Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On visiting the Mahakaal Temple at Ujjain

I'm going through an interesting experience, I am writing a sales brochure for a tour called "Pilgrimage tour to Ujjain". I have never written brochures for any purely pilgrimage tours so far. So this is a new thing for me.

Ram Ghat after sunset, on the Kshipra River, Ujjain
As some of you probably know, Ujjain is an ancient city which used to be the capital of Avanti, one of the Mahajanapadas, the great 16 Republics of India (6 BCE). The poet Kalidasa talked about the beauty of Ujjain (in his famous poem Meghadoota, The Cloud Messenger).

But now I need to write about Ujjain from a purely religious angle, and I find myself a little stumped.

You see, I cannot bring myself to write religious "facts". In India all major temples have a 'sthala-mahima' or story associated with that place. For example, so and so maharishi did penance here, such and such God automatically manifested here, so and so Goddess sat right upon this very spot... These stories are not historical, they are legends, and I can't help thinking that no doubt some clever temple priest made them up at some point. And I simply don't have the necessary religious belief to make a sales-pitch extolling some imaginary sthala-mahima!

How do I write a convincing spiel for something that I don't quite believe in? Naturally, I'm going to have to write this in the third person, for example, I've got to say something like, "Legend has it that..." or "It is believed that ...". A cop out, really :-)

And yet, when I went to the main temple in Ujjain, the Mahakaal temple, dedicated to the Shiva the Destroyer of Time, and heard the chanting, it affected me immediately. I was crying and had goosebumps. They were decorating the lingam with a thick paste of bhaang leaves. Never seen anything like that, so fascinating. People were shouting Mahadev! Mahadev! and Om Namah Shivay! And I heard many powerful descriptions of Shiva's name, Neelkanth, He of the Blue Throat and Gangadhara, He Who Holds the Ganges. One man would shout it out, and others would pick up the chant...I sat there with goosebumps and tears, perhaps it was the faith of the people that moved me, and perhaps it was the energy around me.

One thing I know for sure - whether I'm religious or not - this country has got me in its grip. I am connected viscerally to the people, the temples, the stories, the words, the sound of Sanskrit. The very soil of Bharatavarsha talks to me.

Now - off to write that brochure.