Avantikapuri, an ancient city situated on the eastern banks of the Kshipra river, in the Malwa region of central India, was reportedly colonised by migrants from the Harappan civilisation in 2015 BC. According to the Mahabharata, it was known as Ujjayini, sacred capital of the historic kingdom of Avanti. Situated in Madhya Pradesh, in the vibrant heart of India, Ujjain has been a centre of pilgrimage, trade and scholarship for an estimated four millennia. Scholarship established the prime meridian of Hindu cartography through Ujjain. Trade routes linking the Mauryan capital of Pataliputra with the ports of the west coast ensured its continuing prosperity.
Visiting this historic town, now, we walked past guards and through security barriers, to a towering temple. Then we trod down a flight of steps into a sanctum fragrant with incense and the scent of flowers, illuminated with the flickering glow of oil lamps, serene with the spirit of devotion. Priests accepted the offerings of devotees, had them sanctified by the Lord, returned them as prasad, the acceptance of communion with Mahakal, the powerful, monolithic, great Lord of time. The presiding deity of the cosmos, Shiva, in all his splendour, reigns eternal in the temple of Mahakaleshwar in Ujjain, which lies at the centre of a great and ancient complex of faith.
The glory of Mahakaleshwar temple has been vividly described in various Purans and many Sanskrit poets have eulogised this temple in emotive terms. Ujjain used to be the central point for calculation of Indian time and Mahakala was considered as the distinctive presiding deity of Ujjain. One of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India, the lingam at the Mahakala is believed to be swayambhu (born of itself) deriving currents of power or shakti from within itself as against the other images and lingams which are ritually established and invested with mantra-shakti. The temple of the Mother Goddess, Harsiddhi Ma, stands on an elevated plinth near the two towering, cone-shaped deepstambhs, or ‘light pillars, installed by the Marathas when they ruled Ujjain.
This temple’s interiors have been richly decorated, with its ceiling holding the powerful Sri Yantra, prime emblem of the Mother. The idol enthroned here is Chandni in her aspect of Harsiddhi: The One Who Vanquishes All. In front of the temple is one of the 51 shakti peeths. Devotees cannot enter this sunken shrine but may view the idol through the three peep-holes cut into the ceiling. Below, an eternal flame burns on one side, where the fallen elbow of Sati has been enshrined. The Pancheshani yatra is a grand tour of Ujjain in which thousands of people join in every year. The Chatdwar yatra, the ceremonial visits to the four gates, is also associated with this yatra. The legend goes that when Lord Shiva founded Ujjain at Parvati’s behest on the banks of the Shipra, four gates were established to guard the city from all four directions. Four guardian deities, Pingaleshwar (East), Kayavarohaneshwar (South) Dardureshwar (North) and Bilveshwar (West) were appointed with Mahakaleshwar at the center of the town.
Leaving the temple behind in the town, we drove out through scrub and farmland to the greatly revered Sandipani Ashram. This small complex of buildings, set in a garden, is of particular interest to Krishna bhakts. Here, apparently, the sage Sandipani taught Lord Krishna, Balaram and Sudama. It is believed that the tank in the complex was created by Lord Krishna by causing the river Gomti to bubble up here so that his guru, who was from Mathura, could bathe in its sacred waters. Krishna also washed his slate in this tank and so it is known as both Gomti Kund and Ankpat. We drove from here through more rural terrain and parked outside the walled grounds of the Godkalika Mandir. The idol of Kalika is a redhead wearing a silver crown. An interesting legend says that Kalidas’ genius blossomed only after he had worshipped here and his most important verses in Meghdoot describe the glories of Ujjain and Mahakala. The Kalidasa academy was set up in Ujjain by the Government of Madhya Pradesh to immortalise the memory of the great poet dramatist, and to create a multidisciplinary institution to project the genius of the entire classical Sanskrit tradition with Kalidasa at the apex, enable research and study in Sanskrit texts and traditional performing arts related to it.
Kumbh Mela in Ujjajn begins on April 22, 2016. The Kumbh Mela derives from the Hindu mythological tale of the churning of the ocean by the Gods and the demons, with vasuki the serpent as the rope. The ocean bed first yielded fourteen gems, then Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and finally the coveted vessel of nectar. Then began the wild scramble for immortality with the demons chasing the gods across the skies, and in the process, a few drops were split and fell at Hardwar, Prayag, Nasik and Ujjain. The magnificence and awesome spectacle of the bathing ritual at the Simhastha defies description. Beginning on the full moon day in Chaitra, it continues into Vaishakha (May), until the next full moon day, when millions of pilgrims from India and across the world come to bathe in the sacred Shipra River to wash away their sins.