This is one of those festivals, which are celebrated on the day of the occurrence of the asterism which coincides with full moon in a particular month. In the month of Maasi (mid-February to mid-March) the full moon day co-occurs with asterism, Maham.
We shall only see the Puraanic episode which mentions the reason for the significance of this day. Long ago there was a cruel king. Wanting to win over this king, his guru went to ‘Varuna bahavaan’ to tell him how to go about winning over the king. Since it was dark, ‘Varuna’, thinking that it was an enemy, through his noose (‘paasam’) at the guru. The guru died. Cosequently, a ghost appeared and tied the legs and hands of ‘Varuna’ together with his neck, and threw the latter in the sea. ‘Varuna’ stayed in the sea for a long time. Both devas and people prayed to Lord Siva to save ‘Varuna’.
Due to these prayers Lord Siva came to the sea and saved ‘Varuna’. This happened on a day when the asterism Maham was prevalent in the Tamil month of Maasi. ‘Varuna’ thanked Lord Siva and requested that those who bathe at that place should be blessed by Lord Siva, by which their impurities (paasam) will be removed and salvation will be granted for them.
Sage Viyaagrpaadhar told this episode to king Iraniyavarma. The king raised the flag at Chidambaram temple in conjunction with the Maasi Maham. All devas came and beseeched Lord’s blessings, and decorated the path through which Lord Siva would arrive at the seaside. When the Lord came to the sea, ‘Varuna, was happy and paid his homage to the Lord. The Lord had the ceremonial bath at sea, blessed all and returned to the temple.
Among the ten sacred bathing places (theerttham) in Chidambaram, one of them is named ‘paasam aruttha thurai’. It is situated about a mile away from Chidambaram. On this day, ‘theertthoatchavam’ is elaborately celebrated at this location (Paasam aruttha thurai).
Every twelve years this festival is celebrated as ‘Mahaa Maham or ‘Maamaanggam’. There is also a puraanic episode behind this very special day. At one time, nine divine rivers went to Lord Siva and said that all people come and purify themselves by having a bath in them, and asked the Lord how are they to wash off all the purities which were imparted to them. Lord Siva told them to come to the pond known as ‘Mahaamaha Kulam’ at Kumbakonam, once in every twelve years and have a dip there.
Lord Siva asked ‘Nyanaakkini Deva’ to be in that pond and burn the impurities of the people who come and have a dip in that pond. Hence, it is said that the ‘Fire of Spiritual Wisdom’ dwells in the ‘Mahaamah Kulam’ and burns, with immediate effect, the impurities washed away by the holy rivers and of the people as well.
The significance of bathing in the sea or other water bodies on the day of Maasi Maham is clearly reflected by the episodes above. They also indicate that a guru should be revered; any harm done to him will bring a heavy toll on the offender. It is also a festival which inspires us to appreciate the acquisition of Spiritual Wisdom through which we can burn our three impurities and become qualified to reach God’s feet.
Prepared by : Dr.K.Thilagawathi