The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra has attracted me whenever my mom chanted them. I accept been a Shiva Devotee as a child, do not why but the power of the deity drew me close to him always. And as a kid, I had this fascination to Visit Mahakala once in my lifetime. But my mamma always said you could not visit him until called upon, so I waited patiently to be contacted by the Shiva. You must be guessing about why Mahakal & not any other Jyotirlingams, well, I want to visit all twelve Jyotirlingams but Mahakal was on my top list. It is said Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga’s presiding deity, Lord Shiva in the Lingam form is believed to be Swayambhu, deriving currents of force (Shakti) from within itself as against the other images and lingams that are ritually established and invested with mantra-Shakti. This shrine is said to be the most sacred abodes of Lord Shiva.So eventually I was called upon, to visit the ancient temple city Avantika (Ujjain) situated on the bank of the sacred Kshipra. The Simhastha Kumbh Mela, a grand Hindu spiritual festival – also takes place here once in twelve years in Chaitra month as per the Hindu calendar. It is a celebration of religious belief in the divinity and spiritual awakening where devotees take a plunge in the holy Kshipra, the only river that travels straight from South to North. It is thought that by bathing in this river, one is blessed with divine vitality. In ancient Hindu scriptures, Ujjain is an essential home for major religious activities. It is one of Sapta Puris, situated on the line of the Tropic of Cancer, with an extraordinary cosmic influence, making Ujjain an ideal place for time calculation and creation of Panchang (Hindu calendar). Therefore, this city situated on the intersection of the Tropic of Cancer and the meridian for which it is also known as ‘Greenwich of India’. As ‘Time’ in Sanskrit is called ‘Kal’, hence Shiva is worshipped as Mahakal, the God of Time. According to legend, Lord Mahakaleshwar’s idol is fixed at the crossing point of the meridian, & the tropic of cancer which is in the centre of the Earth also.
So then without delay, I booked mine along with my mamma’s flight tickets for Indore. It was morning and comfortable flight to Indore, outside the airport you can hire taxis or cabs to Ujjain, its 55Kms from Indore. The drive to Ujjain has a lavishing greenfield and natural scape to its beauty. By the time we reached Ujjain, it was late afternoon we checked in to our hotel. I booked Hotel Arthva, Near Jantar Mantar, Mahakal-Harsiddhi Road, Ujjain. Nonetheless, you have other options too from budget hotels to a dormitory or Dharamshala starting with a price range of Rs 500. After refreshing up & a hot cup of coffee, we decided to visit the Mahakalewar temple for evening Arti.
The synagogue was crowded as it was being decorated for Holika Dahan. After the Aarti, I checked up on the Bhasam Aarti timing, when I came across we had to fill in a form that was sold out. I was disheartened, but the temple Pujari suggested to speak with the trustee’s head. Thus I met the trustee’s authority, shared my dilemma who was kind enough to allow us additional form for the Bhasam Aarti. I would suggest an online booking on a given internet site, for Prasad & paid Darshan tickets along with Bhasam Aarti Booking. We stayed back till Holika Dahan ceremony was performed. Later we ate local cuisine at our hotel & took sleep for a few hours.
The root of the Mahakaleshwar temple is unknown, but it dates back to the prehistoric period. The Shiva Purana depicts that, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu once argued over who was supreme in the foundation. The three worlds were pierced as an eternal pillar of light, the Jyotirlinga to test them. Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma decided to travel along the pillar downwards and upwards respectively, to find the end of the light. Lord Vishnu conceded his defeat, while Lord Brahma lied that he had found the end. Lord Shiva came out as the second tower of light and said Vishnu would be worshipped till the goal of eternity but cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies. Later Prajapati Brahma established the temple. At that point king, Chanda Pradyota appointed a citation of prince Kumarasena in 6th c. BC to look after the legal philosophy and order situations of the Mahakala temple as he worshipped him all the time like a pious devotee. There is the icon of Lord Siva bears on punch-marked coins of Ujjain, belonging to 4th-3rd c. BC, Mahakala temple is also identified in several ancient Indian poetic verses.
As per historical facts, Gazanavide commander invaded Malwa in the Eighth Decade of Eleventh c. AD, looted the magnificent and magnanimous temple, also brutally destroying the image & the temple. But very soon the Paramaras rejuvenated everything. Ujjain was also attacked by Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi, who knocked down the synagogue in 1234-35 AD. The Maratha general Ranoji Shinde built the present structure in 1734 CE. The temple faced destruction, reconstruction and renovation over the centuries. In the 19th century, the last ruling dynasty of the neighbourhood, the Scindias, took over the temple’s restoration work. Situated near the Rudra Sagar lake, the present five-level temple was constructed in 18th century AD. It is a mixture of the Paramara, Chalukya and Maratha styles of architecture. The Garbhagriha has the Dakshinamurti Lingam, i.e. facing the south. So this Jyotirling, Mahakal is the Lord of Earth and Lord of Death as well.
