I am running at a great speed. My heart rate is pounding. My legs are shivering and my stamina has almost dried out. I think I am being followed by an evil force. Time seems to be eternal. I am praying to God just save me this one time. I don’t know where I am. I am running on a barren land with no one in sight…

Now I am standing at the entrance of a small village. The evil force is still behind me. I ran inside the village and found four saints sitting in front of a black coloured oval shaped stone. They are chanting some mantra not clearly audible. The evil force started destroying everything and reached near the saints. The leading saint is not moving and still chanting the divine mantra…

The evil force was going to kill him. Suddenly the ground started cracking and in no time a huge crater was formed. We all are now standing inside the crater. I am at the edge of the crater. My whole shirt is wet with sweat. To my surprise whole of the place is engulfed under a storm of white sand. It took me some time to realize that it was not sand but Ash. I started choking. I am scared to death. I am not able to see anything. My eyes are paining and water is oozing out. With a blurred sight I can see a huge silhouette of a figure with head covered with matted locks, a small drum in one hand and a three blade long iron rod in the other rising from the ground.

Whoosh! The evil force has disappeared. I suppose the good force killed him. He was announcing something. The Ash was killing me. My ears could only hear “I will be residing here at this place from now onwards.”

There was a huge thud sound. I briefly opened my eyes, the fan was moving. It was just a dream. Someone was knocking on the door. I wanted to say, “I am coming” but my mouth was dried out. I wanted to get out of bed but my body was not responding. The knocking continued. I tried again to lift my leg. This time I was able to move a bit. I gathered some strength and stood up. With slow pace I walked towards the door and opened it. It was my colleague Aman. He was looking tensed, “Where the hell have you been? I am knocking since 10 minutes. Look at the time. We have a meeting at 11.00 AM and you are not ready. Are you ok?”

Without responding I went back towards the bed side to drink water. Still my subconscious mind was trying to figure out the dream. I shunted my thoughts away and said in a sleepy voice, “Good Morning Aman. Yes, I am fine. I do remember about the meeting. Give me just 20 mins I will meet you at the breakfast lounge.”

Within 30 mins we were standing in the reception area and waiting for the cab. We had reached Indore last night only. My company has entrusted upon us the task of selling our medical equipment to an influential client. We were staying at Hotel A5, a decent hotel situated in the interiors of Indore. Rooms are nice and clean and staff is also very cordial. The room was booked by our company. Since, it was an official trip we did not had much time to explore Indore. However, before coming here I had heard lot about the place. The city has been continuously ranked No. 1 cleanest city since the past 4 years as per the Swachh Sarvekshan. The city is also best known for the 7 story Rajwada Palace, the Laal bagh, Jain temple Kanch Mandir and the night market Sarafa Bazaar. Our plan was to visit Sarafa Bazaar tonight for some delicious street food. Other places we had kept for the next day.

The hotel manager announced that our cab has arrived. We then left the Hotel to meet the client. My mind drifted back to the unusual dream I had in the morning. I was still trying to deduce its meaning. I usually ignore my dreams as I believe that whatever we go through or experience in our daily life stays in our subconscious mind and turn into dreams when we are asleep. But this time it was different. I had never witnessed any such thing before. If dreams do have meanings then I was not able to figure it out. “We had reached our destination.” Voice of Aman broke my reverie.

Next 6 hours were jam packed with meetings and presentations. Finally we were able to convince our client to buy our product. We were going to leave the office when Rakesh one of the friends of Aman stopped us. Rakesh was employed as Tech Manager in the company. He offered us a cup of coffee at a nearby restaurant to which we happily agreed. We were sitting in a restaurant waiting for our coffee when Rakesh asked us the places we have planned to visit. We told him our plan. He politely said, “If you don’t mind can I give a suggestion?”

Aman said, “Yes, why not.”

“I would suggest you both to visit Mahakaleshwar Temple. It is one of the Jyotirlings of Lord Shiva in Ujjain, just 60 kms away from here located at the banks of Shipra River where Kumbh mela takes place after every 12 years. Among the 12 Jyotirlings across India this one is the most divine as Lord Shiva himself resides in it. This ling has Lord Shiva energy stored in it.”

On hearing this Aman looked at me for my approval.

