Masi Magam and Maha Magham
Masi Magam falls in the Tamil month of Masi (February –March). Magham is one of the 27 stars in the Hindu astrological system. Masi is one of the most sacred months in the Tamil calendar. On this month, devotees have a holy bath early in the morning and pray without fail. According to Hindu mythology, all the sacred rivers merge in the holy Maha Magham pond in Kumbakonam once in every 12 years. This day is called Maha Magham. The Maha Magham festival is held once in 12 years and it is celebrated with great fanfare at the Adi Kumbeshwarar temple in Kumbakonam.
Significance of Masi Magam
Masi Magam is believed to be an ideal time for spiritual purification. The full moon on this day is very powerful as the moon aligns with the star Magha, which is described as the birth star of kings. This happens only once a year and it is believed that celestial beings descend to earth on this day to purify their karma and also that of the human race. The day combines the blessings of the full moon – abundance and prosperity – with the regal nature of the star, Magha. Hence pujas and prayers conducted on this day can confer power and energy to the worshippers. It is also a good time to surrender our ego and prostrate ourselves before the divine.
Rituals on Masi Magam
The most important ritual of Masi Magam is the ceremonial bath given to the idols of the gods in holy seas, rivers or ponds. In Kumbakonam, the deities are taken in a procession from the temple to the Maha Magham pond and the Cauvery River. Masi Magam is very special for Lord Vishnu, Shiva and Muruga. It was also in this month that Uma, consort of Shiva was born under the Magham star to Dakshan. So it is a sacred day for women who observe fast.
Maha Magham is a ten-day festival. The festival begins with the flag-hoisting ceremony on the day of the first Ashwini star in Masi month. On the eighth day, there will be a grand procession on the chariot. The idols of the five lords (Panchamoorthys) and goddesses will be taken on a procession to the pond where the sacred Theerthavari will be performed. This happens on the full moon day on the star of Magham. On the day of the festival, the planet guru (Jupiter) occupies Simha rasi (Leo Sign), and the sun occupies Kumbha Rasi (Aquarius Sign).
Sri Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, once asked Sage Agastya how he could get the blessings of Lord Shiva as he wanted to fight the demon, Ravana, who had kidnapped his wife, Sita. The sage told him to go to Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu and pray to Lord Kasi Viswanathar. If he did this, he could get ‘Rudramsam’. So Rama went to Kumbakonam and worshipped Lord Kasi Viswanathar after which his body was able to absorb the ‘rudramsam’. Because of this incident, the place was called Thirukkudanthai Karonam in the old days.
The holy river Cauvery flows in 8 places and Kumbakonam occupies the central point among these places. Many eons ago, a huge flood devastated the earth and all its creatures. Lord Brahma floated a kumbha (pot) on the water. It contained bheejam. The Kumbha floated on the water and reached Kumbakonam. On Masi Magam day, the Adi Kumbeshwarar temple is the most important for offering prayers. The water in this temple is called Maha Magham theertham. According to a myth, the holy river, Ganges also flows to this place and merges with the waters here to wash away its sins. Praying to Lord Muruga on Masi Magam is believed to remove all our sins and also help couples beget sons. A common belief is that people taking bath in sacred rivers, ponds, seas, etc., on Masi Magam day will attain moksha.
Masi Magam in Sri Rangam
The day is very special in places like Pondicherry and Srirangam as well. Thirukoshtiyur is a sacred place in south India where there is a famous Vishnu temple. It’s found in Sri Rangam. Vishnu here is called Sowmya Narayanan as he has a very beautiful appearance. Unlike other idols, he is made of silver and not panchaloha. It is believed that this deity was given by lord Indra. There is a holy well called Maha Magham well or Simmakkinaru. Devotees take a dip in this well on Masi Magam as it is believed to be special. A float festival called ‘Theppathiruvizha’ also takes place.
After offering prayers and lighting earthenware lamps to Sowmya Narayana, devotees, particularly those who wished for marriage and children, take the lamps and keep them in their prayer rooms. Once their prayers are granted, they bring back the lamps on the next Masi Magam day and float them on the pond. They can add more lamps too.
Masi Magam and Tarpanam
There is a legend about how Masi Magam acquired its significance. King Vallala of Thiruvannamalai was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He had no children and so Lord Shiva appeared as a child before him and offered to perform his last rites for him when he died. The king passed away on Masi Magam day and Shiva performed his final rites. He also decreed that those who took a bath in the sea during Masi Magam day would attain moksha (salvation). Devotees believe that even now, the Lord visits the sea to perform the rites for the dead king. This also explains why this is considered a good time to offer Tarpanam at water bodies in sacred spots like Rameshwaram and Kumbakonam. Magham star is also the star of Pitru Devata, the god who bestows peace to ancestral souls. If the ancestors are happy and at peace, their descendants will succeed in life. So it is very important to perform rituals to appease ancestors on Masi Magam day. Bathing in holy rivers on this day is called Pitru Maha Snan (bath).