I woke up at midnight, as we have to reach the MahaKaleswar temple for Bhasam Arti before 4 am. Took a quick shower, called an auto-rickshaw for the synagogue. For booking offline, there is Bhasma Aarti booking counter available that opens from 10 am to 3 pm every day. They snap a photograph of a person and his identity proof, and confirmation of your booking is sent over SMS. You will also get a confirmation SMS after 7:00 pm if your booking application is allowed. I was feeling lucky as I was able to get express permission, despite being late & unaware of the procedure. Upon arriving at the temple, we saw a massive queue for Bhasma Aarti as timings are 4 am to 5 am. We were in the line from 1 am, & the Jal Abhishek started around 3:15 am, after the Jal Abhishek, we were gone to the enormous hall so that they can watch Bhasma Aarti. This Aarti is done with fresh ashes of the pyre performed by Aghori as Lord Shiva is called as Mahaankaal in Ujjain or The Ruler of Kal (Time) or The Lord who Transcends Time, Death & Immortality. I saw that Bhasma Arati Seva with Human Ash is now not being used in Ujjain. The Ash used is obtained by burning Cow Dung, or with the Bark & Timber of trees or the Ash received after conducting Havan & Homa & Yagnas. During the Bhasma Arti woman have to do Parda, as usually depicted naked in Sadhana, his whole body covered in Bhasma. The first rhyme of the Shiva Panchakshara Stotram gives the following description: Naagendrahaaraaya Trilochanaaya, Bhasmaangaraagaaya Maheshwaraaya Nityaaya Shuddhaaya Digambaraaya – ‘Salutations to the mighty three-eyed Shiva, eternal and pure, wearing the king of snakes as his garland, naked and besmeared with sacred ash.’ The whole space was filled with the chanting of hymns; for a moment, I felt his third eye opened with a flash of fierce lightning. After the Bhasam Arti, Lord Shiva was dressed & decorated with flowers, ornaments & Chandan before devotees played Holi with the Shiva, by smearing Gulal at him. Afterwards, we left to the hotel, just to return for the Jal Abhishek with correct dress code.
I came back to the Mahakaleshwar temple around 7.30 am, for Jal Abhishek & Darshan. We took the paid tickets of 250 INR each, to keep off the crowds. However, it took an hour to complete the entire process, but the priest was kind and generous to perform the ritual with all mantras. Post my Jal Abhishek & Darshan; I took an auto-rickshaw to tour another sacred spot of the city. The tour cost me 1000 INR for the whole day, with a drop at my hotel. But before starting the tour, we had a steaming hot cup of tea with the famous Poha with Sev of Ujjain for our breakfast. I wanted to try the Bhang Thandai but was apprehensive as mom was travelling with me. I saw a shop on the Mahakal road, where they were offering Bhang in Peeda & other mixed with Thandai. So I did try it in the evening, & it was yummy. Now let’s begin with the experience of my enlistment. Post a sumptuous breakfast I started the tour with:
Bade Ganesh Temple
A few meters away from the Mahakaleshwar temple are the Bade Ganesh Temple, devoted to Lord Ganesha, the presiding deity signifies wisdom, discretion and foresight. This Ganesha temple is also a significant centre of learning about astrology and Sanskrit language. In the ancient Vedic period, about 1500 BC, houses of prayer were study centres too. It is the country’s only temple that has a Panchmukhi (five-faced) idol of the monkey-god Lord Hanuman which symbolizes courage, dedication, devotion, strength, and righteousness.
Vikramaditya Seat of Judgement
The legendary emperor Vikramaditya, who is characterized as the ideal king, recognized for his wisdom, courage, magnanimity and patronage of scholars had Ujjain as his capital city. One of the city’s attractions, Bhartrihari Caves, natural caves were existing since ancient times. It is named after Bhartrihari, who is the step-brother of King Vikramaditya. He lived and meditated here after renouncing worldly life. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit them, but I suggest you can add to your list.
