Kumbakonam is 36km from Thanjavur linked by road and rail. It is the biggest town in Thanjavur district and commercial centre for silk, utensils and trade. It is the treasure-house of art and architecture because almost all the important temples are in and around Kumbakonam. It is a focal point from where all the Chola temples could easily be visited.
Mahamagam, the Kumba Mela of the south which occurs once in 12 years when the planet Jupiter enters the constellation Leo and the Sun in Aquarius is famous here, and lakhs of people from all over India throng here to have a holy dip in the Mahamagam tank which is located in the middle of the town. It is believed that the holy Ganges flows into this tank on that day. Bordered by exquisite mandapams, the tank bears an imposing look with stone-cut steps leading to water level. There are umpteen spring wells in the bed of the tank, called 'Theerthams' or holy waters.
Kumbakonam is about 40km northeast of Thanjavur, Kumbakonam is a commercial hub in Thanjavur district known for its silk. Known as the Temple City for its many temples, Kumbakonam is also a convenient base to visit almost all the Chola temples, the prime among all the Chola temples, the prime among these are the four temples - Sarangapani, Kumbeswarar, Nageswara and Ramaswamy. The Mhamaham Festival, celebrated here once in 12 years, celebrated here once in 12 years, make it an important pilgrimage centre.
The Kumbeswarar Temple, located in the heart of the town is spread over 9000 sq m with the 9 storied eastern gopuram, about 40m high. Navaratri the long colonnaded mandapa with 27 stars and 27 rasis (constellations) carved in a single block, Mangala Theertham a holy water tank and the small temple of Muruga, Ganapati, and Mangalambigai are the main constituents of this temple. It also has a magnificent collection of silver vahanas (vehicles) used for carrying the deities during temple festivals.
Sarangapani Temple, the largest of the 18 temples in Kumbakonam was renovated in the 16-century by the Nayaka kings and revered as one among the three major sites dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The main central part is fashioned on the lines of as in Chidambaram, a chariot with galloping horses and elephants carved in relief. The largest 11-storey gopuram is 44m tall and has the dancing poses of Shiva, a rather unusual feature in a Vaishavaite temple. The temple has a Porthamarai Kulam a holy tank located behind it and five Praharas. There are two entrances, Uttara Vasal (opens when the sun reaches the tropic of Capricorn) in the north and Dakshina Vasal (opens whe the sun reaches the tropic of Cancer) in the south. The deity in the sanctum, Aravamudhan, is in the act of rising from his snake-couch to give darshan to Thirumazhisai Alwar, the ardent devotee. There is also a small temple dedicated to Lakshmi.
The Nageswara Temple also known as Koothandavar Kovil is dedicated to Shiva as Nagaraja (Serpent King). The construction of the temple begun in 886AD and during 12-century Adithya Chola renovated it. The temple is so oriented that it allows the sunrays inside it only during the nonth of Chithrai (April-May). There is a dance hall opposite to the small Nagaraja Temple on the right before you reach the main sanctum, designed like a chariot pulled by horses and elephants. It has gopurams in the east and west directions and there are some superb statues on the outside walls of the main temple, described as a great marvel of the Chola period.
The Ramaswamy Temple is another Nayaka period temple constructed by Achutha Nayak of Thanjavur during 16-century. The Mahamandapam of the temple has beautiful carved pillars, notable among these being the coronation of Vibhishana (the king Ravana's brother) and a dancer with Veena. The frescoes on the walls depict incidents from the Ramayana.
The other temple worth a visit is the Chakarapani Temple, located near the river Kaveri, north of the Big Bazaar Street. It is the second biggest Vaishnavaite temple in Kumbakonam town.
