Historical Significance of Ujjain

Ujjain features significantly in the historical manuscripts of India.

According to the International Dictionary of Historic Places : Asia and Oceania, the historic period in this region began around 600 BCE when a large part of the Indian subcontinent was divided into 16 Mahajanapadas (principalities).

 

 

Ujjain figures in historical and literary records as the capital of Avanti in Western Malwa.

 

 

 

The Skanda Purana describes the glory of Ujjain in great detail. According to the Avanti Khanda of the Skanda Purana, Avantipura, the capital of Avanti, came to be called Ujjayini. This text also mintions Ujjayini`s previous names in different ages – Kumudavati, Kushasthali, Avantika, Amaravati, Chudamani and Padmavati.

India`s prime meridian passes through Ujjain. it is from here that traditional scholars still calculate the ephemeris, or the tables of the astrological almanac that control the fate of Hindus.

The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273-236 BCE) had served as the governor of Ujjain for several years before he was crowned king. He married Devi, a Buddhist noble-woman from Vidisha and is said to have facilitated the construction of the great Stupa at Sanchi.

Hiuen Tsang, visiting India in the 6th century CE, records that Ujjain, which is reffered to as Wu-She-Yen-Na, also had a number of Buddhist monasteries. SR Bakshi and OP Ralhan identify Vaishya Tekri, “popularly believed to indicate the palace of the Vaishya queen, Devi”, as Ujjain`s most significant Buddhist site where a Stupa has been excavated.

Located in Undasa, 6 km from Ujjain, this mound is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. Ujjain`s connection with Buddhism is also noted by the Imperial Gazetteer, which states that this was the birthplace of Kachana, or Mahakachchayana, one of the Buddha`s greatest disciples.

Following the Mauryas, Ujjain was ruled by various dynasties including Sakas, Sungas and Satavahanas. The city is also known to be the seat of the ruler Vikramaditya, whose identity is a matter of debate among historians. He is identified as the ruler who successfully drove out the Sakas from the region in 57 BCE, and to celebrate the victory, launched a new calendar, Vikram Samvat. Other sources claim that Vikramaditya was the son of king Mahendraditya of the Paramara dynasty; still others believe that he was the ancestor of the Tomars that ruled over Delhi between the 10th and 11th centuries CE.

However, the most commonly held view identifies Vikramaditya as being the Gupta king. Chandragupta II (380-415 CE), who made Ujjain a crucial cultural and administrative centre thereby heralding the golden period of the city. It passed into literary immortality during his reign when his court poet, Kalidasa, celebrated the city in his epic poem, Maghadoota, calling it “the town that fell from heaven”.

Vikramaditya`s name is associated with many events and monuments in Ujjain whose historical details are shrouded in mystery. Two famous Sanskrit texts – Vetala Panchvimshati and Simhasana Dwatrimshika – deal with various tales of Vikramaditya`s valour and sagacity. Both are found in varying versions in Sanskrit and other Indian languages.

With the growth of India`s maritime trade in the beginning of the Christian era through the port of Barygaza (Bharuch), Ujjain gained unprecedented importance. The city lay at a junction of at least three main trade routes. Periplus of the Erythean Sea, an account by a Greek traveler who voyaged to India in the second half of the 1st century CE, mentions a city called “Ozene, to the east of Barygaza” , which has been identified as Ujjain. periplus records that from Ozene “all things needed for the welfare of the country” were brought down to Barygaza.

From the 7th-to the 11th century, Ujjain was ruled by the Rajputs and the Paramaras, who adorned the town with several beautiful temples. In 1235, Malwa was attacked by Iltutmish, the Sultan of Delhi, who plundered the town and destroyed many temples, including the iconic Mahakaleshwar Temple. It is said that he took the original linga with him to Delhi. Ujjain remained under the Sultans of Malwa until Baz Bahadur (r. 1555-1562) was defeated by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) in 1562.

Aurangzeb (1618-1707) is said to have given huge grants to fund the restoration of the temples in Ujjain. it was also under Mughal rule that Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (1688-1743) was made the governor of Malwa.

 

A great scholar of astronomy, Sawai Jai Singh had the observatory at Ujjain reconstructed and several temples built. Thereafter, Ujjain and Malwa went through another period of turmoil when the Marathas over-ran the region in the 17th century. With the establishment of Maratha hegemony, temples were constructed, more significantly the Harsiddhi Temple and the Gopal Temple. In 1750, the Scindias took over the town. Until 1810, when Daulat Rao Scindia (1794-1827) moved his capital to Gwalior, Ujjain served as the seat of power of the Scindias.

 

Even though the commercial importance of Ujjain lessened with this shift, it benefited from the Colonial trade in cotton, grains and opium. After India`s independence in 1947, Ujjain became a part of Madhya Bharat in 1948, and when the state of Madhya Pradesh was formed, Ujjain was included in it.