st 21 Century Pilgrimage To Omkara Mandhata By Linda Canestraight February 2003
Monuments of Omkara Mandhata
A pilgrimage to Omkara Mandhata in the 21 st century is still an adventure of its own. Accessible by train, bus or auto/taxi, one must just choose which method of transportation they prefer or can afford. The 12 kms from the train station to the village of Omkareshwar is on a road not well maintained. Although the road is paved the many pot holes make the journey slow, cumbersome and hard on the tires. They say “one picture is worth a thousand words”, this journal unlike earlier explorers before me will have pictures and perhaps less words, as this is a 21 st century journey.
Once you arrive at Omkareshwar, you will be greeted by many locals wanting to guide or sell many things. You will see several souvenir shops or stalls along the short walk to the cantilever bridge, which was built in 1979 and provides easy access to the island. The view from the bridge is very picturesque with the king’s palace, the main temple with its white dome and many village dwellings along the river front. The south side of the sland has very steep bluffs and the Narmada river runs swiftly under the bridge. Large crocodiles use to live in the deep waters where the bridge crosses the river.
As you cross the walking bridge, one can see the new OM symbol made of stones painted white on the western hillside of the island. This is all new, not anything like the view that the 18 th century explorer Captain John Forsyth describes as jungle overgrowing the hillsides and the many shrines and temples on the island.
Once across the bridge you travel the walkway though the market with its many shops or kiosks full of brass idols, pictures of Gods and Goddesses, colored powder for festival and many other holy treasures, finally arriving at the entrance to the Govindeshwar Temple or gufa (cave). This is where Govinda Bhagavatpada preformed his penances. At the bottom of the stairs, one must remove shoes before entering any holy temple. Your feet will get wet because the floor of the gufa is wet with water from inside.
Inside you will see several statues like this newly installed image of Govinda Bhagavatpada.
The background sculptures are old sculptures that have been newly installed. The Gufa has many stone columns inside with intricate carvings. You can see the fine detail put into each column, illustrating different Nymphs. The artist goes much further with his detail, each telling a story, one of the nymphs (apsaras) is holding a parrot in her right hand feeding the bird fruit from her left hand. These carvings are found on the ceiling of the cave, telling stories to the viewer.
The statue of Lord Shiva and Parvati merits special attention. Shiva subdues (by his toes) Ravana, trying to uplift Kailasa, this image portrays a famous Hindu legend. There is an unknown statue adorned in red paint with offerings of flowers.
Upon leaving the gufa, ascend the stairways up to the main temple of Omkara. There are two new shrines along the stair way, we will stop on our way down to view them. Shoe cubbies are provided at the top of the stairs to place your shoes in before going into the main temple. The main entrance is on the left, the columns inside are the oldest columns at the temple belonging to a much earlier construction compared to the newer constructed dome.
Once inside where the old columns are, you make your way to the right towards the main temple linga. The fact the linga is not located directly in front is most unusual.
The room is very small and crowded with many pilgrims offering prayers and flowers. The cell around the linga is filled with water and the level remains constant no matter how much water is poured in. Sometimes a silver cobra is placed around the linga on special occasions.
Framed in silver is a Parvati statue located directly behind the Shiva linga cell. This natural black stone linga is beautifully decorated with flowers offered by pilgrims.
Outside and across from the main temple is the entrance to the Temple Trust office of Tej Swami Anand. Hot tea was served to us (my host and local Indore photographer who assisted with photography) while waiting for our introduction and we visited with an ancestor of Omkara Manhdata. I had the pleasure of meeting this holy man and obtained his personal blessing with flowers and cocoanut offerings for my journey to obtain photos of this sacred island.
Outside the temple trust office there is an artist drawing or map of the island behind a glass covering for protection. This artist drawing displays the OM symbol as legend tells of the island shaped like the sacred symbol Hindu OM symbol.
Also you will find a statue of Dwarkadhish, a form of Krishna.
The main temple (excellent view provided from bridge) has five levels, the middle and upper sanctums are visible from outside. Each of the five levels (3 of which reside in the dome) has a different deity. If you continue to walk up the stairs from either side of the main temple hall, you’ll arrive at the middle sanctum called Mahakalesvara.
In the grand Sabha Mandap or assembly hall you see very large, finely carved columns that support the outdoor veranda. At the tops of all the columns different nymphs are carved, each holding a different pose.
There is a Nandi (bull) statue in front of the entrance to this Shiva shrine. Inside a mural with Bengal tigers painted on the wall, along with many images of Shiva is found.
Closer look of the shrine reveals a copper cobra encircling the linga. The statue is adored with bright red cloths and flowers. Back outside in the assembly hall is the “Omkaraeshvara Jyotirlinga The Spire” offering box.
If you cross the veranda and continue to climb the stairs to the upper sanctum you will see the dome made of a soft white stone. It is the newest part of the Omkareshwar Temple. The upper sanctum is on an open veranda and the dome has three shrines inside.
