The Jyotirling Mahakaleshwar Mandir will mark the celebrations of Deepavali on 24 October with the Bhasm Arati at 4am. Members of the pujari-families will offer several elements of sringar, including saffron, ornaments and a new set of vastras to the Swayambhu Shivling.
Outside the Jyotirling Mandir and the Nandi Mandapa, Deepawali will witness the celebration of Mahakaal in the arrival of pilgrims from across the country, in the ornamentation of lights that glow against sculptures, pillars and wall relief work in sandstone. Also, in their inherent craftsmanship in the recently inaugurated Mahakaal Mahalok; in Lakshmi-pujan at homes in Ujjain; most importantly, in the multilingual, devotion-centric, intergenerational interactions taking place at the Mahakaal Corridor.
These facets make the first phase of the Mahakaal Corridor a valuable vital culture-project undertaken by the Narendra Modi-led government in partnership with the Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led state government in Madhya Pradesh.
The worship of Mahakaal in Ujjain – the seat of Shiva and Shakti, where the shikharadarshan of the Ma Harsiddhi Temple from the Mahakaal Mahalok, as the corridor is now known – has acquired a new meaning in civilisational wealth. As the newly inaugurated Corridor received an increasing footfall of enthralled pilgrims from across the nation and visibly overwhelmed devotees from within Ujjain towards Deepavali, it was clear that a robust change brought by the emergence of the 900m corridor would be centered on wisdom, wealth and strength in the coming years. Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati, are known for representing, personifying and symbolizing wisdom, wealth and strength.
The Corridor as ‘wealth’
The Puranas and symbols, of which the Mahakaal Corridor builds a well-composed, spacious, embracing, succinct, design-conscious narrative, emerge as the binding force and the bedrock of the visual stories in the dynamic display. The understanding of Hindu culture, particularly, via the understanding of the Puranas and symbols, becomes the means and the method in the cyclical ‘viewing’ at the Corridor.
The footsteps lead you through this wealth created with government intervention to a linear experience. The short ‘yatra’ one undertakes over the comforting stone-path, is a journey built over the sound of the incessant chanting of “Om ”. The chanting diffuses into the open arenas, floats over the rejuvenated wealth of the Rudrasagar, and culminates in the darshan of the Mahakaal Jyotirling Mandir and the Shivlinga.
The several elements of architectural and sculptural diversity, heritage aspects, lighting, the play of day and night over the arenas, the interactions built between the bhakta-audience from the different parts of Bharat, the mingling of people from diverse regions, the corresponding response to related economies in Ujjain, and several other aspects of wealth emerge from the created-wealth – the Mahakaal Corridor. Naturally, Ujjain will witness an upward spiral in the several facets of prosperity, in the coming months.
The work on the second and third phases will cushion and support the impulses from visitors and bhaktas. From wealth will emerge wealth in Mahakaal’s abode, on the grounds of his Tandava and its theatrical expanses.
The Presence Of Lakshmi
The worship of Lakshmi and the festival of Deepavali are inter-spun. In Sanatan Dharm, Deepavali is when Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, is understood to have emerged from the churning of the ocean in which the Devas and the Asuras participated to see the different ratnas emanate.
Among them is the Chandra worn by Shiva and the Halahala consumed by Shiva in the sacrificial act. Lakshmi and Parvati have marked their presence with their individual strengths in the churning of the ocean and the resulting events. The Devas, Vishnu and Shiva, have themselves been the vital witnesses to the strengths of the Devis – the divine feminine. On the whole, in a holistic view of the Corridor, Lakshmi emerges in wealth created, and as wealth.
Deepavali brings us to Mahalakshmi, she reminds us of the eight Lakshamis, the ashtaLakshamis. In the context of the Mahakaal Mahalok, the response of the visitors to Ujjain and to the Corridor indicates that the response to cultural wealth creation is a multifaceted wealth created. The Mahakaal Corridor, and the Mahakaal Mahakalok are civilisational wealth created.
