The Mahakaleshwar temple at Ujjain, in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, is an important pilgramage place for Hindus as it's said to be one of the 12 Jyotirlingams (most sacred abodes of Shiva). It's also regarded as one of the top 10 Tantra temples of India, and has the only Bhasm-Aarti (ash ritual) of its kind in the world. However, does it live up to its hype? Sujata Mukherjee tells us about her experience at the Mahakaleshwar temple.
Mahakaleshwar Temple Aarti
The first thing you hear when you tell locals that you’re planning to visit the Mahakaleshwar temple is that you must ensure you attend the “Bhasm-Aarti”. The Bhasm-Aarti is the first ritual conducted everyday at the temple, which is to wake the God Shiva up, perform “Shringar” (anoint and enrobe him for the day) and offer the first aarti (an offering of fire to the deity by circulating lamps, incense and other items). The unique thing about this aarti is, however, the inclusion of “Bhasm” or ash from funeral pyres as one of the offerings. Mahakaleshwar is a name for the God Shiva, and means the god of Time or Death. This may be one of the reasons of the inclusion of the funeral ash. You will be assured that this aarti is something that you shouldn’t miss, and that until fresh ash is not brought in the aarti cannot start.
Mahakaleshwar Temple Aarti Entry
We were told that the aarti begins at 4 a.m. and if we were to offer our own puja (prayer) separately, we’d have to do it after the aarti and we might spend a couple of hours waiting. There are two ways to gain entry into the temple to watch this aarti –- one is through the free entry line, where you don’t have to pay except for any offerings that you want to take in. The other is through a “VIP” ticket, which lets you into a shorter line and helps you gain quicker entry to the sanctum. Furthermore, if you’re in the free entry line, you’re allowed to wear what you want, as long as it is appropriate. If you’re in the VIP line, men have to wear the traditional dhoti, and women must wear sarees.
Mahakaleshwar Temple Aarti VIP Tickets
While everyone told us that the VIP tickets are available at the shrine board throughout the day, it is actually available only between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Since we arrived in Ujjain in the evening, we missed this window, and had to opt for the free entry line.
The “VIP” ticket is a feature of most popular temples in India. However, the perks of the “VIP” ticket vary. In Tirupati (possibly the most popular shrine in India), for example, the free entry line has a waiting time of 12 to 20 hours, and sometimes days. Using a VIP ticket shortens the wait time to about two hours or less, essentially letting you jump the line. But, the free entry and VIP lines merge before you enter the sanctum, so that eventually there is no difference in the two entry types.
In Ujjain, however, we found that the VIP entry assures you really that -- VIP treatment.
Aarti Free Entry Line
Firstly, only a hundred devotees are allowed through the free entry line, so you are advised to join the line early enough to ensure you get through. We were told that 2 a.m. was a good time to go to the temple to avoid the rush. On arriving at 2 a.m., we found a family of 7 already there -- who’d been told to join the queue at midnight, just to be sure. Then ensued a long wait, in the bone-chilling cold. We were skeptical about the warnings of crowding until 3 a.m., when people began coming in and the line quickly grew to about 200 to 300 people behind us. There were no announcements, no signs of life within the temple, nothing to tell us that the aarti would even happen, until at 4.20 a.m. when the doors were opened to go through security check.
The waiting halls within the temple have been equipped with screens telecasting live from within the sanctum to allow people who miss the entry to watch the aarti. So while a hundred people are actually allowed into the main complex, the others are allowed to remain in the waiting hall and watch the aarti on the screen. To avoid wasting time in security check, it is better not to carry anything except your offering into the temple. We passed through security check into the waiting hall to find that the aarti had already begun, with the “VIP” entrants already in the complex. They were also allowed to participate in the first ablutions of the God.
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