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Travel in Ujjain through the Mahakal & Kumbh Mela

Ujjain, otherwise known as Avantika Puri, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is one of the four holy sites of Kumbh Mela which place here every 12 years and draws on this occasion millions of faithful to the ritual bath to the numerous ghats of Shipra River and is also popular for the Shiva temple containing one of the 12 lingams. Mahakaleshwar is located next to Rudra Sagar Lake.

Located along an ancient road traveled by merchants and caravans, Ujjain has an illustrious history whose origins are lost in the mists of time. The first historical references are to be referred to the times in the VII century, Ujjain was capital of the mythical kingdom of Avanti, being known by the Greeks and Latins with the name of Ozene, as it appears in the cartography realized by Ptolemy. For this reason the city was also known by the nickname of Avantika.

In the second century the city hosted the fifth Persian satrapy, passing then briefly to integrate part of the empire of Alexander the Great and the Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms, which was succeeded by the Kushan Empire. Ujjain enjoyed a period of great flourishing at the time of the domination of Magadha, especially under the rule of Bindusara, father of Emperor Ashoka.

In the third century, it was the capital of Mauryan Empire of Emperor Ashoka. It is believed that it was the official residence of the same Ashoka until it fell to him the command of the western regions of the kingdom. After the fall of the Mauryan Empire the city happened to be dominated by the sakas or Scythians.

Towards 400, King Chandragupta II, also called Vikramaditya annexed it to the gupta Empire, who made it the most fervent cultural center of his power at the expense of the actual capital, Pataliputra. During the VI and VII century Ujjain was an important center for the development of astronomical mathematical sciences. With the decline of the Gupta dynasty and the rise of Paramara, Ujjain was the center of major unrest triggered by the control of the Malwa region and so it ended up becoming part of the possessions of King Mandu.

From the 8th century, Ujjain was a center for Sanskrit studies until in 1235, it was conquered by the Mogul Empire, who destroyed most of the Hindu temples.

In 1305, it became part of the Sultanate of Delhi, under the command of Emperor Iltutmish. After the Moghul disintegration the Maharaja Jai Singh, whose fame was linked to the city of Jaipur, became governor of Malwa. Under his administration they were built the observatory and several temples, but a few years later followed the fate of almost all of India when occupied by the British Empire.

Although Ujjain continues to emphasize its religious character, since it is one of the seven holy cities of Hinduism and annually in this city is held the sacred festival called Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela in India is the most important of the many festivals in the crowded pantheon of local deities, rolling in four different locations in the country, making it the most crowded religious festival on the planet, and also the largest human gathering.

The essence of Kumbh Mela is the significant belief that the sacred ablutions are able to remove not only the sins committed in one's life, but also those made by the 88 previous generations, thus ending once and for all the damned cycle of rebirth and perpetual reincarnations and is therefore the paradise of not only ascetics and gurus, holy men and mystics, but also believers from every corner of the country, to come to the appointment by any means possible, including walking.

The ceremony that took place in 2001 at Allahabad, was attended by no less than 60 million people and that of 2013 between 80 and 100 million, thanks to a favorable astral alignment realizable only every 144 years. Every Kumbh Mela is clearly not limited to purifying baths, but also represents an opportunity for mystical and monastic orders, with moments of prayer, ceremonies, processions, of theological discussions but also performances by sadhus, yogi and babas, each with their own distinctive clothing and an incredible kaleidoscope of colors.

During the carnival, there are the processions of the different sects, armed with swords and tridents and guided by leaders and by the divine effigies flowing of caparisoned elephants and chariots, competing to dive first in the sacred waters. Fortunately the astral interpretation of the most auspicious time for ablutions varies from sect to sect.

This impressive ceremony is rooted in time and is celebrated for over a millennium. But the most ancient Sanskrit scriptures tell of a primordial conflict between gods and demons for the possession of a vessel or kumbh containing the nectar of immortality, that guarantee, if not immortality of the body, at least that of the soul.

The last Kumbh Mela in Ujjain take place in May 2016. The next Kumbh at Ujjain will take place in the year 2028.


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