On the occasion of the Deepavali, while the media narrative will be centered on the economics behind and after the creation of the Corridor, this author sees the understanding of the idea of wealth and wealth itself as an inevitable, awaited, and gorgeous aspect of interaction between the “Divya” and the “Bhavya”. On Deepavali, the realization gets enhanced.
Enclosed in the worship of Mahalakshmi is the worship of the ashtaLakshmis: Adi Lakshmi (wealth), Dhanya Lakshmi (wealth of food), Dhairya Lakshmi (dheera, dhairya, courage) Santan Lakshmi (wealth of children), Gaja Lakshmi (wealth represented by elephants), Vidya Lakshmi (wealth in and of knowledge); Vijay Lakshmi (wealth of successes and victories) Dhan Lakshmi (wealth of economic prosperity). That all of the ashtaLakshmis reside in Ujjaiyani, the city of victories, in their representations, and around the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirling, can be seen as a different churning of sorts in kaal.
Ujjain, the sacred city, the central core of Sanatan and culture, represents wealth and prosperity. The city of victories has an abundance and diversities of prasadas from the several temples in the Triveni. Then, there is agricultural diversity and abundant harvests round the year. The city has witnessed the vidharmis destroying the Mahakal Temple in gruesome strikes. In dhairya and courage, the city stood up again over the roots and foundations of undefeatable devotion, belief and piety. Ujjaiyani, the abode of Mahakaal sees the families of the devotees stand as representations of the wealth of santana. The wealth of elephants finds its representation in the gentle giants that can be seen walking around and between the Jyotirlinga and the Shaktipeeth – guided by the mahouts. The several manifestations can be felt spiritually and in visual depictions in Ujjain.
The worship of Lakshmi as Lakshmi, the Goddess in wealth, and wealth as Lakshmi, should become a combined culturally-oriented spiritual purpose.
A layered understanding of culture and cultural aspects in respect with devotees, for and at the Corridor, would indicate that the creation of artistic wealth brings wealth-created (the Corridor and allied aspects and features). This will further create wealth (by boosting local economies and by expanding the canvas for prosperity tangible and prosperity intangible).
Let’s look at wealth created by the Mahakaal Corridor in the contemporary sense.
The wealth of regeneration
The Mahakaal Mahalok – practically an extended arena-path to the Jyotirling temple and the Garbhagriha as the abode of the primordial core, is an effort toward regeneration. It represents a journey of individual potentials in the form of creations that go on to represent the time and the timeless. It represents depictions that take the journey-bound bhakta-bhava for Shiva towards the interpretations delivered by the artists – on the devotees’ way to the Jyotirlinga. These interpretations in themselves are regeneration of art, of the impulses to art inspired by the divine, to the Puranas.
In the broader view, the several aspects of rejuvenation of the existing heritage, creation of new facets supporting that existing heritage – in the phase I and phase II of the ongoing works at Ujjain within the Mahakaal corridor – all centered on the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga, are part of the structured and well-thought, civilisational regeneration. The wealth of regeneration representing the Mahakaal Mahalok cannot be seen inseparation from the creative powers of the Indian artists who have contributed to the Mahakaal Mahalok.
This regeneration is evident, pratyaksh pramaan, in the rejuvenation of the Rudrasagar Lake, along the 900m path adorned with artistic expression in stone, as much as it is in the regeneration of ‘beauty’ across the acres of land within the corridor, touching, almost in breadth, the path to the Chardham temple, among several other facets.
The regeneration is evident in an enclosed open air space that the corridor represents. It connects viewing and spiritual purpose in a calculated but miniscule departure from perhaps what Ananda K Coomaraswamy calls “Anglicised India”. It compels a departure from the well-guarded West’s cunning perceptions on Indian craftsmanship, Indian architectural wealth and the wealth of “Indian beauty”.
To put things fairly, the prospects of intangible regeneration out of creating tangible regeneration, were more or less hopeless until Narendra Modi took things in his own hands. Regeneration in leadership has propelled civilisational regeneration to realise and re-explore the wealth of regeneration amid the noise pressed open by the cultural aggressor wanting us to despise our own culture and our own regeneration. This 21st century regeneration is perhaps a soft victory over the history of marauders and its unsparing mark on the history of Ujjain.