It is one of 52 Shakti Peeths situated all over India and lies at the walk-able distance from Mahakaleshwar temple. According to the Shiva Purana, the Elbow of the Sati fell at this spot when Lord Shiva was taking Sati from the Yagya of Daksha Prajapati. However, as per Skandhapuran, the Goddess was called Harsidhi for killing two demons Chanda and Prachand and buffaloes were used to be sacrificed here. The synagogue houses the idols of Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati, and the famous dark vermilion image of Annapurna, the Goddess of Nourishment seated between them. As per folk tales its believed that King Vikramaditya was a keen devotee of Harsidhhi Mata. The temple was restored during the Maratha period, were two tall, deep-stamps that light where hundreds of lamps are lit during festivities, especially during Navratri festival. On one of the Column gates of the present tank, has the year 1447 is inscribed on it. During the evening Arti, on the auspicious occasion of Holi, the deep-stamps was enlightened with hundreds of lamps. It looked so mesmerizing.
After the Akshayavata of Prayag, Vanshivata of Vrindavan, Panchavata of Nashik and Bodhivata of Gay, Siddhavata at Ujjain is known for its holiness. Post funeral rites are done here at the Siddhavata ghat of Holy Shipra. Skanda-Purana has referenced this place as preta-Shila-Tirth. Agreeing to some, Parvati performed her penances here. It has likewise been a place of worship for the followers of Natha Sect. Shipra abounds with tortoises at Siddavata. It is also believed that the Banyan tree at the Ghat was tried to be ruined, but the roots formed into an iron sheet, to protect itself and later grew thicker & denser.
Kal Bhairav Temple
Kaal Bhairava is one of the famous temples for its strange rituals, though many other temples lie in the vicinity of Siddavata. The Shaivite form of worship has also put importance to the adoration of the eight Bhairavas mainly by the Kapalika and Aghora sects. Kaal- Bhairava is the first among them, known for the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva and the supreme ruler of the time of this universe as per Hindu scriptures. Skandpurana has made a mention of the temple of Kaal Bhairava in its Avanti Khanda. Kale-Bhairava is offered liquor, as a part of their worship, & the Lord is accompanied by his divine vehicle, a black dog. We visited & gave alcohol as part of the worship ritual since Kaal Bhairav is our Kul Devtaa. It is supposed that a certain king named Bhadrasen got this temple constructed during the Parmars period. I also discovered traces of old Malwa-style paintings on the temple walls, along with a deep-Stambh near the temple entrance. The right of the courtyard in the temple is dedicated to Vitthala and, the left is Adharmashala. This little town famous since ancient times for the wax-resist dyeing technique called Batik.
The Gadhkalika Temple is a Shakti Peeth, and the idol is saffron in colour unlike the usual idols of Goddess Kalika which are dark in colour. This temple was repaired in the 7th century AD by Emperor Harshvardhan. The fable goes that the famous Classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa often visited the temple, due to his devotion to the Goddess, he was blessed with supreme literary skill. The rulers of the Scindia dynasty built the present construction.
After I visited the Gadhkalika Temple, I determined to take a break for lunch as it was past 1 pm. Hence we went to a nearby Bhojanalaya, who was offering different cuisine veg Thali ranging from Rs 35- Rs 55. It was neat & decent place to dine. Afterwards, I headed further into Mangalnath Temple, which has got scenic settings on the confluence of Shipra and Khilchipur rivers. It depicts the religious significance with a banyan tree which is supposedly planted by Parvati. Other Scriptures suggested this is the birthplace of the Mars planet. The Mars planet is worshipped in the form of Shiv Ling, seeking the removal of defects in their Kundli (horoscope) related to Mars. In ancient times, this was an ideal geographical location for a readable view of Mars. It is stated that this is the intersection point of the Tropic of Cancer and the zero longitudes passing the Earth. The serene bank of Shipra, close to the temple, is worth spending an afternoon.
Sun Dial in Ujjain Observatory
I have drenched my desires for visiting temples, so I steered towards the Observatory (Vedh Shala). The calculation of time is done here, taking into account the unique geographical location of Ujjain. This observatory was constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II between 1725 AD and 1730 AD. The entry fee to the observatory is 10 INR, dawn to dusk, & its 2-3 km from the railway station. The astronomical motions and orbits of the planets are studied through Samrat Yantra, Nadivalaya Yantra, Digansha Yantra, Shanku Yantra and Yamyottarabhitti Yantra which is the main instruments. Maharaja Madhav Rao Scindia renovated the observatory in 1923, the ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior. This spot is also known as Yantra-Mahal. The studies of the planetary motions are still conducted in this observatory, and it’s published annually in a journal – an ephemeris showing daily speed and position of planets. While going out of this place, I tried a glass of Keshar milk with some freshly made kachoris.
