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Lord Shiva has been worshipped in Linga form from time beginning as described in answer here. Among the Lingas there are 12 Jyotirlingas which are of special importance.

Mahatmya of 12 Jyotirlingas is described in Koti Rudra Samhita of Shiva Purana in the chapter "Dwadash Jyotirlinga Mahatmya". It states:

सौराष्ट्रे सोमनाथं च श्री शैले मल्लिकार्जुनम् ।
उज्जयिन्यां महाकालमोंकारे परमेश्वरम् ।।
केदारं हिमवत्पृष्ठे डाकिन्यां भीमशङ्करम् ।
वाराणास्यां च विश्वेशं त्रयम्बकं गौतमीतटे ।।
वैद्यनाथं चिताभूमौ नागेशं दारुकावने ।
सेतुबन्धे तु रामेशं घुश्मेशं च शिवालये ।।
द्वादशैतानि नामानि प्रात्यस्त्थाय यः पठेत् ।
सर्वपापविनिर्मुक्तं सर्वसिद्धिफलं लभेत्
।।

Somanath in Saurashtra, Mallikarjuna in Shri Saile, Mahakala in Ujjaiyana and Parameshawara also manifested as Omkara. Kedara in Himavat and Bhima Shankara in Dakinya. Vishewaswara in Varanasi and Trayambaka in side of Gautami. Vaidyanath in ChitaBhumi and  Nageshwara in forest of Daruka. Rameshwara in Setubandha and Ghusmeshwara in Shivalaya. These name of 12 Jyotirlingas who recites in morning, he gets freed from all sins and is eligible to get all Siddhis.

There are twelve Jyotirlingas mentioned in the similar popular verse.

Saurāṣṭre Somanāthaṃ ca Śrīśaile Mallikārjunam

Ujjayinyāṃ Mahākālam Omkāram Mamleśhwaram

Paraly Vaidyanāthaṃ cha Ḍākinyāṃ Bhīmaśhaṅkaram

Setubandhe tu Rāmeśaṃ Nāgeśhaṃ Dārukāvane

Vārāṇasyāṃ tu Viśveśaṃ Tryambakaṃ Gautamītaṭe

Himālaye tu Kedāraṃ Ghuśmeśaṃ ca Śivālaye

etāni jyotirliṅgāni sāyaṃ prātaḥ paṭhennaraḥ

saptajanmakṛtaṃ pāpaṃ smaraṇena vinaśyati

I have already asked a question about Somanath What is the story of Somanath Jyotirlinga? and Mallikarjun What is the story of Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga?. Now I want to know the story of Mahakaleshwar Jyotirling.

Please mention the scriptural reference.

Mahakaleshwar temple is situated in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh

enter image description here

By LRBurdak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3797963

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The following are the two stories about Mahakaleswara told in the Koti Rudra Samhita of Siva Maha Purana taken from here.

Origin of Mahakaleshwar Linga

The sages said: —

  1. O Suta, you know everything by Vyasa’s favour. We are never satiated by hearing about the Jyotirlingas.

  2. Hence O holy lord, be kind to us and narrate the third Jyotirlinga to us now. Suta said : —

  3. O brahmins, if I remain in the company of you all, the glorious ones, I am blessed and contented. Blessed indeed is the association of saintly men.

  4. Hence, considering it my good fortune, I shall narrate the sanctifying sin-destroying divine story. Please listen to this story respectfully.

  5. There is a beautiful city Avanti144 yielding liberation to all souls. It is a favourite of Siva, highly meritorious and sanctifying.

  6. An excellent brahmin engrossed in the performance of auspicious rites lived there. He studied the Vedas and performed the Vedic rites.

  7. The brahmin maintained sacrificial fires. He was the devotee of Siva. Everyday he worshipped the idol of Siva.

  8. This brahmin Vedapriya was always interested in acquiring perfect knowledge. After securing the fruits of holy rites he attained the goal of the good.

  9. O excellent sages, he had four sons like him. They were not inferior to their parents and they were ever engaged in the worship of Shiva.

  10. The eldest was Devapriya The next was Priyamedhas. The third was Sukrta and the fourth was Dharmavahin of good rites.

  11. Thanks to the power of their merit, happiness increased on the earth even as the moon waxes incessantly in the bright half of the month.

  12. Their good qualities too flourished delighting and pleasing all. That city was enveloped in the brahminical splendour.

  13. O excellent brahmins, let the excellent event that happened in the meantime be heard. I shall narrate it in the manner I have heard.

  14. There was a great Asura Dusana on the Ratnamala hill. He was very powerful. He was the king of the Daityas incessantly engaged in hating virtue and virtuous rites.

