An Evening at Ram Ghat
Ujjain is very well connected to Indore with frequent busses and also has train connectivity from other cities. Even before landing at Ujjain, I was mentally prepared to travel in harmony with the crowd. Ujjain was also hosting a large number of pilgrims those days due to Karthik Mela in Omkareshwar. After an initial hitch, I lodged myself in a hotel close to the railway station and freshened up. I went for long walk towards Mahakaleshwar temple to get an idea about the town and to find a restaurant for my lunch. Mahakaleshwar, which is also one of the 12 jyotirlinga, is the principal temple of the town and visited by thousands of pilgrims every day. Just after the lunch, I visited Mahakeshwar temple on first day in order to keep my second day little lighter. Luckily, the temple was relatively less crowded during the second half of the day that provided me leisure time around the temple and jyotirlinga.
Ram Ghat at Shipra River
Diyas Floating in Shipra River
Mahakaleshwar Temple from the back
Ujjain is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus and draws its root back from the mahabaratha times. Ujjain is situated on the bank of river shipra where millions of pilgrims take a holy dip during Kumbh Mela which takes place here once in every 12 year. During festival time Ujjain transforms into a town with strong devotional vibes however spiritual vibrations are always evident on the Ghats of Shipra River. While attending the evening prayers on Ram Ghat when flames float on the river surface, everyone experiences the pulses of energy through temples perhaps because tropic of cancer passes through here. Temples of Ujjain are enough in numbers to drain out all the energy of even the most ardent pilgrim.
Blackened Stone towers at Harisiddhi Temple
Short after visiting Mahakaleshwar temple, I headed to Harisiddhi Mandiri which is one of 52 shakti peeths situated all over India and lies at the walk-able distance from Mahakaleshwar temple. Two blackened stone towers at the entrance of the temple catch everyone’s attention. These towers are used for lighting up the diyas during evening of Dussehra festival. According to the Shivpuram when lord shiva was taking the great Sati from the Yagya of Daksya Prajapati, The Elbow of the sati fell at this place. According to the Skandhapuran, the Goddess was called Harsidhi for killing two demons Chanda and Prachand. Buffaloes were used to be sacrificed here. According to the folk tradition Harisiddhi is the worshipping Goddess of Vikramdutya. There is a mention of the Harisiddhi temple in the books of the 13th century but the present temple is of the Maratha period. The Two lamp columns situated in the court yard of the temple exhibit the Maratha style. On one of the Column gate of present tank, the year 1447 is inscribed.
Temple on Ram Ghat
Gopal Mandir, which lies in the middle of the busy market, is another guide book attraction of Ujjain.
Gopal Mandir: The Temple is a beautiful example of the Maratha style of architecture. Besides the image of Gopala-Krishna, the Image of Shiva-Parvati, Garudaand bay Jabai are also installed in the inner sanctum of the temple. Bay Jabai Shinde, the queen of Maharaja Daulatrao Shinde, got this temple (dedicated to Gopala-Krishna, the deity of her devotion) constructed in the 19th century. The decorated silver door of the inner sanctum of this temple is worthy of special attention. This door, it is said, was carried away to Ghazni from the famous Somnath Temple. Ahmed Shah Abdali carried it from there to Lahore. Mahad ji Scindia recovered it and the same had been reinstalled in the temple
Bank of Shipra River
Gopal Mandir drenched my desires for visiting temples and I made my way to Ramghat towards the bank of Shipra River. Ramghat is the bathing site for Kumbh festival and blessed with countless temples on the shore of holy Shipra River. During festival time, Ramghat was packed with pilgrims taking a holy dip in the river and offering evening arti. For getting a distant view of the temples, I crossed over the river and found a place on the other Shore of Shipra River. Every evening, Ambiance at the riverside is vibrant and serene at the same time. Being a silent spectator of those activities at Ramghat in Ujjain was indeed a fulfilling experience and quite soothing after a hectic day of traversing between temples. As day approached to the dusk, Priests started the evening Arti along with thousands of worshippers. Quite similar to the Ganges Arti at Varanasi, It’s a dazzling event which connects every life breathing at the striking distance. Devotional vibes become stronger as chanting goes faster and spiritual vibrations become evident with diyas floating on the river surface. In between twinkling temples and humming devotees, Evening Arti will definitely left you spell bound…. This is when I started enjoying the crowd... Looked like the flare of diyas on the river surface enlightened something within… In a short while as moon dominated the sky, I receded back to the town along with the group of pilgrims and Sadhus… Being part of the evening Arti was the best part of the day which left me contended for the rest of the evening and further…. Soon after I was back to my hotel room and had a delicious Thali in Dinner… inquired about the cycles on rent… chit chatted with locals over the tea… got a high level impression about the cycling route for the next day before turning off the lights…
Evening Prayer at the Ghat of Shipra River
Next day was mostly planned as a cycling excursion around Ujjain covering more than 30 km and for that I needed a bicycle. Initially none rented me a bicycle suspecting me a bicycle thieve but finally a gentleman agreed to rent me one in the condition of leaving my Pan card and driving license….Perfect… Life became much easier with that cycle.. Paddled it across the streets and had poha as breakfast yet again…I could not recall the date since when I had not taken anything else but Poha as breakfast… but believe me, I loved that breakfast for all those days.
