The concept of sapta sthanam temples is almost unique to the Thanjavur district and its surrounding areas, and is usually associated with Siva temples. The idea is to visit and worship at a set of 7 temples that are connected in some way. The respective temple groups are also part of the festivals of those temples, and the “official” sapta sthanam yatra is usually on a specific day for that group.
What is common to all of these, is that on the day of the sapta sthanam festival, the palanquin (with the utsava murtis) of the main temple starts its visit, and goes to each temple on the list, where it is joined by each subsequent temple’s utsava murtis on their respective palanquins. This continues till all 7 are visited, and then they all go to back the main temple. After the respective ceremonies and functions are carried out, each of them go back to their home temples. One can also visit these temples on other days as well, and in any order.
Based on the typical flow of events, it appears that such festivals might have started as a way to get the various nearby communities and villages together, and use the occasion to visit family and friends in nearby places. Also, based on the temples that have such programs, it appears to be a custom from the Chola days, because these are places that were once part of the Chola empire.
Tiruvaiyaru Sapta Sthanam
Perhaps the most famous of the sapta sthanam festival is the Tiruvaiyaru sapta Sthanam, which refers to the seven temples in and around Tiruvaiyaru, that constituted the saptha-pathi (seven steps) at the wedding of Nandi, Siva’s foremost gana, to Swayasambikai. Lord Siva himself officiated the wedding, held at Thirumazhapadi, and then took Nandi and his bride to Siva temples in seven nearby towns, each of which provided one significant input to the wedding.
Read in detail about the Tiruvaiyaru Sapta Sthanam festival and temples, here.
Other sapta sthanams
Other such groups include: Kumbakonam Sapta Sthanam, Chakkarapalli sapta sthanam, Mayiladuthurai sapta sthanam, Karanthattankudi sapta sthanam, Tirunallur sapta sthanam, Tiruneelakudi sapta sthanam, Kanjanoor sapta sthanam, and the Nagapattinam sapta sthanam. We will cover all of those in due course, on this site.