Lord Shiva, the supreme deity of Hinduism, is worshiped in the form of a Jyothirlinga or ‘Lingam of light’ in many of Shiva temples. But among them twelve shrines are very significant as the prime Jyothirlingas of Lord Shiva. They are scattered around the country and each of them symbolizes an important aspect of Almighty.
In this article we will discuss about Omkareshwar, one of the 12 significant Jyothirlingas of Lord Shiva, which is located at Khandwa District, Madhya Pradesh. The temple of Omkareshwar is situated in an island like location which is shaped like the sacred Hindu symbol ‘Om’; the place is around 2 km long and 1 km in width.
Omkareshwar Temple is located on Mandhata Mountain, beside the banks of River Narmada. The temple is located at Malwa, Madhya Pradesh which is 77 km from the city of Indore.
A unique feature of the location of Omkareshwar Temple is that River Narmada forks from here into two separate routes and forms a natural island at its center which is called Mandhata or Shivapuri. All the more amazing is the fact that the shape of the island resembles that of an ‘Om’ – the Omkara sound which is uttered at the starting of every Hindu prayer. The temple can be reached by ferry.
Omkareshwar Temple is linked to the Mamaleshwar or Amareshwar Temple which is located at the southern end of the River Narmada. As per Indian mythology, Lord Shiva created one Linga and then divided them into two; the first one is installed at Omkareshwar and the second one at Mamleshwar. The Omkareshwar and Mamaleshwar region is in the midst of dense forests whose diverse vegetation, marine, and wild life attracts even nature lovers.
Omkareshwar is a self-manifested (swayambhu) Linga; since it is Om shaped, it is given the name ‘Omkareshwar’ or ‘Omkarji’. The self-manifested Linga is naturally installed on the ground and not affixed in an artificial manner. There are 108 Shivlingas present at the temple and each one is precious in its own way. It is believed that the temple of Omkareshwar is home to 33 crore deities.
Two other unique features of this temple are –
– the Linga here is not placed below the cupola and,
– located on the top of the temple edifice is the idol of Lord Shiva.
The temple is surrounded by water and the whole temple is suffused with various symbolisms. For instance, the Shikhara here corresponds to Mount Meru – the world’s axis as described in Hindu mythology; while River Narmada represents the cosmic ocean.
The deities are located in different floors inside the temple.
– The presiding deity Omkareshwar resides on the ground floor, placed on a holy throne.
– On the 1st floor, Lord Mahakaleshwar is worshiped.
– The shrine on the 2nd floor is a tribute to Siddhanath Shiva.
– On the 3rd floor, in a small room, resides Gupteshwar.
– On the 4th floor, Dwajadhari Dwijeshwar or Trident is installed as the holy power. The peak of the temple is wrapped with precious gold and the Trident is placed just under the peak.
– Beautiful idol of goddess Mahakali also resides along with her consort inside this holy cave.
The significance of worshiping Omkareshwar
It is believed that worshiping Omkareshwar is equivalent to visiting and worshiping Panch Kedars and Kedarnath. At Omkareshwar, there is a special importance of worshiping Lord Shiva with gram dal and performing Jagran (staying awake overnight). The temple witnesses a huge number of visitors during the occasions of Shivratri, and Kartik Purnima. The area surrounding Omkareshwar owns its existence to this temple and for thousands of visitors this is one of the major pilgrimage centers in India.
The main temple of Lord Omkareshwar is embellished with beautiful carvings inspired from a typical North-Indian style of stone-architecture. The temple of Omkareshwar is built in an extravagant Nagara architectural style with a distinguished lofty Shikhara. The shrines of Annapurna and Ganesha are also present here. The entry to the main temple is preceded by a small two-room passage.
Age-old architecture and sculptures are dispersed all across the temple vicinity, indicative of the existence of many other temples in the past which suffered destruction in the passing of years. The temple on the island is surrounded by wayside shrines, bathing locations, broken fort walls, ruined temples, and ancient caves inhabited by thousands of Shaivite sadhus.
