MASI MAHAMAGHA ~ The Great Kumbh Mela of the South
Events & Festivals

MASI MAHAMAGHA ~ The Great Kumbh Mela of the South

anyakshetre kritam papam punyakshetre vinasyati
punayakshetre kritam papam varanasyam vinasyati
varanasyam kritam papam kumbhakone vinasyati
kumbhakone kritam papam kumbhakone vinasyat

According to the Vedas, of all the holy places in the world, Kasi is believed to be the greatest.  There is a popular saying in Sanskrit noting Kumbakonam as sacred as Varanasi (Kasi). A sin committed at some ordinary place is washed off by a visit to a holy place; a sin done in a sacred spot is washed off by going on a pilgrimage to Varanasi; 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 washed off there itself.


Masi Magha is a Kumbh Mela festival that takes place in South India, especially in the temples of Tamilnadu every year.  Once in Twelve years it is celebrated in a grand scale called Masi-Maha-Magham. This festival is even more significant in the city of Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district, at the auspicious ponds where hordes of devotees throng for a holy dip.


The three Gods of the Trimurti clan Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are inseparable and in harmony in view of their common vision and universal good. Brahma took large amount of earth soil and made a Kumbham out of it, by mixing the soil with Amrutham. He then filled the Kumbham with the seeds of all living beings and sprinkled amrutham on them, kept mango leaves in the mouth of the Kumbham and tightly closed it with coconut, then adorned the Kumbham with sacred thread and Dharbai. Shiva instructed Brahma to keep the Kumbham on the south side of the Meru hill, the adobe of Brahma. The Puranas and Hindu Epics, state that Surya   i.e. the Sun-God, along with all other planets and stars together as one unit, circumambulate Mount Meru every day. Mahavishnu on the Garuda, protected the Meru Hills. Brahmas seeds of creation were in that Kumbha pot.


Pralaya, or laya, is a term in Hindu comprehension that conveys all appearance is subject to dissolution, but not to destruction, because dissolution leads to recreation. The term is especially used at the ending of a kalpa (cosmic cycle), which then via pravrtti leads to a new creation.  According to Bhagavata Purana, at the end of the day, under the insignificant portion of the mode of darkness, the powerful manifestation of the universe merges in the darkness of night. By the influence of eternal time, the innumerable living entities remain merged in that dissolution and everything is silent. When the night of Brahmā ensues, all the three worlds are out of sight, and the sun and the moon are without glare, just as in the due course of an ordinary night. At the beginning of the devastation all the seas overflow and hurricane winds blow very violently. Thus the waves of the seas become ferocious and in no time at all the three worlds are full of water. The Supreme Lord Narayana lies in the water surface, on the seat of Serpent Ananta, with His eyes closed and the inhabitants of Janaloka offer unto the Lord their glorious prayers with folded hands.


During the mahapralaya storms, darkness engulfed, rivers Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati River, Sarayu, Godavar, Mahanadi, Narmada, Pavoshnl and Kaveri River mix together killing all living creatures in the floods.  The flood water level rose so high that it got the pot kept in Kailash Meru floating for years. Shiva declared that after the end of previous era, the divine pot would reach a holy spot.  Eventually when the pralayam stopped, the pot settled in Kumbakonam. Hence the name of the place “Kumbakonam” meaning “Pot Toppled Corners”

After the pralaya was over, the rains and the wind stopped. Brahma’s Kumbham moved from the Meru hill and floated towards the south. Brahma tried to approach it, but the hot air from the Kumbham stopped him from touching it. Brahma and Vishnu prayed to Shiva to protect the world from destruction. Parameswaran took an arrow, aimed it at the Kumbham and split it in half.  Vishnu blew the conch creating the primeval Divine sound of creation and continuity, representing the five airs or Pranas and sprinkled water and life gets protected. Brahma re-created the world through the seeds that were protected in the Kumbha.


So it is believed, that the Kumbakonam and the surrounding area are from where in Kaliyuga, the life on earth restarted after the Mahapralayam. Kumbakonam dates back to the Sangam Peroid and was ruled by the Early Cholas, Pallavas, Medieval Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagaram Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks and 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 center of European education and Hindu culture; and it acquired the cultural name, the “Cambridge Of South India.” In 1866, Kumbakonam was officially constituted as a municipality, which today comprises 45 wards, making it the second largest municipality in Thanjavur district. Kumbakonam is known for its Temples and Mathas  (monasteries). There are around 188 Hindu temples within the municipal limits of Kumbakonam. Apart from these, there are several thousand temples around the town thereby giving the town the sobriquets “Temple Town” and “City of Temples”.

