Mahakala – The Force of Dissolution
The great Simhastha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain that is going to start in two days is inseparably linked to the Mahakaleshwara temple. As the story goes, the temple was built by King Chandrasena, who was a great devotee of Shiva. Under Chandrasena’s reign, Ujjain, or Avantika, as it was called at that time, grew into a hub of knowledge, devotion, and spirituality. It was almost like a second Kashi. As always, there were people who did not like that. They launched an attack with the intention to destroy the city and its culture.
The usual activities of a king were the administration of the kingdom, and the defense and expansion of its boundaries. Chandrasena, however, used all the revenue of his land to spread knowledge and transmit the spiritual process. Naturally, he did not have a great army. He knew that trying to defeat the aggressors in battle would be foredoomed to failure. Instead, he prayed to Shiva, who appeared in the form of Mahakala and absorbed the enemies, thus relieving Chandrasena of this trouble, so that he could continue his work.
Mahakala is a dimension of Shiva, or that which is not. The word Kala means Time, Darkness, or Emptiness. Here is why the three are described in one word. Right now, your understanding and experience of Time is limited to how it manifests on the physical plane, which is cyclical. From a single atom to the large cosmos, everything is in cyclical movements.
When the Earth makes one rotation, we call it a day. When the Moon goes around the planet, we call it a month. When the Earth goes around the Sun, we call it a year. Similarly, sleep, wakefulness, eating, digestion, and everything else in existence happens in cycles. If there were no cycles, there would be no physicality, and you would not be able to experience Time. That is one aspect of Time – Time manifesting through physical existence.
This physical existence is happening in the lap of a larger nonexistence, which you could call Space in English. Here, we call this dimension Kala – Darkness. We describe Space as Darkness because empty Space is dark. To experience light, you either have to see the source of light or an object that reflects light. The Sun for example is the source of light – the Moon is reflecting the light. In between, there is Darkness. Light is passing through this Darkness – otherwise, it could not fall on the Moon – but we cannot see it. What you cannot see is Darkness to you. That is why Space is referred to as Kala or Darkness.
We use the same word to describe Darkness, Time, and Space because they are one. The experience of Space, of two points and a distance between them, is possible only because there is Time. It is not because there is a distance, there is Time. Because there is Time, there is a possibility of distance and Space. If there was no Time, there could only be one point, which cannot happen in physical existence. Things can exist only as polarities. If there was no Time, there would be no Space, no two different things. Nothing could exist.
Physicality exists only because of cyclical movements. The entire spiritual aspiration is to attain mukti or ultimate liberation. That means you want to transcend the physical, or in other words, you want to transcend the cyclical nature of existence and the repetitive process of life. That, in turn, means transcending compulsiveness. This is a journey from compulsiveness to consciousness.
Once you move from compulsiveness to consciousness, you shift from the limited experience of Time as cyclical movement of physical existence to the experience of Time beyond the limitations of physicality. In other words, you experience Time as Mahakala. Mahakala is the lap in which creation happens. Even huge galaxies are only small specks in the vastness of the empty Space. This emptiness is Mahakala.
In this vast cosmos, over ninety-nine percent is emptiness. As long as you are involved with limited specks of creation, you experience Time as cyclical movement, which we refer to as samsara. If you transcend samsara, you are vairagya, which means you have become transparent, free from the compulsive nature and the cyclical movement of life. This freedom from the cyclical movement of life is mukti or absolute liberation.
For those who are seeking absolute liberation, the dimension that we refer to as Mahakala is of paramount importance. The linga at the Mahakaleshwara temple in Ujjain is phenomenal. It shakes you from the root of your existence. Its sole purpose is to dissolve you in some way. There is a dimension of Mahakala in the Dhyanalinga, but it is veiled, available only for those who seek. The Mahakaleshwara linga has a raw forcefulness to it. One must be properly prepared to go to this temple, because it is of tremendous power.
The daily offerings that need to be made to Mahakala are fresh ashes from the cremation grounds. That is what he likes, and that is what keeps him going. Unfortunately, because some activists protested, it seems they are using cow dung or bullshit now. We have to see how to bring the tradition back, because this is not just a cultural thing – there is a science to it. Experientially, there is an immense difference between ashes from the cremation grounds and other kinds of ashes.
It is very important that this process is continued because the nature of the Mahakala rupa (energy form) is such that in its presence, everything dissolves; in a way, everything is burnt to ashes. You become free from the physical. It propels you to your ultimate liberation. If you want to do it gently, there is the Dhyanalinga. If you want to be pushed hard, there is Mahakala. Isha is organizing a special train that will take a few thousand people from Tamil Nadu to Ujjain for the Simhastha Kumbh Mela. May they make use of this possibility to dissolve a part of themselves in the presence of Mahakaleshwara.