Rakesh further continued, “Don’t think too much. Once you reach there you will feel blessed. It is said that once you visit the Mahakal temple you will never be touched by sorrows even in your dreams. All your wishes will be granted.”

This made me think. Clippings from my dream reappeared. I felt that it might be possible that I get my answers upon visiting the temple. I gave my consent. Hence, we dropped all our previous plans. Our return flight was scheduled for next day 1720 hrs., we had only one day left.

Rakesh said, “The best time to visit Mahakal Temple is 4 AM so that you can attend the pooja and Bhasm Aarti, when ash is applied all over Mahakal. The Bhasm Aarti is the first ritual conducted every day at the temple to wake up Lord Shiva. Inclusion of bhasm, ash from funeral pyres, makes this aarti unique. Mahakaleshwar, the other name for Lord Shiva, means the god of Time or Death. This may be one of the reasons for the inclusion of the funeral ash. I assure you that this aarti is something that you shouldn’t miss. Moreover, it is said that aarti only starts when fresh ash is brought in.”

“Ash…!” I exclaimed with horror. The word again brought back my dream.

“Yes. What happened?” Both Aman and Rakesh asked me shockingly.

“Nothing.” I said.

Finally we worked out a plan. According to which it was decided that we will hire a bike to reach the temple. We will leave by 12 AM as it will take 2 hours to reach Ujjain. Rakesh informed us that it is better to reach by 2 AM as people start arriving early. Also, he said that there is ticket system to enter inner sanctum and if we want to avoid long queues we need to book the same online.

It is the sad reality of our country that almost all religious places have become commercialized. It is very rightly said that nothing is free, not even darshan. When God does not differ among his devotees on the basis of caste, sex, religion and status then who are we? A person can spend more does not mean that he has earned a right over God. Others who stand for hours in long queues just to get blessings from Lord does not even get a chance to see their Idol.

Anyhow, I suddenly remembered that once my elder brother-in-law was telling about one of his friends who had visited Mahakaleshwar in the past. I called him and asked to arrange two tickets for us. Within 10 minutes our tickets were booked.

Our rest of the evening passed in excitement. I was bit apprehensive on visiting Mahakaleshwar. I think my morning dream was the reason. However, as earlier planned we had our dinner at Sarafa Bazaar, here you will get one of the best mouthwatering street foods. Afterwards we returned back to our room to get ready for the nights journey. By 11.00 PM the Hotel Manager informed us that our rented bike has arrived and is parked in front of the reception area.

As planned we left the hotel at exactly 12.00 AM. It was midnight but still there were vehicles running on the road. Chilling breeze of January winters was flowing. The road was lit just by the sparkling moonlight. It was good that the road was smooth and in spite of minor traffic we could manage to reach Ujjain by 2 AM. On entering Ujjain it felt as if I have been here before. But in reality I haven’t. We enquired the way to Mahakaleshwar from localites. As per Rakesh’s words 2 AM was the apt time to reach the temple but in reality no time is apt for this place. At the entrance we saw rush of people. A person crossing me remarked, “People are standing since 12.00 AM.”

We were utterly amazed. This increased my eagerness. Now I wanted to go inside and see what is so unique about this place. While entering the temple complex we came to know that there is a dress code for attending the bhasm aarti. And these people who are standing from 12.00 AM were waiting to collect their dresses. Men have to wear a traditional dhoti and women must wear a sari. We both stood in queue waiting for our turn. Suddenly from somewhere two men came and offered their dresses to us. They had to leave the temple because of some urgent work. They did not demand any money but told us to deposit them on the counter when we return. Aman looked at me and without hesitating took them.

“Puneet this is a miracle. Lord shiva is with us. Otherwise we don’t know how much time we had to wait. Come let us change.” Aman said full of enthusiasm.

Without saying anything I just followed. He was right in way. It was indeed something unusual. Though I don’t believe in miracles but this incident forced me to believe in them.

