After exploring the temple town, we left for Omkareswar the next sunrise. We booked a touring car – an air-conditioned Santro hired for 2500 rupees which will drop off us at Mandu. However, there are many public buses as well as a private operator bus service for a day tour to Omkareshwar. It’s a 3-hour drive (138 km approx) to Omkareshwar, and, if you plan an overnight stay, you have the option to book Ashram or Dharamshala even MPSTD runs a resort, as Omkareshwar is a little town.
As my journey went on, the water pipeline snaked alongside the road surrounded by hills and dry vegetation. The Narmada or Maa Rewa, as it’s affectionately called, has more religious meaning than the Ganges, and hence believed to be more potent in its blessings and cleansing its devotees of their wickednesses. Forty-five minutes later, I caught my first vision of the supremely revered Narmada when the car drove over the bridge across it. It is one of the world’s largest Dam, & is likewise known as “Life Line of Madhya Pradesh”. The river originates from the holy destination of Amarkantak in the Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh, before running out through the Gulf of Khambhat into the Arabian Sea near Bharuch. We rode past the vast stretch of a barren tree till we reached Omkareswar.
The Omkareshwar Temple sits on a rocky Island called Madhanta, as it’s thought that an ancestor of Sri Ram, the kind Mandhata of Ikshvaku dynasty, ruled this place in Satyuga. The Omkareswar temple is also known as Omkar Mandhata temple for Ikshvaku king Mandhata devotion towards Shiva. The Gaddi can still be seen in the temple premises. As the island is a living island, it’s also called Shivpuri. Looking at the island puzzled sage Narada asked Shiva, what is it? Shiva said the island would change appearance in every Yuga. It will be a giant sparkling gem in Satyuga, a mountain of gold in Treta Yuga, it would be copper in Dwapar Yuga, and rock in Kaliyuga. And it’s a rock today, as its Kaliyuga. Ancient scriptures state this holy place is habituated since 5500 years, & its mentioned in Purana too. However, historian suggests this sacred place was under the Parmar Rulers of Malwa from 10-13th CE, followed by Chauhan Rajputs. Even during the Mughal rule, it was under the administration of the Chauhans. The Marathas took over in 18th CE, and that is when a lot of temples were built or restored.
Omkareshwar is one of the twelve revered jyotirlingas dedicated to Lord Shiva. And river Narmada divides Omkareshwar into two pieces which are joined by a bridge, and one is Jhoola pool’ (hanging bridge) & other the old bridge(Mamleshwar Setu). Ideally, consider a boat ride one way and walk the other. Two lofty hills make up this island, which splits the valley in a way that it appears in the shape of ‘Om’ from above. Since the old bridge was the nearest to the car park, I took the air past it into a delightful experience.
I also passed across a young priest of the temple at the bridge who agreed to be our guide & get our Puja done. I captured a perfect view of the surroundings as we walked along the bridge towards the temple. The location of temple is picturesque with magnificent rocky terrain lining the river basin, lovely ghats with colourful boats moored at its borders, and farther out, the Jhoola pool along with the Dam. The shikhara shines in it white paint with new extensions made over them, and balconies on each floor, promising a panoramic view of the entire river stretch. The temple is the centre of all actions on the island, & since it was Holi a festive day the rush was huge at the Garbhagriha. But we were lucky to come across the young priest who arranged the entire tour & worship for us. Walking through a narrow lane towards the temple entrance, small shops were selling colourful flowers, incense and other pooja paraphernalia and souvenirs a common sight outside every well-known Hindu temple.
Located on the Northern bank of Narmada is the Omkareshwar Mahadev Temple. I looked at the beautifully made of 60 concrete stone pillars carved with Yakshi figures on the mandapa of the temple. The Shivalinga is in the anatomy of a rock on which water is provided continuously, and with milk, curd, and Narmada water Abhishek is done three times a day. An image of Parvati in silver behind the Shivalinga could be seen. The temple trust performs the morning Puja, and day Puja is performed by the Scindias and evening one by the Holkars. Shayan or the evening Arti is quite popular, as the bed is placed out for Shiva and Parvati in front of the Shivalinga, and for them to play before they go to sleep a game of Chaupad is also placed. You can attend this Aarti around 8:30 PM every night, as its open to the public. Many small temples are surrounding the main temple like a Panch Mukhi Hanuman Temple, a Shani Temple and a synagogue dedicated to Dwarkadhish.
