Lord Shiva is one of the most revered gods of Hindus. Lord Shiva, along with Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu form the ‘tridev’, that is supposed to run this entire universe. While Brahma is believed to be the creator and Vishnu, the preserver, Shiva is believed to be the destroyer of the evil in the universe.
The Many Forms of Shiva
The devotees of Shiva worship Him in his various forms. In some forms, Shiva is the “Rudra’, which is a very fiery form, and in some form is the “Bhole’ seen sitting with his family in a calm state of mind. When Shiva is in dancing form, he is the Nataraja, but when he gets angry, this dance form changes and he starts performing ‘Tandav’. When the people on earth need his help, he becomes ‘Gangadhar’ (the one who wears the River Ganga is his matted locks) and ‘Neelkanth’ (the one with a blue throat). Shiva is also the Ardhnarishwara, who is a symbol of unity of men and women.
Looking at his various forms, people believe that pleasing Shiva is both very easy and difficult at the same time. He is known to test the patience, determination, and devotion of his followers.
Read More: Lord Shiv’s Avatars
Lord Shiva as Mahakaal
Among his many names and forms, there is one more form of Lord Shiva, and that is called the Mahakaal roop of Shiva. Shiva was present before the universe was created and will still be there even after the universe is destroyed. There is nothing which was there before him, and there is nothing beyond him, no element, no dimensions, not even time (Kaal). He is believed to be beyond death (Kaal). And this is why Shiva is also known as Mahakaal.
Meaning of Mahakaal
There are many interpretations and legends associated with the name Mahakaal. There are two meanings of the word ‘Kaal’. It means time and death. In common lingo, any person who has achieved victory over time and death is said to be beyond the elements of time and death. Such a person is called Mahakaal.
As per Hindu mythology, there are various stories, which highlight the fact Lord Shiva has transcended both time and death and has therefore entitled himself to this name.
Read More: Story of Shivji
Lord Shiva – Beyond Time
Kaal refers to time. Lord Shiva is believed to have existed before the beginning of time and will be there after the end of time. That is why he is said to be ‘Kaalateet’ (beyond time) or Mahakaal.
Lord Shiva – Beyond Death
The other meaning of Kaal is death. Lord Shiva was never born and will never die. He is beyond the cycle of birth and death and is hence, therefore, referred to as Mahakaal.
Legends Associated With The Name of Mahakaal
There are few legends associated with the name, which highlight the significance of this name.
In ancient times, there lived a great sage named Mrikandu, whose wife was Marudmati. They did not have any child. They both prayed Lord Shiva with great devotion for a child. They were given two choices – a son who would have a long life but will not be intelligent and lack spirituality, or a son who would live for only 16 years but will be a great devotee of Lord Shiva. They chose a son with a short life but a devotee of Lord Shiva.
Soon, they had a son, whom they name ‘Markandeya’. So, at the time of his birth, his parents knew about the premature death of their child. The astrologer advised the child to worship Lord Shiva and get victory over death.
Since childhood, Markandeya had a sharp mind and spiritually inclined. As he grew up, he turned out to be a great devotee of Lord Shiva. When Markandeya turned 16, and his time of death came near, Yamaraj (The god of death), send his messengers to bring his soul. When the messengers reached his house, Markandeya was worshipping Shivling, so the Yamdoot (messengers of Yamaraj) were not able to take his life. So, they returned empty-handed.
Realising this, Yamaraj decided to go himself to take away his life. When he reached the spot, Markandeya was still engrossed in worshipping the shivling. Seeing Yamaraj, Markandeya held the Shivling very tightly. Yamaraj tried to tie his noose around Markandeya’s neck. However, by the grace of Lord Shiva, the noose landed around the Shivaling. And there was a miracle. Lord Shiva emerged out of the Shivling, in all his fury, and attached Yamaraj for his act of aggression. A battle started between the two, and Shiva brought Yamaraj to the point of death. When Yamaraj asked for forgiveness, Shiva revived him, under the condition he would never take his life. Yamaraj agreed to it and left without taking his life. This way, Lord Shiva saved the life of his devotee. Since then, Shiva also got a name, ‘Kaalantaka’ (one who killed the death).
This story highlights the devotion of Markandeya and emphasizes the belief that devotion to Lord Shiva can save us from death, and therefore birth too–which means it can give us liberation.
Even ‘Kaal’ (death) is afraid of Lord Shiva. Hence, the name Mahakaal.
There is one more legend associated with the name of Mahakaal. In ancient times, in the city of Avanti (present-day Ujjain), there lived a pious man, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He had 4 children, all of which were great devotees of Lord Shiva.
Little away from their home, there was a hill named Ratanmala. On the hill, there lived a demon named ‘Dooshan’, who did not like Shiva and devotees of Shiva.
When Dooshan came to know about this family, he reached Avanti and attached the house of this man. When he reached there, he found the entire family engrossed in worshipping Lord Shiva. The demon got outraged, he ordered his army to attack the house and destroy it.
When Dooshan entered their house and about to harm them, there was a huge sound and everyone was surprised. Lord Shiva emerged out of the Shivlinga, in a very dreadful form. Lord Shiva looked at Dooshan with angry eyes. Ina single glance of Lord Shiva, the huge body of Dooshan caught flame and was soon turned to ashes. Even after killing Dooshan, Shiva’s anger did not subside. The whole family started singing praises and worshipping the Lord to calm him down. Finally, Lord Shiva got was pleased and calmed down. Again, he saved the family from death and came to be known as Mahakaal.
The above legends show that Lord Shiv loves his devotees a lot and is ever ready to save them. He is always there to save them from all troubles, even death.
Read More: Bholenath
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. 1: Who is known as Mahakaal?
Ans: Lord Shiva
Q. 2: What is the meaning of Mahakaal?
Ans: Mahakaal means someone who is beyond life and death.
Q. 3: What are the two meanings of the word ‘Kaal’?
Ans: The two meanings of ‘Kaal’ and time and death.
Q. 4: How was sage Markandeya saved from death?
Ans: When Yamaraj came to take his life, young Markandeya hugged the Shivling. When Yamaraj threw his noose to catch Markandeya, it fell on the Shivling, which is not the right thing. This angered Lord Shiva and He emerged out of the Shivling. He defeated Yamaraj in the war and made him grant eternal life to Markandeya. This is how young Markandeya was saved from death.
Q. 5: What were the two options given to Markandeya’s parents? And what did they choose?
Ans: His parents were given two options. To get a son who would have a long life but will not be intelligent and lack spirituality, or a son who would live for only 16 years but will be a great devotee of Lord Shiv. They chose a son with a short life but a devotee of Lord Shiv.