The places where the Kumbham’s parts fell became holy.  The spilled material from the Kumbham brought back life and hope after the Mahapralayam. There are several temples in the places where the material from the Kumbham were scattered. The place where the coconut from the Kumbham fell became known as the ‘Abhimukeswarar temple’ on the south side of the Mahamagham tank. The place where the sacred thread poonal on the Kumbham fell is now called the ‘Gowtameswarar temple’ on the north side of the tank. The mango leaves are said to have fallen five miles north of Kumbakonam at ‘Thirupurambiyam’. The mouth of the Kumbham or kudam fell ten miles south east of Kumbakonam at a place named ‘Kudavail’.  The place where Parameswaran stood while shooting the arrow is ‘Panathurai’ on the south side of the city. The place where most of the kudam fell came to be known as ‘Kudandhai’ or ‘Kudamooku’. Two drops of amrutham that fell out from the Kumbham became two holy tanks and one of them is now known as the Mahamagham tank.   After Pralaya, only the Trimurtis were there at the beginning. By their radiance together the Sun was formed. With the Suns rays life started in the universe. After the pralayam was over everything settled and became calm.  The Sun rose high. It has been said that the suns rays had great prakasham especially in certain places where Brahma’s seeds of creation had spilled, sprouted early and spread all over. Hence these places became centers of Sun worship.

Kumbeshwarar Temple Kumbakonam

Kumbeshwarar Temple Kumbakonam 


Commemorating the end of the era and Brahma’s recreation of the world starting the Kali Yuga, Masi Maha Makam, is celebrated every year and a grand khumbhamela is celebrated once every 12 years in various temples of Tamilnadu and especially in the South Indian town of Kumbakonam in Tamilnadu, India. Kumbha means a pitcher or pot and Mela means fair. Hindus consider taking a holy dip at various Theerthas and the Mahamaham tank on the day of Mahamaham as very sacred.

According to legend, Brahma performed Dhyana on Vishnu and performed pujas for ten days to the Sivalingam that was made by Parameswara himself and performed Avabrutha Snanam in the Mahamagham tank, to allow pilgrims to visit the tank during the sacred occasion. That day is the Mahamagha Poornima day. Shiva acceded to the demand and himself arrived there for a dip. From the bottom of the Chakra theertha arrived the Sudarshana Chakra with Sriman Narayana in the middle. All other celestial deities arrived at the center of the tank.

Astronomically, when the planet Jupiter passes over Leo during the month of Masi (February- March) on the day of the festival, on the star Magha, it is believed to bring all water bodies together and enrich the tank with minerals.  All the holy rivers of India are believed to have mixed during Pralayam filling all the ponds, tanks, wells and rivers. Taking a purificatory dip at this tank on this day is considered equal to the combined dips in all the holy rivers of India. On the occasion of the festival, Utsava Murtis of all the main temples of are carried on palanquins or chariots and taken around the different streets of the town and arrive at the sea, river, lake, pond or Temple tank and are given a ceremonial dip called ‘Theerthavari’, followed by numerous rituals and pujas. The temple cars of major temples in Kumbakonam come around the city on the festival night.

During this festival, thousands of Hindu devotees come to Kumbakonam and take dips in the 20 wells of the pond, visit to Kumbeswarar Temple and Sarangapani Temple and dip in the holy tanks and finally in Kaveri to complete the rituals. Then devotees continue on pilgrimages visiting various kshetras. In certain places women make float lamps and perform evening worship. Some temples have chariot festival and float festival around this time.  In the northern bank mandapa, there is an inscription of Tulapurshadana, a practice of weighing oneself against gold. The ceremony is usually performed in sacred places like temples, rivers and tanks.  It is a time for charity. Devotees perform annadhana and contribute towards Temples, Mathas and Veda Patasalas during the occasion.  Vast crowds gather Temple tanks, pushkarnis, rivers, sea shores and at Kumbakonam Mahamagha Tank, to have a dip along with the Utsava Murtis and along with saints, philosophers, pundits and devotees.


There are numerous myths in vogue related to Masi Magham. There are several reasons for observing Masi Magha. To receive blessings from enlightened siddha, to receive blessings from your ancestors, to wash away sins and curses, and for enlightenment, each temple has a myth for celebrating Masi Magham.

Legend has it that, the nine sacred rivers of India, prayed to Trimurtis to be able to absolve of the sins by bathers, and were directed to be at the Theerthas during Maha Magham Kumbh so that devotees could take a holy dip!

