The city of Ujjain is more than 5000 years old. Ujjain is mentioned in Buddhist literature as one of the four great powerful cities along with Vatsa, Kosala and Magadha with its capital as Avanti. It's religious importance extends to being one of the the fifty one Shaktipeethas ( places of worship devoted to goddess Shakti). It rests in the banks of the holy river Shipra. Ujjain is known by many names like Ujjaini, Avanti, Pratikalpa, Vishala, Kumudhati, Kushsthali, Chudamani, Kanak Srange, Padmavati. The religious text, Skanda Purana records the existence of 84 Mahadevas, 64 Yoginis, eight Bhairavas and six Vinayak temples in Ujjain. Ujjain is flanked by the shipra river to one side. The river has many Ghats for people of different sects to worship, from religious sects to the mystics.
It also mentions the Kaal Bhairav temple in its Avanti Skanda chapter. The followers of Kapalika and Aghora sects used to worship Lord Shiva here. People offer liquor as part of the worship. The Kalbhairava Temple is believed to be associated with the cult of Tantra, an unorthodox secret cult with strong black magic overtones. Ujjain and Bherugarh are also darkly known for these practitioners of occult and the dubious cremation grounds, peppered with the tales of king Vikramaditya and vampire spirit Betaal.
Ujjain lies in the Malwa plateau in central India at an average elevation of 500 mts. The river Shipra borders a side of the city. The landscape slopes towards the north and is covered with black stony soil. The main crops grown here are Soybean, wheat, jowar and bajra and the vegetation is sparse with thorny trees like Babul and Acacia. The region is one of the prominent centres of Opium production in the world. Behrugarh is situated about 6 kms north of Ujjain,across the bend of river Shipra. It is embraced by another looping bend of the river. The landscape grows more spacious and agricultural between the city limits of Ujjain and the beginnings of Behrugarh. Once the river is crossed and Behrugarh is entered, a huge wall of the Behrugarh jail looks down upon the entrant.
Ujjain experiences a harsh summers peaking upto a temperature of 45Â°C. The hot Loo winds worsens the heat and adds to the discomfort. The daytime temperatures in the winter months typically fall to 20Â°C, though it may drop to sub zero in the night. The monsoons bring relief during late June till September. October is generally warm with high amounts of humidity left by the rains during the former months.
Ujjain is a major agricultural and textile trade centre. Being the district headquarters, it is well endowed with the basic infrastructure. It is well connected by rail directly to major Indian cities through the Western Railways. The strong road network is connected to Indore through SH-27 and SH-18. It has no national highway connectivity.
Ujjain receives electricity from the Gandhi Sagar Dam on Chambal River. The flourishing industries here are cotton ginning and milling, oilseed milling, hand weaving and the manufacture of metal ware, tiles, hosiery, confectionery, strawboard and batteries.The Ujjaini suburb of Behrugarh is well known for its chippas or dyers and printers.
Ujjain brims with great examples of ancient temple architecture. The dominant Maratha rule in the beginning of the 17th century is what gave birth to a culture of temple architecture. The Jyotirling Mahakaleshwar and Har Siddhi temples were re-constructed during this period. Another temple, Gopal Mandir, now situated in the main market was also constructed during that period.
This period saw the blend of two different styles - Maratha and Malwa. The examples of Maratha style are found in the temples of Ram Janardan, Kal Bhairava, Kalpeshwar and Tilakeshwar, while the traditional Malwa style can be seen in the Sandipani Ashram and in many large houses of the local seths/affluent men. In the Maratha period, the art of woodwork also developed as a skillful craft. They adorned the galleries and balconies of this period.
The culture of this Malwa region is a significant mix of surrounding influences. Gujarati and Rajasthani culture is present due to their geographic proximity, whereas the Marathi influence is the effect of the rule of the Marathas. Marwadi and Malvi is spoken which belongs to the Rajasthani group of languages.
The food in the region too has the flavours of both Gujarati and Rajasthani cuisine. The people follow a vegetarian diet with very few exceptions. Owing to the dry climate, the cuisine mostly contains storable dry foods. The bhutta ri kees (made with grated corn roasted in ghee and later cooked in milk with spices) constitutes a typical snack of Malwa. People make chakki ri shaak from a wheat dough by washing it under running water, steaming it and then used it in a gravy of curd. The traditional bread of Malwa, called baati/bafla, essentially a small, round ball of wheat flour, roasts over dung cakes in the traditional way.
The art and literature culture is very strong in this region. Malwa was the centre of Sanskrit literature around the Gupta period. The celebrated playwright Kalidasa, hails from this region.
There are many indigenous festivals celebrated. The Gana-gour festival honours Shiva and Parvati. Parvati, also called Rano Bai, in this region was believed to be married off to Rajasthan but had a strong attachment to Malwa. She was allowed to visit Malwa once a year. Gana-gour celebrates these annual visits.
Ghadlya is another festival celebrated by the girls of this region. They gather in the evenings to visit every house in the village, carrying earthen pots. These pots contain lit oil lamps and have holes for the light to shine through. They recite poetry and songs in front of the houses, and are gifted with food or money in return.
The Govardhan festival is celebrated on the 16th day of the Kartika (October/November) month. The Bhil tribes of the region celebrate by singing Heeda (songs to the cattle) and the Chandrawali (songs about Krishna's romance) are sung by the women of the tribe.
