Mahamaham is a Hindu Kumb Mela festival celebrated every 12 years in the Mahamaham tank located in the South Indian town of 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.
Masimaham is an annual event that occurs in the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) in the star of Magam. Once in twelve years, when the planet Guru (Jupiter) enters Simha (Leo) sign, the Kumbh mela festival of South India is celebrated at Mahamaham tank. Vast crowds gather at Kumbakonam to have a dip in the tank, along with saints and philosophers. 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 – it is called “Theerthavari”. The purificatory bath is believed to remove sins and after the dip, pilgrims offer charitable gifts in the hope of being rewarded in the current life and subsequent lives. The temple cars of major temples in Kumbakonam come around the city on the festival night. During the Mahamaham of 1992, the number of devotees reached 1 million.
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 16 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 sixteenMandapams and stone steps around this tank.
Names of 20 Theertham (wells)
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
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)
On the Mahamaham day people start with praying these Siva temples. This is continued by dips in the 20 wells, visit to Kumbeswarar Temple, 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 sacredspot 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.