This is a time to offer Salutations to the Goddess of Knowledge Saraswathi Devi and Creator Lord Brahma.

When the demon Hiranyaksha stole the earth, personified as the goddess Bhudevi and hid her in the primordial waters, Vishnu appeared as Varaha to rescue her. Varaha slew the demon and retrieved the Earth from the ocean, lifting it on his tusks, and restored Bhudevi to her place in the universe.  Masi magham is the day when Vishnu as Varaha Avatara, restored the Earth.

Goddess Mahalakshmi is worshipped in her various forms for prosperity, auspiciousness and wellbeing.

Rama and Lakshmana are said to have taken a dip in the theertha and worshipped Shiva, during their search for Sita, and acquired Rudramsam, to enable them to fight Ravana.  Hence devotees seeking to accomplish anything successfully come for a holy dips and then they visit Kumbakonam Ramaswamy Temple and the Pancha Rama Kshetras at Thillaivalakam, Vaduvur, Paruthiyur, Mudikondan, and Adhambar for darshan of Srirama.

According to Skanda Puarana, Lord Shiva  bowed to Skanda and obtained the Upadesa of Pranava mantra OM on Masi magham !

Sunlight is vital for health and growth. Masi Magha people performed Sun Worship in the Theerthas.  People take the theertha in both hands and show it up lifting it to Surya bhagavan, three times and then they sprinkle it in their head and then take the holy dip.

Further according to the mythological legend, Masi Magham is said to be the birth Star – natchaththiram on which Daakshayini, when the Goddess Parvathi was born as daughter to Daksha. Hence Masi Magham is also celebrated in Sakthi Temples all over.  Masi Magham is one of the most auspicious days of the year when the energy levels of the planet Earth is most conducive to receive the grace and blessings of Cosmic Mother Rajarajeshwari.  Praying to Goddess Kamakshi will get her Krupa Kataksham.


The Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, Mahabharatha and Ramayana mention, the Samudra manthan episode of the Churning of the ocean of milk. “The great Sage, Durvasa, obtained a sacred garland of Mahalakshmi. He presented the auspicious garland to Indra who was coming in a procession. The latter, at the height of his arrogance, crushed and threw it away. Enraged by this act of sacrilege, Durvasa cursed Indra and as a result, Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of wealth left Indra loka and vanished below the Milky Ocean. Along with Indra, all other gods and goddesses lost their might and glory.  Indra repented for his foolish act and approached Mahavishnu for salvation.

The traditional account says that the Devas had lost their strength by the curse of Durvasa Muni and to regain it, they approached Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. As advised by the Lords of Compassion, the Devas with the help of the Danavas started churning the Milky Ocean receive the amrita, the nectar of immortality. With Mahameru as the churning rod and Vasuki, the great serpent, as the rope they started the work. The Lord Himself took the form of tortoise and plunged to the bottom of the ocean to hold the churning rod on His back to keep its balance. First the Kalakoota Aalahala visha came up and Lord Shiva swallowed it. Forgetting to thank Shiva they continued churning. Then many other things, including valuable gifts like the Kalpavriksha, Kamadhenu and the Airavata came, which were all shared by Indra and other gods. Throughout the day and night, they fasted and remained sleepless and continued their work with dedication.  However, when the Kumbha containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights that is equivalent to twelve human years, the Devas and Asuras fought for the Kumbha pot of amrita. Hence Masi maha Magha Kumbhamela is celebrated once every twelve years remembering the victory of good over evil. Finally Mahalakshmi Herself appeared and blessed them.


An important legend is related to Lord Shiva. King Vallalan lll was an illustrious King who ruled over the Hoysala Empire from 1292 till 1342. His empire at its peak covered a large part of South India. It had three capital cities, one of which was Tiruvannamalai, although it was then known as Arunasamudra, or Arunai for short.   As per the Legend, King Vallala of Tiruvannamalai, was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Legend has it that Lord Shiva appeared as a child before King Vallala.  The King had no child and Lord Shiva promised to perform his last rituals. The King died on a Masi Magam day and it is said that the Lord performed his last rites. Lord Shiva also blessed the King by saying that whoever bathes in the sea during Masi Magham will get ‘Mukthi.’ It is believed that every year the Lord visits the sea to perform the Shrardha of the King. Hence Masi Makam becomes a favorite of Pitru Devatas.  King Vallalar purana is Arunachala Mahatmiyam in Sanskrit and Arunachala Puranam in Tamil by Ellapa Nayinar.