Traditionally, the Banjara marriages are frequently held in the rains, a season forbidden to other Hindus, but naturally the most convenient to them because in the dry weather they are usually travelling. For the marriage ceremony they pitch tents in lieu of the marriage hall.The Banjara weddings have unique features. On the wedding day, the bride and the groom exchange seven round balls made of rice, ghee and sugar. After this, the couple holds hands and together do seven rounds of pounding grain with the large pestles.
In the Banjara culture, death is not taken harshly but revered without mourning. It is accepted as an important part of the life cycle and a mode for the people to attain salvation. Untimely and unnatural deaths are however feared since the people who die this way turn into poltergeists and harmful spirits.
The region is populated by numerous tribes, including the Bhils, Bhilalas, Barelas, Patelias and Meenas. They differ remarkably from the regional population and have distinct tribal characteristics preserved over years. Some tribes of the region, mainly Kanjars, were notified by the government for their criminal activities. This was soon mended.
Kalbelias are another tribe which often visits the Malwa region. The Gadia Lohars, a tribe of blacksmiths, visit the region at the start of agricultural season to repair and fix farming tools and implements. They travel in their ornate metal carts.
A significant number of Dawoodi Bohras, a sub sect of Shia Muslims, also reside in this region. They are mostly professional businessmen and traders originally hailing from Gujarat. The main occupations of the Banjaras are agriculture, crafts and cattle rearing. Their nomadic characteristic has lent them great adaptability and versatility. The cultures are blended with the place they are stationed in.
The clothing is typical of the Marwar region with the men wearing short dhotis(2), kurtas and starkly bright large turbans (5). Traditionally, the women wear the ghagra and choli (skirt and blouse) which have colourful embroideries and mirror-works on them. Some also have tattoos on them and are decked in chunky jewellery.
Presently, very few Banjaras who are situated in the more rural regions are spotted in this attire. The women now wear bright sarees and blouses. A few heavy pieces of rugged silver jewellery they adorn are specks of the traditional attire. The men wear Kurtas with their Dhotis and the younger generations are seen in the contemporary shirts and trousers. The Gamcha or towel thrown around the shoulders, are a common feature.
~ Ujjain is famous for its Mahakaleshwar temple. The deity is Mahakala, the lord of time and death. It is believed to be one of the 12 Jyothirlingas in India. Jyorthirlingas are shrines where Lord Shiva's lingam or phallus is worshipped in the form of a 'Lingam of light'. This is believed to be Swayambhu or born of itself deriving currents of power (shakti) from within itself as against the other images and lingams which are ritually established and invested with mantra-shakti. The idol of Mahakaleshwar is known to be dakshinamurti, facing the south. This temple is a very significant part of the Tantric tradition.
~ Maha Kumbh, the largest religious congregation on earth, takes place in this region. In the holy scripture, Bhagavatha purana, it is said that when the demons gain power over the world and the demigods grow weak, Lord Brahma and Shiva advice them to pray to the Sustainer Lord Vishnu. This event is celebrated as the Maha Kumbh. The mela's venue is determined by the position of Brihaspathi (Jupiter) and the sun. When the sun is position in Scorpio (Vrishchik Rashi) the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain.
~ Ujjain is also well known for the swayambhu Chintamani Ganesh temple.Riddhi & Siddhi, the two goddesses are enshrined on both sides of the icon of Ganesh. The deity is known to be prayed to for relieving worldly anxieties. There is a water tank present here called the Ban-Ganga. It is believed to have sprung out when Lakshman shot an arrow into the earth to get water out when Lord Ram was thirsty.
~ The Siddhavat Mandir is a well known place of pilgrimage in Ujjain. The tradition here is such that all the trees are considered immortal and worshipped as the Kalpavriksha, a divine tree which fulfills wishes.
~ The Mangalnath Mandir is the birthplace of Mangal graha or the planet mars, according to the Matsya puran ( Hindu scripture). Devotees flock to the temples on Tuesdays (Mangalvar).Ujjain was an important centre for astronomical study in ancient times, and this temple which is located on a hillock is said have provided a clear view of Mars.
~ Sandipani Ashram in Ujjain is believed to be where Lord Krishna and Sudama studied under the tutelage of Guru Sandipani. This fact from the Mahabharata proves that apart from being a centre of great political and religious importance, Ujjain was also a great seat of learning.
~ Kaliyadah Palace, the ruins of a once majestic sun temple exist in Ujjain. Its magnificence is described in the Skanda Purana. People from nearby villages hold religious baths in one of the tanks known as the Surya Kunda. The main structure of the temple is, however, is in ruins and is eroded over time by the river.
~ Gopal Mandir is another religious destination. It is a huge temple constructed by Bayajibai Shinde, the queen of Maharajah Daulat Rao Shinde in the 19th century. This beautiful example of Maratha architecture is situated in the middle of a spacious market square.
~ The holy river Shipra is bordered by several Ghats(a platform with a series of steps leading into the water). There are separate Ghats devoted to each community, where they come and carry out their rituals and prayers.
~ Ujjain also boasts of the Bharthari caves, an ancient site claiming to contain tunnels which lead directly to the Char dham (four seats of pilgrimage revered by the Hindus -Badrinath, Dwarka, Jagannath Puri, and Rameshwaram). The channels were later shut down by the Britishers when they colonized India.
Vedha Shala or the observatory was built in the 1720s by the Rajput king Raja Jai Singh who was a great patron of astrono.