Where there is a river, there is a temple! River Narmada is a highly revered river. Thus, every resident of Madhya Pradesh hails Her as Narmada Mataji. By this river is the quaint town of Omkareshwar.
On this Maha Shivratri day, I wish to be at Omkareshwar Temple to feel the tranquillity again. Sometimes the best-planned trips are the ones where you have not researched about the place at all. Your plan cannot fail if there is no plan in the first place!
In fact, I don't even know how it got added to the itinerary. We took a car from Maheshwar and headed to Omkareshwar on one fine sunny morning, and it was the best decision we ever made.
The small town of Omkareshwar took me by surprise. The town was neat! Very neat indeed!
Being a pilgrimage site, it had a well-laid footpath, benches to sit on the way, shades installed at places, portable toilets at homes, and a pretty wide road with greenery.
Our driver stopped at a point and instructed, "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 Temple."
I gave him a look of disbelief. Take a boat and cross the river?
"Bhaiya boat pe chadhna hai?" I asked again in disbelief.
"Haan tho?" he replied.
I have this considerable water phobia, and getting in and out of boats is a massive task for me - 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 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 its side.
Omkareshwar and Mamleshwar follow a similar pattern. 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 too to complete their pilgrimage.
Mamleshwar was quiet and peaceful. No photography was allowed. Some shops sold fresh flowers, and the priests were getting ready for the early morning pooja.
We can enter the sanctum sanctorum, touch and feel 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 flickered in the wind, and just sat there in peace.
Then we walked down the stairs to the banks of Narmada.
On either side of the stairs were numerous shops selling souvenirs, pooja items, and Linga statues. The bank was abuzz with activity. Colourful boats were plying back and forth. The river was calmly flowing by.
In the two weeks of travelling in Madhya Pradesh, She, the river Narmada, accompanied me through most of my journey. So it felt like a 'catching up with your friend' moment as I soaked my feet into its 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.' Hence the island, town, and the temple get the name of Omkareshwar.
There is no marvellous architecture, no striking greenery; it is only a painted tower on rocks with many houses. Yet, there was a magical sense of beauty to it. The whole place was like a painting.
We hopped into a boat, and in less than a minute, we were on the other side.
On the other side of the river was a beeline of priests who started walking along with you to do pooja for an amount! As we walked up the stairs, the crowd swelled. The priests continued to pester till you reached the Lingam. The rate went from Rs500 to Rs50/-!
It became unbearable at one point, and I turned to a poojari and said, 'Will you let me pray'.
He only said, 'Can't you give just 50 rupees?'
Unfortunately, I could only smug, and he did not let me stand near the sanctum for long.
The sanctum itself was a small narrow room. A small glass partition separated the idol from the devotees, and only a tiny portion of the Lingam is seen on the top, which is not really in the 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, something about it makes you calm. You start pondering from where this sense of tranquillity suddenly descended upon you.
Outside, there are other poojaris performing different kinds of poojas. People also do a certain Narmada Parikrama, in which one walks around the island. There is a path to walk of about ten-odd kilometers.
If you do not want to walk, a boat guy is always ready to take you on a ride around the island for the parikrama. None of these I did! Remember my phobia?
All that I did was to watch the river flow by and sun rays creating patterns on it. There are two bridges also connecting the mainland to the island. So this time, we decided to walk on the bridge and hang around there.
Omkareshwar Temple is like a piece of heaven on earth. A few places especially pilgrimage places, give you this content feeling that leaves a smile on your face that cannot be wiped out easily. This is one such place.