“ Narmade Har !!”
Travelogue : Visit to Amarkantak and walking along Naramda Maiya
**( River of dreams by Billy Joel )
**( River by Jordan Feliz )
**( Maa Reva by Indian Ocean )
The beginning :
I am having tea at a roadside shack as I am waiting for bus to Amarkantak.
I have finished one cutting chai ( tea ) in typical cutting glass.
Surprisingly tea is good. Good by typical Indian standard, boiled with ginger and is strong.
I am trying to speak to different dharmashalas over phone which are active on internet.
The famous kalyan ashram tells me “ it’s Shivaratri and we will not be in position to give you any accommodation “
At Barfani baba ashram, Mr Bitu tells me to come over as he can manage.
Second cutting tea is ordered .
“the bus is coming” alarms the tea stall owner as I am enjoying my second glass of tea.
Rs 5 per cutting sounds unreal.
I wind up very fast and get into a mini bus which is packed .
I position myself at one place but soon become little bit unhappy as I am standing in a zone where people near me are sleeping on their seats and it seems they are long distance travelers.
Why am I going to Amarkantak ? I ask myself.
Last month my brothers royally ditched our “roadies” trip of doing “ardhapradikshana ( half circular journey ) of River Narmada .
Post Leh Ladakh trip which happened long back ( and much before bollywood invaded Ladhakh ) Roshan was after me to organize an exclusive trip for “us brothers “
As we all age, it becomes difficult to come to some consensus.
When to go? Where to go? How many days to take out ? How to handle job/business, family and inherent pressures ?
This becomes a typical problem and even when one proposes “ let’s go on a world tour” one of the participants will invariably say “ no yaar , so boring ….let’s go somewhere else “
More technology allows us to have “ our own time and space”,
More we get entangled in our own world . We genuinely believe “ world around me will not function if I am not around micromanaging “
I had read Mr Amritlal Vegad’s travelogue on “ Parikrama Narmada Maiyani “ ( circular journey around holy river Narmada ( referred as “the mother “ )during my school days. It had left long lasting impression.
Surprisingly, later when I read it again I did not find the travelogue very interesting except the very basic concept of walking along the holy river .
When my Raipur work programme gets extended as we have visit a Paper mill in central India, the urge to visit Amarkantak becomes stronger. Amarkantak is historic , holy , on the hills and the origin of River Narmada.
When your desire is strong, small things happen and you end up smiling and appreciating these small gestures.
As I am talking to self, two people who were sleeping suddenly get up to get down .
I get window seat to enjoy the journey on the ghat road to Amarkantak.
On the way there are boards warning the drivers to be careful while driving so that wild animals crossing the roads are not harmed. In case of an accident where a wild animal is harmed there are fines.
Today is “ Mahashivratri “.
It is a big day and there is a big “mela” going on.
Amarkantak is having the peak tourists/pilgrimage season.
Thousands of devotees have come and are coming.
At the main road :
The main road is one big market place.
As I walk towards the main temple of Narmada Maiya, on right side there is an entertainment zone.
On left side is police control tent along with mela administration office .
Over the evening and next day I hear a lot many instructions being relayed over the public address system which covers almost 1.0 km road length.
With every tragedy our bureaucracy/district administration does learn and try to improve.
Behind main temple is barfani dharmshala.
At the ancient temple complex
I am in the ancient temple complex( there are temples of karan ,Shiva and Patalesvara ) , now under control of Archaeological Survey of India and open from sunrise to sunset.
Quite impressive and well maintained by Archaeology Survey of India.
The Shiva temple has two different garbha griha facing each other in perpendicular direction.
If someone plans a light and sound show the whole visit can become more engaging, as amarkantak has a lot of interesting legends and stories which can come to life with use of technology.
Narmada Maiya : main temple
The main temple complex has good security arrangement for Mahashivratri.
Over all the numbers of devotees are not alarmingly high and there is a steady flow of people coming and leaving.
I spend next couple of hours within the temple premises and enjoy my favorite activity : “ to observe”
For human race “shradha/astha or belief is most interesting and powerful thing.
