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Kumbakonam | The Medieval Temple Town of Devout Hindus

Kumbakonam, a temple town in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu has a history going back to the 3rd century BCE. That was the golden time of the Tamil Sangam when the arts, literature, and religion flourished. The prominence of the town was at its highest in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries under Chola rule. In later years Kumbakonam also developed as an education center. During the days of the British, the town was known as the ‘Cambridge of the East.

Kudavayil to Kumbakonam

The ancient name of Kumbakonam was Kudavayil and it was the capital of the earlier Chola kings. Kumbakonam was under Chola rule until the 12th century CE. After the decline of the Cholas, Kumbakonam was taken over by the Pandyas. In the 14th century, CE Kumbakonam became a part of the Vijayanagara Empire. In later years Kumbakonam came under the rule of the Nayaks. It then passed into Maratha’s hands and finally was a part of the British Empire.

The name ‘Kumbakonam’ means ‘Corner of the Pot’. The pot referred to here is the Pot of Lord Brahma that contained the seed of human life to come on earth. The pot was displaced during a ‘Pralaya’ and finally came to rest in Kumbakonam.

The essence and Grandeur of Tamil Nadu in one town

In Kumbakonam is captured the very essence, grandeur, and culture of Tamil Nadu. The ancient Tamil language, literature, and arts of the Sangam Era find their roots here. For more than 2000 years Kumbakonam has been a  prominent religious center. Today there are nearly 200 temples in this town and most of them are ancient. There are several Mathas in Kumbakonam. What’s more – there are thousands of temples in the surrounding areas of Kumbakonam including Brihadeeswara and Swamimalai temples and many more.

The Iconic Temples of Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam is home to nearly 200 temples, most of the ancient with some newer temples. The temples of Kumbakonam are a testimonial to the architectural glory of Tamil Nadu. Some of the Prominent temples are –


Kasi Viswanathar Temple:

Dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple was built in the 16th century CE. Here,  Mahadev is known as Kasi Viswanathar and Mata Parvati is Visalakshi. It is believed that Shri Rama had prayed to Mahadev at this spot. There are also some other shrines in this temple complex.


This is a sacred tank adjacent to Kasi Viswanathar Temple. There is a festival celebrated here every year but once in twelve years, it is celebrated on a grand scale. Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagara Emperor visited Kumbakonam in 1524 and is believed to have bathed in the famous Mahamaham tank during the festival.  

Adi Kumbeswarar Temple

is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is believed the Shivling enshrined here was made by Lord Shiva Himself. This architectural marvel has nine stories and reaches a height of 128 feet. A notable feature of this temple is a 27-star sign and the 12 Zodiac signs which are carved from a single rock. Smaller shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesh and Lord Muruga are seen in the complex.

Nageswaran Temple

This 9th-century temple dedicated to Vasuki is an architectural wonder with astronomical principles used in its construction. The sun rays fall on the enshrined Murti only for three days in April or May. These three days see a heavy rush of devotees eager to get blessings.

Chakrapani Temple

This temple dates back to the 14th century. This colorful temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is one of the 108 Divya Desams. A King named Serfoji was cured of an illness after praying here. Devotees now believe the temple has miraculous powers of healing and rectifying planetary defects in the Kundli.

Airavatesvara Temple

This 12th century CE temple was built by Rajendra Chola and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The temple’s Vimana rises to 85 feet and the front hall (Mandapam is in the shape of a chariot. Airavat was the white elephant of Indra dev.

Sarangapani Temple

This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This temple was built by the Nayakas and has a 12 storied Gopuram rising to a height of 150 feet. The sanctum is in the shape of a chariot and Lord Vishnu can be seen reclining. This temple is also one of the 108 Divya Desams.

Uppiliappan Temple

Another of the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple was built in the 8th century. Lord Vishnu is known as Uppilippian in this temple and Lakshmi Mata is known as Bhoomi Devi. Besides the Murtis of Lord Vishnu and Bhoomi Devi, there is a Murti of Rishi Markandeya, father of Bhoomi Devi.

Mahalingaswamy Temple

The Shivling enshrined in this temple is a Swayambhu (Self Appeared). It is said Mahadev appeared in the form of a flame to bless Agastya Muni. The Shivling is known as Jyothirmaya Mahalingam. Adjacent to the temple is a Shaktipeeth dedicated to Ambai Devi. Within the temple complex are 32 water bodies (Kunds).

Ramaswamy Temple

Known as Southern Ayodhya, Ramaswami Temple is dedicated to Shri Rama. This 16th century Ce temple has exquisite carvings and scenes from the Ramayana on its walls. Enshrined in the sanctum are Murtis of Shri Rama, Sita Mata, Hanuman Ji,  Bharat, Lakshman and Shatrughna.

Dhenupureeswarar Temple

This is one of the largest temples in Kumbakonam and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are many stories from the Puranas connected with this temple. Rishi Vishwamitra is believed to have prayed here. There is a sacred well known as Koti Theertham that is said to have been created by Shri Rama himself.

Suryanarayana Temple

This is one of the famed Navagraha temples of this region. It is dedicated to Surya Dev. Shrines dedicated to the other eight planets are also a part of the temple complex.

Sri Naganathaswamy Temple

This is also one of the Navagraha temples and is dedicated to Rahu. In the sanctum, Rahu can be seen with Nagavalli and Nagakanni. It is believed Rahu prayed to Lord Shiva at this spot. An amazing feature of this temple is that when milk is poured on the Murti, it turns blue.

Kalyanasundareswarar Temple

The Shivling enshrined in this temple is a Swayambhu (Self Appeared) and amazingly its colour changes 5 times a day. It is said that Lord Shiva got married to Parvati Mata a second time in this temple to please Rishi Agastya. Murtis of Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu are also enshrined here.

Kanjanur Temple

This is the third of the Navagrahas in Kumbakonam and is dedicated to Venus (Shukran). It is believed Agni Dev worshipped Lord Shiva at this spot. A notable feature of this temple is that the oil poured on the Shivling here is absorbed by the ling completely and is considered a miracle.

These are just some of the temples in Kumbakonam. Besides these, there are many more temples and sacred sites for devotees to visit. A few days in Kumbakonam will take you back to your historical and religious roots and fill you with spiritual joy.

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