A pious journey into the heart of India
Rupmati Temple in Mandu
By Purva Bhatia
It's one of the harshest months on the year when the blazing hot sun makes it difficult to even step out of the comfort of your home, forget walking miles barefoot. But a look at the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain tells you a different tale. The burning floor, sweltering heat, long queues, pushing and shoving — nothing deters hundreds of Shaivites (followers of Shiva) who have thronged the shrine to seek blessings of the 'creator and destroyer'. The time is auspicious to offer prayers to Shiva and Mahakal, one of the most important of the 12 jyotirlingas in India. This one is believed to be born on its own (swayambhu), deriving power from within itself; the others are ritually established. The scenario is similar in other temples of such religious significance in Madhya Pradesh. Struggling to find little space for myself in the crowd, I smell intense devotion. I see women, evidently from Andhra, incessantly chanting mantras as they wait for hours for a minute of puja.
Indore sees an influx of thousands of devotees who make annual trips to the sacred sites of Ujjain, Omkareshwar and Maheshwar. To host these tourists, the city has several branded hotels like Country Inns and Suites, Ginger, Lemon Tree, etc. (apart from non-branded hotels). Radisson Blu Hotel Indore — which made an entry into the city two years ago — hasn't just added to the city's room inventory but is also working towards promoting the destination. The hotel, in association with MP tourism, is offering attractive packages that include the stay as well as visits to the religious sites as well as to Mandu. I am here to sample one of the packages, on invitation by the hotel.
My first stop on this sacred journey is Ujjain, about 70 km from Indore and about an hour and a half by road.
Hindu mythology holds that when the gods and demons churned the ocean of milk, a few drops of nectar fell on four places: Haridwar, Nasik, Prayag and Ujjain. Considered to be holy since time immemorial, these are the four sacred sites for the Kumbh Mela.
Surrounded by the holy waters of the Shipra River, Ujjain houses Mahakal, one of the twelve celebrated jyotirlingas in India. Called Dakshinamurti since it faces south — the only jyotirlinga to be so — the shrine, Mahakaleshwar Temple, is of great significance to tantriks. While visiting the temple at 3 am for early morning aarti might sound spiritually ideal, noon is a good time if you want to explore the five levels of the temple without facing the crowd.
One of the must-see rituals is the Bhasma Aarti, which takes place between 4-6 am. The lingam is smeared with still-hot ashes from the cremation grounds in homage to Shiva, the 'master of death'. Women are not allowed entry during the ritual.
Other major temples in the holy city include 'Bade Ganeshji ka Mandir' that houses the only 'panchmukhi' (five-faced) idol of Hanuman. There's also Harsiddhi Temple, where according to the Shiva Purana, when Shiva carried away the body of Sati, her elbow dropped here. The most interesting temple is definitely the Kal Bhairav Mandir, where liquor is ritually offered to the deity that is believed to have emerged from Shiva's third eye. The temple is believed to be associated with the tantra (black magic) cult. It is said that the liquor offered disappears pretty fast into the mouth of the deity. A state-sponsored research into the mystery has not yielded any results yet.