Maa Narmada invokes great devotion.
Millions come and pay respect to “Maa Namrada” by chanting
“ Narmade Har “
But there is no glamour or grandeur which gets associated to “ Ma Ganga “
Ganga ( river Ganges ) easily is bigger national and international phenomenon.
It starts from gigantic , impressive Himalayas and travels across India , blessing many states .
There are many known films, documentaries, travelogues , photo exhibitions on Ganga , but when it comes to supreme dedication it is Narmada which has a great tradition of Parikrama ( circular journey )
An ancient pilgrimage which over the years has only grown and now has become a mini movement.
Devotees ( or even simple explorers ) walk along the river Narmada for days , months .Either they want to do ardhaparikrama ( half circular journey ) or full parikrama ( complete circular journey )
Purists follow the rules.
There is a support system. There are houses, villages along the route which help the parikramavasis ( people taking the circular pilgrimage ).
Like any other famous temple, this temple also has number of other temples. Typical devotee keeps visiting all the temples and can easily spend some time
At centre there is one kund (a small rectangular tank ) from where Maiya Narmada immerges.
Next to it is a large polygonal tank with sitting arrangement and within the water there is an idol of Narmada in the form of goddess.
On the periphery there are Shivlings for the conveniences of devotees who offer milk or water ,perform pooja , drink little water in a stylish way , sprinkle water on their body. ( people learn this art by observing each other )
I am sitting at one place, observing and waiting for the Maha Aarti to start.
Today being Mahashivratri , there will be a Maha Aarti (mother of all prayers )
The arrangements start at 7.00 pm and for next half an hour preparations continue , including arranging carpets for the devotees so that they can sit.
Diyas are placed at specific places on the periphery.
Main Aarti is arranged for five pundits. Each one has dedicated help so that preparations can be done. Three more are looking after logistics of items.
Two are on the mike.
At 7.30 pm the Aarti starts and for next thirty minutes it is power packed performance.
The main sutradhar ( narrator ) explains the importance of amarkantak and Maa narmada to the audience , sings aarti/bhajans in Hindi and Sanskrit. The ancient shlokas are recited as well.
Overall there is great efficiency and punctuality.
In between there is a power cut. It’s pitch dark except for the light glow of the diyas.
Post Aarti every pandit is surrounded by dedicated and mesmerised fans.
Every event has logistics problems.
While taking the Prasad I listen to the conversation between logistics manager and one of the five pundits.
Three kg of ghee was ordered for diyas, but the Pundit found the quantity inadequate.
“I must have eaten“ is the casual and sarcastic answer by the logistic manager
This kind of answer stops the Prasad distribution for some time as the pandit involved finds this kind of answer too shocking.
Now there are a few seconds of silence ( between two of them ) . At the same time an interesting situation is frozen in time frame : a lot hands are in air ,expecting Prasad to fall in their palms.
After some time the ‘pause’ is released, the prasad distribution resumes.
Both the parties ( manager and pandit ) are now talking normally. Pandit is now explaining in softer voice that this kind of event is not held every day and we all have to be careful.
The logistic guy is nodding his head and now not arguing.
I like project management. Most of the projects become complicated as egos clash unnecessarily . Problems for most of the times are self created.
I smile and move on.
I have a long round of the area .
Majority of devotees are from rural background. They have come here in groups. Wherever they have found the place they have camped. There are going to sleep in open , under shades of trees , make shift tents ( provided by private parties or government agencies ). There are areas where many are squeezed and it is obvious that they can not sleep. May be they will sit and sleep, may be lean on each other.
They may or may not have means to afford basic amnesties, but every group has some mobile phones.
Next I visit the entertainment zone. There are three circus tents, six big rides and other entertainment items. The whole area is very noisy as every one has huge speaker system ( 8 to 16 speakers ) inviting every one to come.
RS 10 is the most accepted currency.
Most of the entry fees, food items, gifts, toys are priced at Rs 10.
One of the hit item on sale is Ring made of “kale ghode ke Naal se bani angoothi “ ( ring made from a horse shoe which is attached to the hoof of a black horse.)
