The Water Symphony

The bright luminous sun in the gray blue sky, the green green hills basking in the glory and the air potent with promise of rain. That was one lit up morning when we were crossing a bridge to visit the temple of Omkareshwar. And below was flowing Narmada, the huge expanse, the glittering waters flanked by rain fed green magic, a lone boatman in the middle of the stream, the empty Ghats on the other side accentuated by someone going down the steps for the bathing ritual. And the Narmada continues to flow, for ages, washing the sins and renewing the faith, nourishing its banks.


Narmada from Omkareshwar

Almost all rivers of India are the lifelines, goddesses and mother figures. But Narmada is even more special. It’s westward flow meeting Arabian sea, its humble origin at Amarkantak, Nemavar on it’s bank celebrated as Narmada’s navel, several Shiv temples dotting the course and the Narmada Pradakshina pilgrimage, all add to its importance in our Indian mindset. Traditionally called as Reva, the river flows between the 2 mountain ranges Vindhya and Satpuda. Vindhya is one of oldest mountain ranges of India which existed probably since the time we were near Madagasker in Africa. There is also an interesting story about Narmada and Shone rivers which originate very close to each other in eastern Vindhyas but flow in opposite directions. The legend says that Shone is assumed to be a ‘Nad’ i.e. river in male form and was supposed to marry Narmada. But they had a lover’s tiff and Narmada jumped away in the opposite direction so as never to cross paths with Shone!

Omkareshwar , one the 12 revered Shiv temples ( Jyoteerling) is actually on an island called Mandhata in Narmada. On the south bank you will find the Mamaleshwar also among the 12. The town is similar to all temple towns all over India, full of small lanes packed with Pooja shops and hotels, a free passage to all living animals including humans, devotees and pestering priests and in addition there were flocks of flies as the monsoon special. Omkareshwar is a modern looking temple from the outside however we know the place is ancient and there are ornate pillars inside the temples which give a glimpse of the old temple. Everything inside the temple is to ensure that you should not feel peaceful. The ceramic tiles, the water abhishek mechanism where water goes in a tube and then gets poured on the shivlinga, the overbearing crowd of priests offering a menu card of abhishek in various types and costs. The only time you find solace is when you come out and look at the serene Narmada. That is the real ‘Darshan’ for me.



Mamaleshwar on the other bank is visible from this side with its ornate high shikhar and a red flag fluttering to show the location amongst the crowd of several other small temples and houses. All built in red sandstone, Mamaleshwar has that special quality of providing a devotional experience to the visitor. The temple is typical Nagar style with up-swinging Shikhar. There are many small and medium temple structures in the clean premise. The elaborate door frames and beautiful sculptures on the outer walls of temples are worth a watch. In the premise, we also find several pieces of temple structure strewn away. A lone ‘amalak’ the round top of the shikhar, some carvings and ‘chandrasheela’ – an ornate step to get into the Garbhagriha are all there stashed away, silently suffering the passage of time.

Leaving these divine places behind, the road traversed through wooded hillocks and mango trees and green expanse of fertile land. The timely monsoon rains this year have transformed the earth into a rich landscape of fresh green world. We were reaching Maheshwar, the town made famous by Malhar Rao Holkar, the brave Maratha Sardar and his competent daughter-in-law Ahilyadevi Holkar. Maheshwar is also famous for the Maheshwari saris woven by hand and with superb craftsmanship. Surprisingly not a single woman here or in Indore/Mandu we saw was wearing Maheshwari.
Anyway coming back to Maheshwar, the Narmada expanse here is impressive, the stone steps, the ornate temple peaks, the green opposite bank, the slow moving and deep watered Narmada, the light breeze and a lone temple half submerged in the centre of the stream, all very picturesque and charming! Maheshwar is a small town still in past centuries where life revolves around the morning Aaratee in temples and evening sunsets on Ghats of Narmada. The fort-palace of Ahilya devi Holkar has architecture influenced by Maharashtrian style of housing. It was as if we had entered in some old world ‘Wada’ of Pune.


Narmada from Maheshwar Fort

Maheshwar has 2 prominent temples, one built by Ahilyabai in 18’th century belongs to Shriram. It is a big structure with perfect carvings and near-plain but beautiful looking pillars and Shikhar structures. The other one belongs to Haihay King Sahastrarjun.
In ancient times, Avanti and Haiheya kingdoms formed the present day Malva region. Ujjayini was in Avanti and Maheshwar has been part of Haihay country. Sahastrajun is the brave king who fought against Parashuram. The stories and legends in Purana denote a flourishing country.


