Not many people may be aware but back in 2017, Sarika, wife of Jairaj Choubey (Guru) and daughter of Om Prakash Pandey had filed a writ petition to cease linga abhisheka at Mahakaleshwar, Ujjain. Her husband Jairaj is a priest at one of the most famous jyotirlingas of the Hindus. This jyotirlinga has been mentioned in Anushashana Parva of the Mahabharata and various other texts such as Linga Purana, Shiva Mahapurana and the Panchabrahmopanishad. This linga is where the Naga sadhus, specifically that of the Pashupata sect, have been doing the bhasma shringara for at least 1,500 years as per available records. This is the place where occult and cosmic forces freely interact with the mortal plane.
This jyotirlinga is valuable from the historical point of view as well. This place is described in Kalidasa’s epics Raghuvansha and Meghadūta. Banabhatta, who was a poet in the court of Harshavardhana, has described this linga and Pashupati in his poems Harshacharitra and Kadambari.
The oldest record available for puja at the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga dates back 5,000 years. Raja Vikramaditya had constructed the temple. Ujjain used to be known as Kannauj in those ancient times. Following the reign of Siyaka (aka Harsha) in 875 CE, Raja Bhoja took over the kingdom. In the Bhoja dynasty, Raja Narendra Bhoja renovated the temple. Everything was fine until the lineage continued to Devapala in 1216 CE.
In 1206 CE, Shamsuddin Illtutmish, the third Mamluk king, ascended the throne in Delhi. He attacked the Mahakala temple in Ujjain in 1234-1234 CE during the reign of Devapala in Ujjain and simultaneously the Chalukyas in Gujarat. Illtutmish broke the linga and threw it away as per local legends. He died due to an unknown illness a year later.
When the Hindus took over the area of Ujjain, Jalaluddin Khilji attacked the temple in 1291 and 1293 CE. The present structure of the Mahakaleshwar temple was initiated by Ranoji Shinde who was appointed by Peshwa Bajirao 1. Ranoji Shinde, now known as Ranoji Scindia, had started as the lowest ranking servant who fetched shoes for Bajirao. But in a matter of a few years, he proved his bravery and loyalty to Bajirao and became a trustworthy commander. He later became the Maharaja of Gwalior, thanks to his valour and courage.
Maharaja Ranoji had a diwan named Sukhatanakar Ramachandra Baba Shenavi who was very wealthy. He believed in dharmic activities. He agreed to invest in the construction of the temple too. Later on, Mahadji Shinde, Baiza Bai and Jayajirao Shinde controlled the administration and maintenance of the temple during British rule under the legal entity Devsthan Trust. It should be noted that Baiza Bai was a banker in times of the East Indian Company although she held a royal position.
The petitioner, in the good faith of preserving the linga from erosion under Article 25, Article 26 read with Article 49, pleaded for the fundamental duty to protect and preserve the heritage of Indian culture under Article 51A of the constitution. On 15 November 2006, UNI, under the title “Mahakal Jyotirlinga eroding”, had raised concerns about the damage to the linga by more than 25,000 l of chlorinated waters every day and 16 “Brahmin families” and 80 “pandits” taking turns for the shringara of Mahakaleshwar. The article mentioned that Ram S Shrivastava, who studied the linga closely since 1953, had stated that it was a matter of tremendous concern. As per the report, the linga has faced tremendous geological scaling and had had a high chance of splitting in future. The petition cited examples of various Shiva lingas that had been prevented from being touched now — for example, the linga in Muktinath temple at Mustang, Nepal.
The court referred to a report by Professor PK Verma of Applied Geology at the Department of Geology, Vikram University, Ujjain, that said, “… the corrosion of Shivling is mainly due to touching of Shivling with a variety of impure puja material including adulterated milk, curd, sugar, sugarcane juice, flowers etc during Abhishek or other special pooja which are performed regularly, since time immemorial.”
The court noticed that “as per the observation of Professor Verma, the process of chemical reaction is supposed to be of very low intensity, practically negligible. The other constituents (other than silica) of the rock, however, are vulnerable to such impure/adulterated pooja ma¬terials. He had suggested that these chemical reaction & corrosion can be reduced by avoiding usage of the impure or chemically adulterated pooja materials over Shivlinga.” The Supreme Court, based on this, formed a bench consisting of seven members.
The committee in due time suggested the following:
- Use of high-quality milk that is available directly through the temple gaushala. Prohibition of any other sources of milk
- Replacement of sugar crystals with powdered sugar to reduce abrasion through panchamrita.
- The honey used for the panchamrita should be made from local and natural sources such as the Gramodyog
- The temple may allot a specific shop where the ingredients of pure quality are available
- The jalābhisheka to be done using the jalapātra and it is to be cleaned daily with hot water to avoid acid build up in the utensil
- The linga may be offered a huge garland so that any liquid does not directly fall on the jyotirlinga.
The experts of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) submitted their detailed report to the court. It interestingly observes something interesting after their detailed scientific study of all the materials used for Mahakāl sevā.
“The team has witnessed that litres of water / Ganga Jal is offered by the devotees daily. A good quantity of milk, curd, a small quantity of honey, ghee and other materials are Katra during the bhasm ārti, including a lot of flowers and belpatra (leaf of the Aegle marmelos). However, during the abhishekas of Jyotirlinga, water or Ganga Jal is supposed to wash away the milk products and carbohydrates, but at many places, especially at the bottom of the lingam, we have observed (a) thick accumulation of sticky, slimy fermented by-products of milk including carbohydrates. This accumulation is expected to invite bacterial action if not, washed away regularly. The bacterial action on the stone is, however, a slow process but expected to cause damage to the substrate if not controlled in time. The bacterial action on the flowers and other offering materials may invite fungal growth which in combination with the bacterial action may be more harmful to the substrate. Bhang is offered to the Jyotirlinga during the Bhasm Aarti but the bhang paste generally contains alkaloids and phenolic compounds which are not expected to cause damage to the stone. The presence of alkaloids and phenolic compounds rather help to control biodegradation as these compounds show antibacterial and antifungal properties. The offering of Bhasm and other powder offering materials are expected to have certain chemical compounds, the rubbing of which on the linga may cause damage to the top layer of the stone. The offering of fruit juices is expected to be injurious to the stone because of their low PH value and acidic characters.”
Through various XRF, spectrometry and other technical instruments, it was determined that the Shiva linga at Mahakaleshwar Ujjain was of orthoquartzite that had a high content of silica. This, when reacting with the low ph of the bhasma, the water from Kotiteerth and fruit juices in time caused an acidic reaction. The bhasma used in bhasmārti has a pH range of 9.07 to 10.20 and the water used for the abhisheka has pH from 8.4 to 8.7 — both of which are highly alkaline. Therefore, water of pH 6.8 to 7.2 was suggested. The report suggested that chemical weathering in due time had affected the chemical reactions slowly yet steadily. It advised a reduction in the moisture in the garbhagriha and use of wooden buckets and items, provisions for proper pradakshina, installation of an airconditioner for a stable and cool temperature and proper air circulation.
The Supreme Court asked the temple committee to do whatever was possible to preserve the quality of the linga for generations to come. The report does mention that although there had been some damage, it is not a matter of critical concern if steps were taken in time. The apex court ruled that the temple committee would decide what rituals should be performed and also the quantity of any item to be used so that there is no discrepancy in any ritual.
Hindu society has been strong because of such proactive measures. Here, neither the devotees nor the petitioner was on the wrong ground. Culture is preserved only when the symbols and original items that mark its identity are preserved. From a different perspective, it can be said that Mahakaleshwar arranged for His own comfort through His followers.