In ancient times, there was a group of saints who gained surplus knowledge and were arrogant and began to ignore the Gods because of their ego. The saints were over confident that they can guide human beings and no longer needed Gods. Lord Shiva wanted to teach a lesson to the saints and took the form of a haggard beggar.  The saints did not recognize Shiva and misused their power and attacked Shiva with various forms of deadly animals, culminating in the form of a mad elephant. As the elephant took a stance to attack Lord Shiva, he immediately disappeared from there.  On seeing this Parvati was tensed up and she was worried that the entire world will come to an end with the disappearance of Lord Shiva. Shiva killed the elephant and emerged by wearing the elephant’s skin as the garment. This is known as “Gaja Samhara”. Soon the saints realized their mistake and apologized. Lord Shiva and Pravathy asked them to take a Holy dip during Masi Magham to wash away their sins in this birth itself.


Another legend, Lord Siva appeared opposite the sea in the vicinity where Varunan (Salapathi) remained submerged for his sins, blessed him and freed him from his desires. Varunan in turn worshipped him and requested a boon that anyone who bathes in the water fronts will be freed from desires and attain high mukthi, and Lord Siva is believed to be in presence here on this occasion of Masi Thiru Magham being the tenth day of the month of Masi to bless them. Hence the Masi Magham festival is essentially a day of worship with Sacred Sea Bathing.

Kumbakonam Tank

Kumbakonam Tank 


Thesi polipothu nirai atputhan oliseri nat Kadal ethir thikalvuttru
paasam thalaiara arula Salapathi paravi thinam ithu padivu uttror
aasu attru uyar kathi adaiya, kadavulum anuka pera, vara mathu petraan,
“Masi thiru Maham” ena mattrathu thaha mali potr kodiyathu poliviththaan.

Koyilpuranam – Thiruvilaa charukkam by Umapathi Sivachariyar

madal arnththa thengin myilaiyaar
masi kadalaattu kandaan kabaleechcharam amarnththaan
adalaane earurum adihal adi paravi
nadamaadal kaanaathe pothiyo poompaavai”

2nd Thirumurai, pathikam 47, paadal 6 by Saint Thirugnanasampantha Nayanar

This sloka is about Masi sea bath from Kapalishwarer Temple, Mylapore.

Poomaruvum Gangai muthat punithamaam perun theerththam
Ma Maham thaan aaduthatku vanthu vali padum Koil

Periyapuranam- Thirugnanasampantha Swamigal Puranam, Verse 409 by Seikkeelar.

Here Periyapuranam praises the big Theerththam therein, and mentions having a sacred bath or dip in same is held as sacred as having a bath in the holy river Ganga on this Maha Maham day.

Gangai yal aval kanni enappadum
kongaiyal uraiyum Kudamuukkile

5th Thirumurai (In Tamil) – pathkam 22

Several slokas in this section Thirukudamukku 5.22, from Thirukurunthogai,  that talks about Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati Godavari being at Kudamuku which is Kumbakonam.


One can visit any temple during Masi Magham. There are several temples situated near ponds, rivers or ocean where the holy dip is auspicious. There are very many pilgrimage Kshetras in and around Kumbakonam to visit after the holy Masi Mahamagha dips.

In Kumbhakonam where the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are revered, millions of devotees visit temples dedicated to them. Parameswaran came to the place where the kudam fell, made a Sivalingam with the earth and amrutham from the Kumbham and entered in the Sivalingam in the form of Jyothi. That swayambu lingam is Adi Kumbeswarer, in Kumbeshwara temple residing in the center of the Kumbakonam city.  Shiva bestows his grace as Kumbeswara, Someswara, Kasi Viswanatha, Nageswara, Kamata Viswanatha, Abimukeshwara, Goutameswara, and Banapuriswara in this area.

Pancharanga Kshetras are a group of five sacred temples dedicated to Vishnu on the banks of the Kaveri River.   The five Pancharanga Kshetrams in the order of their successive locations, on the banks of the Kaveri River are: The Srirangapatnam called the Adi Ranga, the first temple on the banks of the Kaveri River from the upstream side; Srirangam, the island in Tiruchirapalli known as Adya Ranga, Appalarangam or Koviladi at Tiurppernagar in Tamil Nadu, Parimala Ranganatha perumal Temple at Indalur, Mayiladuthurai and Vatarangam at Sirkazhi. The Sarangapani Temple at Kumbakonam is mentioned in place of Vatarangam in some references.  Vishnu bestows his grace as Varahar, Lakshminaryana, Sarangapani, Chakrapani, Srinivasa, Narasimhar, Varadharaja, Rama and Krishna in this area. Shiva and Vishnu are also worshipped in the form of Navagrahas at various sthalas around the district.

