Saturday, July 19, 2008

Narmada Parikrama

Narmade Har!

Narmada is the daughter of Har or Shiva. Those who live on the banks of Narmada salute each other with a warm Narmade Har. Many are unaware of Narmada and the tradition of Narmada Parikrama. I have completed the Narmada Parikrama and am writing this blog to help those who may wish to undertake this difficult spiritual journey or may wish to know more about it.

Most of us Hindus know that Shiv has two sons: Kartikeya and Ganapati. But how many of us hindus know the name of Shiv’s daughter?

Her name is Narmada. Narmada was born out of Shiv’s sweat, she is Shivsutaa and Jatashankari,; she is Mekalsuta – the daughter of Mount Mekal where Amarkantak is situated, and she is Reva, the ever playful. She is believed to be the first river to manifest in this creation. She is immortal; the immortal sage Markandeya explains to Yudhishthir in Narmada Purana how he had seen Narmada survive various kalps – creations. One name of Narmada is ‘immortal’ : Na-mruta tena narmada.

Unlike Ganapati and Skanda who did not manifest in any physical form in this mortal world where we live, Narmada manifested as a river to bring salvation to millions through her very sight and touch. So pure is Narmada that even Ganga bathes in her waters to wash off the sins which she takes on from her devotees.

Today she flows from Amarkantak to the Arabian sea, covering an distance of approximately 1400 Km through hilly tracks, dense jungles, flat plains to meet the the Arabian sea in Gujarat. But talk to any Sadhak or sadhu on the banks of Narmada about Narabda Maiya and immediately one realizes that it is a big mistake to think of her as just a river. She is the unbroken stream of Divine Consciousness which has continued to flow through several creations. Swami Shukdevanand of Sriyantra Mandir in Amarkantak described her to me as the presiding deity of Srividya. Pathakji, a senior journalist in Jabalpur had mentioned to me that Narmada was the presiding deity at the Temple of Yoginis at Bhedaghat. The siddhas on the banks of Narmada say that she is a living deity. In my own experience the energy levels on the banks of Narmada are amazingly high. Whatever is aspired for on her banks manifests, whether spiritual or worldly aspirations. I met several people doing Narmada parikrama who reaffirmed this.

Since time immemorial there has been a tradition of doing a Parikrama of Narmada – walking alongside it from its source to the sea, crossing to the other side, and then walking back to its origin. A devotee who undertakes a Parikrama is called a Parikramavasi or Parkammavasi in local lingo. To a Parikramavasi Narmada is Mother Divine whose parikrama has ceaselessly granted siddhis and boons to all ascetics, men of the world who have taken refuge in her folds- kings, queens, tapaswis, sanyasis, sadhaks, ordinary men. She is the Mother who cares for and looks after the hardships and needs of all those who undertake the parikrama.

I had been wanting to do a parikrama of Narmada for years, and my dream came true at last in February 2008 when I set out on Narmada Parikrama.

Why do a Narmada Parikrama? The ancient Hindu knew that walking around sources of positive energy would charge one with the same positive energy. So they devised the system of doing a Parikrama - walking around in a clockwise circle – of their elders, gurus, saints, temples, deities, holy sites like holy hills, holy lakes, and even entire area or a city. But although Indian rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Kaveri, Godavari, and Narmada, to name a few, are revered and worshipped by them, they do not go around any river except Ma Narmada. Is it Narmada Parikrama or Narmada Pradakshina? It makes no difference. In essence both mean the same. A Parikrama is done while walking clockwise while keeping the deity to the right, and a Pradakshina means walking with the deity to the Dakshin – Right side.

A parikramavasi turns into an ascetic who conducts himself in a very dignified manner. The Parikramavasi follows certain rules which I have listed below:
  1. To a Parikramawasi Narmada becomes the presiding deity. The Parikamawasi salutes and worships her twice a day. Sometimes the parikrama route takes one away from the shore of Narmada because of geographical conditions. In that case carry a bottle of Narmada water and offer prayers to it.
  2. A Parikrama can be started from any point along the banks of Narmada. The whole idea is to return to that point and complete the Parikrama.
  3. A Parikravasi walks alongside the Narmada, cannot cross the Narmada, cannot enter more than knee-deep water for a bath, should not dance or swim in its waters.
  4. A Parikramawasi shaves the head and beard before undertaking the Parikrama and does not shave till the Parikrama is complete, does not use soap in the waters of Narmada for a bath or for washing clothes, does not spit in Narmada or do an act of disrespect towards Narmada.
  5. A Parikramawasi follows bramhacharya (celibacy) during the Parikrama, abstains from lies and wrong deeds, stays quiet, does not criticize others, and behaves with humility and gently with all.
  6. For all his needs, including food and shelter, the Parikravasi depends on temples, ashrams, sadhus and people who live on the banks of Narmada. A Parikramavasi walks barefoot, eats whatever food is offered to him, drinks Narmada water, sleeps wherever he can find shelter, carries little money, accepts whatever food or money or clothes are offered to him without a sense of greed or hoarding.
  7. A Parikrawasi collects Narmada water in a suitable container (I used a plastic 500 ml bottle) from wherever he begins the parikrama. This water is offered at Mai Ki Bagiya in Amarkantak and fresh water is collected from there, which is then offered at Reva Sangam, from where fresh water is again collected which, after completing the Parikrama is offered at the Temple of Omkareshwar.
  8. Offer special prayers at the following places: a. Place of beginning e.g. Omkareshwar. b. RevaSangam, where Narmada meets the Arabian Sea. c. Mai Ki Bagia in Amarkantak, the original birth spot of Ma Narmada. d. Omkareshwar again.

In moments of distress like getting lost in a forest or being confronted by a dangerous situation, just call the Maiya and she responds! She manifests in some form physical form or the other like an old woman, a young girl, as a small child, or in any other form and guides and helps. There are innumerable stories about it which one gets to hear during the parikrama, and I too can vouch for it from several personal experiences.

My Parikrama

I had followed an ancient tradition of starting the Parikrama from the temple of 24 Avatars on the Northern Banks of Omkareshwar and walked eastward towards Amarkantak. (Now I realize that after the original 24 Avatar temple spot went underwater, thanks to a dam that has come up just before Omkareshwar, it is better to follow the modern tradition followed widely – start from Gaughat on Omkareshwar’s Southern bank and walk westward towards the sea.)

To be continued...