After Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and Kedarnath Shrine in Uttarakhand, Mahakal Temple is the third jyotirlinga site to see a major elevation exercise. The Rs 800 crore Mahakal Corridor is four times larger than the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, which the Prime Minister inaugurated late last year.
Why does the Mahakal Temple in Ujjain have great significance in Hinduism? We explain.
The puranas say that Lord Shiva pierced the world in the form of an endless pillar of light, called jyotirlinga. There are 12 jyotirlinga sites in India, considered to be a manifestation of Shiva. Besides Mahakal these include Somnath and Nageshwar in Gujarat, Mallikarjuna in Andhra Pradesh, Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, Bhimashankar, Triyambakeshwar and Grishneshwar in Maharashtra, Viswanath in Varanasi, Baidyanath in Jharkhand and Rameshwar in Tamil Nadu.
Mahakal is the only jyotirlinga facing south, while all other jyotirlingas face east. This is because the direction of death is supposed to be south. In fact, people worship Mahakaleshwar to avoid premature death.
A local legend says that there was once a king called Chandrasena who ruled Ujjain and was a devotee of Shiva. The Lord appeared in his Mahakal form and destroyed his enemies. At the request of his devotees, Shiva agreed to reside in the city and become its main deity.
The Mahakal temple finds mention in several ancient Indian poetic texts. In the first part of the Meghadutam (Purva Megha) composed in the 4th century, Kalidasa gives a description of the Mahakal temple. It is described as one with a stone foundation, with the ceiling on wooden pillars. There would be no shikharas or spires on temples before the Gupta period.
The city of Ujjain was also one of the main centers of learning Hindu scriptures, called Avantika in the 6th and 7th centuries BC. Later astronomers and mathematicians such as Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya called Ujjain their home.
Moreover, according to the Surya Siddhanta, one of the earliest available texts on Indian astronomy dating from the 4th century, Ujjain is geographically located at a place where the zero meridian of longitude and the Tropic of Cancer intersect. In accordance with this theory, many Ujjain temples are somehow tied to time and space, and the main Shiva temple is dedicated to Mahakal, the lord of time. In the 18th century, an observatory was built here by Maharaja Jai Singh II, known as Vedh Shala or Jantar Mantar, comprising 13 architectural instruments to measure astronomical phenomena.
It is said that during the medieval period, Islamic rulers made donations to the priests for offering prayers here. In the 13th century, the temple complex was destroyed by the Turkish ruler Shams-ud-din Iltutmish during his raid on Ujjain. The current five-storey structure was built by Maratha General Ranoji Shinde in 1734, in the Bhumija, Chalukya and Maratha styles of architecture. A century later, its marble walkways were restored by the Scindias.