Ujjain, City of the Lord of the time

Ujjain stands on the right bank of the Shipra, an affluent of the Ganges. It is one of the oldest holy cities in India. Its various names are Avantika, Pratikalpa, Kanakasrnga, Amaravati, Shivapuri, Chudamani, Kumudvati and also Ujjainyini, “he who conquers with pride”, because it is said to be the place where Shiva triumphed over the demon Tripura.

Morning prayers during the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain

Ujjain is one of the great Hindu pilgrimage centres and one of the Sapta Puri, the seven most sacred places in India. It has several claims to holiness:

It is home to Mahakaleshwar, lord of time or of death, one of the 12 Jyotir lingams or “lingams of light” (there are two in Madhya Pradesh, the other being in Omkareshwar).

Once every 12 years, the town hosts the world’s biggest religious gathering, the Kumbha Mela.

It is home to the Hindu goddess Harasiddhi, one of the 51 Shakti Peethas.

The Legend of Omkareshwar

Mahakaleshwar’s Lingam

A brahman of Ujjain had four sons who were all faithful servants of Shiva. The demon king Dushan came to Avantika and tried to disrupt the brahmans’ prayers. But as they were totally absorbed in their adoration of Shiva they were not in the least disturbed.

So Dushan sent four henchmen to create chaos in the town. The harassed population came to complain to the brahmans, who reassured them and calmed them down, then prayed to Shiva.

When the demons attacked the brahmans, the earth opened up and a huge crater appeared. From it emerged Shiva in the form of Mahakal. He ordered the demon king to leave, and when the demon refused Shiva reduced him to ashes.

Mahakaleshwar temple

Bhasma Aarti Ceremony

Ash ceremony (Bhasma Arti) at Mahakaleshwar temple – Photo: Hinduism News

Ujjain was the only place where the Bhasma Arati ceremony was performed, in which human ash from all the city’s cremation sites were smeared over the Mahakaleshwar lingam.

Nowadays the human ashes have been replaced by vibhuti, grey sacred ash. The ceremony takes place every day from 4am to 6am.

This lingam also has the particularity of being dakshinamurti, i.e. south-facing. It is the only one of the 12 Jyotir Lingams to face south.

[ Ceremony of the Bhasma Arati ]

Kumbh Mela in Ujjain

Sadhus during the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain

Each twelve years, Ujjain welcome the famous Kumbh Mela, the world’s biggest pilgrimage; This fascinating event takes place four times in twelve years, rotating between the four holy cities of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, Haridwar in Uttarankand, Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and Nasik in Maharashtra….


Ujjain’s ghats during the Kumbh Mela

Harsiddhi Mata

Harsiddhi Mata, the main deity of the temple

About 350 m from the Mahakaleshwar temple on the other side of the Rudra Sagar lake there is the Harsiddhi Mata temple built during the Marathi period. It is one of the major temples of India; the idol is one of 51 Shakti Peetha. Legend has it that the goddess Parvati took the form of Harsiddhi to kill two demons at the request of Lord Shiva. His elbow fell here when Shiva carried his body out of the sacrificial fire (see legend of the Shakti Peetha on my site).


Harsiddhi Mata temple

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