A Liberating find

Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh


Since the plan of Khajuraho was underway along with preparations for a marriage of a close friend in Indore, I was just curiously checking out what else to do if I can plan out half a day between my itinerary. Sometimes Google god sure does know how to make things interesting for me.

Kalashtami is observed every month during Ashtami Tithi of Krishna Paksha (which is the 8th day during the waning phase of moon). The ‘Ashtami Tithi’ (8th day) after ‘Purnima’ (or the full moon) is considered to be most suitable day to worship Lord Kaal Bhairav. On this day, Hindu devotees worship Lord Bhairav and keep a fast to please Him. There are a total of 12 Kalashtami observances in a year. The most significant Kalashtami is known as Kaal Bhairav Jayanti and it falls in the Hindu month of Kartik or Margashirsha, which corresponds to the months of November or December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as Kaal Bhairav Ashtami, Bhairav Ashtami, or Bhairav Jayanti. The day is believed to be the birth anniversary of Lord Bhairav, the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with annihilation. Kalashtami is also considered holier when it falls on a Sunday or Tuesday, as these days are dedicated to Lord Bhairav.

The worship of Kal Bhairav is a part of Shaivite tradition, mainly by the Kapalika and Aghora sects. There are many temples in Varanasi dedicated to Lord Bhairav. However, it’s the one in Ujjain that intrigued me the most. For a brief moment I thought this must be a joke! This is India afterall. But as I stepped closer to the destination, the familiar smell of pubs and bars started tickling my nose, intermingled with the intermittent ringing of bells. And then, the most extraordinary sight happens – stalls after stalls lined up outside the temple, selling offerings that comprise of coconuts, flowers and bottles of liquor. And not just any cheap form of alcohol, but you have the option of premium brands as well.

The Kaal Bhairav temple in Ujjain has an interesting tradition – here the deity is offered alcohol as bhog or offering. Alcohol is offered to the deity as one of the five tantric ritual offerings called as ‘panchamakara’ – Madya (alcohol), Matsya (fish), Mudra (Gesture or Parched Grain), Maansa (Meat) and Maithuna (Sexual Intercourse). It is believed that in older times all the five offerings were offered to the lord. Today, however, only alcohol is offered and the other four are in the form of symbolic rituals. Kaal Bhairav is considered the guardian deity of Ujjain – almost like a Senapati (Commander-in-Chief or Chief General) of the town. That is why the keys of the Kaal Bhairav temple is to be kept at the temple premise at night and no one should carry it elsewhere

The morning ritual starts with a temple priest offering a big bottle of red wine or rum to the deity along with other puja material. The liquor is poured into a shallow cup or plate and put close to the mouth of the deity. The liquor slowly starts going down and the cup is taken away once the deity has taken up all of it. It is known that the deity ‘drinks up’ a quarter of the alcohol within a couple of minutes. The leftover liquor is then served to the devotees as prasad.

Kal Bhairav Temple in Ujjain said to have been built by King Bhadrasen on the banks of Shipra River. The striking feature of the Kal Bhairav Temple is its exquisite paintings in Malwa style, only traces of which are noticeable. Interestingly, the Pagdi (Crown) which the Lord is wearing is that of King of Shinde or Schindia of Gwalior.

It is believed that the liquor offered is only special to Lord Bhairava and shouldn’t be offered to any other Hindu God. That’s the reason why, the liquor for this temple is funded by the state government.

A solid tradition right? (Or is it liquid tradition..?!!) But what an interesting break before we continued on to our next stop!

Related (and not-so related) Posts:

Madhya Pradesh

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