Ujjain is also Known as Ujain, Ujjayini, Avanti, Avantika, Avantikapuri is an ancient city situated on the eastern bank of the Kshipra River (Hindi: क्षिप्रा) in the Malwa region of central India. The city is today part of the state of Madhya Pradesh, and it is the administrative centre of Ujjain District and Ujjain Division.
In ancient times, the city was called Ujjayini. As mentioned in the Mahabharata epic and Buddhist literature, Ujjayini was the capital of the Avanti Kingdom. Traditionally exalted as one of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) of the Hindus, Ujjain is one of the four sites that host the Kumbh Mela (also called the Simhastha Mela), a quadrennial mass pilgrimage that attracts millions of Hindu pilgrims from around the country. It is also home to the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga, one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines to the god Shiva. An ancient seat of learning, Ujjain is the place where Lord Krishna, along with Balarama and Sudama, received his education from Maharshi Sandipani. It is also known as the city of Temples.
In Indian mythology, the origin of the city is ascribed to the act of Sagar Manthan, which refers to the churning of the primordial ocean performed by the demigods and demons to discover a pot containing the nectar of immortality. The story goes that after the nectar was discovered, a fierce struggle ensued between the demigods and the demons to obtain the nectar for the attainment of immortality. During the chase, a drop of nectar spilled and fell on Ujjain, thus making the city sacred. According to legend, the river Kshipra that flows across Ujjain is regarded to have originated owing to the churning of the gods and goddesses.
Apart from the rich tapestry of myths and legends surrounding the city, Ujjain has stood witness to a long and distinguished history: it was home to legendary rulers including the renowned king Chandragupta II, great scholars such as Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya, and literary gems like Kalidasa. Since the 4th century BC, the city was considered the prime meridian by Hindu astrologers, and it was placed as the centre of the world in numerous ancient world maps. In the past, Ujjain was variously known as Arin, Aryn or Ozein to the outside world.
It is believed that there was once a majestic Sun temple at this site. The Avanti-Mahatmya of the Skanda Purana has recorded a description of the Sun Temple and two tanks, the Surya Kunda and the Brahma Kunda. People from nearby villages have a ritual dip in the Surya Kunda even today. Remains of the old temple are found scattered all over this area.
A fragmented inscription of this place records the building of the palace in 1458, in the time of Mahmud Khilji. The story goes that the tanks were constructed all around to keep the temperature very low by Sultan Nasiruddin Khilji, the Sultan of Malwa in the 16th century, because he was in the habit of taking mercury which is hot.
As a great religious center, Ujjain ranks equal to Benaras, Gaya and Kanchi. Saivism, Vaishnavism and their various cults and sects, Jainism and Buddhism, have found a niche in this catholic city. The Avanti Khanda of the Skanda Purana mentions innumerable temples consecrated to Shakti and her various forms. The Siddha and the Natha cults which were offshoots of Tantricism, also flourished in Ujjain.
One of the 12 jyotirlingas in India, the lingam at the Mahakal is believed to be swayambhu (born of itself) deriving currents of power (shakti) from within itself as against the other images and lingams which are ritually established and invested with mantra-shakti.
The idol of Mahakaleshwar is known to be dakshinamurti, facing the south. This is a unique feature upheld by tantric traditions to be found only in Mahakaleshwar among the 12 Jyotirlingas. The idol of Omkareshwar Shiva is consecrated in the sanctum above the Mahakal shrine. The images of Ganesh, Parvati and Karttikeya are installed in the west, north and east of the sanctum sanctorum. To the south is the image of Nandi. The idol of Nagchandreshwar on the third storey is open for darshan only on the day of Nagpanchmi.
On the day of Mahashivaratri, a huge fair is held near the temple and worship goes on through the night.