It is 5am. Vegetable vendors are busy arranging their goods onto their carts. The colourful array of vegetables blends beautifully with the greenery of the surroundings. The strong smell of freshly ground coffee penetrates through the soul (Only coffee lovers can understand my statement!).
You can see groups of pilgrims/tourists, most of them decked up in silk saris, parading their way to the innumerable temples which are housed in and around the beautiful temple town, Kumbakonam.
You don’t have to be a devout person to visit this place. The architectural marvels of the massive temples will leave you awestruck; I promise. There are chances that you can discover more in your visit to this town, than what I have mentioned in this article.
If you are a foodie, particularly in love with the South Indian cuisine, this town should feature in your must-visit list.
The town has a healthy mix of urban and rural population. Agricultural fields can be seen on and off, as you travel around the town. The lands here are fertile, thanks to the rivers Cauvery and Arasalar. It is only apt to say that Kumbakonam is retaining its rich tradition. What was earlier the seat of arts and trades is now known for agriculture and religious tourism.
This temple town is a good five and half hours drive (approximately 300 kilometres) from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. There are enough connecting buses and trains from various cities of Tamil Nadu to reach this place. The railway station at Kumbakonam is well connected to Chennai by train and the nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli which is 98 kilometres from kumbakonam.
Almost every other street in the town has a temple. You will agree with me once you land there. A majority of the temples are dedicated to Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu.
Kumbakonam is as much synonymous to coffee (which is usually referred to as ‘degree coffee’ may be to imply the texture) as much as it is to Mahamaham, which is a Hindu festival.
Mahamaham happens once in 12 years. A total of 12 Shiv temples and 5 Vishnu temples are connected with the festival. All the five Vishnu temples are located in the town itself, as also ten out of twelve Shiv temples.
The festival is celebrated in the Mahamaham tank. Hindus consider taking a holy dip at the tank on the day of Mahamaham as sacred. The lastest Mahamaham was held on February 22, 2016. You will have to wait till 2028 for the next one!
For many, a visit to Kumbakonam would be incomplete without having the darshan of the navagrahas. According to Hindu astrology, the celestial bodies are called navagrahas. They are Surya(Sun), Chandra (Moon), Mangala (Mars), Buddha (Mercury), Brihaspati (Jupiter), Shukra (Venus), Shani (Saturn), Rahu (North lunar node) and Ketu (South lunar node).
While some families visit these places as a yearly pilgrimage, others do so whenever there is an important position shift of these celestial bodies in accordance to astrology. This is a matter of personal belief and faith.
There are temples for other deities like Lord Muruga (also known as Karthikeya or Karthik) and Goddess Durga.
While in one temple the prasad is without salt (Oppiliappan temple), other has goddess Durga decked up beautifully in a nine yards standing majestically at the Thenupurieswara temple, Patteswaram. Every temple has a history which is very fascinating and the uniqueness will leave you dumbstruck.
Every temple here boosts of grandeur. It is quite an exercise to walk through the entire premises.
Another interesting factor of these temples is the food sold at nominal prices at a stall which is usually run by the temple authorities (also called as prasad). You get to choose among a wide range of mouthwatering rice items, sweets and snacks, which will only make your travel wholesome and enjoyable!
If you are a lover of idli and dosa, don’t forget to try out small outlets or carts which sell these food items. You will not regret! Food items made out of organic vegetables are also available.
You could also try out the traditional Tamil lunch spread out on a banana leaf in any of the restaurants. The clues to find out the best place would be to check if the restaurant has been in business for many years. Don’t get swayed away by exterior grandeur, go for modest ones and you will love the native food!
There are enough number of resort style high-end restaurants with spacious rooms. They also serve you North Indian, Tandoori and Chinese food items.
C Raju, a native of Kumbakonam, says, “Temples in and around the town showcase the heritage of the Chola empire. Tanjavur is known for producing paddy fields, handmade silk saris from the place called Thirubuvanam. Idols made out of a material called Panchaloka are also made here.”
Kumbakonam is also known for its bronze icon casting and handloom weaving.
The Government Arts College of Kumbakonam with a mix of ancient and modern architectural features needs a special mention as it has stood the test of time, literally! It was started in the year 1854 and boosts of eminent personalities as its alumni.
“Many residential schools, colleges and even companies have come up in my home town now,” he says.
Raju who has moved to Chennai for professional pursuits adds that the town has changed much in the last two decades and now it is possible for a person born in Kumbakonam to finish school, college and get employed in the same town.
“Don’t plan a two day visit to Kumbakonam. You need time to travel to different places in and around the town and dwell in its beauty,” he says.
One word of caution – Shopkeepers and hawkers outside the temples would always want to make the most of tourists and they would talk their way into you buying unnecessary items.
What more? All that is left is for you to plan a visit to this town, go about temple hopping, dive deep into its culture, enjoy soft fluffy idlies with crispy vadas (don’t forgot the Kumbakonam degree coffee!) and shop for some beautiful art pieces too!
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.