An hour’s drive away from Thanjavur lies the temple town of Kumbakonam, believed to be where the pot (Kumbham) containing nectar of life was spilled by Shiva. Kumbakonam is one of the prominent temple towns in the Cauvery region and also houses the holy tank of Mahamaham where the nectar pot fell. The town is lined with colourful gopurams of numerous temples and is also a prominent place for religious studies. From Cholas to Pandyas to Marathas to British, the town was under various rulers over the years.
Though there are more than 80 temples spread across the town of Kumbakonam, here is a list of the popular ones which are a must visit.
Adi Kumbeswarar Temple:
Believed to have been built before the 7th century by the Chola rulers, Adi Kumbeswarar is one of the most important and popular temples in Kumbakonam. Rebuilt and renovated over centuries, the temple has beautiful sculptures from mythology adorning its pillars and walls. The hall that leads to the main sanctum has numerous pillars and its carved ceilings are coloured with vegetable dyes. The temple is dedicated to Kumbeswarar (Shiva) and the main shrine houses a lingam. The premise also has a temple pond, Kandha Kumbha Theertham.
Built in 17th century by the Nayaks, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu. The hall outside the inner sanctum is lined with numerous sculpted pillars which has characters from mythology and related designs. The ceilings too have carved designs and are colourful. The hall also has frescoes of the ten avatars of Vishnu. The inner walls are adorned with paintings depicting scenes from Ramayana.
A prominent Vaishnavite temple in India, Sarangapani temple dedicated to Vishnu is the biggest one in Kumbakonam and is built in typical Dravidian style architecture. The colourful and striking eleven storeyed gopuram is a major attraction of this temple apart from the chariot shaped main sanctum which has numerous carved pillars. The main shrine is of Sarngapani, an incarnation of Vishnu. There is also a shrine dedicated to Komalavalli, the consort of Sarngapani. The temple also houses quite a few other colourful entrance gates.
The 9th century temple built during the time of Cholas has Nageswarar as its main deity, a serpentine form of Shiva. While the colourful entrance gate is quite an eye catcher, the inner entrance gate has gorgeous art work on its ceiling. The inner sanctum is in the form a chariot and has sculptures of horses pulling it.
Dedicated to Vishnu, the presiding deity is Chakrapani (a form of Vishnu) who is worshipped as Sudarshana. The deity has a third eye on his forehead and eight stretched out arms. Apart from a colourfully sculpted entrance gate, the temple also houses carved pillars and an entrance foyer with art work on the ceiling.
Located to the north of Kasi Vishwanathar temple, Mahamaham tank is where the Mahamaham festival (similar to Kumbh mela) is held every 12 years. It is believed that the waters of this tank can get rid of all the sins and is more sacred than river Cauvery. There are many lingams along the banks of the tank and it also houses numerous wells.
Kumbakonam is 40 Kms from Thanjavur and 282 Kms from Chennai. There are buses and trains that connect Kumbakonam with major cities across south India. The closest airport is at Tiruchirappalli, 95 Kms away.
Food and Accommodation:
Most of the hotels in Kumbakonam offer vegetarian fare. The town is also known for its ‘Degree Coffee’ which is served in brass tumblers. The coffee is prepared with thick milk, is boiled to a certain temperature and gets its name due to this. One can either stay in Thanjavur and make a day trip to Kumbakonam or stay in Kumbakonam to visit its temples. There are numerous hotels in both Thanjavur and Kumbakonam catering various budgets.