On a temple trail in Ujjain

On a temple trail in Ujjain

A divine path

On a temple trail in Ujjain

Divine jyotirlingas, powerful shakti peeth, mystical bhasm aarti, pristine Narmada, Ujjain offers an unforgettable experience of peace, faith and divinity.

The roads are dotted with kawariyas in saffron, barefoot, walking fast with the characteristic bamboo stick hanging on their shoulders for holy water.

Our destination is the same, Omkareshwar — except that they have chosen the tough path to travel. I, on the other hand, was travelling in comfort, with my two guides Balram and Vikas. If you want to explore the mystical Ujjain and Omkareshwar, the best way is to keep Indore as your base.

The roads are excellent for all the nearby regions: Mandu, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar and Ujjain.

Footloose in holy UjjainBound by the holy waters of Shipra river, Ujjain is considered as one of the seven major sites of Hindu pilgrimage and also a venue for the triennial Kumbh Mela. According to Hindu scriptures, it was originally called Avantika, with its origin ascribed to the mythological legend of sagar manthan (churning of the primordial ocean to discover the pot of nectar).

The early history of Ujjain is lost in the midst of antiquity. As early as the time of the Aryan settlers, Ujjain seems to have acquired importance. By the 6th century BC, Avanti with its capital at Ujjaini, is mentioned in Buddhist literature as one of the four great powers along with Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha.

Ujjain lay on the main trade route between North India and Deccan going from Mathura via Ujjain to Mahismati (Maheshwar) on the Narmada, and on to Paithan on the Godavari, western Asia and the West.

One of the 12 jyotirlingas in India, the lingam at the Mahakal is believed to be swayambhu (self-manifested), deriving currents of power (shakti) from within itself as against the other images and lingams, which are ritually established and invested with mantra-shakti. 

“Jai Mahakal,” said Pundit Satya Narain Joshi, who has been performing key puja at the temple for many decades. “At Mahakal Temple, the idol of Mahakaleshwar is dakshinamurti, facing the south. This is a unique feature to be found only in Mahakaleshwar among the 12 jyotirlingas.”

 He understood my anxiety to know about yet another unique feature about the temple, the bhasm aarti (ash ritual) performed every night. “The ritual is done to wake up Lord Shiva, perform shringar (anoint and enrobe him for the day) and offer the first aarti just before sunrise.” The inclusion of bhasm or ash supposedly from the funeral pyres is certainly enamouring.

Balram then took me for darshan at Harsiddhi Temple, which houses Goddess Mahalaxmi and Mahasaraswati and is one of the shakti peeths. Seated between the idols of Mahakaleshwar and Mahasarasvati, the idol of Annapurna is painted with dark vermillion. According to Shiva-Purana, when Shiva carried away the burning body of Sati from the sacrificial fire of Daksha Prajapati, her elbow was left behind on this spot.

Next on our radar was the Kal Bhairav Temple. As soon as we entered the premises of the temple, I was told that alcohol was used as the offering to the deity here. While you wonder which brand to choose from the variety available with the vendors, many enthusiasts will tell you that the deity particularly likes wine! So, that makes life easier.

However, do not leave Bhairav Temple without feeding the goats. They wander around the premises and are particularly fond of corn, so you will find several vendors selling small baskets of corn.

Chintamani Ganesh Temple is another old temple that is not to be missed. Here Riddhi and Siddhi, the two goddesses, are enshrined on both the sides of the idol of Ganesh. Balram tells me that the artistic pillars in the assembly hall of the temple belong to the Parmar period. The temple was renovated by Ahilya Bai Holkar.

A holy unionAt the confluence of the rivers Narmada and Kaveri stands the temple of Omkar Mandhata. Located in the sacred island called Mandhata or Shivapuri, this temple is among 12 sacred jyothirlinga shrines of Lord Maheshwar. One of the most striking features of this narrow, six-km-long island is that it is shaped like the Hindu holy symbol, “Om”; formed by River Narmada branching into two.

It is connected by a foot bridge and boats to the mainland. The Omkareshwar Temple here, from which the island derives its name, is dedicated to Lord Shiva

Mamaleshwar Temple is not a big one. There are many small temples of Lord Shiva around the main temple of Mamaleshwar. Here, devotees and priests are seen making thousands of tiny lingas with clay from River Narmada.

I thoroughly enjoyed my drive from Indore to Omkareshwar, which is through the most amazingly green mountain range and forests of teak. The entire region was dotted with multi-coloured temples, enhancing the mystery of approaching River Narmada.

Another remarkable divine intervention is the Navagrih Temple on the way to Omkareshwar. Supposedly one of India’s biggest Shani Navagrih Temple and the world’s biggest temple based on Vaastu Shastra, the shrine is worth a visit.

The principal deity of Shani Dev is placed at the centre and around it are the statues of other navagrihas like Surya, Rahu, Ketu, etc.

Fact file

Air: The nearest airport is Indore (77 km), connected by regular flights from all over India.
Rail: Nearest railhead is Omkareshwar Road (Mortakka), 12 km on the Ratlam Khandawa section of the Western Railway.
Road: Omkareshwar is connected to Indore, Khandawa and Ujjain by regular bus services.