This item is sold at multiple places. It is like multi branch –multi location retail.
Every where there is same voice ( same recorded message played again and again on battery operated speaker system )
In Rs 10 the ring is going to solve all your problems is the key message. Some compassionate Baba has done this great job as he does not want Maiya devotees to suffer.
Sale of jadibuttis ( herbal medicines ) is also on large scale and virtually every nook and corner.
Only thing which is lacking is variety in street food or rather there is hardly any street food.
Suddenly the atmosphere changes and there is little drizzle.
The efficient mela organizers start announcing on public address system .
“ It might rain , we have done arrangements at following dharmashalas”
“we have made special arrangements in following dharmashalas, please shift there “
“please do not use open to sky areas for tonight.”
Overall the public address system remains busy .
Some interesting announcements
“A snake is seen on so and so road. The snake catchers who have come from anuppur are requested to rush to the spot as the snake is hiding in the bushe under the banyan tree. Please hurry up as snake might run away “
“ so and so gentleman has lost his purse .The purse contains a union bank credit card, driving license….”
“ one year baby boy has lost his parents , he is wearing brown colour jacket…”
“ so and so …please come to control room , your friends from your village have come and want to join you”
“ we have found keys of so and so car , please come with your identity card and claim the same “
As there is some drizzle I decide to break for dinner.
Options are limited. Next to Kalaynika kendriya shiksha nikatan school there is a hotel with restaurant ( Sarvodaya Vishram Griha ) and I order thali (only thing which is served faster )
Post dinner I end up doing something which I could have avoided. I decide to do little survey and ask the manager about rooms at hotel.
He reluctantly gives the rate card . I ask him “there is interesting difference between rates of double rooms in this different categories. Rather than showing the rooms or explaining the features he puts two Pens on the table.
“ See these, what can you see “
Confused I try to answer “ Pens….for writing”
“ what is the difference ?”
“ they are two different pens”
“ but both are pens? “
“both write “
“you can write your name . after writing can you make out which writing is attributed to which pen?’
“ oh “
“tell me what is the difference?”
I get more confused as all this is leading to absurdity
“ one is cheaper and other is better looking.”
“but both of them write? They do the same function”
“thank you , I think I have got your point” saying this I want to leave
“ wait you try them , write on this paper…..” he tries to stop me
I smile , hug him and tell him
“ you have wonderful way of explaining, I like your examples ! can I go ! “
Morning : walking with parikramavasi
I have the strong urge to walk along the narmada river but only way to do this is with some parikramawasi.
I try to analyze . Am I clear with my programme ? or am I becoming more silent ? why am I hesitant ?
Usually I am very inquisitive . When Amrakantak was decided I was charged up with an idea of interacting with maximum so as to gather maximum information about parikrama. I had thought of doing survey on Parikrama and parikrama vasi.
To my own surprise I remain quiet most of the time and talk only when it becomes essential during entire stay at Amarkantak
Only desire I have is to walk along Maa Namrade
I start walking on one side and soon realize some people walking on the other side of river along the flow of the river. I cross over to the other side and start walking on the trail. There is steady flow of villagers. Some are villagers from nearby villages going back after the darshan. Some are going towards kapildhara.
Soon I am walking with one parikramavasi who is walking since last two weeks . He has come to amarkantak from opposite side taken a round turn and now walking on this side of bank.
He is a farmer and left everything to his son and moved. His bag is heavy. He says he is not exactly a parikramavasi as he is just doing a trial to find out the exact requirement for the parikrama. His initial estimate
tells him that a budget of Rs 30,000 is needed to complete the parikrama.
I do not ask much except “are you on parikrama? “
Soon we are joined by a man wearing sadhu attire with axe in his hand .
By this time I have started greeting everyone with “ Narmade Har !”
This is the usual greeting whenever you meet anyone .
Soon we are approaching the first sangam. ( confluence of rivers )
The man with axe disapproves the farmer’s choice of route and scolds him as he is not carrying the water.
“This road will lead you to kapildhara and from there the jungle starts. You can not cross the river as you are on parikrama. It is better that you take the main road till dindori where Maa Narmada will again meet you”
The farmer obeys him without any discussion and leaves the path.
