For centuries, journeys on foot have been considered a powerful means of achieving one’s spiritual goals. A parikrama or pradakshina, a circumambulation of a sacred site or place—deities, temple clusters, hills, forests, or rivers—has been practiced by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists since time immemorial.
The sacred Narmada River, the lifeline of Central India, is worshipped as Narmada maiyya (mother) or Ma Rewa (derived from “rev” meaning leaping one). One of the five holy rivers of India, it is the only one which has the tradition of being circumambulated from source to sea and back, on a pilgrimage or yatra.
Being the longest west-flowing river, the Narmada parikrama is a formidable spiritual exercise and challenge—an incredible journey of about 2,600 km.
The journey usually starts at the river’s source at Amarkantak in the Maikal Hills in Madhya Pradesh, goes along its southern banks, all the way to its mouth at Bharuch in Gujarat. At Bharuch, Mithi Talai is the point where the Narmada joins the Arabian Sea. Pilgrims take a motorboat from the southern to the northern end and begin the return journey along its northern bank.
Pilgrims can, however, start from the mouth of the river, or anywhere in-between, but they must complete the circuit and return where they began. It is believed that in order to reap the benefits of this yatra, the river must always be kept on one’s right. There are other strict rules, and a number of austerities to follow on this pilgrimage, which could easily take four months to complete. Hundreds of pilgrims undertake this expedition barefoot, staying in ashrams, dharamshalas, or village shelters along the way. Those who can’t do the journey on foot, opt for public transport (jeeps and buses), self-drive, or join 12- to15-day package tours offered by numerous operators, with night halts at major holy sites.
Motivated by prayer, pledge, or penance, this long parikrama is said to accelerate the process of self-awareness and spiritual growth, bring pilgrims peace, and fulfill their material and nonmaterial wishes.
Originating in Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, the Narmada flows westwards for 1,312 km before draining through the Gulf of Khambhat into the Arabian Sea, 30 km west of Bharuch in Gujarat.
The Pit Stops:
Some of the popular halts on the yatra route include the temples of Ujjain, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar and the Triveni Sangam; Khargone’s Navgraha Temple; Dakshin Kashi at Shahada; Ankleshwar Tirth, Mithi Talai and Nareshwar Dham in Bharuch; Laxmi Narayan Temple in Bhopal; and the shrines of Shankaracharya, Tripura Sundari, Gwari Ghat and Bheda Ghat in Jabalpur; the famous Narmadakund and Mai ki Bagiya in Amarkantak (one of the 51 Shakti Peethas); and the Jyoteshwar Mahadev Temple in Lakhnadon.
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