If you`re a culture vulture or a hankerer after heritage sites, this is the town for you.
Kumbakonam, a city of great antiquity and religious importance is situated in Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu. It is located about 38 km northeast of Thanjavur town and 74 km southwest of another ancient temple-town, Chidambaram.
Kumbakonam, once the capital of the imperial Chola dynasty, is studded with eighteen ancient temples.
Kumbakonam derives its name from the temple of Kumbeshwara, situated in the heart of the city. This famous Siva temple with towering gopuras (gateways) enshrines a lingavenerated by devout Hindus from all parts of India.
Another famous Siva shrine here is the Nageshwara Swami temple,probably the oldest temple in this city. Dating back to the Chola period, this temple has a separate shrine for the Sun God (Surya), the rays of the sun fall directly on the linga inside the shrine on certain days of the year. Beautiful stone sculptures of various deities like Dakshinamurthy, Durga and Brahma are found in the niches of this shrine, whose walls also bear a number of important inscriptions.
The largest and most important Vishnu temple in Kumbakonam is the thirteenth century Sarangapani temple, located in the centre of the town. The main shrine of this temple is in the form of a large chariot with intricately sculptured wheels, drawn by elephants and horses. The entrance to this temple, one of the 108 sacred Vishnu shrines in India, is via an imposing ten-storied gopura or gateway.
The Ramaswami temple, dedicated to Lord Rama, believed to have been built in the 16th century by the Nayaka rulers of Tanjavur.
The Chakrapani temple where Vishnu is represented in the form of the Chakra or the discus, an important weapon of this deity.
Kumbakonam has a very large number of sacred tanks, the most famous being the Mahamagam tank which attracts a very large number of pilgrims from all parts of the country during the Mahamagam festival, held every twelve years on an auspicious day during the months of February-March. Devotees believe that water from the sacred Ganga and eight more holy rivers meet on this day in this tank which covers an area of several acres.
A bath here on that day is considered to be very sacred. It is believed that drops of amrita (ambrosia) from a pot broken by Lord Siva fell into this tank, accounting for its auspiciousness. Inscriptions found at this place reveal that the famous Vijayanagar ruler, Krishnadeva Raya visited Kumbakonam during the Mahamagam festival.
Around this ancient city are other smaller towns of interest to tourists and the religious alike. Darasuram, famous for its gigantic Airavateshvara temple built during the Chola period in the 12th century is 6 km southwest of Kumbakonam. Another important temple-town, Swamimalai, 8 km west of Kumbakonam is famous for its hilltop Swaminatha temple, one of the six sacred Murugan temples in Tamil Nadu. Swamimalai is also very famous for the manufacture of the much sought-after bronze idols of various Hindu deities, modelled on the ancient Chola bronzes.
Getting there:300 km from Chennai, takes about 5 hours by road. There`s a train from Chennai to Kumbakonam as well. Closest airport is located at Trichy (91 km).
Staying there: You can stay at Sterling Swamimalai; a 17-room heritage resort. This century old property, built on a five-acre coconut grove on the banks of the river Cauvery, is an interesting mix of leisure, heritage, health, nature, aesthetics and spirituality.
Budgeting: Rs 3,800 for an A/C double room.
Contact : Sterling Holidays at 044-4984114/4984224