India is country where faith has become a nascent part of people’s lives. There might be no place in the country where one won’t find a temple around. While secularism is an integral part of India, its faith foundation can be traced back to the foundation of Hinduism and temple towns of Bharat. One such old town is Omkareshwar.
At about an hour’s distance from Indore, Omkareshwar seems like a crowded small town that has grown in random unprecedented way over time and is now a block of crisscrossed dusty pavements with centres of faith at every other corner but it has one of the twelve ancient Jyotirings of the world that hold great importance in Hindu scriptures. A Jyotirling is believed to be a place where a proper ‘shiv linga’ had occurred naturally and recognized by sages of the time to hold incessant power and spiritual aura. Omkareshwar, or the river Island that houses the Jyotirling, however is believed to be created by the power of penance of Sage Mandhata and the shiv ling occurred there as a result of the power of his devotion and as the centre point of his spiritual power but then split in half when the sage doubted his penance.
Obviously it is all about stories and mythologies but with them grew faith and with faith grew this place and became what it is today. Now Omkareshwar is a pilgrim centre, smaller than the close by town – Ujjain, but equally sacred to the believers of Shiva. When you enter the town, all you see is lodges and tea/sweet stalls with boiling badam (almonds and cashews) milk at the entrance. A small bus-stand and a lot of people asking you to take a boat from the Ghat greet you in the vehicle free town. A little ahead is the Gomukh Ghat of Narmada that joins the mainland to the temple island. The Ghat is where you see the might of Narmada flowing through the deep gorge created by erosion of the old volcanic rocks of the Omkareshwar island, the towering temple of Omkareshwar and the reason why this place is named after lord Shiva (the shape of the island is like an Om)
The place as such is simple and doesn’t have much. A long lane of flower vendors, a 3 level temple with around 150 steps or so, the main Linga in a cage, a couple of other smaller shrines and a long queue of devotees. Close buy is an old fort and the village where the flower vendors and the priests reside. Yes, not much right? But it is the Narmada and the aura of the place that is undeniably captivating. I spent the whole evening at the top of the temple observing the beautiful sunset over the dangerous looking but calm river, the busy ghat, the last lot of the boats to the temple, some devotees still crossing the bridge to the island – another way to the temple, and the priests preparing for the evening arti.
Don’t know how much and what power these religious places hold but the whole experience of finding the calm and quiet at dusk, observing everything around and hearing the drums of the arti, created a different kind of silence and was something that made me believe in the aura of the place. God or no god, belief or no belief – Omkareshwar gave me an evening to remember.