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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 13 February 2011

February 13th: Ujjain

On February 13th 1982 I was in Ujjain, one of the holy cities of India.

After Mandu I wanted to take in a couple of other places in the vicinity which I might not get another chance to see:  Ujjain and Sanchi.  Ujjain is one of the cities where the Kumbh Mela is held every twelve years; Sanchi is one of the oldest Buddhist archaeological sites in India.

After the bus journey to Ujjain, we checked into the Grand Hotel which was a wonderful faded glory affair, with a big room with all sorts of furniture.  A large glossy wedding was in progress outside and there was a soft drinks conference in the restaurant.

Ghats at Ujjain:  My picture
After a rest, we took an autorickshaw to the ghats.  They were picturesque but not a lot was going on, a few sadhus and other bathers, lingams built on the quay, shrines and palaces behind the cliff and an enormous ghat across on the other side maybe where the Kumbh Mela is held.  In the streets behind were temples and some lovely large dharmasalas.  We walked back along the main road or bazaar to the town centre, which had many old buildings, strange gateways, little shops.  We were invited into a small Vishnu temple, sat for chai in the middle and walked down a side street by a bazaar mosque,  a very Muslim area.  Then we found a large square full of gypsy women, and the Gopal Mandir, the Krishna temple with silver around the black image and silver doors and colourful paintings on plaster.  This temple effectively formed the centre of the city.  It was a fine city area, one of the best, with a good feeling, quite untouristic; it was strange to be invited into the temples. 

Outside the Mahakal Temple:  My picture
The next morning we went straight to the Mahakal temple which is off to one side between the river and the bazaar.  A young Brahmin took us down to the Mahakal lingam itself, the Jyotirlingam.  It was the first time I'd seen a really holy image, and I felt privileged and impressed, though I have no recollection of the place where it was, a lingam, a serpent and a few Brahmins.  The rest of the temple was functional and modern, a Shankar image above the Mahakal, a baba studying a book under a tree, an infant class getting instruction in a corner.  To one side was a group of shrines and a mad woman screaming eternally while she scrubbed a stainless steel bowl.

Ujjain is rare among Hindu cities in that non-Hindus are able to visit the holy places and get some idea of what darshan is about when believers "see" the object of their veneration.  William Dalrymple gives some great examples in his book Nine Lives.
Sculpture at Sanchi:  My picture

And so on to Sanchi.  The monuments were more impressive than I had expected, but they do not stand out in my memory.  The great stupa was on top of the hill, but more important were the gateways, with their unusual shape and their fantastic sculpture.  All this was from the 2nd century BC, or the best part of 900 years before Borobudur, which I found amazing, given what seemed to me to be a relation of styles.  There were realistic as well as more symbolic carvings and all in unbelievably good condition.  The stupa also had a strange wall or fence of stone.  Of the other buildings the Gupta temple which may or may not be the oldest structural temple in India (4th century) was extremely small and simple.  There was an attractive later temple on the Vidisha side with a fine Buddha image on one side and a fallen Ashoka pillar.  I enjoyed the views towards a village on the far side which stood on a small hill, and towards Vidisha with a rock in its midst.  

Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of the temple at Sanchi.

Sadhu at Ujjain:  My picture

Buildings at Ujjain:  My picture

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