Where there is a river, there is a temple always by the side of it. River Narmada is a revered river that every local Madhya Pradesh resident calls Her as Narmada Mataji. And by this river is the quaint town of Omkareshwar. On this Maha Shivratri day, I wish to be at Omkareshwar to feel the tranquility again. Sometimes best planned trips are the ones where you have not researched about the place. In fact, I don’t even know how it got added into the itinerary. We took a car from Maheshwar and headed to Omkareshwar on a fine sunny morning and it was the best decision we made.
The small town of Omkareshwar took me by surprise. The town was neat!! Being a pilgrimage site, expecting to have a well laid footpath, benches to sit on the way, shade stops installed at places, portable toilets installed, and a pretty wide road with greenery here and there was very surprising. Our driver stopped at a point and said, “Go down this lane, first Mameleshwar temple will come, get His darshan and then go further down to the banks, take a boat and cross the river to Omkareshwar.” I gave a look of disbelief at him. Take a boat and cross the river? “Bhaiya boat pe chadna hai?” I asked again in disbelief. “Haan tho?” I have this huge water phobia and getting in and out of boats is a drama that I make – Read here. I had no idea that the only way people reach this temple is by crossing the river. Nevertheless our first stop was the Mameleshwar temple.
Jyotirlinga shrines are the ones where Lord Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light with no beginning and no end. There are twelve such sites in India. Most of them have a pattern of a big temple and an old one by the side of it. Similar to the pattern is Omkareshwar and Mamleshwar. Some say Mamleshwar is the oldest temple and it is also believed to be the site of the Jyotirlingam. Whatever be the history, if one visits Omkareshwar they must visit the Mamleshwar to complete their pilgrimage. Mamleshwar was quiet, no photography allowed, shops were selling fresh flowers and the priests were getting ready for the early morning pooja. We can enter the sanctum sanctorum, touch and feel the God and do pooja as well. We sat listened to the sounds of the bells, watched the pigeons flutter by, smelled the aroma of the incense, watched the lamp flicker in the wind and just sat in peace. Then we walked down the stairs to the banks of Narmada.
On either side of the stairs were innumerable shops selling souvenir, pooja items and Linga statue. The bank was abuzz with activity. Colorful boats were plying back and forth. The calm river was flowing by. In the two weeks of traveling in Madhya Pradesh, She accompanied me through most of my journey. And so it was a ‘catching up with your friend’ moment as I soaked my feet into the cooling waters. Across the river was the tower of Omkareshwar temple perched on a cliff. River Narmada passes through a narrow and deep gorge and in the process creates an island in the shape of the holy symbol ‘OM’. And hence the island, town and the temple gets the name of Omkareshwar. There is no great architecture, there is no great greenery, it is a painted tower on rocks with many houses surrounding it, yet there was a sense of beauty to it. The whole place was like a painting. We hoped into a boat and in less than a minute we were on the other side.
The other side was a beeline of priests who start walking along with you to do pooja for an amount. As we walked up the stairs, the place was pretty swelling with crowd. The priests continued to pester, almost till you are so close to the Lingam. The rate went from Rs500 to Rs50/- and at one point I turned around to a poojari and was like, ‘will you let me pray’. And he went, ‘can’t you give just 50rs?’ unfortunately he got only a smug from me and consequently he did not let me stand near the sanctum for long. The sanctum itself was a small narrow room. A small glass partition separates the idol from the devotees and only a portion of the Lingam is seen on the top which is not really in shape of Lingam. This downright simplicity of the sanctum also caught me by surprise. However small the sanctum is, however greedy the priest is, however not so decorated idol it is, there is something about it that makes you go calm for a while and you start pondering from where did this sense of calmness suddenly descend on you.
Outside, there are other poojaris doing so many different kind of poojas. People also do Narmada Parikrama, which is walking around the island. There is a path to walk which is like some 10 odd kilometer. If not, the boat guy is always ready to take you on a ride around the island and say parikrama is done. None of which I did. All that I did was to watch the river flow by and sun rays creating pattern on it. There are two bridges also connecting the main land to the island. So this time we decided to walk on the bridge and hang around there.
Omkareshwar is like a piece of heaven on earth. Few places especially pilgrimage places gives you the highly content feeling that leaves a smile on you face that cannot be wiped out easily.. This is definitely one such place. Some more pics from Omkareshwar.