In the Tamil rendering Narmada means ‘Magnificent Mother’. The word ‘nar’ means sweet as in fragrance and ‘matha’ means mother. The holy river Narmada is the embodiment of Goddess Narmada,who like Ganga removes the sins of those who bath in her waters. So holy is Narmada that, to remove all sins of all lifetimes, one must bathe three years in the Saraswati, seven days in the Yamuna, one day in the Ganges, or mrely glance at the Narmada. She is said to be the consort of Yuvanasva, the son of Amarisa. The couple had a son by the name of Trasadasyu.
There are various myths surrounding Goddess Narmada. One says that she was born from the body of Siva. Goddess Narmada was slim and beautiful. Gods and demons wanted to marry her; she had to flee and dodge the prospects. However, she was able to disappear then they were in the proximity. She played hide and seek with them and one inference of Narmada is her playful attitude of dodging. Finally she surrenders herself to Lord Shiva. The Lord was pleased in her absolute devotion and saranagathi. Siva blessed her and said, "May you become a holy river, and may your waters always be full! This is not such a story but is the spiritual philosophy of the concealing and revealing aspects of Shiva himself. When the self surrenders to the Source, then one has the full blessings of the Lord. The key word is saranagathi or surrender.
Another legend states that, once Lord Shiva meditated so hard that he started perspiring. Shiva’s sweat accumulated in a tank and started flowing in the form of a river – the Narmada. Another legend has it that two teardrops that fell from the eyes of Lord Brahma, yielded two rivers – the Narmada and the Sone. Legends have it that, even Ganga bathes in Narmada waters, in the shape of a black cow. This event is witnessed as a holy day.
NAGAS: According to Vishnu Purana, Goddess Narmada is related to the Naginis, for her waters are held effective against snakebite. Myths have it that Naramada is the personified daughter of a Rishi Mekala as a daughter of the moon, as a mind born daughter of the Somapas and as sister of the Nagas. It was she who brought Purukutsa to the aid of the Nagas against the Ghandarvas,and the grateful snake-gods made her a charm against the Venom of Snakes. Thus she is also called Rava and Purva-ganga. As daughter of the Moon, she is called Indu-ja and Somobhava. According to Vishnu Purana, she had a son by Purukutsa. He was named Trasadasyu.
The story goes back to the solar dynasty, in which is Mandhatri, the son of Yuvanasva of the Ikshvaku family. According to Puranic accounts, Mandhatri, Yuvabasva and Aikshvaka were great chakravarthins. The Yadava empire under Sasabindu was rivaled by the Ayodhya kingdom under Mandhatri. Mandhatri was the son of Yuvanasva and Gauri, the daughter of Matinara of the Pauravas. He was considered the fifth incarnation of Vishnu. He married Bindumati, daughter of Sasabindu of the Yadavas. Mandhatri is said to be suckled by Indra, hence the name means ‘the child will suck me’. He is said to have obtained half of Indra’s throne and extended his sway conquering Purava and Kanyakubja realms. Purukusta continued the conquest of his father.
The Nagas induced Purukusta to destroy the Mauneya Gandharvas who had despoiled them. They are said to have given him their princess Narmada and he rescuded them from the Gandharvas. Thus the culture towards the Narmada and land of the Nagas were probably aborigines or primitive people. Muchukunda, the third son of Mandhatri, was a famous king. The fable connecting him with Kalayavana and Sri Krishna seems to be an anachronism. He built and fortified a town on the Narmada between Paripatra and Rishka mountsns. His glory lasted until the Haihaya king Mahishmant conquered and named it under him, The Ayodhya kingdom declined after Ourukusta and other Lunar dynasty kingdoms rose into prominence.
NARMADA RIVER: River Narmada is one of the most sacred of the seven holy rivers of India. Its origin is a tiny reservoir named as Narmada Kund situated on the Amarkantak Hills. Also known as Rewa, the Narmada River is associated with Amarkantak and Narmadakund. There is less mention of the Narmada in Vedic literature but addressed in the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabaratha, Vashistha Samhita and Shatapatha Brahmana. It is said that the Puranic name of Amarkantak was Riksh Parvat. About six thousand years ago the Suryavanshi samrat Mandhata established a town in the Riksh parvat valley and called it Mandhata. The queen of samrat Purukutsa apparently gave the title Narmada to the river.
The Narmada rises in the Maikala ranges of the Amarkantak Hills of Madhya Pradesh and flows between the Vindhya and Satpura ranges before draining into the Arabian Sea. It is the fifth largest river in the Indian sub-continent and flows completely within India just as the Ganges and Godavari. Hindu God Lord Shiva Omkareshwar temple on the banks of Narmada river situated in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh. Here the Narmada branches into two and form the island Mandhata. In the ancient times it was known as Shivpuri. The Krishna river joins Narmada and the confluence or sangama is considered to be a very holy spot. It is said that the arial view of the island is shows a Om symbol. The island is dominated by the white Sikhara of the Sri Omkar Mandhata or ‘Bestover of Desires’, the Omkareswara Temple. It houses one of the twelve sacred Jyotir Shiva Lingas; natural rock which is miraculously emerged from light.
Ancient world history records mentions her as ‘Nammadus’. ‘Narma’ means ‘tenderness’ and Narmada is also described as the most sacred and best among the holy rivers in some scriptures. It is also a Sanskrit word meaning ‘the Giver of Pleasure”. It is believed that merely by seeing the Narmada, a man is freed from all his sins and becomes pure. Adi Shankaracharya met his guru Govinda Bhagavatpada on the banks of river Narmada.
