"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dwadashajyotirlinga yatra : Day 6 - Omkareshwar

I got up at 5 in the morning to pack and prep to be in the lobby by 7. The little god woke up an hour later and packed. The flight to Indore was an hour and a half long, and we landed by noon.

At the Indore airport, there was no Volvo bus that we had become so used to. Instead we had Innovas - cars that would take five passengers besides the driver. Great choice of hotel, it was very gratifying to spend in comfort the one hour that we spent in our rooms in wake state, or the couple of hours in dream state. It kept the children in a good mood, and adults as well.

We went straight to lunch, and then we had an hour to freshen up before leaving for Omkareshwar, about 50 miles away. The lunch at the hotel was everything Indore is famous for - food that is pleasing to the eyes and the palate, and surpassing anything we had seen so far in volume and variety. I could tell I was going to sleep on my way to Omkareshwar. I broke my rice-and-yogurt rule and actually took a spoonful here and there of the many things in the buffet.

We had slightly more than an hour to shower and change. My little god's time management skills are amazing, and even as a teenager, she has no demands nor does she throw tantrums at the irregular schedule and having to wake up at crazy hours for a piligrimage, there is much for me to learn here.

The story goes that the Vindhya mountain had started a severe penance to please Shiva, and be granted the wish to be taller than Meru. Shiva appeared and granted the wish but asked Vindhya not to create problems for Shiva's devotees. Shiva let the lingam be shared between Omkareshwar and Mamaleshwar across the Narmada. Once granted the wish, Vindhya did not contain itself and continued to grow. The great sage Agastya then asked the mountain to lower itself so he could visit the southern part of the country, and asked the mountain to stay low till he came back. Agastya settled in Shrishailam, the Kashi of the south, and did not return, thus keeping Vindhya from further increasing its height.

Another story has it that king Mandhata appeased Shiva who appeared to him, which is why the mountain is known as Mandhata in his honor. The holy water of the lingam is believed to have joined the Narmada which flows underground at Omkareshwar.

Bridge across the river Narmada

Interesting temple complex on way to Omkareshwar
The visit to this Jyotirlinga is complete only after worshipping at both temples - Omkareshwar on an island in the Narmada, and at Mamaleshwar across the river. The current temple of Omkareshwar was inaugurated by Chimaji Appa Peshwa, brother of Peshwa Bajirao I in 1738. It is believed that Annapurna, Chimaji Appa’s wife, had committed Sati here after his death in 1741. Till 1971, a cremation ground existed near the temple. The Maratha Era style of the temple is now mixed with more modern architectural influences. The temple dome is five-layered and made from soft white soapstone, with carvings of various deities. The temple was renovated by Peshwa Bajirao II, and later extensively renovated by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar, including the building of the ghats - the steps on the river bank. Omkareshwar was used by revolutionaries like Tilak and Savarkar to hold meetings during the freedom movement in India.

Ghats of the Narmada, as we walk on the bridge towards Omkareshwar
The darshan - viewing of the deity, at Omkareshwar was somewhat anti-climactic. There was no crowd, yet there was an artificial hurry by the temple attendants to keep us moving in line. It is not possible to prostrate and touch the lingam with one's head, the lingam is behind a metal tube fence 3 feet high. There is a large front hall in the temple to which we returned from viewing the sanctum sanctorum. 

Anantanandaji asked the group to sit down, ostensibly for bhajans - devotional songs, or chanting. A group of the temple priests and their attendants sat down as well, and started chanting. I am a beginner at chanting, but I have heard impeccable chanting at Chinmaya Mission. To me, the chanting of the priests at Omkareshwar seemed chaotic at first. Not all of them were chanting to the same rhythm, but after a few minutes, the collective chanting with some leading and lagging the group created the perfect atmosphere for oneness with Shiva. Despite the inaccuracies and a few voices falling out of rhythm from time to time, the chanting grew in volume and intensity to become an extremely powerful hum in which one could meditate in complete silence. Sitting cross-legged with my eyes closed and a constant chant of Aum Namah Shivaaya in my head, I am grateful to the energetic chanters at Omkareshwar for my experience of divinity in the temple. 

After the chanting was completed, the priests did the customary tilak - mark on the forehead, and gave sacred water to each one of us, and received individual donations. To the critics of temple attendants, who think they try to make money at each step, I would like to point out that the same person could sell liquor and make far more money. Yet, he spends his time in the temple, and shows us around and helps us perform worship ceremonies and conducts chanting sessions, and yet people who generously pay for liquor think twice about the intention of the receiver when making a donation to the temple. 
Mamaleshwar on the left, Omkareshwar on the right of the river Narmada

Happy devotees

Happy devotees

Happy devotees
We walked to Mamaleshwar, across the Narmada.



Mamaleshwar compound


Outside the Mamaleshwar compound
Some of the priests had followed us and would have started their chanting again and get more money out of us, but the Swamijis told them they need not do so. The group would do its own chanting. We sat as a group there, surrounded by some relics from the temple that lies in disrepair. There were many pieces of sculpture lying on the ground, no idea why and no idea how they are kept secure.

We drove back to the hotel now. The ride back to the hotel was very pleasant, there was the excitement of seeing Mahakaleshwar the next day. The driver insisted it was less than an hour to Ujjain, so we could start at 3. But we had to reach the temple at 3 to get in line, and I told him we needed to leave by 2, just in case anything happened on the way and we got delayed. So we had to be in the lobby by 1:30 in the morning. It was about 9 at night when we reached the hotel.

The dinner had been arranged on one of the front lawns of the hotel. I do not like walking on soft grass at night, I am sure it disturbs the grass as it sleeps. The hotel had a grand buffet for dinner, so there was quite a bit of traipsing on the lawns - not just our group, but by other hotel reisdents as well.

I was not going to sleep that night because sleeping for three hours would have only served to make me tired and groggy when we went to the temple. Ashverya wanted to spend the time in the fitness room because she could feel the physical effects of not exercising for a week. The fitness room was not open, but the business office was, so she spent some time on the computer before returning to the room.

I spent some time in re-packing while Ashverya took a short nap. Soon, it was time for both of us to shower and change and go downstairs to the lobby.

Aum Namaha Shivaaya!! 

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