The Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, is one of the 12 Jyothirlingas which are considered to be the dwelling places of Lord Shiva. It is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Hindus.
There are references to this temple in ancient literature, written as long ago as the 6th Century BC. But the temple we see now was built much more recently. It is spread over five levels, including one underground. Each level has a sacred lingam. There is also a pond within the complex, and the water in it is considered holy.
The term ‘Mahakaleshwar’ means Lord of Time. Lord Shiva in this form is worshipped by a bhasm arathi which is performed nowhere else in the world. Originally, the bhasm, or ash, came from funeral pyres, but nowadays, vibhuthi, the sacred ash found in temples, is used. This ritual is conducted in the early hours of the morning, and is watched by hundreds of devotees.
All festivals concerning Lord Shiva are celebrated here with great enthusiasm, but the biggest one is MahaShivarathri, during which time a huge fair is also held outside the temple complex.
Ujjain was known for its beauty and spirituality from ancient times. It was a centre of education in Hinduism. According to legend, the region was once ruled by a king named Chandrasena, a great devotee of Lord Shiva.
Neighbouring kings planned to capture his kingdom. A young boy, also a Shiva devotee, and a temple priest, heard of these plans and they started praying to Lord Shiva about it. Though the rival kings attacked Ujjain, Lord Shiva in the form of Mahakaleshwar. ultimately saved the kingdom. He also agreed to stay on there and protect his devotees, and that’s how the temple came to be built.