Temple in Kumbakonam
Adikumbeswara Temple is an ancient temple, Very huge spreading over 4 acres with a gopuram 125ft. high. The Mahamagam tank itself is its Theertham (holy water). The Navarathri Mandapam with 27 'stars' and '12 Rasis' (constellations) carved in a single block, the idol of Shanmuga with only six hands instead of usual 12, two stone Nadaswarams and Kirtamurti are the main attractions in this temple. They speak volumes f the artistic attainment of Chola sculptures.
Sarangapani Temple is the Vaishnavaite shrine equally famous as the Adikumbeswara temple. The temple has Hema Pushkarani as its holy tank. The inner shrine has a unique feature is being fashioned like a chariot with galloping horses; besides, it has two entrances Uttara Vasal in the north and Dakshina Vasal in the south. The northern gate is opened for entering the sanctum when Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn and the other one closed, until the Sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer. Afterwards, it is epeated vice versa. The gopuram with 12 tiers (150ft. high) has the dancing poses of Siva a strange feature in a Vaishnavaite shrine.
The deity Aravamudhan in the sanctum inside the temple is in the act of rising from His Snake-couch to give darshan to His ardent devotee Thirumazhsai Alwar. The Komalavalli Thayar image is very charming, true to the name of 'Komalam'. Te Vaishnavaite literary work Divya Prabhandham 4000 in number was brought to light in this temple just like the Thevaram of Saivism brought to light at Chidambaram temple.
Ramaswami Temple is near the Adikumbeswara temple. The Mahamandapam has exquisite sculptures, each a class in itself, the Coronation, Trivikrama, a dancer with Veena and Manmatha. The idol in the sanctum installed by Ragunatha Naik of Thanjavur had been found from a tank. Lord Hanuman image in this temple can be seen playing a Veena. The corridor walls are painted with sequences of Ramayana.
The temple is noted for its exquisite pillars. The presiding deity Chakrapani has eight arms. There is a bronze image of Raja Serfoji worshipping the Lord as he is said to have been cured of an illness by the grace of this God. A panchamukha (five-faced) Hanuman is erected in the prakaram.
The Brahma temple is very rare in India and the Brahma temple here is in the place where He performed a penance.
The temple is so aligned that the rays of the sun falls for 3 days on the Lingam in the sanctum in the first Tamil month (April-May). The Nrithya Sabha (dance hall) is a typical example of the Chola art.
Kumbakonam Tourism Information
Hardly a km from Thirunageswaram is the Vishnu shrine, Oppiliappan temple. It ranks equal to Thirumalai in Thirupathi and many perform their vows here, which they made to perform at Thirumalai. The idol is just like the one at Thirumalai. Salt is not added in the daily food offered to this deity in deference to is consort's ignorance of cooking. an image of Vedanta Desika is found in this temple. There is also a tank inside. Tasting the Prasadam (food offered to the deity) inside the temple one never gets the feeling that it has been prepared without salt but on coming out one finds out the difference. Oppiliyappan is also called Srinivasan, the deity installed in the sanctum has Bhoodevi on her knees praying to the Lord on the right side. There are two theerthams (sacred temple ponds) inside the temple.
This temple is another masterpiece of Chola art. It was built by Aditya Chola in 10th century AD. Later rulers have also improved the temple with additions. It is called Bhaskara (Sun) Kshetram. The niches contain Vinayaka, Ardhanariswara and a maiden all a splendor in stone. This is also one of th eNavagaha sthalams for Raghu (dragon's head) and a beautifulsanctum for Him with His consorts attracts thousands of pilgrims each day during the Rahu Kalam (inauspicious time) when holy Abishekam (ablutions) is performed to the deity.
