The Mahakaleshwar Temple at Ujjain, in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus as it is said to be one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (the holiest abode of Shiva). It is considered one of the top 10 Tantra temples in India and is the only one of its kind in the world to have a Bhasma aarti (ash ritual).
What Is the Ash Ritual?
The very first thing you should do when you tell the locals that you are planning to visit the Mahakaleshwar Temple is to attend the Bhasma Aarti. Bhasma Aarti is the first ritual conducted daily in the temple. This is done to awaken the Lord (Lord Shiva), make up (anoint him and dress him for the day), and give him the first offering of fire (by lighting lamps, incense, and other objects).
The unique thing about this aarti is the inclusion of Bhasma, which is the ashes from the funeral pyre, as an offering. Mahakaleshwar is the name of Lord Shiva and it means god of time or death. This may be one of the reasons for the inclusion of funeral ashes. You would believe that this aarti is something you should not miss, and unless fresh ashes are brought into the aarti, the aarti cannot begin.
Things to Know Before You Go
Bhasma aarti starts at 4 in the morning and if you want to do your puja (prayer) separately, you have to do it after the aarti and you can spend a few hours waiting. Aarti is extremely popular and needs to be booked to see it. This can be done online a month in advance and is recommended. There is no cost. Booking can also be done a day in advance at the dedicated counter at the entrance of the temple. However, places fill up fast.
Note that there is a dress code while participating in the Bhasma aarti if you wish to go inside the inner sanctum and participate in the Jal Abhishek ritual (offering water to the Lord) before the aarti begins. Men should wear traditional dhoti and women should wear saree. People start queuing at the temple around 1 a.m. to gain entry, so you’ll need to arrive early and wait.
Cell phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple premises, and security checks are done. There is a storage counter where you can leave your belongings.
Where to View the Bhasm Aarti
The Bhasma Aarti begins immediately after the Jal Abhishek rituals. There are four halls outside the inner sanctum of the temple from where the aarti can be observed, some of which have been constructed to accommodate more devotees. The differences are in their size and location. The allotment is based on availability at the time of booking. The Nandi Mandapam is the preferred hall, as it is small (fits only 100 people) and is closest to the inner sanctum of the temple.
The Bada Ganapati Mandapam is located next to the Nandi Mandapam and is the next best option, which has stairs for unobstructed seating. It can fit 400 people. Kartikeya Mandapam is a new hall above the Ganapati Mandapam. Bhasmarathi Mandapam is another new hall located at the far end. The aarti is performed on the big screen while it is being performed.
During the Ritual
The entire aarti lasts for around 45 minutes to an hour. The first part of the aarti, while the makeup is done, is sublime and scramble-worthy. However, the actually consumed portion – which is often promoted to no end – only lasts a minute and a half.
During this crucial minute and a half, which you wait to see from 2 a.m., women are asked to cover their eyes. It is important to note that the ashes being used are no longer from the funeral pyre but in fact just vibhuti – the sacred ash used in most temples, sometimes made from cow dung.
After the Lord is adorned in ashes, the actual aarti begins, with the offering of lamps. Aarti is usually accompanied by chants of praise to the Lord.
Paid Darshan Tickets
After the Bhasma Aarti is over, devotees can go inside the inner sanctum and offer their personal prayers to the Lord. Paid Darshan tickets are available for those who do not want to stand in line for long. These tickets can be booked online or can be bought at the temple.
- Mahakaleshwar Temple Ujjain (Link)
- Mahakaleshwar temple Ujjain history (Link)
- Hotels in Ujjain near Mahakaleshwar temple (Link)
- Ujjain railway station to Mahakaleshwar temple distance (Link)