The wealth of Swadeshi art and display
Ananda K Coomaraswamy mentions that true swadeshi is essentially sincerity. In the 21st Century, Indic works in art may not always meet the true Indic expectations. Yet one cannot deny that the creative force and the faith in their own art and devotion has compelled the artists contributing their expressions to the Mahakaal Mahalok to nudge off and away a set of odds they met in the process. The works on display at the Mahakaal corridor correspond directly to the devotion and belief in the sacred texts and art. Nothing, absolutely nothing else could have made this feat possible. Not all of these works, subjectively, might pass or surpass the cynic-critic’s eye and view.
Several works were tweaked and improved upon, others rejected, yet others kept away during the arduous exercise of selection and exclusion once the culture committee got involved ahead of PM Modi’s anticipated visit earlier this year. There is a large scope for improvement and ‘permanence’ of some the existing works can be reconsidered.
However, a fact stands: the Mahakaal Mahalok reinvents the art of realising, understanding and creating the power of display – right from the Nandidwar, which provides straight, unhindered, unquestioned access to one of the best archeological and folk visual art collections at the Triveni museum (a detailed article on this aspect will follow in the special series of articles on Ujjain from this author).
The display, spreading across stone relief on the wall, ornate gateways, pillars, and the crowd-pulling sculptural depictions using fibre reinforced plastic, the main entrance to the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirling mandir, speaks for a century of the erroneously-missing, royally-excluded, post-Independence visual engagement attached to devotion.
To the discerning eye, the subtle and obvious imperfections in work do appear – but coyly. Yet, the celebration of Mahakaal, their Shiva, in the form of all nuances symbolising him as Sanatana, Kaal, the Creator – Preserver-Destroyer, The Protector, the one who takes away the fears, the “ultimate family man”, exists in this contemporary expression, installed carefully and inaugurated mindfully, soulfully, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The corridor achieves an audience – inclined to Mahakaal himself, the kaal, the prime creator-audience. Who is Mahakaal’s devotee-audience? The bhakta Prime Minister, the Shiv-bhakta ordinary man, the Hindu, the sadhu, the academic, the initiated, the villager, the city bred, the Sanatani, the politically-powerful home maker, the engineer, architect, consultant, artist, the student, the creative, and children, among many others.
During April this year, this author first stood at a flyover overlooking the Mahakaal corridor, trying to make the eyes travel to the last possible defined-point in sandstone. Over four visits and now, to my first step across the Nandidwar after the corridor’s Lokarpan, the biggest aspect emerging is: the wealth of display engaging the common man, particularly those who are coming from the villages of India and bringing along their traditional knowledge and culture systems and piety.
Display cut across several levels of quality, several levels and layers of responses to archeological wealth (housed at the Triveni museum) and several layers of interactions building over this display, is wealth that will see the response to art evolving in the coming years.
The wealth of the pilgrims’ pride
The Shivlinga at the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga is a swayambhu – the self-manifested, the self existing. Around its worship and its primordial presence is built the naturally-arisen devotion of the bhaktas under the amber glow of the evening sun, moments before it sets. Following it, the sound of the damarus emanates from the evening aarati and rituals. The damrus playing at the service of Mahakaal at the Nandi Mandapa and the garbhagriha envelop the corridor, where devotees who have completed their darshan, or are on the way to the Jyotirlinga, play the damaru in their affection for Mahakaal.
These are sights and sounds that Kalidasa had lived in his own times, devotion and poetry. The main entrance to the Jyotirlinga opens up, into large and spacious corridors and halls in an enclosed space that leads further to the channeled paths separated by railings for smooth and easy flow of people culminating at the Nandi mandapa. As the devotees continue to walk in and their eyes fall upon a set of contemporary works of art in acrylic on canvas, all relating to Shiva and based on the tales from the Puranas, the chants to Mahakaal grow louder and last longer in the echoing effect. It’s a sign of acknowledging pride in positive change.
