For officers from the Corps of Signals, Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE), Mhow is the Alma Mater, our Mecca Madina. We keep going there for long and short courses. Add to that Junior/ Senior/ Higher Command courses at Army War College. I was also posted at MCTE on instructional and staff appointments during 96 – 99. I have very fond memories of Mhow. On its Northern and Southern sides, couple of hours drive away, are located two of the most venerated twelve Jyotirlingas – Mahakal Temple at Ujjain and Omkareshwar by the bank of river Narmada.

In the Mahakal Temple at Ujjain, the presiding deity, Lord Shiva in the lingam form is believed to be Swayambhu, deriving currents of power (Shakti) from within. Out of the twelve Jyotirlings, only Mahakaleshwar of Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh is situated in

the south direction. As per the scriptures, the universe has three regions namely the sky, earth and nether. Mahakal is the Lord of earth. Of all the twelve Jyotirlingas, it’s just the Mahakal which is called the Lord of earth as well as death. According to belief, 33 crore gods reside in Mahakal premises. Adorned by Hanuman, Shiva, Devi, Navgraha, Radha-Krishna, Ganesha temples, the premises evokes vibrant spiritual feelings. Mahakal is the only temple among Dwadash Jyotirlingas, which has so many temples in its premises.

I am not a very religious person per se. I do pay obeisance to any religious place one comes across, of all religions. This is also one of the finest traditions of the Indian Army. In most difficult places, say Kaiyan Bowl in 17 Mountain Brigade sector in J&K, the way Army looks after the Peer Baba is a sight to behold. During my service days, I never attended Bhasma Aarti in Ujjain, though the town was barely a two hour drive from Mhow – one hour to Indore and another toUjjain, 50 km away. Road condition has improved tremendously. This time I decided to go to Ujjain and attend Bhasma Aarti.

The process of Bhasma Aarti starts at 4 AM in the morning and finishes at 6 O’ clock. Since there is limited space, one has to book in advance. MCTE sent its liaison NCO with the requisite documents, photo id etc beforehand for making arrangements. True to the tradition of MCTE everything was taken care of. I started at 0030 hours in the morning. By 0200 hours I was at the gate of Mahakal Temple. For going to Garbhagriha and do jaal abhisek men have to wear dhoti and women saree. We took dhoti and small steel water container on hire to put water on shiv linga. After a cup of tea we entered the temple duly attired at 0230 hours. The place was already teeming with the devotees. Attached photo will shown how Mallick Dada is ready for the darshan.

Lord Mahakaleshwar, the King of Ujjain is among the public, six Mondays from the first Monday of Shravan in the form of procession. Procession of sixth Monday is called “Shahi Sawari”. I went to Ujjain on 29 August, Monday night. This Monday was the last of HIS procession. In the morning, the Lord was taken out in the procession. The Mahakal Mandir was beautifully bedecked with flowers. We waited at couple of places, and then, on the ringing of a bell, we were ushered in the main hall around 0345 hours. At 0400 hours we started entering the Garbhagriha and put water on the Shiv Lingam called jaal abhisek. It is a very fast process and within about 15 minutes a very large number of people are able to do jaal abhishek. After this we came to Nandi Hall. The Hall is situated outside the Sanctum Sanctorum and accommodates 100 people. An additional 500 devotees can sit near barricades behind the Nandi Hall.

During the Bhasma Aarti no one is allowed to enter into Garbhagriha. Initially, the abhisheka, or ritual bath of the God takes place. We could see what was happening in the main hall through a screen projection via the three CCTVs installed. The Shiva Lingam was smeared with multiple offerings like curd, honey, butter, sandal paste and finally washed with milk and water. Then, the Lingam was decorated with an elaborate arrangement of flowers of various kinds including the ones dear to Shiva (the Bel Patra and Dhatura fruit). After the abhishek by Pujaris, local ladies from Ujjain came and did abhisek at appointed time. By about 4.45 AM, the very elaborate process of ‘shringar’ started – a lengthy process in which, through the application of various substances, the stone pillar was transformed into a divine face, and then further embellished.

At around 0530 hours, the most impressive part of the ceremony began. The face of the God was veiled with a cloth. A priest told all women present to cover their faces with the ends of their saris and not to watch bhasam aarti at the time of bhasam pooja. The lady police were strict in enforcing this. Finally, it was time for the head monk of the Mahanirvani Akahara to offer the sacred ash, bhashma or vibuthi, over the Lingam. He started shaking that cloth vigorously over the Mahakaleshwar and ash started pouring as fine dust all over the Shiva Lingam. It was a very unique experience to witness this part of the Bhasma Aarti of Mahakaleshwar. Whole atmosphere was having a strong divine feeling and everyone was just mesmerised to see what was happening. Soon the whole inner sanctum was filled with bhasma over the Lingam and billowing in the air. With the continuous loud chanting, this was the most electrifying and uplifting moment of the unique worship.

The Bhasam Aarti carried on for about seven to eight minutes. The main priest then took over, and did Aarti with traditional lamps accompanied by traditional music instruments like damru, shinga and others. Devotees clapped in unison with the music making it a very joyful and uplifting event. By 6 AM it was all over.

We departed after doing pranam to Lord Mahakal. It was once in a life time experience. They say you don’t get to see Bhasma Aarti unless Lord Mahakal desires. May be it was His desire I could see this. I feel I am blessed.

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM is from Corps of Signals, specialises in Cyber, Signals Intelligence and Electronic Warfare issues. He has been Senior Directing Staff (Army) at National Defence College. He does free lance writing, enjoys travelling, interested in Military History. He runs a blog site and website and http://indianstrategicknowledgeonli for benefit of people interested in strategic issues.

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