Narmada River

We descended the famous Maheshwar Ghat steps and touched the soft flowing waters of Narmada. The clouds had already gathered and it turned even darker with the setting sun. The raindrops descended, the melting sky merged with the gray waters, the age old stony brown temples drenched in soaking showers looked even more mystic, the Ahilya fort high above looked like an eagle’s nest. And we at the bottom, were no less mesmerized by this dramatic panorama, the dancing waters of Reva creating a symphony of their own only for the ears who would care to listen…


Narmada Ghat, Maheshwar

The next stop was at Ujjain also known as Avantika and Ujjaini in ancient scripts. The Ujjain today is a spread out town dotted with numerous temples. Kshipra river with good sized flow has a beautifully built Ghats on both the sides. The slow paced waters of Kshipra, darkened by the overcast sky, the Ghats full of colours, pink orange walls of houses and temples to drying clothes on the steps, a relaxed afternoon floating by!

The most important temple of Ujjain is the Mahakaleshwar, another one from 12 Jyoterrling. The temple entrance is complicated and temple premise is quite large. We could not go through the line as we were pressed for time, but the ornate gleaming ‘shikhar’ of the temple made our day. One of the interesting Pooja of this Shivling happens in the early morning called as ‘Bhasmarati’, when the lingam is coated in ash from the nearby crematorium. Shiv being the destroyer and dwelling in ‘crematorium’, this is one important symbolic ritual.
The next temple is the Garhkalila temple, where Kalidas is supposed to have worshipped the goddess. Kavi Kulguru Kalidas was born in this land and many places are associated with the legends of Kalidas, the great poet of 6’th century and creator of ‘Shakuntal’, ‘Meghdoot’ and several such great plays and poetry.
This was one long temple trail in the heartland! But more we see these thriving and celebrated religious places, the more we get saddened and disturbed because of the surrounding things. The garbage, the dirt, the hordes of brokers in the guise of priests trying to capture your attention and almost forcing you to pay them for some service ‘you’ would offer to ‘God’! Equally disgusting is the brusque behavior of ‘pujari’s in the inner sanctum where devotees are treated with zero respect by the officials and shoved and pushed to clear the area and keep the queue moving, not to mention their fresh Pooja flowers offerings are crumpled and thrown away in a heap the second the devotee moves out of line.
Is this why we go to a temple? Where is that feeling of peace and integrity? Then if someone terms the whole thing as business, then one should not feel offended. If all this is a product of growing population, then for starters, we need to stop the direct offerings by devotees and pilgrims to the deity. That should help clean up the premise, reduce over consumption of leaves and flowers and completely slash the need of hovering priests trying to make money. All those who lost job because of ‘no individual pooja’ , should be employed by temple trust for maintaining and cleaning it. Devotees should offer money only and that can be collected at the temple office and there is no need to drown the deity in coins and currency notes. This would be very difficult to digest for the ‘Bhakta’s the common people, because we are so used to that ritual of offerings, we will not know what to do in a temple where we don’t have to do a ‘tick mark’ action of offering and getting shoved to come out of line. .. But probably as they say, that would be a good problem to solve !

The next journey to Mandu was a treat to eyes as the monsoon greenery contrasted with black soil everywhere, small lakes and lush grass carpets dotted with huge trees, a drizzle here and there, light winding roads leading to the top of hills, it was all very soothing.


Mandu Fort

Mandu, a military post with a unique position, at the western boundary of Vindhyachal has Narmada flowing to it’s south and Malva plateau towards west and north. The ramparts of the fort are still visible, as we move from one fort gate. The overall area is quite large overlooking the Narmada Valley.

Mandu came to prominence with Malva Sultan Ghiasuddin Khiljee. The romantic veil around it is woven by the BajBahadur – Roopmati love story. Historically Mandu or Mandav as it is called locally has been a seat of power since sixth century. Originally called as Mandavgarh in Parmar rule, Mandu has a history of several dynasties ruling and loosing it. Starting from Gurjar Pratihar, Parmar, Khiljee, Mughals to Maratha rulers, this jewel of Malva lured them all.

The current wealth of historical monuments at Mandu is proof of its importance. There are several age old monuments just scattered in the green laps of these hills, but Jahaj Mahal and Hindola Mahal are the jewels in the crown. Jahaj Mahal is a massive structure built between 2 mid size lakes. Jahaj Mahal, once a place for maintaining the harem is huge and impressive. Hindola Mahal on the other hand is not very big. The sloping walls of this structure give the effect of a swing.


Jahaj Mahal

The ruins beyond Hindola mahal, all drenched in rain and now swathed in warm golden light, the stone blackened by years of rain and heat, the tall windows touching the sky, the perfect ornamented round of ‘Chanda Bavdi’, the green lakes, the beautiful arches and domes, ravished by the passage of time. The picturesque Mandu tells us many stories, of glorious kingdoms declining and thriving markets changing into ruins.

mandu ruins

Mandu Ruins

Making our way from heavy crowd on Baj Bahadur palace, the secluded green waters of Narmada Kund offered the necessary solace. The legend has it that Baj Bahadur ‘brought’ Narmada for Roopmati for her everyday Darshan! However farfetched the story, the essence is so loving!


