Monday, January 23, 2017

MP Diaries - Omkareshwar, The Divine OM Parikrama

" We have to be willing to go
 where the road takes us "
- Theodore Finch  

During our discussion over a quick lunch, we decided to skip Omkareshwar and Maheshwar and head straight to Mandu due to time constraint. Without wasting any more time, we headed towards Mandu and the closest route was via Maheshwar. Around 3:40 pm, we reached a cross road leading to Omkareshwar and  realised that Mandu was about 150 km from here. Thinking again, we modified our plan and drove towards Omkareshwar as we were aware we wouldn't be able to make it to Mandu before sunset. We reached the village of Omkareshwar within ten minutes and were greeted by the narrow lanes of this temple town. Navigating through these lanes, we reached the southern bank of river Narmada. While we were on a look out for a place to park our vehicle, we were surrounded by numerous priests (read them as touts/agents) who offered to take us to a direct darshan of the Lord Omkareshwar. We managed to find a parking spot finally through one of the agent inside a compound for Rs 50/-.
Jyothirlinga Omkareshwar Temple
Omkareshwar Temple Ghat
Omkareshwar is one of the 12 Jyothirlinga shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is situated on an island resembling the holy symbol OM on the banks of the triveni sangam (holy confluence) of rivers Narmada, Kaveri and invisible Saraswathi. There are two ways to reach the temple from the southern bank of river Narmada, either a walk via hanging bridge or a boat ride. We zeroed in on the boat ride as our little one enjoys being in, around and surrounded by water! After a hard bargaining negotiation, our agent he agreed to show us three places for Rs 200/- which were the confluence of the rivers/dam, the Omkareshwara temple and the Vishnu temple. Our boat man first took us close to the dam and told us about that place being the confluence of the rivers which we realised later to be untrue. The point of confluence lies behind the dam and can be reached by walk from main temple. Later we were dropped at the bank of Omkareshwar temple. He informed us that the temple would open by 4:30 pm for darshan and here again while we waited in queue for darshan, we were approached by many priests/agents offering direct darshan at a cost. We had a tough time avoiding them. We stood in the queue for, say 20 minutes before we had the darshan of Lord Omkareshwar.
Narmada Dam
Omkareshwar Dam across River Narmada
Lord Omkareshwar Jyothirlinga 
 The main temple of Omkareshwara is multi-storeyed, with each storey housing one Shivalinga dedicated to the various forms of Lord Shiva. The temple has some beautiful sculptures which are spread across the temple complex. Thanks to Madhya Pradesh government, this place is very cleanly maintained despite being a  pilgrimage center. Here on while returning to our boat, we found a cave temple dedicated to Guru Shankaracharya. This sacred cave is the place where Shankaracharya met his guru Govindphada. We reached the boat, and rode towards the Vishnu temple. We had to see this huge idol of Lord Vishnu from the boat only and later were dropped near the Gomukh Ghat. Gomukh ghat is a ghat on the southern bank of river Narmada and a flight of steps here lead us to the temple complex of Mamleshwar. This temple is considered to be the oldest temple here and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We managed to make a quick visit to all the temples in the complex and stopped by to have a cup of tea. In between our exit from the temple and sipping hot tea, we had picked up a book about Omkareshwar written in Hindi. As we sipped tea, we brushed through the book only to find many other interesting places worth a visit here and around. At the tea stall, we inquired about a few places given in the book and were informed that most of those structures were located on the hillock behind the main temple. Though we were contemplating and initially quite hesitant to ascend the hill, by heart because of our tired legs, we desperately wanted to visit this place and finally put a step forward. Our hearts finally winning won over legs. Unknowingly we were along the divine OM Parikrama or the Narmada Parikrama, a circuitous path regarded as sacred when completed by pilgrims. We crossed the hanging bridge and started our ascent by the steps laid to the top of the hill with the beautiful sun setting, in the back ground. We had to hurry up and rush through a few temples and structures before it fell completely dark. We only wished we would have made it here much earlier, so we could enjoy the sheer beauty of this place. All the structures and temples built here are attributed to the reign of the Paramara dynasty.
Inside Shankaracharya Cave
Dwarapalas of Mamleshwar Temple
Mamleshwar Temple Complex Omkareshwar
Mamleshwar Temple Complex 
Calmly Flowing Narmada
Raj Mahal
 Gauri/Gori Somnath temple  ( Locally known as Mama-Bhanja temple) 
This is a beautiful two storeyed temple belonging to the 11th century AD housing a huge Shivalinga. It is built of red sandstone and is associated with various interesting legends. There is also a beautiful Nandi idol opposite to the temple. A little further is the Patali Hanuman temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman who is seen in a reclining posture.
Gori Somnath Temple
 Sita Mata Temple 
This 11th century temple, now mostly in ruins is dedicated to Goddess Sita (Lord Rama's consort). 
Goddess Sita 
Chand - Suraj Dwar ( Moon - Sun  Fort Gateway) 
This is a very beautiful fort gateway and on either sides of the gateway are carved images of river goddesses  Ganga and Yamuna. A carving of Lord Ganesha is also seen here.
Chand Suraj Dwar
Lord Ganesha
River Goddess Ganga
River Goddess Yamuna
Siddhnath Barahdwari Siddeshwar Temple
The main reason for our ascent to this hillock was the picture of Siddhnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The sun had set by the time we reached this temple. Even in the dark the temple looked equally beautiful, consisting of 72 pillars (18 pillars in each direction). All the pillars seemed to be very well executed.
Siddhnath Barahdwari Temple
Bhima Darwaja (Bhima Gate)
Another gateway to this fort is the Bhima Darwaja where a huge idol of Bhima (one of the five Pandava brothers from Mahabharata) is seen.
Finally we reached the main temple of Omkareshwar where the parikrama ends and got another chance of darshan of the Lord, this time among a relatively lesser crowd. Since it is the Parikrama path, the pathway was well laid and well lit all along.
Carvings on the Ceiling of Omkareshwar Temple