  15. Thanks to the grant of boons by Brahma he considered the whole universe insignificant. The gods were defeated by him and ousted from their places and positions.

  16. Vedic rites and rites according to Smritis all over the earth were smothered by that wicked fellow like rabbits by a lion.

  17. Whatever Vedic rites were there in the shrines and holy centres were stopped by him. Dharma was exiled to a distant place.

  18. “There is a beautiful city Avanti.” Thinking that what the Asura did, hear.

  19. Accompanied by a vast army, the great Asura Dusana went there desiring to harm the brahmins staying in the city.

  20. After reaching the place, that great knave, that hater of brahmins called four hefty Daityas to him and said these words. The Daitya said:—

  21. Why don’t the wicked brahmins do as I say ? Ali these, engaged in Vedic rites and rituals are worthy of being punished by me.

  22. O excellent Daityas, the gods and the kings in the world have been defeated by me. Why should not the brahmins be kept in my control ?

  23. If they wish to live happily let them abandon the rites of Siva and the rituals of the Vedas.

  24. Otherwise it is doubtful that they will continue to live. I have said this truthfully. Hence, do that unhesitatingly. Suta said:—

  25. On hearing this and receiving the instruction the four Daityas besieged the four quarters of the city like the fires of dissolution.

  26. On coming to know of the intent of the Daityas, the brahmins were not at all distressed because they were engaged in meditating on Siva.

  27. Resorting to courage, the brahmins did not move even a line’s breadth from meditation. With Siva to help who can remain in distress ?

  28. In the meantime, the whole of that auspicious city was overrun by them. The people were harassed and they rushed against the brahmins.The people said : —

  29. O holy lords, what shall be done ? The wicked Asuras have come. People are tortured. They have come very near. Suta said:~

  30. On hearing their words, the brahmins, the sons of Vedapriya, placing their faith in Siva for ever, spoke to them. The Brahmins said

  31. Listen, we do not have an army to frighten the wicked Asuras. We do not have weapons to drive them back.

  32. The general dishonour and insult reflects on him who supports us. Moreover, what can happen to Siva who is omnipotent?

  33. Let lord Siva protect us from the terror of the Asuras. Except Siva, favourably disposed to his devotees there is no other refuge. Suta said:—

  34. Emboldened thus they performed the worship of Siva’s earthern idol. They sat firmly engaged in meditation. On seeing them thus the mighty Dusana shouted “Let them be killed. Let them be bound.”

  35. But the brahmins, the sons of Vedapriya engrossed in meditation on Siva did not hear the shouts.

  36. When the wicked Daitya desired to kill the brahmins, the spot near the Parthiva idol caved in with a loud report.

  37. From the chasm thus created, Siva rose up assuming a hideous form. He became famous as Mahakala, the slayer of the wicked and the goal of the good.

  38. “I am Mahakala (the great god of death) risen up against the wicked like you. O sinful one, go away, leave the presence of these brahmins.”

  39. After saying this Siva reduced Du$ana and his army, to ashes immediately with a mere sound of Hum.

  40. Dusana and a portion of his army too were killed by Siva the great soul. A part of the army fled.

  41. Just as darkness is dispelled on seeing the sun, so also that army was destroyed on seeing Siva.

  42. Divine drums were sounded. Shower of flowers fell. Vishnu, Brahma and other gods came there.

  43. After bowing to the benefactor of the worlds, the brahmins joined their palms in reverence and eulogised him with different hymns

  44. After consoling the brahmins the delighted Siva asked the Brahmins to choose the boon they wished to have.

  45. On hearing it, the devout brahmins with palms joined in reverence and heads bent down bowed to Siva and said. The brahmins said : —

  46. O lord, the chastiser of the wicked, O Siva, grant us liberation from the ocean of worldly existence. O Siva.

  47. O Siva, you shall stay here itself for the protection of the people. O lord Siva, save those who see you. Suta said : —

  48. Requested thus, Siva remained in that auspicious chasm for the protection of his devotees after granting them the goal of the good.

  49. The brahmins attained salvation. The supporting base of Siva in the form of Linga extended to 3 kilometres in each of the four directions.

  50. O brahmins, Siva became famous as Mahakalesvara. On seeing this image no one will have misery even in dreams.

  51. A man worshipping this image with a cherished desire in his mind will attain the same here and salvation hereafter.

  52. O great ones with good rites, the origin and the greatness of Mahakala has thus been narrated to you. What else do you wish to hear?

