Ujain, Madhya Pradesh
The Mahakaleshwar Temple is one of the Jyotirlingas, one of twelve Hindu temples of particularly special importance to the deity Shiva. It is traditionally the third temple of the list, though not necessarily in either importance or in order to be visited. Per the Jyotirlinga legend, Shiva appeared on the spot as a beam of light. According to tradition, Shiva defeated an enemy army led by a demon here, and the Mahakaleshwar Temple honors Shiva as defender of the city. It is considered one of the places where Shiva is most likely to hear prayers and supplications for his aid, and is therefore one of the most popular places in India for Hindu pilgrims.
Ujain is a very ancient city of India, and has been tied to the legends of Shiva since time immemorial. It once served as an important center for the government of Ashoka, India’s legendary Buddhist ruler. Temples have stood on the site for over a thousand years, and traditionally has been considered a particularly powerful spiritual place, even by Indian standards, and has been a popular destination for theology students since the middle ages.
The major legend associated with Ujain is that one day a boy named Shrikhar desired to worship in the temple but was turned away by the guards. Dejected, he was forced to leave the city, where he overheard plans of an imminent attack on Ujain by nearby rulers. These rival rulers attacked and sacked the city with the aid of an invisible demon.
Shrikhar and other survivors of the destruction prayed to Shiva, who heard their cries for aid. He personally came to Ujain, defeated the demon and destroyed the enemy armies. Shiva subsequently moved into the city to be its permanent defender. According to tradition, he still resides there (spiritually), making Ujain one of the places where it is possible to get extremely close to the deity.
Unfortunately this did not protect the temple from Muslim invasions in the 13th century, and temple was destroyed in 1235. It would be five centuries before this incredibly holy site was restored. It is now once more an extremely important stop on the Jyotirlingas pilgrimage trail.
The Mahakaleshwar Temple is one of the relatively younger major Hindu temples in India. After five centuries as little more than a ruin, it was rebuilt in the 1760s, and was regularly embellished over the next century. The current temple structure dates from this era. Though not huge, it is one of north-cetnral India’s better examples of 18th century religious architecture.
As typical, the main shrine is crowned by a pyramid dome, and though artistically attractive it does not bear the usual intricate white marble carvings typical of such structures. The interior of the shrine is elegant but not lavish. The temple stands close to the Rudra Sagar, a small lake, in which at certain times it reflects magnificently.
The Mahakaleshwar Temple is located on the west side of Ujain, about a mile from the city center, about half-way between New Delhi and Mumbai. The temple is open daily from 4:00am-11:00pm. There is no cost for admission. Web: http://mahakaleshwar.nic.in (official website).
Ujain boasts a number of important temples besides the Mahakaleshwar. The Gopal Temple, dedicated to Ganesh, is the largest in the city. Also here is the Harsiddhi Temple, believed to stand on the spot where Shiva severed Parvati’s arm when removing her from her pyre.