Distance from nearby major town - 75 km from Indore.
Accommodation - Being a pilgrimage center, there are many options for finding accommodation. Narmada resort being one among the better ones is maintained by MPSTDC.
Where to eat - Many road side eateries offer Poha, Jalebi, Samosa and other snacks.
1. RBS Visitors Guide India - ''Madhya Pradesh"
2. Omkareshwar Mahathva - A Local Guide
2. Ghumakkar 

Friday, January 20, 2017

MP Diaries - Asirgarh, Gateway to Deccan

Asirgarh, a hill fort in Burhapur of East Nimar district, Madhya Pradesh is located in the Satpura range, 259 meters high from the base and 696 meters above sea level. Asirgarh was an invincible fort of the medieval times covering an area of 60 acres at the summit of the hill. The fort was regarded as the gateway to the Deccan and the emperor who had the authority over the region not only had access to the Deccan region but also had a control over land and water routes and could regulate the inland and foreign trade that resulted in a prosperous economy. The west side of the hill is well defended by three lines of defenses namely, the lower most Malaigarh, middle most Kamargarh and the top most Asirgarh. Over time, the fort was ruled by many dynasties and the fortification was strengthened. The fort comprising of strong walls and bastions had mainly seven gateways.
Asirgarh Fort , Burhanpur
Asirgarh Fort 
Asirgarh fort finds a mention in the epic Mahabharata as Ashwatthamagiri. Firishta (Persian historian) derived the name of Asirgarh from Asa Ahir, to whom he attributes the foundation of the fort; but this is speculative as the name Asir is repeatedly mentioned by the Rajput poet Chand. It may have come from the Asi or Haihaya kings who ruled the Narmada valley from Maheshwar. The literary sources proclaim that from 9th to 12th century, the fort was under the dominion of Tak and Chauhan Rajputs. In 1295, the fort was a stronghold of the Chauhan Rajputs and was captured by the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji after retreating back from his Deccan campaign. Later in 15th century, the fort was held by the Faruqi kings of Khandesh and taken by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1600 who opened the gateway to the southern India. After the decline of the mughals, the fort was controlled by Nizam, Peshwa, Scindia and Holkar. In 1904, the fort was transformed into a British cantonment under the command of General Doveton. The legendary freedom fighter of Sambalpur (Odisha/Orissa), Veer Surendra Sai along with his family members and followers were brought here against the charges of revolutionary movement against British. They were kept here as state prisoners until the death of Veer Surendra, after which the rest were released. The Persian inscriptions of Akbar, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb found here speak volumes about their association with this fort. 
Persian Inscriptions
Jama Masjid
The Jama Masjid was constructed by the Faruqi ruler Adil Shah IV in the year 1590. The masjid is entered by three elevated arches that open into a quadrangular courtyard that is surrounded by elevated arcaded colonnades (a series of arches supported regularly spaced columns) on three sides with a prayer hall on the west. The arched cloister of the prayer hall has a qibla at its center. The two ends of the prayer hall are supported by two lofty minars.
Jama Masjid Asirgarh
Jama Masjid 
British Cantonment
On the southwest side of the fort, structures, cells and cemetery of the British period is present. These underground cells were for the prisoners made captive by the British. Topographically, the hill was a natural barrier for the intrusion and extrusion that resulted in a difficult prison break. Apart form many patriots, revolutionaries of kuka movement headed by Guru Ram Singh were also detained here in the year 1872. Of the kuka revolutionaries, Rur Singh and Pahar Singh died during their confinement whereas Muluk Singh, during his last days was sent back to Punjab in the year 1886.
Queen's Lake (Rani Ka Talab)
Portion of the British Cantonment
Mahadev Temple
The legend says that, the son of Guru Drona, Ashwatthama of Mahabharata worships this ancient Shiva temple every day. The temple was constructed in 18th century in the Maratha style of architecture. The temple comprises of a garbhagriha and a mandapa. Close to the temple are a baoli (well) and few rock-cut cells and passages.
Lord Mahadev Temple
Phansi Ghar (Place of execution of criminals)
British Cemetery Inside the Fort 
Moti Mahal
The beautiful palace of Moti Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, which is now in ruins and neglected. This two storeyed palace was built for his beloved wife Moti Mahal, where he spent private time with his queen.
Moti Mahal
Moti Mahal 
Inside Moti Mahal
1. Krik Kitell
2. Travel Magic 
3. Saini Online 
4. Imperial Gazetteer of India.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