After all the security checks and depositing our phones and cameras in the storage counter we entered the premises. There are four halls in different sizes and locations outside the temple’s inner sanctum from where the bhasm aarti can be observed. The halls are allocated as per availability at the time of booking. Closest to the temple’s inner sanctum is the Nandi Mandapam which fits only 100 people. The next best option is Ganpati Mandapam just beside Nandi Mandapam and with a clear uninterrupted view. It can fit 400 people. Next are the newly built Kartikey and Bhasmarti Mandapam (farthest of all). We seated ourselves in the Kartikey Mandapam. The bhasm aarti commences shortly after the jal abhishek ritual. Just before the commencement of the aarti I realized that we are sitting in the wrong hall. Our ticket was booked for the Nandi Mandapam but now there was no time to change our hall. Cursing our hard luck we sat there only. Then again an unusual thing happened and I found that from the place where I was sitting the Lingam was clearly visible. I was able to see the complete ritual without any obstacle. God was indeed with me.

At exact 4 AM the aarti started with shringaar of the lingam. This part of the aarti is most sublime and well worth of the scramble. The complete aarti lasts for approx. 45 mins to 1 hour. But the main Bhasm Aarti for which we had actually travelled so far, is for only one and half minute. Moreover, women are asked to cover their eyes as it is believed that during Bhasm application the Lord Shiva is in its true form that is formless and bodiless and women are not allowed to see the lord in this form. Again, a baseless myth showing discrimination among women of the society.

It is said that in earlier days actual human ash (Chitabhasm) was applied all over Mahakal. Chitabhasm was considered as unholy and inauspicious and just touching it by mistake can make you impure. But this very ash becomes holy upon touching the Mahakal, because Shiva is lust-less. He is not touched by material desires. That is why Shiva is auspicious. But some believe that now-a-days Vibhuti, the sacred ash used in most temples, sometimes made from powdered cow dung is applied on the lingam. The ash is not directly pored over but it is sprinkled with a help of a netted cloth.

           

After the Lord is adorned in the bhasm, the actual aarti begins. This is the time when the devotees may go inside the inner sanctum and offer their personal prayers. There was absolutely no chance for me to go inside. I came out of the hall and while I was doing parikrama of the sanctum I found a small temple just behind the Sanctum. There was another Shivling inside this old rugged temple. A pandit was sitting inside. Out of curiosity I stepped inside.

“Come inside son.” The pandit said with closed eyes as if reading my mind. He continued, “I can see that you have some unanswered questions that are disturbing you?”

His telepathy surprised me. I hesitatingly stepped inside and with a shivering voice said, “Namastey Panditji. Sorry I bothered you. I was just curious.”

“Son, you have come to the right place. To your surprise this is the actual lingam of Lord Shiva.”

“What?? And inside…..?”

“The lingam you saw inside is the replica. It is done to protect this real lingam from the daily shringaar and rituals. Anyhow I am able to see that there is something that is bothering you. Tell me what is it?”

It took me sometime to swallow his words. If the pandit was right, it was indeed some energy that has forced me to come here. I narrated him my whole dream scene to scene.

On hearing to my story he started laughing loudly. This was annoying me. A dream that had scared me to death was a matter of laugh for the pandit.

Pandit said, “The Lord when desires to meet his devotees he gives a sign and your dream is the sign from the Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is the trip planner for you this time. It is he who brought you here.”

I was not able to understand anything.

The pandit sensed it and continued, “The place you saw in your dream was the ancient Ujjain when it was known by the name of Avantika. The four saints were the Brahmans religiously devoted to Lord Shiva and the evil force was the demon Dushan. It is said that Dushan was against anyone who prays Lord Shiva. When he came to know about Avantika and the Brahmans he pledged to destroy them. Just when Dushan was going to attack the Brahmanas, the earth split open with a loud noise and huge crater formed. Lord Shiva appeared in the colossal form of Mahakal and burnt Dushan to ashes. People of Avantika requested Shiva to permanently reside here and the Lord granted their wish. This lingam in front of you is actual lingam where lord resides. Moreover, Mahakaleshwar is considered as the king of Ujjain & no top government official stays here during night as Mahakal is the only king that enjoys the night.”

Meanwhile Aman arrived and asked me to leave as we had a flight to catch. I completed my pooja, touched Panditji’s feet and left the temple.

Finally, all the pieces of the puzzle were at the right place. I realized that the reason I saw that dream was a sign from the God. He wanted me to come here. That day I got a kind of attachment with this place. It is difficult to express it in words. I personally felt the positive energy and vibration there. That day my eagerness on Shaivism increased & I felt more devotion towards Shiva.