Further Greatness of Mahakaleshwara

The sages said : —

  1. O most intelligent one, please mention again the greatness of the Jyotirlinga Mahakala, the protector of his devotees. Suta said: —

  2. O brahmins, listen with interest to the devotion enhancing greatness of Mahakala, the protector of the devotees.

  3. In Ujjayini there was a king Candrasena, a devotee of Siva, who had conquered his sense-organs and who knew the principles of all Sastras.

  4. O brahmins, the Gana Manibhadra, honoured by the people, the chief of the Ganas of Siva, was a friend of that king.

  5. Once the liberal-minded Gana-chief Manibhadra, gave him the great jewel Cintamani, out of pleasure.

  6. The jewel was as brilliant as the sun. It shone like Kaustubha. It blessed auspiciously when meditated upon, heard of or sighted.

  7. Any thing made of bell-metal, copper, tin or stone touched with its brilliant surface turned into gold.

  8. Wearing that gem round his neck the king Candrasena, dependent on Siva shone well like the sun in the midst of gods.

  9. On hearing that the excellent king Candrasena had the Cintamani round his neck, the kings on the earth were agitated in their hearts due to greed.

  10. The kings ignorantly trying to rival with him, begged of Candrasena, that jewel secured from the god. They used various means to get the jewel.

  11. O brahmins, the importunity of the kings was rendered futile by Candrasena, a staunch devotee of Siva.

  12. Disappointed and offended thus by him the kings of all the lands became wrathful against him.

  13. Then the kings fully equipped with the four types of armies146 attempted to conquer Candrasena in the battle.

  14. They joined together, consulted and conspired with one another. With a vast army they laid siege to the four main gates of Ujjayini.

  15. On seeing his city thus attacked by the kings, the king Candrasena sought refuge in Mahakalesvara.

  16. Without doubts and hesitations, without taking in any food that king of steady resolve worshipped Mahakala day and night without turning his mind to anything else.

  17. Then the lord Siva, delighted in his mind, concocted a means in order to save him. Listen to that with attention.

  18. O brahmins, at that very time a certain cowherdess roaming here and there in that excellent city accompanied by her child came near Mahakala.

  19. She had lost her husband. She carried her babe five years old. With great devotion she watched the Mahakala worship performed by the monarch.

  20. After witnessing the wonderful Siva-worship performed by him and bowing down she returned to her camp.

  21. The son of that cowherdess who had watched everything out of curiosity, thought of performing Siva’s worship similarly.

  22. He brought a fine pebble from somewhere and considered it his Sivalinga. He placed it in a vacant place not far from his camp.

  23. Various articles were conceived by him as sweet scents, ornaments, cloth, incense, lamp, rice grains and foodgrains in the course of his worship.

  24. Worshipping again and again with delightful leaves and flowers he danced in various ways and made obeisance again and again.

  25. As his mind was engrossed in the worship of Siva the cowherdess, his mother called him to take his meals.

  26. When the son engrossed in the worship did not like to take meals though called many times, the mother went there.

  27. On seeing him seated in front of Siva with eyes closed she angrily caught hold of his hand, dragged him and beat him.

  28. When the son did not come away even after being dragged and struck she threw the image far off and spoiled his worship.

  29. Rebuking her son who was lamenting piteously the infuriated cowherdess entered her house again.

  30. On seeing his worship spoilt by his mother, the boy fell down and lamented, “O lord, O lord.

  31. In his excessive grief he became unconscious suddenly. Regaining consciousness after a while he opened his eyes.

  32. Immediately the camp became a beautiful temple of Mahakala. Thanks to the blessings of Siva, that child saw all these.

  33. The doorway was made of gold. There were excellent festoons at the doorstep. The temple had a shining dais set with costly and pure blue diamonds.

  34. The temple was equipped with many golden pot like domes, shining jewel-bedecked columns and the floor paved with crystal bricks.

  35. In the midst, the cowherd’s son saw a jewel- bedecked linga of Siva, the storehouse of mercy, along with the articles he used for worshipping.

  36. On seeing these, the boy was much surprised in his mind. He got up immediately. It seemed as if he was immersed in the ocean of great bliss.

  37. He eulogised and bowed to Siva again and again. When the sun set the boy came out of the Siva temple.

  38. Then he saw his own camp as beautiful as the city of Indra. It had been suddenly transformed into one of gold, of variegated nature and shining much.

  39. He entered the house equipped with everything brilliant and glittering in the night. Jewels and gold pieces were scattered everywhere. He was joyous.

  40. There he saw his mother sleeping. She was like a celestial lady with all divine characteristics. Her limbs shone and glittered with ornamental jewelry.