Sun Dial in Ujjain Observatory
Soon after taking the breakfast, I cycled to the observatory (entrée fee: 10 INR, dawn to dusk) which lies on the bank of River Shipra and some 2-3 km from railway station. This observatory was constructed by Savai Raja Jay Singh between 1725 and 1730 AD. Similar observatories were constructed by Raja Jay Singh at four other places-Delhi, Jaipur, Mathura and Varanasi. Samrat Yantra, Nadivalaya Yantra, Digansha Yantra, Shanku Yantra and Yamyottarabhitti yantra are the main instruments constructed in this observatory. Motions and orbits of the planets are studied through these instruments. On this count, people call it yantra-mahal also. This observatory was renovated by Madhav Rao Scindia. The Then Maharaja of erstwhile Gwalior state in 1923 AD. Astronomical studies of the planetary motions are still conducted in this observatory and an ephemeris (i.e journal showing daily speed and position of planets) is published of every year. In this way this is the only observatory among the observatories of Jay Singh where Masonic instruments are even today utilized for astronomical studies.
Chintaman Ganesh Mandir Ujjain
Chintaman Ganesh temple which is some 8 km from the observatory became my next stop. Chintaman Ganesh lies on Indore road (some 10 km from Ujjain) and better to be clubbed with Vedh Shala (Observatory). The present sanctum of Chintamani Ganesh is very old. Riddhi and Siddhi, the two Godesses are enshrined on both side of the idol of Ganesh. Traditionally this is known as the seat of Chintaharam Ganesh, assurer of freedom from wordly anxieties. People assemble here in large numbers to offer their prayers on Wednesdays in the month of Chaitra. Artistic pillars in the assemble hall of the temple belong to the parmar period. The temple was renovated by Ahilyadevi Holkar with the addition of a water tank and the boundary-wall. It is said that while returning to Ayodhya after the victory over Ravana, Lord Rama rested here. To get rid of the thirst Lakshman dug out the water with his arrow. This is reason the later tank is called Banganga.
Ghat behind the observatory
Shortly afterwards, I cycled back to the Ujjain covering all the important sites based on this side of the town. Tropic of cancer has a warm affect on Ujjain and its surrounding. Days are always hot and sun rays are really strong. I took the shower once again before having a light lunch. Mangalnath Temple and Kaliadeh Palace were the key attractions for the later half of the day along with visiting temples those falls en route.
Temple in Sandipani Ashram Ujjain
Sandipani Ashram was the first religious site on the way to Mangalnath Temple. According to the Puranic Tradition Krishna and his friend Sudama received regular instruction in the ashram of Kulaguru Sandipani. Besides Mahabharata the puranas, sharimad-Bhagavata, Brahma, Agni and Bramavaivarta bear references to Sandipani Ashram. Archaeological evident of three thousand years’ old painted grey-wares has been recovered from the area. These bear a resemblance to the similat remains recovered at Hastinapur, Indraprastha, Mathura, Achichchhatra and Kaushambi. These evidences show that this region is the oldest in city. Gomati-Kunda is the old source of water supply to the Ashram and the same has been referred to in the puranas also. The image of standing Nandi near the tank is worth seeing and it belongs to the shung-period. The area nearby is known as Ankapara. Popular tales describe that the place is used by Lord Krishna for washing his writing table. In the 16th century, shri Vallabhacharya, great saint of Vaishnava sect delivered his religious discourses in the vicinity of this ashram. The followers of the Vallabha sect count this place as the 73rd seat of their Acharya who is said to have made 84 for religious discourses throughout India.