MP Diaries - Burhanpur, Origin of Taj Mahal

After a long travel of 1255 km, on the evening of 27th December at 8:50 pm we entered Madhya Pradesh, crossing the border check post at Ichhapur. We were about 200 km away from Indore, our first destination  as per plan and were way behind schedule, thanks to the very bad roads across the state of Maharashtra. It  had been a long and tedious drive of about 400 km from Latur to MP border via Lonar crater lake (one among the very few places we have visited twice in the same year). It was late in the evening, we were extremely hungry and so we decided to halt at the next town for the night. Burhanpur was the next big town and luckily we managed to find an accommodation  that night. River Tapti welcomed us to the town of Burhanpur.
Garden Maintained By ASI
 Burhanpur is the south eastern gateway to Madhya Pradesh and the first place we visited in MP. None of the books we carried had any information about this place and only on googling did we realize the rich historical past of Burhanpur. We decided explore Burhanpur the next morning and hence shortlisted Shahi Qila among the many places which were worth a visit. We woke up to a foggy morning and waited for it to clear. As the fog cleared, we were greeted with the sight of two pairs of Indian grey horn bill. Sadly, the camera was in the car and we decided to keep an eye on the tree where the birds were foraging. By the time we reached the car, they had moved on. We checked about the timing of Shahi Qila from the hotel staff and the ignorant owner informed us that the gates open only after 9 am. After we reached Shahi Qila, we realized the gates were open much before 9 am  and that all the ASI monuments remain open from sunrise to sunset.
Shahi Qila, Burhanpur
Shahi Qila 
  The history of Burhanpur dates back to the Rashtrakuta period but none of the structures built during that era survive any longer. The excavations around this place have revealed about its association with the Rashtrakutas. The credit of founding the town of Burhanpur goes to the Faruqi King Nasir Khan during 1400 AD and remained in the clutches of Mughals till the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 AD. Later the Marathas, under Peshwa Bajirao conquered this town and brought it under their rule. The British then took control of this place from the weakening Maratha empire. About 3 km from Burhanpur is the village of Lodhi which houses the Dargah-e-Hakim which is considered to be a holy place for Muslims belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra sect.
Raj Ghat
 'Shahi Qila' or the 'Royal Palace' was built during the period of Faruqi King Adil Khan II. The palace, originally being a seven storeyed structure is situated on the right bank of river Tapti, with much of it now in ruins. It is believed that Shah Jahan spent a considerable time in this town during his regime as a Mughal emperor and contributed by adding  buildings to the Shahi Qila, like the Diwan-e-aam (hall for public audience) and Diwan-e-khas (hall for private audience). The 'Hammam' or the 'Royal Bath' was specially built for his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal where she enjoyed a luxurious bath in scented water. The Hammam houses a bath place in the middle and carries beautiful frescoes on its honey-combed ceiling, a few of which have managed to survive.The paintings in Hammam are exquisite work of art. It is believed that the design of  the Taj Mahal was inspired by one of the painting depicting a monument on the ceiling of Hammam. The Hammam exhibits a perfect blend of Persian and Mughal architecture. Shah Jahan also originally planned to build the Taj Mahal on the banks of river Tapti but due to non availability of white marble, he later shifted the site to Agra. Mumtaz Mahal died in Burhanpur while giving birth to her fourteenth child and was buried here for several months till the construction of Taj Mahal and her mortal remains were then transferred to Agra.
Hammam or Royal Bath
Paintings on the ceiling of Hammam
Other places to visit around - Kali Masjid, Bibi Ki Masjid, Jama Masjid, Kundi Bhandara (medieval age water lift management), boat ride in River Tapti.
Distance from nearby major town - 175 km from Indore.
Accommodation - We stayed at Hotel Panchavati, a budget hotel which was good for over night stay. The hotel serves only vegetarian food. Only e-wallets are accepted here. Another option for lodging would be Hotel Tapti Retreat maintained by MPSTDC.
Where to eat - Many road side eateries offer Poha, Jalebi, Samosa and other snacks. Our breakfast of Poha and Sev along with bread and omelette at Tapti Retreat costed us Rs.250/-. Cards are accepted here.
References -
1. RBS Visitors Guide India - ''Madhya Pradesh"
2. Wikipedia 
3. Beyond Lust

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