Omkareshwar is one of India’s holiest cities. It is the home of “the Lord of the sound Om“, one of the 12 Jyotir Lingams or “lingams of light”.
At Omkareshwar the river Narmada divides into two channels around an island called Shivapuri. The island, 4km long and 2km wide, is said to be in the shape of Hinduism’s symbolic syllable “OM” (ॐ) – whence the name Omkareshwar.
The Narmada is one of India’s seven sacred rivers, the others being the Ganges, Godavari, Kaveri, Saraswati, Sindhu and Yamuna rivers. Legend has it that the Narmada was the sweat that flowed from Shiva’s body when he danced his cosmic dance, the Tandhava.
There are two important Shiva Lingams in the town, Omkareshwar and Mamaleshwar.
Omkareshwar (“Lord of the sound Om“) is the main temple and houses the Jyotir Lingam.
The Mamaleshwar or Amareshwar lingam (“immortal Lord” lingam) and the temple that houses it are on the south bank of the Narmada. The temple dates from the 11th century. Hindu pilgrims honour both lingams at the same time, since for some of them the two lingams are one.
Worshippers usually perform a 7km Parikrama (circumambulation) on the island carrying water from the Narmada to have their prayers answered. Along the way they visit various temples such as the Rinmukteshwar Mandir, Gauri Somnath Mandir, Siddhanath Mandir, Ashapuri Mandir, Chand Suraj Dwar and Bheem Aarjun Dwar.
One day when the great sage Narada was visiting Vindhya he expressed his admiration for Mount Meru. Vindhya was jealous and decided to grow higher than Mount Meru.
To achieve this he prayed to Shiva, performed many austerities and worshipped the Shiva Lingam at Omkareshwar for six months. Shiva was satisfied and granted his wish. He allowed Mount Vindhya to grow, but made him promise not to cause any trouble.
After that the gods and sages asked Shiva to stay in the town. He agreed to do so and split the lingam in two. One half is called Omkareshwara and the other Mamaleshwar or Amareshwar.
As you stroll around the streets of the town you are bound to come across shops selling multi-coloured, oval-shaped pebbles. These are Banalingas or Narmada Lingams found in the bed of the river Narmada.
They are Swayambhu Lingams (self-manifested lingams) because they have been shaped naturally by the river itself. Banalingas are only found in the Narmada. Hindus regard them as very sacred because of their lingam shape. Some credit them with holistic healing properties.
Banalingas are made of cryptocrystalline quartz, chalcedony, basalt and agate. Geologists explain that the unique composition of the Narmada Lingams is due to a meteorite crashing into the Earth in the region 14 million years ago. The elements that made up the meteorite became incorporated in the rock formations through which the river flowed. Over time, fragments of rock falling into the river were worn into smooth pebbles by the force of the Narmada’s flow.
Banalingas are protected and only certain families, who have inherited the right and also the necessary experience, are allowed to gather them. They are found in deep potholes in the river bed. When gathered they look like ordinary pebbles; they are hand polished to bring out their shine.
There are other places worth visiting besides the Omkareshwar and Mamaleshwar temples; see the Omkareshwar website MORE +