Narmada Kund

Moving through lush green landscapes of Malva, all fresh from drizzle and drenched in golden warm sun, I could just marvel at the abundance with which our nature and our heritage has given us to cherish and relish.


  • Nandan Jha says:

    Aptly titled as ‘Symphony’, a great collection of MP sites, from Ujjain to Mandu.

    We went to Mandu and Maheshwar in December and the water levels were very low. Everyone says that one should go to Mandu in Monsoons, Insha Allah one day I want to return to that long drive and hopefully also visit Ujjain. Maheshwar was heavenly. When we reached the ghats, we realised that it is a Muharram day and all the Tajia ceremonies were headed towards the ghats. Right at the Ghat, in that big shiva temple, next to Nandi was a loudspeaker playing the Muslim numbers relevant for such an occasion. It was brilliant.

    Reasons which you have mentioned keeps me away from some of the places. Not too long back, I was at Baba Vaidyanath temple in Jharkhand (Its one of 12 Jytorilings, with a bit of dispute) and with so much faith riding and so so many of well-meaning, pure-hearted pilgrims all around, there was zero attention to basic amenities like hygiene, orderliness etc. I spent close to a day there since the ceremony was right in the temple and visited the deity few times, looked at those pot-bellied priests every time, learnt how all the dharmashalas/guest-houses in the vicinity are controlled by them and how they make so much money and so on. I guess some of the places like Ma Vaishno Devi Shrine (managed through a board, all thanks for then governor Jagmohan) in Jammu and possibly Tirupati are much more professionally managed. At Vaishno Devi which I guess sees 100 Lakh visitors in an year is clean, orderly and everything else. So there is a model to fall back on. And pilgrims are liking it. We need a strong-willed administrator at a state level to make that decision and see that it gets implemented. Till that happens, doing less of those rituals might be the kaizen way.

    Thank you Manisha for sharing this.

  • Excellent post.. Pictures are beautifully captured.
    Too much material in one post. I personally think justice has been denied to Mandu and Maheshwar. There should be separate post on these.
    Any way, Manisha Ji ,thanks for sharing this super fast post with us.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    One little thing, if you could caption the images then they would look nicer (since a black border gets applied for the pictures having captions) and would be more informative. If you send me captions, I can get them on. Wishes.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Hi! Manisha,
    The post is nostalgic. I agree with Nandan about the captions. Its very sad to note that in most of our (Hindu) pilgrimages we see the same kind of sort of Dadagiri of the so called priests inside the temples and agents outside. Long ques for general and special Darshan on paying for it mimics the entire faith and shatters badly with a very helpless feeling. Recently we had to pay for VIP darshan at Shirdi & Tryambkeshwar just because my wife wanted to avoid the 3-4 hour waiting, else I would have preferred to pay my obeisance without entering the premise. The mess around the holy temples is like a symbol of sanctity. If you ever happen to visit Mathura, please beware that the priests in Goverdhan will easily hypnotize you to pay heftily for many reasons, though provided with a receipt after which the curtains of the deities will be removed for darshan. Similar hypnotism is practiced in Pushkar and where not.
    Agree with Naresh, you have hastily finished the so nicely written log. Any way, that has increased the appetite to visit MP.

    Keep traveling

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Its Gokul in Mathura inadvertently mentioned as Goverdhan.

  • injamaven says:

    sorry it wasn’t peaceful. It was very quiet when I visited way back in February ’94. I’d be curious to visit temples on South Bank, especially Amareshwar which I’ve read is also supposed to be a JothiLing.

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Very informative post and good photos. Thanks

  • Stone says:

    Brilliant post, first paragraph is sheer poetry.
    I really liked your suggestions regarding the offerings we make at temples.

    Thank you.

  • Thanks all for reading.

    Yes, the post is too long, should have split into two. but i am a lazy writer, so please forgive me for such follies.

    Regarding chaos at religious places, that is the main reason i have not visited Pandharpur and Tuljapur closer home..

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Manisha,

    I got hold of this post by luck. I had been researching the Lonar Lake for some time and was hoping to visit it next time I am in Aurangabad.

    But I am proud that a fellow Ghumakkar has already been there. Yes very few people seem to know about it. I did not know about the temples surrounding it.

    Liked the post and the photos!

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Manisha,

    A pretty account of the monsoon rains over Mandu and Maheshwar. I think it is the best circuit to visit during the rains. And the sheer poetry in the post has made the place come alive more than what the nature could!

    Loved the para about Maheshwar and comparing the Ahilyas fort to an eagles nest!

    The Mandu Fort photo is actually Baz Bahadurs palace. You probably took this photo from Roopmati Pavilion. It is said he would stand under one of those chattris to look at Roopmati!

    Of course now, if you want you can write separate accounts of Mandu, Maheshwar and Ujjain.

    For the same reasons I am not too wild about visiting temples but incidentally I have been to both Pandharpurs Vittal Temple (empty when I was there) and Tuljapurs Bhavani Temple (overflowing with devotees).

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