Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Like many enduring experiences, Omkareshwar is many things to many people. An island and a hillock, a bustling bazaar for locals, a cheap getaway for foreign tourists, a religious experience for the masses and an exploitable dam site for the authorities, a repository of ancient sculptural treasures and a place that has “lost its soul with modernisation” as a priest says, a holy river and some dirty and dammed water… But since all of this is contained in pretty much 6-by-1 km of an island, it’s easy to explore and provides some unexpectedly rewarding moments.

Of the lakhs of Shivalings in India, it’s the ‘Dwadash Jyotirlingas’ — the 12 self-generated lingas of light — that occupy the pride of place in the hearts of devotees of Lord Shiva. Shiva as Omkareshwar is one of them. Local legend has it that King Mandhata of the Ishvaku clan, an ancestor of Ram, worshipped Shiva here till the lord manifested himself as a Jyotirlinga. In fact, the name of the place was Mandhata in official records till the 1970s; the temple is usually referred to as Omkar-Mandhata.

The area was ruled by the Parmar kings of Dhar or Malwa in the 11 to 13th centuries. Inscriptions of these kings have been found on the mainland and many of the beautiful antiquities that lie scattered around the island date to these centuries. The main temples date to these times too — the mainland’s Mamaleshwar is an 11th century temple complex while the Gauri Somnath dates to the 13th century. However, in the case of the Omkar Mandhata Temple, this antiquity is harder to see as many additions have been made.

Architecturally, the most interesting is the ASI-protected 13th century Siddhanath Temple. Standing on a high platform, the sides of which have 4- to 5-foot high elephants carved on them, it has beautiful pillars, some 15 ft high, and walls with engravings. The well-preserved temple has an unfinished feel to it.

Omkareshwar is a 6-km long narrow stretch of an island in the Narmada. It is connected by a bridge (on which vehicles are not allowed) and by boats to the mainland on the south. The island contains the Omkar Mandhata Temple. Mainland Omkareshwar is a tiny aggregation of houses, a bazaar, temples, bus stand and an MPTDC resort. There are no MPTDC offices here.

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