The ancient Hindu knew that walking around sources of positive energy would charge one with the same positive energy. This is a reason behind the tradition of doing a Parikrama of Narmada. Narmada is worshiped as a river deity by Indians throughout the country but it has a very special place in the hearts of people inhabiting Central India. Narmada is perhaps the only river in the world which is circumambulated in her entire length of 1312 Km. This circumambulation is called Narmada Parikrama. It is a special kind of river pilgrimage popular in Central India. The age old tradition of Narmada Parikrama involves walking alongside the river Narmada from her origin at Amarkantak to the sea, crossing to the other side, and then walking back to its origin. The total journey in a properly done Parikrama involves a riverside walking of at least 2624 Km in a period of 3 years, 3 months and 13 days. Narmada is the perpetual flow of religious traditions and spiritual consciousness in the heart of India. This great river, historically much older than even the great Ganges, is also the hub of Indian culture and rituals. More often than not, small groups of Parkramavasi can be seen carrying their belongings with them while traveling along Narmada.Narmada Parikrama is also a cultural and traditional manifestation of devotion to Narmada.The Parikrama is an adventurous spiritual journey around the sacred river through hills, dense forests,gorges, ravines, rocky patches, caves, plateaus and plains. It is a religious trekking involving
visit to temples, ghats, shrines and villages. It is a form of Tapasya to please the Maa Narmada who takes cares and looks after the hardships and needs of all those who undertake the Parikrama. Narmada is not just a river to arkramawasis. She is a living deity to them with whom they interact and communicate at mental and spiritual level. Many people claim that the energy levels on the banks of Narmada are very high. People doing Narmada Parikrama also claim that their lives have seen dramatic changes during and after the Parikrama. It is believed that wishes of a Parikramawasi on the banks of Narmada are fulfilled and all their hopes come true. A person having completed Parikrma has a special respect and honor in the yes of Narmada devotees.
Narmada Parikrama is believed to grant boons to grihastahs, siddhis to sanyasis, peace to troubled souls, worldly possessions to common people and happiness to all ‘Narm-da’ – means one that provides happiness and joy.
Types of Narmada Parikrama
Several variants of Narmada Parikrama have developed over the years. A brief description is as follows:
- Mundmal Parikrama :This is the most popular form of Narmada Parikrama. It derives its name from “a garland” as it involves a garlanding journey around Narmada. Generally commences either at Amarkantak (the source of Narmada) or at Omkareshwar and after a complete circumambulation, keeping Narmada to one’s right hand side (Pradakshina) comes to finish at the point of start. This Parikrama is an on-foot march involving a riverside walking of at least 2624 Km in a period of 3 years, 3 months and 13 days. Usually people do this Parikrama in small groups.
- Jalahari Parikrama :This form of Parikrama derives its name from Jalahari, the yoni shaped seat of Shiva Linga which makes a double channel around the Linga .It is a journey along both the banks of Narmada never crossing her. It involves to and fro journey on both the sides of the river. A parikramawasi traverses same bank of Narmada twice which amounts to double the journey compared to Mundmal Parikrama. It does not involve crossing of Narmada at the gulf of Cambey or Amarkantak.
- Hanumat Parikrama :This form of Parikrama derives its name from God Hanuman. It is a kind of jumping parikrama in which one can cross Narmada as and when desired. This kind of Parikrama is popular among tourists.
- Dandwat Parikrama: This is one of the difficult forms of parikrama invoving at least 1000 Bhumi Namaskaar (Saluting the mother earth in Dandwat -lying face down prostrate on ground – in reverence and humility) every day. This is quite testing one and not very common. Very few people dare this form of Parikrama.
- Markandeya Parikrama: It is the most extensive and time-taking form of Narmada Parikrama involving a circumambulation not only around Narmada but also around her tributaries. It owes its name to Markandeya- the ancient hermit who spent his life near Narmada. Narmada basin, one should note, is an elongated strip of land in central India. There are 41 major tributaries of Narmada of which 19 join her on right or northern bank whereas 22 join her on the left or southern bank. Walking and worshiping around Narmada covering these tributaries can be termed as Markandeya Parikrama.
- The Parikrama can be started from any point along the banks of Narmada to return to the same point after complete circumambulation. Traditionally Omkareshwar and Amarkantak have become two more popular places to commence the Parikrama. One should keep Narmada to his right side while moving along the river.
- Before commencing, one should worship Narmada and take a resolution for completing the Parikrama by arranging a special prayer known as ‘Mai ki Kadahi’ (meaning mother’s cooking pan) involving cooking of Halwa, a traditional sweet dish, offering it to the deity Maa Narmada and distribute it as Prasad among young girls, saints, priests and guests.
- A Parikramawasi should shave the head and beard before starting the Parikram and should not shave or cut nails till the Parikrama is complete.
- The Parikramawasi should salute and worship Narmada twice a day. Sometimes the Parikrama route takes one away from the shore of Narmada because of geographical conditions. In that case one should carry Narmada water in a pot or a bottle and offer prayers to it.
- One should not use soap oils or perfumes for a bath or for washing clothes in the waters of Narmada. One should use the clean soil on the banks of Narmada for cleaning and washing purposes during the Parikrama. Spitting or any other act of disrespect towards Narmada is also not expected.
- A Parikramawasi should follow bramhacharya (celibacy) and remain like a Vanprasthi (Forest dwelling asectic phase of life as per old Ashram system in Hindu philosophy) during the Parikrama. One should abstain from lies and wrong deeds, stay quiet, should not criticize others, and behave with an attitude of humility towards all during the Parikrama.
- A Parikramawasi should walk on the banks of Narmada, should never cross her, and should not even go to islands in Narmada. However the tributaries can be crossed once as it becomes inevitable.
- During the Parikrama, one should remain within 5 miles from the river on the southern banks and within a distance of 7.5 miles from the river on the northern banks.
- A Parikramavasi should walk barefoot, eat whatever food is offered to him by temples, shrines and charitable social institutions, drink Narmada water and sleep wherever he can find shelter. During the Parikrama one should carry little money and few utensils, accept whatever food, money or clothes are offered to him without a sense of greed. During the Parikrama one should not accept any donation or charity for hoarding.
- Narmada Parikrama is prohibited during Chaturmasa (Four months of rainy season).
- It is suggested that a Parikrawasi should collect Narmada water in a suitable container from wherever he begins the Parikrama. This water should be offered at Mai Ki Bagiya in Amarkantak and fresh water collected from there, should be then offered at Rewa Sangam, The same process is repeated at Rewa Sangam where fresh water is again collected which, after completing the Parikrama should be offered at the Temple of Omkareshwar.
- After completing the Parikrama, one should visit Omkareshwar, worship and offer Abhishek to God Shiva and again arrange for ‘Mai ki Kadahi’ as done in the beginning of the Parikrama.
Rules for Narmada Parikrama
Traditionally accepted rules can be summarized as follows:
Smaller Panchkoshi Parikrama
Apart from the complete circumambulation of Narmada, several smaller Parikramas known as ‘Panchkoshi Parikrama’ are also regularly organised in certain segments of Narmada between Bandrabhan in Hoshangabad district and Hiranfall in Barwani district. These Panchkoshi Parikramas are in smaller circuits and culminate at the point of commencement after a journey of 5 days. These Parikramas being simpler and less time taking are more suitable for families and old people. These Panchkoshi Parikramas are organized as annual features according to Hindu Calander and Panchang.
It is advisable to a Parikramawasi to obtain a Certificate for Narmada Parikrama from the Nagar Panchayat, Omkareshwar before starting the journey as it is helpful to prove identity as a genuine Parikramawasi on several occasions.