The presiding deity of time, Shiva, in all his splendour reigns eternal in Ujjain. The temple of Mahakaleshwar, its shikhara soaring into the skies, evokes primordial awe and reverence with its majesty. The Mahakal dominates the life of the city and its people, even in the midst of the busy routine of modern preoccupation's, and provides an unbreakable link with past traditions.
According to Hindu scriptures, the universe is seen as consisting of three regions-the sky, the earth and the nether. Mahakal is Lord of the earth. Out of the 12 Jyotirlingas, only Mahakal is known as the Lord of the earth and Lord of the death. The meaning of Mahakal is taken as Lord of Time and also Lord of death. In astronomical calculations, Shanku Yantra is an important instrument. It is believed that at the centre of earth Ujjain at the place of that shanku yantra the Jyotirlinga Mahakala is established. From this place the astronomical calculations for the entire world was done.
Ved Vyas sang glory of Mahakala in Mahabharat and so did poets like Kalidas, Banbhatt and Bhoja. In 11th century, the temple was renovated during Parmar regime. In 1234, Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi attacked on Ujjain and demolished Mahakal temple. From the Shivapuran reference, it appears that the temple was built eight generations before Nanda, the guardian of Lord Krishna. Perhaps at that time the Jyotirlinga was established. The Shikhar of the temple has been high and the premises been large from ancient times. Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga is situated below ground level in the main temple. The idol of Mahakaleshwar is known to be dakshinamurti, facing the south.
The present temple of Mahakaleshwar located near a lake is set upon a spacious courtyard and surrounded by massive walls. It has five levels, one of which is underground. The Shikhar is sculptural finery. Brass lamps light the way to the underground sanctum. The present beautiful temple was constructed by Sukhtankar Ramchandra Baba Shenavi, a divan of Ranoji Shinde during Bajirao Peshwa regime in 18th century.
Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga is situated below ground level(Garbhagriha) in the main temple. The idol of Mahakaleshwar is known to be dakshinamurti, facing the south. This is a unique feature upheld by tantric traditions to be found only in Mahakaleshwar among the 12 Jyotirlingas. Due to these considerations, worship of Shri Mahakal with vedic mantras proves fruitful for the devotee. The idol of Omkareshwar Shiva is consecrated in the sanctum above the Mahakal shrine. The images of Ganesh, Parvati and Kartikeya are installed in the west, north and east of the sanctum. To the south is the image of Nandi. The idol of Nagchandreshwar on the third storey is open for darshan only on the day of Nagpanchmi.
To attend Bhasma Arti in Mahakaleshwar is desire for every Hindu devotee. Mahakal and Bhasma Arti are synonymous with each other. Bhasma means ash. Mahakaleshwar is the only Jyotirlinga temple,where the Bhasma Arti is performed. Amidst vedic chants and strotras and sounds of cymbals, conchs and damru, the Bhasma arti is performed every morning (Except the second day of Mahashivaratri).