This author met several pilgrims over several visits to the newly-inaugurated Mahakaal corridor who said that it has not only restored and replenished the devotees’ pride in his own new cultural and civilisational asset, but also given them a chance to help younger generations connect with the culturally vibrant space-extension to a Jyotirlinga. Others said that they had visited the Jyotirlinga earlier, but never got a reason or chance to stay this long even after darshan. “Staying long and longer”, “being able to spend more time in Mahakaal’s abode”, “getting to spend more time with the family at a place of worship”, “having a reason to be proud for the positive changes in Ayodhya, Kashi and Ujjain” were common emotions. Yet others said that the coming up of the Mahakaal corridor was severely essential for Hindu pride. Pride in Sanatan is wealth creates wealth.
The wealth of words, artha, depiction
आकाशे तारकं लिंग पाताले हाटकेश्वरम्। मृत्युलोके महाकालं त्रयलिंगम् नमोस्तुऽते॥
Naman to Shiva, the one who resides in the skies as Taraka, as Hatkeshwara in Patala and Mahakaal in Mrityuloka. The Nandi Dwar at Sri Mahakaal Mahalok brings the Shiva bhakt in a direct visual contact with this mantra depicted in sandstone, the first in the series of works in stone relief on walls. The devotee, after he has soaked the striking word-introduction of sorts to Mahakaal, heads to the Nandi Mandapa within the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga mandir in a walk through sculptures and the drama of sun, shadows and man-made lights. The mantra provides the first plunge into the philosophy that surrounds and embraces one’s bhakti for Mahakaal, the foundational understanding of Kaal himself and the destroyer of fears. Words from the sacred texts emerge from the sculptural works for a deeper conversation. So far, for many devotees, they had existed without visual depiction, or lived only in the imagination of Shiva’s universe.
The glow of the morning sun lends a gentle dimension to the words and artha in the matra. Defeating predictability that one expects in public interaction with the art, the mantra stands alone, without an artistic depiction of Mahakaal himself around or above it.
A few steps ahead, the bhakta prepares to interact with his own impulses that the sculptural milieu of the Mahakaal corridor, a civilisational intervention in the 21st century, brings. Words, form, philosophy, rasa and artha begin their conversation, as depictions in stone unfold the celebration of Mahakaal – the eternal, the who one defeats death, the one who is also understood and worshiped as Mritunjaya.
The wall relief – dramatised quietly and quaintly by the play of light installations – is leaving bhaktas, some from the core of Bharat – the villages – spellbound. Bhakta-emotion is wealth. It creates wealth in the moment and over time.
The wealth of philosophy and concepts visualised
Many of the devotees I met said that they had wanted to visit the Jyotirlinga for years, but got propelled only because the Corridor and PM Modi’s association and interest in the project were in the news. Many of them had their darshan of the Jyotirling – the second or the third or the sixth time, but never before, they said, drawing inferences from the possible visual elements signifying the continuous, constant, the nirantara – in Mahakaal, in Shiva, was this smooth and visually pleasing. For them, many such concepts stood in abstract ideas or abstractions, but now, they have found form in the sculptures at the Corridor. This is the purpose-driven might of the sculptures at the Corridor.
Several devotees, for the first time, have been able to see the concept of Laya, Tandava, Tala, Dhwani, Kavya coming alive in sculptural diversity that stands magnificently at the Corridor. These might be concepts unread or unnamed for many, still, but the architectural victory of the Mahakaal Mahalok resides in its ability to bring the bhakta, sacred texts, space, dimension and depiction, together. Across days, day after day, many devotees were seen sitting down to view the depiction of the Shiva’s wedding procession. They seemed moved, in tears, of joy, devotion, discovery and viewing of ‘art’.
The several minute ‘processions’ of Shiva’s bhaktas, from the Nandidwar to the Mahakaal Jyotirlinga main entrance approached from the corridor, are intangible riches, and wealth. This wealth, strengthened in the stone-sturdy faith of the Sanatanis, will reclaim eight-facted wealth, will recreate multi-facted wealth, intangible and tangible, for Sanatan.