Omkareshwar: A living island also known as Shivpuri

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After exploring the temple town, we left for Omkareswar the next sunrise. We booked a touring car โ€“ an air-conditioned Santro hired for 2500 rupees which will drop us off at Mandu. However, many public and private operator buses service a day tour to Omkareshwar. It’s a 3-hour drive (138 km approx) to Omkareshwar, and if you plan an overnight stay, you can book Ashram or Dharamshala. Even MPSTD runs a resort, as Omkareshwar is a little town.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Bridge on Narmada – way to Omkareshwar

As my journey continued, the water pipeline snaked alongside the road, surrounded by hills and dry vegetation. In addition, the Narmada or Maa Rewa, as it’s affectionately called, has more religious meaning than the Ganges. Therefore, believed to be more potent in its blessings and cleansing its devotees of their wickednesses. And Forty-five minutes later, I caught my first vision of the supremely revered Narmada when the car drove across the bridge. It is one of the world’s largest Dams & is likewise known as the “Life Line of Madhya Pradesh”.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
The water Pipelines

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 the Ikshvaku dynasty ruled this place in Satyuga. The Omkareswar temple is also known as the Omkar Mandhata temple. And for Ikshvaku king Mandhata’s devotion towards Shiva. The Gaddi can still be seen on 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 gold mountain in Treta Yuga, copper in Dwapar Yuga, and rock in Kaliyuga. And it’s a rock today, as it’s Kaliyuga. Ancient scriptures state this holy place has been habituated for 5500 years, & it’s 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 the 18th CE, and that is when a lot of temples were built or restored.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Panorama view of Omkareshwar temple

Omkareshwar is one of the twelve revered jyotirlingas dedicated to Lord Shiva. The river Narmada divides Omkareshwar into two pieces joined by a bridge: 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. So 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.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Jhoola pull

I also passed across a young priest of the temple at the bridge. He agreed to be our guide & get our Puja done. I captured a perfect view of the surroundings as we walked along the bridge toward the temple. The temple’s location is picturesque, with magnificent rocky terrain lining the river basin and lovely ghats and colourful boats moored at its borders. And farther out, the Jhoola pool along with the Dam.

However, the shikhara shines in its white paint with new extensions made over them. And balconies on each floor promise a panoramic view of the entire river stretch. The temple is the centre of all actions on the island. And 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 sold colourful flowers, incense, and other pooja paraphernalia. And souvenirs are a common sight outside every well-known Hindu temple.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
The marketplace on either side of the temple

Located on the Northern bank of Narmada is the Omkareshwar Mahadev Temple. I looked at the beautifully made 60 concrete stone pillars carved with Yakshi figures on the temple’s mandapa. The Shivalinga is in the anatomy of a rock on which water is provided continuously and curd with milk. Also, 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; the day Puja is performed by the Scindias, and the evening one by the Holkars.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar

The exterior view of Omkareshwar temple

Shayan, or the evening Arti, is quite popular, as the bed is placed for Shiva and Parvati in front of the Shivalinga. For them to play before they go to sleep, a game of Chaupad is also set. You can attend this Aarti around 8:30 PM every night, as it’s open to the public. Many small temples surround the main temple, like a Panch Mukhi Hanuman Temple, a Shani Temple and a synagogue dedicated to Dwarkadhish.

The white Shikhara

We did Rudra Abhishek on the jyotirlinga’s replica since the original jyotirlinga is only allowed to be touched; only holy Narmada water is offered. Pilgrims take a 16 km Parikrama or circumambulation. Either they walk the entire space to seek blessings and pardon their sins. Or by a boat, which circles the island in about two hours. I could not 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 โ€“ old and new, remains of several ancient shrines and fortification walls along the way.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Boat ride to Mamaleshwar temple

The boat ride includes a 30-minute halt at the scenic Sangam (or confluence) of the two rivers โ€“ Narmada and Kaveri. And I saw the pilgrims plunge into the Sangam’s holy waters. Therefore offering prayers to cleanse themselves before moving along. The narrow projection of the ground at the streams’ meeting point is worshipped as a sacred spot, covered with cylindrical stones of all sizes resembling the sacred shiva linga. In the end, in my offerings at Omkareshwar, I engaged a boat ride to Gomukh ghat. However, I am not very comfortable or in favour of boat rides. But my mom insisted we should cross the Narmada. On the South Bank, near Gomukh ghat, is the Mamleshwar temple, considered one-half of the Jyotirlinga at Omkareshwar. I am also known as Amleshwar or Amareshwar temple. It’s said your pilgrimage is incomplete until you visit the Mamleshwar temple.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Mamaleshwar temple

The ancient small holy temple has an eye-catching exterior with a typical old charm. The historical temple complex is preserved by India’s Archaeological Survey (ASI) in a walled enclosure. We had to wait an hour for Darshan as the Shiva temple’s doors 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 is a Nandi Mandap with intricate carvings worth observing. And when the doors opened, I realised a singular practice of Lingarchana at Mamleshwar. The worship of a thousand Banlingas is laid in concentric circles around the main Shivalinga daily. We did our Jal Abhishek & also got payasam as prasad on the eve of Holi. We thanked the priest for his kindness & generosity.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Shiv Lingas all around

But before driving off to Mandu, I visited the Govindeshwara Guha. Here Adi Shankaracharya mastered Vedanta and wrote commentaries for us to understand them. He meditated on Ma Kalika in a cave beneath the temple. In that location is an idol of Adi Shankaracharya in the centre. And a few steps down, a doorway leading to another small room on the right of the cave. Here Adi Shankaracharya might have lived once. On the other side, too narrow steps go up, probably to the temple above. And I also advise visiting the Mandhata Palace, which is 80-odd steps from the temple’s rear.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
Holkar Durbar

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 temple’s top sight. And Narmada flows between the deep gorge, with colourful boats plying between its two shores. A lovely scene to sit and admire.

Magical Madhya Pradesh II: Omkareshwar
View of Narmada from Jharokha

Walking past the Ghats of Narmada, I realised they have a life of their own. Above all, the colourful boats ferried customers from a single end to another. And others take them for a circumambulation around the island. I felt the power, spirituality & Holiness of Narmada. A mother’s nurturing life surrounds her with Lord Shiva’s blessing. With the approval, I drove off towards Mandu, a small city that sings the beloved story of Baaz Bahadur & Rani Roopmati.

How to reach:

By Air:

The nearest airport is Indore for Omkareshwar, 83 km away. This airport is connected to many cities in India.

By Rail:

The Omkareshwar Road (Mortakka) is the nearest Railway Station. It is a narrow-gauged railway station. At a distance of 77 kilometres is the closest broad-gauged railway station. And from Omkareshwar is Khandwa Railway Station, which is well connected with other major cities.

By Road:

Several bus services that connect Omkareshwar plies on frequently. You can drive too, and the distance is 880km from Gurgaon.

Important points to note if you are visiting Ujjain :

  1. Ujjain Darshan Bus runs from the Dewas gate Bus stand at Ujjain and covers most of Ujjain’s issues. There are two trips, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
  2. There are buses available that cover two jyotirlingas daily, Mahakaleshwar and Omkareshwar.







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