Thiruvidaimarudur is 10km north of Kumbakonam with an imposing gopuram. A huge Mahalingam is the presiding deity here. He is supposed to be the main deity (Moolavar) of Tamil Nadu as the other temples around it houses only the Parivara Devathas as main deity. Marudu is derived from the holy tree of the place called Marudha maram. From time immemorial, those afflicted with evil spirts circumambulate the Aswamedha Prakaram and get cured. On the eastern tower is the sculpture of Brahmahatthi, a Brahmin murdered by a king waiting to take revenge. The king who entered the temple to escape from the sin of killing a Brahmin was asked to go out through another gate as he was a devout Siva Baktha. The shrine of Mookambika here is in the northern style of architecture. A library is attached to this temple possessing Saiva Siddhanta and Agama palm leaf manuscripts. There is a Theertham called Singha Thirtham inside the temple. Pattinathar stone image and Bhadragiriyar stone image are in the eastern and western gateways of the temple. Thai Poosam festival (January-February) is very famous attracting huge crowds.
Thirubhuvanam is 8km from Kumbakonam. It has the 13th century AD. Chola temple of Kambahareswara built by Kulottunga III. It is a colossal stone edifice raised as a memorial of the victory of his North Indian campaign. The whole temple including the gopuram has stone relief, of the legends of Siva. The Sarabha Murthi bronze idol is the unique feature here. It is a fusion of human, bird and beast supposed to have been incarnated by Lord Siva to release the Devas from the unabated fury of Narasimha the avatar of a human lion of Vishnu - after he slayed the demon Hiranya. Near the Sarabha sanctum can be seen two exquisite sculptures of Sridevi and Bhudevi the consorts of Vishnu. The place is famous for silk weaving.
Suriyanar Koil (Sun Temple)
This temple is 22km from Kumbakonam and even before the great temple for Sun god at Konark was dreamed of a temple for Sun and the Planets that move around Him was built here. It was built by Kulottungan I. A fifty feet gopuram stands here and passing through it the image of a horse and the chariot of Surya appears into view. The planets have different shrines around the Sun's sanctum, which is in the centre. This is one of the Navagraha sthalams and people pour here daily to propitiate Sun God, the chief of the plants according to Indian Astrology. Ratha Sapthami (January-February) is the day of the change of Sun's course (Starting His Northern course from Capricorn) and that day is celebrated as a festival day.
This is farther off to Surianar Koil on the northeast. The famous Ashta Bhuja Durga temple is in this place. It is the birthplace of Krishnan Raman, Chief Minister to the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I. The idol is a splendid specimen of Chola art and Goddess Durga is seen slaying the demon from Her lion mount.
Thiruppurambiam is about 13km to the north of Kumbakonam is the place which was a fierce battlefield in the 9th century deciding the bright future of the Cholas. Chola king Aditya built a temple in sweet remembrance of the turn of tide in his favour and named it Aditeswaram. The present name of the presiding deity is Sakshinatheswarar and the consort bears the beautiful name Kuraivila Azhagi (Beauty Unsurpassed). The sanctum for the Devi was built by Rajaraja I. The sanctum wall contains beautiful sculptures of Parvara Devatas. Lord. Ganesa here is performed honey ablutions on the Vinayaka Chathurthi day and all the honey passed on Him in absorbed by him.
It stands 6km west of Kumbakonam on the banks of the river Cauvery. It is one of the six abodes (arupadaiveedu) of Lord Muruga. 'Malai' means hill but there is no hill here but an artificial hillis built and the deity enshrined on the top. There are 60 steps, each step for a year of the Tamil Year series which has a cycle of 60 years. Here, before the idol stands an elephant instead of the usual peacock, the mount of Lord Muruga. The deity is called Swaminatha as He explained the meaning of Pranava Mantra to His father Lord Siva and also got the nick name 'Thagappanaswami' god to father. This is the only shrine where Lord Muruga is seen with his consort Devayani.