As you enter you will see the main level shrine room, decorated with Ganesh statues and Shiva paintings. Offering boxes are provided at each shrine. To the right of the entrance there is a small stone staircase, wide enough for one person. You must climb to the top to see the other two shrines.
To the right of the entrance there is a small stone staircase, wide enough for one person. You must climb to the top to see the other two shrines.
As you climb the stairs you will come to the second level of the dome. The picture on the right is the upper shrine. Pilgrims come to each with their prayers and offerings of flowers or money. Once again descend the stairs back down and once outside continue to follow the stairs back to the main temple.
Once you pass the main temple on your way to the market level you will see two new shrines tucked away by the shoe cubbie area. The first shrine is Krishna & Radha, the second being ? ? NOT Jhumkeshwar Mahadev, both are newly installed. As you continue to descend the stairs to the market level you will see many small shrines like Panchmukhi Ganesh along with another Ganesh shrine. The stairway is a very busy place with people stopping to offer coconuts and prayers at the shrines.
Follow the walkway back down through the market shops, west to the entrance of the walking path to circumnavigate the island. Welcoming pilgrims to start this holy journey you come first to the entrance - Gajanana Maharaja Samsthana. There are many temples and shrines to visit on this pilgrimage. The path is paved and much easier to walk then the earlier dirt paths.
This pilgrimage around the island takes 3 -4 hours depending on your length of stay at each temple or shrine. It is the end of February and already getting very hot. Bottle water is recommended for this long walking journey, but there are places one can purchase soda or hot tea on the western end or at the Gauri Somnath temple campus.
As you start walking along the waterfront heading west, the view to your left is Annapurna Ashrama Ghnat, which resides on the southern banks of the Narmada river.
You can see the 35 foot statue Virat Svarupa, a cosmic form of Shri Krishna with its many faces looking across the river as the island.
The path continues to follow the rocky terrain of the river bank then suddenly begins to climb. You will have to step aside to allow the local donkeys passage.
The Kedareshwar shrine is a small one room temple made of red and yellow stone blocks. It is located along the waterfront with its stone linga, some small statues and swatika symbols (Hindu sign of prosperity & good luck) painted on a small shrine on the back wall.
The path leads to Omkara Matha, a monastery with this newly installed linga. This monastery looks out along the Narmada river along the banks of South Mandhata.
As you continue walking you will pass by a new ashram, the Sadhana Kutir of Ramkrishna Mission. Many shrines and statues can be seen along the walking path. Here is a new statue, the five faces of Gayatri Mother, draped with a beautiful red sari.
Once past the mission you will have a view of the western confluence. The coming together of the Narmada and the Kevari has special sacred meaning. Pilgrims come to bathe in the sacred waters of the confluence. The Kevari originates about a mile upstream on the Narmada and swiftly crosses the slow waters of the Narmada to cut around the north side, creating the island.
Our journey now takes us up the hillside to the Rinmukteshwar Temple. Outside the entrance along the steps is a Hanuman sculpture. The writing above the sculpture says “hail to Rama” (Jayasri Rama). A Nandi bull statue is located in the courtyard along with several shrines to visit.
The main shrine at this temple is where pilgrims offer gram pulse to be absolved of all debts outstanding in present or past births.
Two other shrines located at the temple campus, both with pink painted walls one with a beautiful shiny brass linga on a stone slate alter and the other with a statue of Dwarkadhish.
The path continues thru a small settlement and meanders up the western hillside. As you climb you will notice the remains of a small gate of the outer western wall. Inside the gate archway carved support pillars still exist. Once on top of the hillside you will see the remains of the outer western wall.
The wall is constructed of stone blocks of various sizes that once surrounded the western side. These stones do not have any mortar to hold them in place
This picture with me standing in front of the wall shows height and closer details of the mason work. There are two stone fort walls on the island, both using the same masonry style.
On the western side of the island you will see black face monkeys every where, the eastern side has red face monkeys. Here are black face monkeys sitting in the shade of a stick roof porch along the pathway.
As you follow the pathway, another welcoming sign marks the entrance to the Gauri Somnath temple campus. Notice the water pipe above ground leading up to the settlements water tank at the top of the hill. Locals obtain water from the tank for washing and cooking, but it must be boiled first to make is drinkable.
This Shiva temple stands boldly at the top of the western hillside. Built with limestone, the dome top is broken and still in need of repair. This star shaped temple contains a giant Shivlinga six feet tall.
This linga is made of a smooth black stone. Legend is, it was burnt in a rage by Emperor Aurangazeb because he saw his image as a pig when he gazed upon it.
At the entrance to the temple you will see a Shiva Nandi bull statue made of similar stone as the linga inside. The Nandi bull has been repaired since the days when it was disfigured during the 13 th century. The second picture shows where the archeologists repaired the damage to the front left of the bull
Today the archeologists have collected many statues found by the early explorers just lying around the grounds and created a wonderful open air museum.
There is a smaller shrine located on the Gauri Somnath campus. Inside you will find a giant image of Hanuman lying on the floor (Vikata Hanuman). The shrine is painted the same brilliant orange as the statue.
Continue the journey to Mamleshvar