  41. O brahmins, then that son, the special object of Siva’s blessings, excited due to happiness awakened his mother immediately.

  42. Getting up and seeing everything unprecedentedly wonderful, she was as it were immersed in great bliss. She embraced her son.

  43. Hearing everything of the benign favour of the lord of Parvati from her son she sent word of it to the monarch who was worshipping Siva constantly.

  44. The king who had concluded the observance of rites during the night came there immediately and saw the refulgence of the cowherd’s son in propitiating Siva.

  45. On seeing everything in the company of his ministers and chief priest the king was immersed in the ocean of great bliss and emboldened.

  46. Shedding tears of love and repeating the names of Siva with pleasure, the king Candrasena embraced the boy.

  47. O brahmins, there was a great and wonderful jubilation. Excited with happiness they sang the glorious songs of lord Siva.

  48. On account of this wonderful event, this manifestation of the greatness of Siva and the flutter in the midst of the citizens, the night elapsed as though it was only a moment.

  49. The kings who had besieged the city for an attack heard of this event in the morning through their spies.

  50. Extremely surprised on hearing it the kings who had come there met together and consulted one another. The kings said : —

  51. This king Candrasena is a devotee of Siva and hence invincible. The king of Ujjayini, the city of Mahakala, is never distressed.

  52. The king Candrasena is a great devotee of Siva inasmuch as even children in his city observe Siva’s rites.

  53. Certainly Siva will be furious if we offend him. We will be doomed if Siva is furious.

  54. Hence we shall make an alliance with him. In that case lord Siva will be compassionate to us. Suta said:

  55. Thus deciding, the kings abandoned their enmity. They regained purity of mind. They were pleased. They abandoned their weapons and missiles.

  56. Permitted and encouraged by Candrasena they entered UjjayinI, the beautiful city of Mahakala and worshipped him.

  57. Then they went to the house of the cowherdess. They praised her good fortune with divine blessings.

  58. They were welcomed and honoured by Candrasena there. Seated on a very worthy seat they congratulated him and were surprised.

  59. Seeing the shrine of Siva and the Siva-Linga that rose up, thanks to the power of the son of the cowherdess they fixed their mind in Siva.

  60. The delighted kings, sought the sympathy of Siva and presented several valuable things to the cowherd boy.

  61. The kings made him the chieftain of cowherds in all their different lands.

  62. In the meantime Hanumat, the brilliant lord of monkeys, worshipped by the gods manifested himself there.

  63. The kings were bewildered at his arrival. They rose up in reverence and made obeisance to him perfectly humble in their devotion.

  64. Worshipped by them and seated in their midst the lord of monkeys embraced the cowherd boy and glanced at the kings and said. Hanumat said : —

  65. Weal unto ye all, O kings and all the souls here, listen. Except Siva there is no other goal to human beings.

  66. This cowherd boy fortunately saw the worship of Siva. Without the use of mantras he worshipped Siva and attained happiness.

  67. This boy, the most excellent devotee of Siva, the enhancer of the glory of cowherds, shall enjoy all pleasures here and attain salvation hereafter.

  68. In his race, in the eighth generation, there will be a famous cowherd Nanda. Vishnu himself will be born as his son, Krishna.

  69. Henceforth this cowherd boy will attain glory all over the world in the name of Srikara. Suta said: —

  70. After saying this, the son of Anjana the lord of monkeys in the form of Siva mercifully glanced at the kings and Candrasena.

  71. He then initiated the intelligent cowherd child Srikara with pleasure in the rites of Siva pleasing to the lord.

  72. O brahmins even as all of them were glancing at Candrasena and Srikara, the delighted Hanumat vanished there itself.

  73. The delighted kings who were duly honoured took leave of Candrasena and returned the way they had come.

  74. The brilliant Srikara, initiated by Hanumat, propitiated Siva along with brahmins well-versed in sacred rites.

  75. The king Candrasena and Srikara, the cowherd boy, worshipped Mahakala with great devotion and pleasure.

  76. In due course, Srikara and Candrasena propitiating Mahakala attained the great region of lord Siva.

  77. Such is the phallic form of Siva Mahakala, the goal of the good, the slayer of the wicked in every respect who is favourably disposed towards his devotees.

  78. Thus the great secret, the sanctifying narrative that bestows all happiness, conducive to heaven and enhancing devotion to Siva has been narrated to you.

Hope this helps you.

  • Thanks for answer. One suggestion, you should brief the story in two or three lines when quoting such a large passage. – Triyugi Narayan Mani Jul 27 '16 at 16:05

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