River Arandi meets Namrada river at aranya sangam. The government has built one ghat for the devotees.
The man with axe has reached his destination as he goes into one of the rooms at the aranya sangam.
There is also some gufa ( cave ) where one of the rishi had done tapasya ( meditation )
It is quite puzzling, there is hardly any length which can be attributed to river arandi.
One of the locals tells me “there was one kund ( small well ) from where river arandi was immerging and there was little flow of arandi, but now because of ghat the whole area is merged.
For parikramavasi who does the pilgrimage on foot, taking bath at every sangam ( confluence of the rivers ) is part of the parikrama ritual.
There are couple of buses. These are parikramavasi “ on wheels.”
Recently there has been fashion to do parikrama in conducted tours. People ( invariably most of them are oldies )are taken in buses to all the important ghats and holy places by road where they can perform pooja and even take bath in holy water.. In conducted tours ,operator arranges everything : stay , travel, cooks with complete ration , support in purchasing etc.
I move along the river and soon join one more villager who is actually on Parikrama . Later I know his name as “kanaka” and he is on parikrama since more than a month.
There are other groups. Those who are walking barefoot are more likely parikramavasi as one of the purist rule says “ one has to do parikrama without wearing shoes or chappals”
There are some groups where there are only ladies . The ease by which they carry heavy luggage on their head is amazing.
Kanaka and me remain together for next 12 km ( approx ). His Hindi dialect is from rural Malwa and I need to struggle to understand the same. He is coughing and even looks a person who may have some breathing problem, but his pace is fast. He does not stop much and looks like a man in a hurry. He is on his parikrama with least preparation……for him it is his faith and ashtha which will sail him through. He has not even considered the jungle route which he is going to take ( which many avoid or always do only in groups ).
I volunteer to take his bag which he willingly gives. Only hitch is his pace increases and this does create problem for my photo clicking for this blog. We pass by huts which are in no man’s land but little children always ask some money. At one place elderly lady scolds a young girl who is asking for money from parikramavasis but the girl just smiles at her.
Soon we are at kapildhara ( a place where sage kapil had done tapasya ( meditation ). Here Narmada has first waterfall and as it looses altitude dramatically . We drink jaljira (cold water +digestive mixture )and move on.
There is no easy route from here except crossing over to the other side and go down towards doodh dhara. Kanaka can not cross over . Only option is to climb the hill and take the jungle route. I join him as alone he does not want to go. Soon we are on our way. Now there are no sign of any parikramavasi. Only two of us are walking . The trail is lost at times as we find ourselves climbing upwards and away from Narmada.
I have few moments of doubts, but kanaka says “we both have company of each other so why worry.” He is walking barefoot. I am walking wearing my old sandals (initially I was apprehensive as I did not bring any sports or hiking shoes with me ). On seeing so many barefoot walkers I just forgot about my desire for proper footwear.
Kanaka talks about days spent when he was only climbing mountains and could not see Maa Narmada for couple of days. In remotest places he could always find some company and/or guidance.
At times there is total silence and all I can hear his sound of winds, leaves or some monkey making some sound.
I am aware that I cannot keep going. We have crossed doodhdhara long back and we were walking more upwards and away from river . All we can see/feel the valley with trees blocking our view of gorge below.
Suddenly I see some human movement down towards river side. I decide to move down and kanaka follows.
Soon I can see a very small camp side ( from distance ) with two yellow tents .
Soon we are at Maiharwale baba’s open Ashram.
We are greeted by “ Narmade Har ! “ as we meet. The Ashram is open from all side, next to river Narmada .
We are now in very serene surroundings !
We are told to sit down and relax .
I explain the situation . The combination of me in western clothes with the old baba is an odd mix.
Once they know that Kanaka baba is on parikrama , the disciples of maihar baba tell him to seek guidance from maihar baba as he has done parikrama in past.
All this is happening when we all are in the same zone and facing each other.
Next Maihar baba and Kanaka baba bend and pay respect to each other in same magnitude.