Darasuram is about 4km on the south west of Kumbakonam is this famous temple dedicated to Iravatheeswara noted for its sculptural wonder. It was built by Rajaraja II (1146-72 AD). The original name was Rajarajeswaram which was later corrupted as Darasuram. The shrine is a square panchandhala vimanam, and the mandapam is raised with its basement walls carved with exquisite sculptures. The reliefs depict the 63 Saivaite saints and the episodes in their lives. The Badra Koshtas have Dakshinamurthi, Lingodhbhavar, Brahma and Vishnu carved beautifully. Different forms of Siva adorn the Karna Devakoshtas. In the north wall, Mahishasura the buffalo demon is shown in full human form, not to be seen anywhere else. Even narrow spaces are filled with Kiritarjuna and Ravana lifting Kailas. The cell in the second floor contains Umamaheswara with king Rajendra II. The king wanted to make this temple unique in every respect, so he has lavished it with intricate artwork, even paid attention in the choice of stones for carving the images. In architectural greatness, it ranks only behind the Chola temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. Renamed after Airavata, the elephant mount of Lord Indra, most of the temple is made of granite. The frontal columns of the temple have unique miniature sculptures.
The balustrades of steps reaching the mandapam too are wrought with elobrate sculptures. The middle Ghoshta in the south wall has an awe-inspiring image of Sarabha pacifying Narasimha. In the north east mandapam, the pillars contain Natya poses and the ceiling with dancers. Even the Balipeetam facing the temple is an ornate structure with a flight of steps (9 nos.) each producing a susical note when struck. The Dwarapalakas that adorn the temple were brought from the western Chalukya capital Kalyanapuri as trophy of victory.
The temple is a square panchadhala vimana. Exquisite sculptures decorate the basement walls of the mandapam. The pillars show some flower emblems, a developing style of the late Chola period. Sculpted guardians flank the entrance. The doorkeepers have massive clubs. A Nandi stands at the entrance to the main shrine. The niches of the main temple have some outstanding sculptures. Some of the niches inside contain early Chola sculptures depicting forms of Shiva, as Ardhanareeswarar and Nagaraja. The outer walls of the temple are also ornate with sculpted figures. In the sanctum, a huge decorated lingam stands. The remarkable sculptures of the temple depicting Shiva and stories from the epics make it unique. Darasuram is also a silk weaving centre.
Pazhayarai is about 7km from Kumbakonam is a old Chola capital Rajarajan II has built a temple here for Somanadiswarar. Formerly it had a palace where the Chola kings resided. It was called Cholan Maligai but now no trace of it is left. Life-size image of durga, chariot-like mandapam drawn by galloping horses, Ardhanariswara (half Parvathi, half Siva form), and Narasimha (human lion avatar of Vishnu) are most exquisitely carved here.
On the eastern side of Pazhayarai was a Kailasanathar sculpture. Ravana is seen lifting Mount Kailas, the abode of Siva only to be trapped under its weight when Lord Siva presses it down with the thumb of His right foot - a remarkable sculpture. Saint Appar one of the 63 Nayanmars of the Siva cult is said to have observed a hunger strike here to establish it as a Siva temple.
This temple is 8km from Kumbakonam. The presiding deity is Dhenupuriswarar. The right of this temple is imposing with five gopurams piercing the sky. A life-like statue of the great scholar and minister Govinda Dikshithar of the Thanjavur Naick kings is in this temple. The important idol here is the Kattaivasal Durga at the entrance of the northern gopuram. It was the guaridian deity of the palace of the Cholas and after the disintegration was brought with Bhairavar and installed here. Vishnu Durgai is very famous here and pilgrims throng here every day. A little to the west is Ramanathar temple dedicated to Vishnu, which contains niches on the walls housing images of fine artistic skill.
What to buy?
Thanjavur is famous for repousse (metal work with raised relief) and copper work inlaid with brass and silver. The Thanjavur plates are noted worthy. Bronze images are made by traditional craftsmen at Swamimalai.
The Poompuhar Emporium on the Gandhi Road is ideal for buying them. Besides repousse, wood carvings like temple cars and pith models of Thanjavur temple etc. are stocked here. Ancient brass betal boxes, cutters and Chola bronze pots are also available.
Kumbakonam Distance Guide
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