After spending sometime in the ashram I headed further to Mangalnath Temple which has got scenic settings on the confluence of Shipra and Khilchipur rivers. Mangalnath temple draws the religious significance with a banyan tree which is supposedly planted by Parvati. Close to the temple, the serene bank of Shipra is worth spending an afternoon. I crossed the bridge and reached the other side of the river where Siddhavata, Kaal Bhairava temples are situated. But I took the road heading to Kaliadeh palace which is some 8-9 km from Ujjain. Kaliadeh palace is a bit off route from the typical pilgrim’s trail of Ujjain. Now largely decayed in a ruin, Kaliadeh was built in an unconventional way as a water palace in the middle of Shipra River. Kaliadeh palace was built by the Sultan of Mandu and is a fine example of Persian architecture. Closer to the water palace lies Sun temple which is famous for a gorgeous sculpture of God Sun.
Pilgrims taking bathe in the tanks Kaliadeh palace
Influence of Karthik Mela was apparent at all the temples of Ujjain and Kaliadeh palace was no exception however I loved the river shore and thin water streams flowing through the villages. I sat down on the porch of the temple and spent an afternoon watching the pilgrims performing religious rituals at an unusual bathing bank of Kaliadeh. Later I cycled back to the main road to visit some more temples before taking the leave from Ujjain.
Idol in Sun Temple near Kaliadeh palace
Situated on the bank of Shipra River, Siddhavata temple was my next stop. Siddhavata at Ujjain is as well known for its sanctity as Akshayavata of Prayag, Vanshivata of Vrindavan, Panchavata of Nashik and Bodhivata of Gaya. Post funeral rites are performed here at the Siddhavata ghat of Holy Shipra. Skanda-Purana has referenced this place as preta-Shila-Tirth. According to some, Parvati performed her penances here. This has also been a place of worship for the followers of Natha Sect. Shipra abounds with tortoises at Siddavata. Old Coins of Ujjain bear the imprint of tortoises along with the river. This is also an indicative of the fact that the tortoise must have flourished here even in the ancient period. It is so said that this banyan tree was once sought to be cut and was converted with iron sheets to make its existence invisible. But it's off shoots pierced through the iron sheets and the tree regained its foliation.
Kaal Bhairva Temple
Many other temples lie in the vicinity of Siddavata but Kaal Bhairava is the most famous for its unusual rituals. Shaivite form of worship has also assigned importance to the adoration of eight bhairavas. Kaal- Bhairava is the foremost among them. Skandpurana has made a mention of the temple of Kaal Bhairava in its avanti Khanda. According to some antique tradition, the followers of the Kapalika and aghora sects used to worship shiva or bhairava. Ujjain was also connected with the pattern of worship developed by these sects. People offer even liquor, as a part of their worship to Kaalbhairava. It is said that a certain king named Bhadrasen got this temple constructed. This must have been a great temple during parmar period. Parmar period images of Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu and Ganesh have been recovered from this place. The temple has usually been rebuilt with the remains of the old temple. Beautiful paintings of Malwa-style once decorated the temple walls. The temple to the right of the courtyard is dedicated to Vitthala and to the left is Adharmashala.
Ram Janardan Temple
Ram-Janardan temple, which is also located on the bank of Shipra River, was my last resort of that hectic day. Idols of Ram, Laksham and Sita in the Ram temple and that of Janardan-Vishnu in the Janardan temple belong to the 17th century. Both the temples present at attractive look from the point of view of their structural art. These temples were constructed by Mirza Raja Jaisingh in the 17th century. The boundary wall and the tank were added later in Maratha period in the 18th century. Beautiful examples of Maratha paintings are seen on the walls of both the temple. Besides the attractive scenes from the lives of Ram and Krishna, The paintings of Bodalya bua Maharaj and sant Tukoba etc are quite impressive. Certain old images can be seen installed in both the temples as well as near the tank opposite Janardan temple which are very important from the point of view of sculpture skill also. The image of Govarshandhari Krishna near the tank belongs to 11th century. The image of Sheshashayi Vishnu installed in between the assembly hall and the interior of Ram-Temple belongs to the 10th century and the image of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh belong to the 12th century A.D.
Kaliadeh Water Palace
Finally after cycling more than 30 km in a day, I returned it back to the owner. Cycling was indeed a fulfilling experience and a cheaper mode of transportation between the temples. Very few cities of the country are religiously (in terms of temples) as rich as Ujjain. .. At the end of every long travel, I visit a saloon to regain my original appearance and it was Ujjain this time… Shortly afterwards, I was back to the railway station waiting for the train… Like always, journey never ended….It left something deep inside…something I am still trying to comprehend….
Courtesy: Archaeology, Archives and Museum, Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal
Birds, moon and the River