Aside from its religious and political importance, ancient Ujjain was a seat of great learning and the oldest centre of education. Sandipani has great mythological value, and it is considered the first education place of Lord Krishna, along with elder brother Balram and Sudama. Also Mahabharata, the Puranas, shared-Bhagavata, Brahma, Agni and Bramavaivarta bear references to Sandipani Ashram. Students are imparted with the knowledge of Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads and spiritual values, along with science, including mathematics, political science, military science and arts. The principal objective was to reach spiritual alignment. That’s the sole reason why it gained greater academic prominence than Kashi (Benares or Varanasi) and Nalanda. Much archaeological evidence of three thousand years has been recovered that resemblance to remains recovered at Hastinapur, Indraprastha, Mathura, Achichchhatra and Kaushambi. These pieces of evidence indicate that this region is the oldest in the city. The Gomati-Kunda is the oldest source of water supply to the Ashram which is spoken about in Puranas too. The area is known as Ankapata, & favourite tales describe that Lord Krishna used the spot for washing his writing-table. I saw the image of standing Nandi near the tank that belonged to the Shung-period. In the 16th century, Shri Vallabhacharya, a great saint of the Vaishnava sect, delivered his religious discourses in the locality of this Ashram. There are temples which are devoted to Lord Shiva; also an old engraved stone with numerals from 1 to 100 can be seen within the ashram complex.
Lastly, I made my way to Ramghat towards the bank of Shipra River. The ambience of the riverside is vibrant and serene at the same time. As the dusk came on, the priests started the evening Arti along with many worshippers. Somewhat similar to the Ganges Arti at Varanasi. It’s a spectacular event which connects every life breathing at the great distance. Our devotional vibes become stronger as chanting were rigorous and spiritual vibrations become evident with Diyas floating on the river surface. In between twinkling temples and humming devotees, evening Arti will leave you spellbound.
There were a few more places which you can add up to your list; I toured one of my picks. I am also sharing those places here; hence you can travel whenever you are in Ujjain, as these are on my cards when I revisit the ancient city. Also will suggest trying the local food like Dal-Bhapla, Jalebi, Kesar kulfi, and spicy sev is a must.
Kalideh Palace: It is a historical watershed, now considerably decayed in a ruin, Kaliadeh was built unconventionally as a water palace in the middle of Shipra River. Kalideh palace was constructed by the Sultan of Mandu and is a fine example of Persian architecture. Nearer to the water palace lies the Sun temple, which is famous for a gorgeous sculpture of God Sun.
Gopal Mandir: It lies in the centre of the busy market, a beautiful example of the Maratha style of architecture.
Chintaman Ganesh Temple: It is built across the Kshipra river, the ancient shrine with artistically-carved 11th-century pillars in the assembly hall, with Riddhi and Siddhi, the consorts of Lord Ganesha, are seated on either side of him.
Navagraha Triveni (Shani Temple): Situated on the Triveni Ghat of the Shipra, this temple is dedicated to Navagraha, which too attracts large crowds on new moon days falling on Saturdays.
Ram-Janardan Temple: Mirza Raja Jaisingh constructed it in the 17th C., and the boundary wall and the tank were added later in the Maratha period in the 18th C. This temple gives you an artistic survey of sculptures & painting dates back in 10th & 11th century.
While sitting at the nook of the Ghat, I started enjoying the crowd. A flare of Diyas on the river surface enlightening my soul & the moon dominated the sky. Something profound inside which I am yet unable to comprehend was Calm. After a couple of hours, I headed back to my hotel room and thanked the autorickshaw driver for an overwhelming tour. My next destination was Omkareshwar then Mandu so enquired cab fare from hotel travel desk & booked an early morning drive. We had a delicious Thali for dinner, before running into the bed.
How to reach:
By Air: The nearest airport to Mahakaleshwar temple is located in Indore, which is 51 km away. Or Raja Bhoj Airport (BHO) at Bhopal, 172 km away from Ujjain. It is connected with cities like Delhi and Mumbai. You can take Cab or taxis, or public busses to reach Ujjain.
By Rail: The Ujjain Junction, Vikram Nagar, Chintaman and Pingleshwar are four nearby railway station. All these stations are well-connected to the major cities. After reaching the railway station, tourists can take any local transport to get to the temple.
By Road: Many buses Ply to Ujjain, making it the best mode of transport if planning to visit via road. There are several buses which commute to this destination from major cities like Bhopal, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune.
Important points to note if you are visiting Ujjain:
- Ujjain Darshan Bus runs from Dewas gate Bus stand at Ujjain and covers most of the points at Ujjain. There are two trips one in the morning and other in the afternoon.
- There are buses available which cover two jyotirlingas in a day, Mahakaleshwar and Omkareshwar.