Maihar baba speaks softly. He has realized the “non preparedness of Kanaka baba so without scaring kanaka he suggests him to keep walking along the bank of Maiya.
“ you should not have taken this jungle route without fellow parikramavvasi for company.”
“ Have you made the identity card for parikramavasi ? The cards are issued at village level and they are useful in availing services and in case of emergency .”
Obviously Kanaka baba does not know anything . He murmurs “ Oh I have left everything on Maiya “
He is advised to go for few more kilometers till he reaches to one ashram, stay at ashram till next day.
“ You must stay there for today as route further is within jungle and you will have to walk for 6 to 7 hours continuously to reach the first village where you can get some support “
We are served tea as we are their guests.
After the tea ,kanaka gets restless. I request him to stay for satsang ( spending some time in good company ) but he wants to move on , even alone ( without waiting for some one who can give him company to pass through the jungle area )
Maihar baba blesses him and says “ as you wish, just keep your shradha ( faith ) on Maiya and you will sail through.
I decide to stay for some time at this open ashram as I realize I can not go any further with Kanaka as the path ahead is more through jungle and I may have to come back alone .
Maihar Baba is slowly moving towards becoming a full time baba. He still has some social responsibility to complete and he is on last phase.He comes to this very spot every year since quite some time with his disciples . Today there are few. One of them is retired from electricity board. One is teacher.
Some one asks my name. When I answer with only “Shailesh “ …..the question remains as it was with facial expression with little raised eyebrow….I understand the implied meaning . I have to answer with my full name and I have to explain “ I am Maheshwari , we are Banias and followers of lord Shiva.
Indians in spite of liberal views still want to know whom they are interacting. One has to clarify his or her religion , the cast ….this is more common in North and I feel this is going to increase as the cycle of exploited and exploiters is getting reversed.
“ You are a seeker ( a khoji ) that is why you have come all the way to amarkantak, to Maa Narmada and to this very place. “
“ The search ( inner or outer ) for eternal questions is ongoing process, at times it goes on beyond few cycles of births”
“ You may start your search early in this birth if during your previous births the search was ongoing or in continuity.
“ We stay here in the Sanidhya ( great company ) of Maa Narmada, nature and do our sadhana”
“ I had done the parikrama in year 2001 “
“ For complete parikrama one may take 3 years , 3 months and 3 days. During this parikrama one has to also cover the origin of tributeries and all the confluences. “
“ Over the years some bad elements have started using parikrama as their profession. They collect money from generous people on the way and regularly send money orders home ( as if it is an earned income ) “
Soon they all get busy as they are yet to complete morning rituals .
“ we take care of nature. We take rods, dig holes , ease ourselves and than cover with sand and leaves. It is almost like cats, yes we all have to learn from animals and all the live things around us “
I join one disciple in cleaning the area with broom which is made from twigs and small branches. Soon I am told to guard Maihar baba’s asan ( his seat in the tent ) from monkeys.
I become a watch guard for sometime but remain work less.
Mmahashivratri festival is a god send for the monkeys as they are busy more towards kapildhara as food is easily available.
Two of the disciples are busy in kitchen preparing lunch . There will be rice, daal and sabzi.
One of the follower has completed is morning rituals including bath , sits in open shivling temple and starts a series of prayers.
I have been given an open invitation to stay beyond lunch hours, but after some time I decide to continue my walking along the river in reverse direction.
I am going towards doodhdhara , but this time I am walking just next to river . My path has a lot of stones and zig zags as at times I have to climb on the side trails just to come back again on the river side.
Monkeys are in good numbers.
At doodhdhara , I see pilgrims ,visitors.
They are washing, cooking , bathing…..doing everything which they should not be doing or at least doing away from Maa Narmada.
We Hindus are complex people. We will worship something without applying sense ( as over the years/generations worshiping becomes more like a ritual.) The rivers, air, fire everything which is essential for human survival must be worshipped. It’s natural. It makes us one with the universe.
Little care and awareness can make our devotion more beautiful.