We did Rudra Abhishek on the replica of the jyotirlinga since original jyotirlinga is only allowed to be touched, only holy Narmada water is offered. Pilgrims take a 16 km Parikrama or circumambulation, and they walk the entire space to seek blessings and pardon of their sins. I was unable to do this Parikrama, but I gather it is a relatively easy walk through in places it requires you to get up and down. The way of life passes through picturesque landscapes with many temples – old and new, remains of several ancient shrines and fortification walls on the way. The Parikrama can be done by a boat also, which circles the island in about two hours, which includes a 30-minute halt at the scenic Sangam (or confluence) of the two rivers – Narmada and Kaveri where pilgrims take a plunge in the holy waters of the Sangam. Here they offer prayers to cleanse themselves before moving along. The narrow projection of ground at the meeting point of the streams is worshipped as a sacred spot since it’s covered with cylindrical stones of all sizes resembling the sacred shiva linga.
Later on, my offerings at Omkareshwar, I engaged a boat ride to Gomukh ghat. Though I am not very comfortable or in favour of boat rides, my mom insisted we should cross the Narmada. On the South Bank, near Gomukh ghat is the Mamleshwar temple, as its considered one half of the Jyotirlinga at Omkareshwar, its also known as Amleshwar or Amareshwar temple. It’s said your pilgrimage is incomplete until you visit the Mamleshwar temple.
The ancient small holy temple has an eye-catching exterior with a typical old charm. Circle in a walled enclosure, the historical temple complex is preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). For Darshan, we had to wait for an hour, as the Shiva temple’s doors get shut down at midday. It was a blistering & colossal crowd surrounding the temple. I wandered admiring the architecture, & satisfying the photographer within me. Outside the main temple, there is a Nandi Mandap with intricate carving worth observing. When the doors opened, I realized a singular practice of Lingarchana at Mamleshwar. It is the worship of thousand Banlingas that are laid in concentric circles around the main Shivalinga every day. We did our Jal Abhishek & also got payasam as prasad on the eve of Holi. We thanked the priest for his kindness & generosity.
Before driving off to Mandu, I visited the Govindeshwara Guha, where Adi Shankaracharya mastered Vedanta and wrote commentaries for us to understand them. Here he meditated to Ma Kalika in a cave beneath the temple. In that location is an idol of Adi Shankaracharya in the centre. A few steps down a doorway leading to another small room on the right of the cave, where Adi Shankaracharya might have lived the once. On the other side, too narrow steps go up, probably to the temple above. I also advise visiting the Mandhata Palace, which is 80 odd steps from the rear of the temple. A portion of it is exposed to the public as belonging to the Holkars. The palace is an open corridor surrounded by pillared galleries like a typical North Indian Haveli. At one end is the simple yet colourful Durbar hall. In that location is a beautiful round ceiling with remains of glasswork on it. However, the best part of this hallway is the view from its Jharokhas. I caught the top sight of the temple & the Narmada flows between the deep gorge with colourful boats plying between its two shores is a lovely scene to sit and admire.
Walking past the Ghats of Narmada, I realized they have a life of their own. The colourful boats ferrying customers from a single end to another, others take them for a circumambulation around the island. I felt the power, spirituality & the Holiness of Narmada, a mother’s nurturing life surrounding her, with the blessing of Lord Shiva. With the approval, I drove off towards Mandu, a small city that sings the beloved story of Baaz Bahadur & Rani Roopmati.
How to reach:
The nearest airport Indore is the nearest airport from Omkareshwar; 83 km away. This airport is connected to many cities in India.
The Omkareshwar Road (Mortakka) is nearest Railway Station. It is a narrow-gauged railway station. At a distance of 77 kilometres is the closest broad-gauged railway station from Omkareshwar is Khandwa Railway Station, which is well connected with other major cities.
Several buses services that connect Omkareshwar plies on frequent.
You can drive too, and the distance is 880km from Gurgaon.
Important points to note if you are visiting Ujjain :
- Ujjain Darshan Bus runs from Dewas gate Bus stand at Ujjain and covers most of the points at Ujjain. There are two trips one in the morning and other in the afternoon.
- There are buses available which cover two jyotirlingas in a day, Mahakaleshwar and Omkareshwar.