which depicts the paintings of Ramayana is another important Vaishanavite temple in Kumbakonam. The greatness of Ramaswamy Temple is said to be the only temple where Lord Rama, Goddess Sita are on the same platform and Lord Hanuman is playing the veena instead of reading the Ramayana. The entire deity is said to be made from Saligrama monolith. The Temple is filled with intricate carvings in its pillars. This temple is known as “Thennaga Ayodhya” which means Ayodhya of the south.
Rajagopalaswamy Temple is situated at Big Street in Kumbakonam. The presiding deity is known as Rajagopalaswamy. His consort is known as Sengamalavalli. The temple has 16 Towers, 18 Vimanas, 7 prakaras, 7 mandaps and 9 sacred springs-therthas. In the 11 tier Rajagopuram there are no sculptures up to six stages from the base. All God sculptures are from the 7th stage only. This is a rare and different type of Rajagopuram in Mannargudi. For the beauty of temple cars – Raths – Ther Azhagu – in Tamil’ Tiruvarur stands as outstanding example. For the beauty of temple Compound Wall, ‘Mathil Azhagu in Tamil’ Mannargudi is numero uno.
Varahaperumal Temple is situated at Kumbakonam. The presiding deity is known as Varahaperumal. His consort is known as Boomidevi. There are shrines for Sri Vishwaksenar and Acharya Nikamanda Maha Desika. Nagar is installed under the Tulsi plant in the prakara. Those facing adverse aspects of serpent planets Rahu and Ketu worship Lord here lighting Deeps. Varaha Theertham is outside the temple.
Sri Sita Rama Bhavani Sankara Temple This temple is situated at Solaiyappan Street on the banks of the Cauvery river (Nangam Thirunal Padithurai). This private temple is supposed to be more than 200 years old built by Achalpuram Shri.Lakshmana shrowthigal’s (great scholar of Krishna Yajur Veda) son Indore Shri.Suba Rao Dravid. In this temple deities are Sri Rama, Shiva (Sankara) in the form of Bhana lingam and Parvathi (Bhavani) are in separate sannithis. Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and hanuman are made of marbles.
Airvatesvara Temple, The temple at Darasuram, 4 km west of Kumbakonam is Airvatesvara (Airavat is the holy white elephant) Temple, constructed by Rajaraja Chola II (1146–63), is a superb example of 12th-century Chola architecture. Many statues were removed to the art gallery in the Thanjavur Palace, but have since been returned. The remarkable structures depict, among other things, Shiva as Kankala murti the mendicant. Stories from epics and Hindu mythology are depicted. Adjoining the Airavatesvara temple is the Deiva Nayaki Ambal temple. In 2004 the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) excavated and restored the temple.
Swami Malai The Lord Murugan temple is located in Swami Malai, which is around 10 km from Kumbakonam. It is located on the main road connecting Kumbakonam and Thanjavur. It is one among the six famous temples (Arupadai Veedu) of Lord Muruga. This is the place where the Lord Murugan in childhood taught the meaning of mantra “OM” to his father Lord Shiva.
Thiruvalanchuzhi Vinayagar Temple (Vellai Vinayagar Temple) This shiva temple is famous for Vinayak sculpture which has been carved from white foam while churning the milky sea. So the name of the god in Tamil is “Vellai Pillayar” meaning that “White Vinayak”. This temple is located in small village “Thiruvalansuzi” which is 4 km from Kumbakonam and 2 km from Swamimalai.