I move along the river , observe different groups. At doodhdhara I cross the river ( hardly a stream ) and go to the other end. For parikramavasi this is blasphemy. He or she can not cross the river. It has to be circular path and at no point you are supposed to cross over.
From doodhdhara till kapildhara and to main road ….the path is more like a tourist’s path.
At base of kapildhara , the trail going to the base of water fall is closed for public. The police as blocked the road as there was bee attack in the morning ( it seems once we had left the area in morning the bees got irritated and attacked more than 100 visitors ).
There are many beehives around water fall. There are enough reasons for bees to loose cool. Noise, smokes due to pooja-agarbatti ( incense sticks ), strong perfumes to outright smartness of some one who out of stupidly tries to throw something on one of the beehives.
At kapildhara one group has just started singing bhajans. The lead singer is in great mood. He sings and dances.
I spend some time. The group is not much bothered about others. They are in their own mood.
From kapildhara parking lot I take vehicle back to Amarkantak .
I continue my walking till Songuda ( Origin of river Son-bhadra )
The Maikal hill range has origins of many rivers. Narmada , Son , Johila , Kewai are few of the rivers originating from Maikal Hills. Son travels east wards and meets ganga where as Narmada is one of the unique and longest river which travels from centre of India towards west till it merges with Arabian sea.
By the time I return to my room I am exhausted and head for cold bath. I must have walked more than 20 km.
I am waiting at the main junction near the bus stand . I have to travel by road and reach Pendra road railway station. My onward journey is by Sampark kranti express. Today is exclusively for traveling. Amarkantak to Pendra road to Raipur to Mumbai.
There are couple of buses lined up for Pendra road. Unless they are completely stuffed with people they are not going to move . Bus may take anywhere between 1 and half hours to 2 hours. I have been advised to look for a jeep which can drop me in 45 minutes.
I have already spoken to couple of drivers, things do not work out. There is not a single share jeep.
After waiting for 15 minutes I realize that my margin time is fast evaporating.
Suddenly one man approaches me and offers the least charges for special ( fully booked ) ride to Pendra road in his mini Mahindra ( in category of Tata ace: chhota haathi : small size vehicle )
As we drive down ( Amarkantak is on the hills which are in Madhya Pradesh and as you start the descends you enter into Chhatisgadh ) He starts talking.( Mr Dhanu Singh : +91 88710 49293 )
He is a seeker who is following a bhakti marg.
He is a proud adivasi ( tribal )who talks about his sadhana through bhajans .
“ when I sit for bhajans for hours together , I observe the severe pains in my legs and body . I see the pain melting and reach to a state of being bodiless .”
“Once I had seen Maa durga in my trance and got scared. I had to rush to my guru”
“I am still stuck up in grahashti ( living a normal family life ) my time has not come”
“ I am always at opposite end when I meet big sadhu-mahatma who come with their Razzmatazz and Paraphernalia. They talk about leaving all the maya , but are always with their ego and surrounded by Maya.”
“ Krodh-lobh-maya ( anger-desire) is all external . People think it’s all within us and try to control them.
“It’s all outside and what one needs is to control the internal reflection of these external things. “
“ man- and chit “ ( mind and consciousness ) unless they become calm nothing can be achieved.
My un planned , un called Satsang ends when we reach Pendra road railway station.
I promise Dhanu Singh “Next time when I am here, You will have to provide your services ( if available ) and we will have great a Satsang.’’
During the day , I avail services of three drivers ( actually owner drivers )
Amarkantank one is an adivasi ( tribal ) who is sant .
In Raipur I meet Mr. Shakeel Ahmed who tells me his stories from Hamirgadh to Raipur. His struggle to relocate at new place. He waits at the airport till I go inside and does a good see off.
In Mumbai Mr Firoz Khan comes inside the domestic airport ( and also manages to avoid the airport charges) picks me as I am walking out.
On way to home he tells me interesting stories ‘from back seat of his Ola cab.’
Poora hindi picture ki maafic story chalte rehta hai ( what happens in my cab is like hindi film stories : emotions-fights-outburst-melodrama )
He is a good narrator and the peak evening traffic melts in his talks and soon I am home .