The dome of the temple is an interesting feature as it is made up of layered stone slabs rather than the conventional circular stones. Due to the unusual location of the temple there are evident changes in its constructional style. While visiting the temple one can see that neither the sanctum sanctorum is located in the front of the main door, nor the main deity is situated below the elevated conspicuous Shikhara.
Origins of the Temple
Nothing particular is known about the origins of Lord Omkareshwar Temple. However, archeologists have opined that the Jyothirlinga inside was originally situated in a small old-styled temple where a huge sanctum sanctorum was later built.
Some researchers have put forward that King Mandhata of the Ishvaku clan worshiped Lord Shiva here, while others opine that the Guru of Adi Shakaracharya, Govinda Bhagavatpaada, lived here in a cave for quite some time. According to the Puranas, an ashram belonging to the Guru of Vindhyachal Mountain, Sage Agastya existed here. He was responsible for spreading the Aryan culture in Southern India. During the 11th Century, when the Mughal emperor, Mahmud Gazni, attacked thousands of Hindu temples, Omkareshwar Temple was one amongst them but it fortunately survived the attack and turned out to be one of the most sacred places of Hindu pilgrimage.
There are many legends associated with Omkareshwar Temple.
o The first legend revolves around Vindhya Parvat (Mount). Once, Narada visited Vindhya and narrated to him the tale of the greatness of Mount Meru after which Vindhya became adamant on growing larger than Meru. Thus, Vindhya started meditating on Lord Shiva and also started a severe penance. Shiva soon granted Vindhya a boon that he would become larger than Mount Meru. Lord Shiva thus installed two Swayambhu Lingas at Omkareshwar and Mamaleshwar or Amareshwar. However, once Vindhya began growing he became extremely proud and started throwing tantrums at all others. On request of all deities, Sage Agastya and his wife arrived at Vindhya Mount and somehow convinced Vindhya to stop growing till they return from a nearby pilgrimage. Thus, the sage and his wife never returned and Vindhya stopped growing from that moment. Sage Agastya and his wife later made Srisailam their spiritual abode, the place which later got recognized as Dakshina Kashi where one of the 12 Jyothirlingas of Lord Shiva stays as Lord Mallikarjuna Swamy.
o The second legend tells the story of Mandhata, after whom the mountain is named, and his sons. It so happened that once Mandhata performed long penance and due to this Lord Shiva appeared before him and installed Omkareshwar Linga at the mountain. Another school of thought opines that Mandhata’s sons Ambarish and Mucchkund performed severe penance here and their penance and austerities extremely pleased Lord Shiva.
o There is a third legend associated with the origins of Lord Omkareshwar Temple. As mentioned in many ancient Hindu Scriptures, once there was a fierce war between the Devas (gods) and Danavas (demons) in which the Devas lost to the Danavas. After this shameful defeat, all the Devas together worshiped Lord Shiva following which the Lord emerged as Omkareshwar Jyothirlinga and crushed all the Danavas and gained victory over them.
Omkareshwar Parikrama: Devotees consider the entire region as mokhsdaayi while the Narmada is also among the 7 sacred rivers of India. Therefore, a parikrama of the entire region is done that lasts for 3 days.
Omkareshwar Jal Vihar: Every Monday, the golden, Panchmukhi Linga idol is taken for a boat-ride on the waters.
Kartik Purnima Mela: Omkareshwar puja on Kartik Purnima holds special significance. On this day a huge fair is held that is attended by local folks as well as tourists from far off places.
Makar Sankranti: Shiva Puja and Narmada bath on 14th January (Magh month) are considered as givers of salvation. On this day, the local people enjoy flying kites.
Rang Panchmi: This festival of colors is celebrated 5 days after Holi; though it is more prevalent in Indore.
Mahashivratri: Celebrated in Magh month, it is the biggest festival for Shiva followers. On this occasion, the decoration of both the temples is worth watching and enjoying the divine presence confers bliss.