Kumbakonam, signifying in English the "Jug's Corner," is a town of 60,000 inhabitants, and is situated in the fertile plain of the Tanjore District about half-way on the railroad which connects Madras with Tuticorin. Although of no great importance to the British Râj (dominion), still, as a religious centre, it enjoys a wide popularity among the Hindus as the seat of one of their holiest shrines in the south of the peninsula.
Nothing positive is known of the origin of this shrine, but a mythological legend says that, some time before the Deluge, the mighty god Siva, desiring to provide against the consequences of the coming cataclysm, directed Brahma to get ready an earthen pitcher wherein he could place in safety on a layer of ambrosia, the spark of creative power, the Vedas, and a supply of corn-seed. Brahma having done this, Siva closed the jug and set it on Mount Meru. When the waters prevailed upon the earth, the precious vessel was lifted up by the flood and tossed about upon the waves, until, at last, at rested on the very spot where where is now the "sacred" tank of Kumbakonam, called the Maghàmaghan.
From time immemorial a solemn festival has been celebrated once in every twelve years to commemorate this event. It begins on the day of February when Jupiter is in conjunction with the full moon in the lunar constellation called Magham. The Hindus believe that, on this occasion, the waters of the "sacred" tank are fecundated by those of the "divine" Ganges, and that whoever bathes in them not only receives the pardon of his sins, but also opens the gates of salvation to every one of his ancestors up to the one hundred and eightieth generation. This duodennial solemnity took place recently (1909). It began at the temple of Kumbesshur, the "Lord of the Jug", and lasted ten days, during which time about 800,000 pilgrims made their ablutions in the Maghàmagham.
Kumbakonam, seen through European glasses, is a rather dirty and dusty town with vulgar, tortuous streets, where, with the exception of several pagodas, very few buildings are worthy of attention. However, one of these temples possesses several ancient sculptures and a very valuable library of Sanskrit books.
Though not properly speaking an industrial or commercial town, its silk-dyeing, silk-weaving, chintz-stamping, and especially metal industries have won a good repute for its artisans in the South of India. The glory of Kumbakonam is found in the number of learned people who live in it, and in the comparatively high percentage of the young who receive a liberal education in its schools. The college, conducted on distinctly English lines, is under the management of a European gentleman, who is seconded by an efficient staff of native teachers. The city has also good educational institutions for girls. The "big school " which numbers about 280 students, is placed under the tuition of native Catholic nuns, paid by the municipality.
The diocese, which was created in 1899, is entirely on British territory, although it is suffragan to Pondicherry (the capital of French lndia). It is bounded on the north by River Vellar, on the west and south by the Cauvery (which divides it from the Dioceses of Madura and Coimbatore ), on the east by the Bay of Bengal and the French territory of Karikal. It includes part of the British civil districts of Tanjore, Trichinopoly, South Arcot, and Sale. The first and present occupant (1909) is Dr. H.M. Bottero of the Society of Foreign Missions (Paris), author of the first Catholic version of the Bible in Tamil, and editor of several classical and devotional books in both this and the Bengali languages.
The diocese numbers 88,000 native Catholics (out of population of about 3,000,000), evangelized by 50 priests (35 European, 15 native). In the mission there are 67 schools, with 3400 children in attendance, 5 orphanages, 4 dispensaries and a hospital under care of the French nuns. A native Catholic gentleman has built at Perumpanniyur a church at a cost of about 133,000 dollars (four lacs of rupees), and has also richly endowed it.
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