Based on these celebrations, Brahmotsavam is celebrated in temples all over. Masi Magha is a time to revere our creator. Bramhapureeshwarar Temple in Thirupattur, 30 kms from Trichy, Tamil Nadu, though a Shiva temple, is very closely associated with Lord Brahma, and an ancient shrine for Brahma resides within the temple complex. Regular worship of Lord Brahma is conducted and throngs of devotees now come to offer worship to Brahmadeva. The Vedanarayana Temple is where Vishnu portrayed as Brahma with Saraswati and Gayatri Devi as consorts.

Parts of the Kumbha kudam rolled in the Kaveri Nadhi floods spilling all along its banks. Hence there are plenty of splendid historic temples all along the Kaveri in these auspicious places. That is why one of its branches is called Kudamurutti or rolling of the kudam.  Some of the sacred Kshetras along Kudamurutti include Varagur, Karuppur, Kodavasal, Paruthiyur, Neduntheru, Papanasam, Tiruppazhanam, Tiruvalampozhil, Tiruchottruturai, Tiruvedikkudi, Tirukkandiyur, Tirupanturai, Tillaistanam, Tiruchirapalli and Tiruvaiyaru.

Vishnu took avatar of a baby Krishna and floated in the Mahaprayala floods as Alilai Krishnar, protecting the Kaveri and its banks, to ensure recreation. One would see Alilai Krishnar worship in many temples along the Kaveri.

paLLi Alilai Ezh ulagum koLLum vaLLal val vayiRRup perumAn
uLLuL Ar aRivAr avan tan kaLLa mAya manak karuttE.

Who would even be able to comprehend the intricate plans, the Maya of Lord Krishna, who is reclining as a tiny baby on a banyan leaf and who has swallowed, all the seven worlds and kept them in His tiny stomach protecting mankind. (TiruvAimozhi 2.2, pASuram  2.2.7)


 Masi Magha Float Festival & Theppam

Masi Magha Float Festival & Theppam

In certain places women make float lamps and perform evening worship. Some temples have Temple Car Chariot Ther Festival and Theppam float festival around this time.


Masi Magham is celebrated at the Bay of Bengal, Rivers and at all temple ponds all over Tamilnadu. At Kumbakonam a holy dip in the Mahamagham tank on the propitious day of Masi Makam provides intrinsic values which is equivalent to dip in all the 66 crores of holy theerthas in the world. It is believed that all holy theerthas would assemble in this pond on this promising day, capable to provide abundance of merits includes circumambulating Mount Mandhara / Meru and Mount Kailas respectively. Three times of circumambulating this pond would provide salvation, liberation from the cycles of birth and death. Also eradicates the sins committed in this present life and the sins of seven ancestors, also provides pieties for the future generation.

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 Mandaps and has 21 auspicious wells connected to Masi Magham. Govinda Dikshitar, the chieftain of Ragunatha Nayak of Thanjavur, constructed the sixteen Mandapams 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 and the 21st is Chakra Theertham in Chakrathurai.


According to legend, after the Mahapralayam, seeds of life gets protected and Ugadi, Chithirai New year, Vishu being the time when Bhrama is believed to have created the Universe.   Hence devotees go on pilgrimages around this time. The next grand Masi Maha Magha festival falls this Manmata year, on the full moon day, Monday 22 February, 2016, Rishabha Lagna, Magha Star. This Maha Magham festival, which falls every twelve years under the above planetary combination, and for the same auspicious reasons, is also celebrated as Maha Kumbh Mela Festival at Haridwar, Varanaasi, Nashik and Ujjain. In North India, the sacred bath or dip is undertaken in the other holy rivers in those regions. About 20 lakh devotees are expected for the Maha Magha! The government is making special arrangements for water, bathrooms, electricity, food, stay, bus, railways etc for the hordes of devotees for the festival.

Blessed are those who are able to visit the holy Masi Magha Kumbhmela and take the divine dip and visit all these sanctified Kshetras in and around Kumbakonam along the River Kaveri and its tributaries, especially during the period between Mahamagham and Chaitra New year, that brings abundance of prosperity and auspiciousness in life.


A large number of devotes thong the coast at Vaithikuppam in Puducherry         

A large number of devotes thong the coast at Vaithikuppam in  

~By C.R. Kaushik