MAJOR TEMPLES: The banks of Narmada are dotted with favourite temples and pilgrimage focus. Pilgrims perform a holy pilgrimage of a Parikrama or Circumambulation of the river. This is called the Narmada Parikrama.
(a) The Amarkantak (Neck of Shiva in Sanskrit language) or Teerathraj (the King of Pilgrimages)
(b) Maheshwar, Omkareshwar,
(c) Mahadev Temple at Anusya.
(d) Siddeshwar Mandir in the central portion of the river – all have derived their names from Lord Shiva
(e) Surpaneshwar Shiva Temple.
(f) Chaubis Avatar temple
(g) Chausath Yogini (sixty four yoginis) with attendents of Durga
(h) Narmada Udagam or the sacred source housing a stone state of Goddess Narmada.
(i) Bhrigu Rishi temple and Bhojpur Shiva temple in Bharuch
(j) Shri Ram Janki temple
(k) Vangeshwar Temple
(l) Shiv Pariwar
(m) Sri Radha Krishna temple
(n) Guru Gorakhnath temple
(o) Kartikey temple and many many more.
MYTHOLOGY: According to mythology, Lord Shiva once sat on the peak of Amarkantak Hills in a beautiful trance that gave birth to a female form. He named her "Narmada" since she had inspired "Narma" or tenderness in his heart. He also blessed her with lifelong freedom. However, the Gods tried to capture her and she slipped through their fingers taking the form of the River Narmada. It is also believed that the river is often called Shankari, meaning daughter of Shankar, a name attributed to Lord Shiva. The river then had pebbles rolling on its river bed to take the shape of his emblem the Linga with the inscription "Narmada Ke Kanker utte Sankar" which means in Hindi that ‘pebble stones of Narmada gets a personified form of Shiva’. These lingam shaped stones are called Banalinga or as Banashivalingas are much sought after for daily worship by the Hindus. One of the biggest Banalinga is placed in the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. This temple was constructed by Rajaraja Chola.
The other myth is of Narmada falling in love with the Sonbhadra, another river flowing on the Chhota Nagpur plateau. Hence it earned the name Rewa for flowing through its rocky bed. Another legend tells us that Mandhata, a great Emperor of the Ishvaku clan, ruled and also did great penance here at this land. During one of his visit to the Vindyas, sage Naradar, sang the praise of mount Meru to Mount Vindhya. On hearing this, Mount Vindhya prayed to Lord Siva to gain in importance. Lord Siva blessed him and appeared at Omkareshwara and Amaleshwara and gave the boon of growing, but without hindering devotees of Lord Shiva. But Vindhya’s growth could not be hindered It obstructed the sun and the moon. This was subdued by the sage by saying Vindhya should not grow till he gets back there and he never returned.
SANCTITY: Four events are noted to have sanctified the Narmada River. Firstly, it is said that the Narmada flowed through the ancient Kingdom of Ayodhya. Secondly the banks of Narmada houses the ashrams of Bhirgu Rishi, Kapila Muni and Markandeya Rishi. Thirdly the Pandavas also resided along the Narmada riverbanks and gained benefits during their exile. Some of these details are found in the Mahabaratha. Fourthly, some three thousand years later, Adi Shankara who was born in 788 AD sanctified on the banks of the Narmada River.
ADI SHANKARACHARYA: The Pataleshwar Mahadev in Amarkantak at the origin of Narmada is attributed to Adi Shankaracharya. The bamboo bunches used by Shankara are said to be still in existence in a place known as Surajkund.
Adi Shankara met his guru Govinda Bhagavatpada on the banks of river Narmada. He travelled north from his village in search of a Brahman realised Guru. Having passed through several hermitages, he came to the banks of Narmada after a two month ardous journey through hazardous terrain. In Omkareshwar, he finds the hermitage of the Mahayogi, Govinda Bhagavatpada. His initial acquintances was to see the mahayogi in a state of samadhi.
On one occassion, he found the Narmada gushing forth into floods. By using his powers, he encapsulated the river in his Kamandal and released it in the banks of the river. In his enlightened state Govinda knew that Lord Shiva had incarnated in human form.
Notwithstanding, Shankara went through the guru-shisya rules of discipline and spent some three years to master Hatha, Raja and Jnana Yoga. After this spiritual yoga and a full understanding of advaita, Govinda Bhagavatpada asks Shankara to proceed to Kashi. There Adi Shankara wrote his famous commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads and the Gita. He also succesfully meets criticisms levelled against his teachings.
To this day, Narmada River is considered the mother and giver of peace. Narmada is home to many temples and spiritual bases, source of Hindu philosophy and a beautiful river in its own right. The mere sight of it is said to be enough to cleanse one’s soul as against a dip in the Ganga or Yamuna. Legends have it that the great Ganga visits the Narmada once a year in the guise of a black cow to cleanse herself of all her collected sins! Om
SOURCE: Narmada Udgam is the source of the sacred Narmada River where a temple has been dedicated to the goddess Narmada. It contains a colorfully decorated, black Basalt stone statue of Narmada. Thousands of devotees from all over the country visit the temple to pay homage to the goddess.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft Gods and Goddesses)
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi