Located in the ancient city of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Shri Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga is situated on the side of Rudra Sagar Lake. Lord Shiva here is in the form of Swyawambhu, emanating the power from itself against other images and lingams which were ritually established and invested later with mantra-shakti.
The Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga Temple
Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga faces south and thus is Dakshinamurthy. This is unique among other Jyotirlinga since other Jyotirlinga faces other directions rather than south. There is an idol of Omkareshwar Mahadev sanctified in the sanctum above the shrine.
One can also see the images of Ganesh, Parvati, and Kartikeya in the west, north, and east of the sanctum. Further south, is an image of Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Visitors can worship the Nagchandreshwar idol in the third story, which only opens on the day of Nag Panchami.
The entire temple has five levels, including the underground. A massive courtyard with massive walls surrounds the temple. The shikhara is made with great details in terms of sculptural finery. To the underground sanctum, the brass light lights the way. Unlike other shrines, the Prasads offered here can be offered to others too.
Everyone agrees that the temple is majestic, with its Shikhar pointing to the sky, facing the skyline, and evoking awe and reverence amongst all. It even dominates the life of the city and the people, especially with the strong connection with the ancient Hindu traditions in the area.
Like most Shiva temples, a huge fair is organized at Mahakaleshwar on the day of Maha Shivaratri, with the worship continuing throughout the night. Other times, the temple is open from 4 am to 11 pm.
There is a Shri Swapaneshwar Mahadev temple in the precinct of Mahakaleshwar temple; this is where people pray to Lord Shiva and realize their dreams. It is said that for those who pray to Sadashiv, their wishes are fulfilled since Sadashiv Mahadev is empathetic, benevolent, and easy to please.
During the times of Tamil Tevarams in the 7th century C.E., the temple was revered in the hymns of Tirugnanasambandar, Sundarar, and Tirunavukkarasar.
Jyotirlinga faces South
Just as with any other Jyotirlinga, this is also where Shiva appears as a partless reality. The primary image is the lingam here too, which symbolizes the eternal nature of Shiva, the infinite nature of Shiva, and the beginningless and endless Stambha pillar.
Mahakaleshwar Temple as Shakti Peeth
The shrine holds great reverence as one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethams. These Shakti Peethas are considered sacred places where the presence of the divine feminine energy, known as Shakti, is believed to be enshrined. It is believed that these shrines were formed when the body parts of the goddess Sati Devi fell to the earth after her corpse was carried by Lord Shiva.
Among the 51 Shakti Peethas, each one has shrines dedicated to both Shakti and Kalabhairava. In this particular shrine, it is believed that the upper lip of Sati Devi fell, and the divine feminine energy is worshipped here as Mahakali.
The History of Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga Temple
When Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish raided Ujjain in 1234-1235, the temple was destroyed. Later, the Mahakaleshwar temple was again rebuilt by Maratha general Ranoji Scindia in 1736 CE. It was further developed by other dynasties, including Mahadji Scindia, and Daulat Rao Scindia’s wife Baiza Bai. Major programs during the reign of Jayajirao Scindia used to be held in this temple. Today, the temple is under the protection of Ujjain district’s collectorate office.
Legend of Mahakala
The city of Ujjain was known as Avantika and was renowned for its exquisite beauty and its significance as a spiritual hub. It served as a prominent center where students flocked to study sacred scriptures. Legend has it that Ujjain was ruled by a devout king named Chandrasena, who dedicated his life to worshipping Lord Shiva.
One day, a young boy named Shrikhar, who worked as a farmer, happened to hear the king chanting the name of Shiva. Filled with devotion, Shrikhar rushed to the temple to join the king in prayer. However, the palace guards forcefully removed him and banished him to the outskirts of the city near the river Kshipra.
Meanwhile, Ujjain faced the threat of attack from rival kingdoms, including King Ripudamana and King Singhaditya. These adversaries sought to seize the city’s treasures. Upon learning of this imminent danger, Shrikhar commenced fervent prayers, and the news reached a priest named Vridhi.
Deeply alarmed, Vridhi, upon the earnest pleas of his sons, began praying to Shiva by the banks of the river Kshipra. The rival kings launched their attack, and with the assistance of the powerful demon Dushan, who possessed the ability to turn invisible, they successfully plundered the city and targeted the devotees of Shiva.
In response to the desperate pleas of his devoted followers, Shiva manifested in His fierce form as Mahakala and annihilated the enemies of King Chandrasena. Moved by the appeals of Shrikhar and Vridhi, Shiva consented to reside in Ujjain as the primary deity of the kingdom, taking on the responsibility of safeguarding it from future threats and protecting all His devotees.
Since that day, Shiva has resided in the form of Mahakala, emanating a divine radiance, within a self-formed Lingam, created by the combined powers of Shiva and his consort, Parvati. Shiva bestowed blessings upon his devotees, assuring them freedom from the fear of death and diseases. Additionally, He promised them worldly treasures and divine protection under His watchful gaze.
Bharthari, the eldest son of King Gandharva-Sena, inherited the kingdom of Ujjain from the celestial gods Indra and the King of Dhara.
During Bharthari’s reign over Ujjain, there lived a Brahman who, after years of austerity, received the fruit of immortality from the celestial Kalpavriksha tree. The Brahman presented the fruit to his monarch, King Bharthari, who, in turn, bestowed it upon his beloved, the beautiful Queen Pinglah Rani or Ananga Sena.
The queen, deeply infatuated with Mahipaala, the Head Police Officer of the state, gave the fruit to him. Mahipaala, in love with Lakha, one of the maids of honor, then passed the fruit to her. Ultimately, Lakha, in love with the king himself, returned the fruit to him.
As the circle completed, the fruit revealed the consequences of infidelity to the king. He summoned the queen and ordered her execution, consuming the fruit himself. Subsequently, he renounced the throne and embraced a life of spiritual asceticism.
Later, Bharthari became a disciple of Pattinatthar, with whom he engaged in a discussion about the life of a householder versus that of a renunciant. During their conversation, Pattinatthar mentioned the dual nature of women’s minds, including the possibility that even the goddess Parameswari may possess such a nature.
Bharthari conveyed this information to Queen Pingalah, who, outraged, sentenced Pattinatthar to a gruesome punishment atop a sharpened tree coated in oil. However, the tree miraculously caught fire, sparing Pattinatthar. When the king received news of the incident, he rushed to Pattinatthar and declared his readiness to die.
To his surprise, the king discovered evidence of Queen Pingalah’s infidelity with a horseman that very night. Overwhelmed by this revelation, the king renounced his wealth, power, and royal attire, donning a simple loincloth. He became a disciple of Pattinatthar and achieved moksha (salvation) at the Srikalahasti Temple in Andhra Pradesh, where the Vayu Lingam is housed—a significant part of the Pancha Bhoota Sthalams of Shiva.
Kalidasa, the renowned Sanskrit poet of that era, possibly a contemporary of King Pushyamitra Sunga, has mentioned the rituals of the temple in his work, Meghadūta. He refers to the performance of art and dance during the evening rituals, known as Nada-Aradhana.
Lord Shiva also told the devotees that whoever prayed for him through the Mahakala, would be blessed and freed from fear of death and diseases and that they will be under the protection of the Lord himself.