Introduction – Situated at an altitude of 1000 m, Amarkantak is a well frequented Hindu pilgrimage center which is popularly known as ‘teerthraj’ or ‘the king of pilgrimages’. It is surrounded by three mountain ranges, Vindhya, Satpuras and Maikal. Bordered with lofty hills and dense forests, Amarkantak is very significant from ecological point of view. It is much sought after by the environmental enthusiasts and nature lovers. It also enjoys the reputation to have the origins of the two large rivers, Narmada and Sone.
Beglar visited this town in 1873-74 and reported that Amarkantak was always crowded with the pilgrims who pay a visit either on the way to Jagannath Puri or after returning from the there. Beglar identified Amarkantak with the Amarkuta which finds a mention in the Meghaduta of Kalidasa.
Amarkantak is mentioned as a mountain in the Puranas where some parts of Tripura, an mythological palace-city, fell when it was burnt down by Shiva. The Adi-Khanda of Padma Purana mentions that one who goes to Amarkantak mountain will enjoy the fourteen worlds of thirty-seven thousand crores of years. Afterwards he will be born on earth as a king and reign as supreme emperor. A visit to Amarkantak has ten times the values of an Ashvamedha. If one has Shiva’s darshan there, one will attain the heaven.
The books further mentions that at the time of an eclipse, all kinds of holy things converge towards Amarkantak. Those who take bath in Jvaleshvara will enter the heaven. The dead will have no rebirth. Those renounce their lives at Jvaleshvara will live in Rudraloka till the time of the great deluge. In this valley live the Devas known as Amaras and numerous sages. Amarkantak kshetra has a circumference of one yojana, about 12 km.
Narmada – Narmada is the fifth largest river and among the five holiest rivers of India. It is considered as holy as the Ganges (Ganga), as a legend mentions that when Ganga was polluted due to extensive usage, she turned into a black cow and took a bath in river Narmada to cleanse herself. Narmada has been mentioned in many Hindu scriptures like Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. It covers a wide area and hence is the lifeline of the central provinces of India where it flows westwards till it meets the Arabian sea.
Bhavishya Purana mentions that Tapati, the daughter of Surya and Chaya, was married to Samvarana, the son of Rksa who was a king of Krtayuga. Surya blessed Tapati on her marriage and said that she would thereafter flow west from Vindhya as a river named Narmada. Hence the present holy river Narmada is but Tapati Devi transformed.
Once Narada said to Yudhisthira about the river Narmada as follows: “Ganga has more divinity in Kanakhala and Sarasvati has more divinity in Kurukshetra. But Narmada is a holy river everywhere, whether in the villages or in the forests. Sarasvati purifies us in three days and Ganga in one day. But the moment we see Narmada we are purified.”
Padma Purana mentions that one who controls his organs of senses and takes fast for one night and then bathes in this river would be prosperous for hundred generations. This great river is hundred yojana (about 1200 km) long and two yojana (about 24 km) wide. There are sixty crores and sixty thousand holy ghats in this river around the mountain Amarkantak. Anybody who dies by fire, by drowning or by fast on this mountain, Amarkantak, will never have rebirth.
Narmada is mentioned many times in Mahabharata. She is said to be staying in the Palace of Varuna. Yudhisthira visited Narmadadevi with his brother during their stay in a forest. A king named Duryodhana who was ruling over Mahishmati once got married to Devi Narmada. A daughter named Sudarshana was born to them. Ashramavasika Parva of Mahabharata mentions that once Narmada took Purukutsa, the son of Mandhata, as her husband.
Narmada is known as Rewa (due to the sound of its flow), Maikalsuta (originating from the Maikal mountain range hence the daughter of the Maikal) and Shankari (born from the sweat of Shankar or Shiva hence Shankari). Narmada-parikrama is a very austere journey which many pilgrims take up from the Arabian Sea in Gujarat to the origin of the Narmada at Amarkantak. There are many pilgrimage sites across the length of this river including Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, Nemawar etc.
There are many legends associated with the origin of the Narmada. Vayu and Skanda Purana talks a lot on the origin and greatness of this river. It is said that once Shiva took up a severe meditation that he started perspiring. His sweat got accumulated in a tank and started flowing in form of a river which came to be known as Narmada. Another legend states that two teardrops fell from the eyes of Brahma and took form of Narmada and Sone rivers on the earth.
As per another legend, once upon a time there was gwalin (cowherd) who had a beautiful daughter named Narmada. Narmada daily used to carry her father’s breakfast to the fields where he tended his cattle. There was a ashram of an ascetic on the way to the fields. The girl used to spend some time with the ascetic. This lasted for some time but one day the girl committed suicide for some unexplained reasons. The ascetic used to enjoy the infusion of bhang. One day while he was enjoying his drink, he came to know about the death of this girl. He was not able to swallow his drink out of shock and died. A stream of water issued from his throat which came to be known as Narmada.
Another version of this legend mentions that the girl committed suicide, finding herself likely to become a mother, by throwing herself over the falls of Kapila Dhara. The river then came to be known as Narmada. These legends are common in Gonds however denied by Hindu brahmanas.
Narmada is specially associated with Shiva and many stones found near the riverbed are worshiped as a symbol of Shiva. These stones, known as Banalinga, are usually found in cylindrical shape which resembles with the shape of a Shivalingam. These are much sought after among the pilgrims and are used as a worship object.
The source of Narmada – The present belief is that Narmada originates from a tank which is inside the Narmada temple complex. Beglar reports that the original source of Narmada is not this tank but a rivulet which is locally known as Savitri Nala. He reasons that this Savitri Nala carries a long volume of water in comparison to the stream coming out of the tank. The small water stream which issues out from the tank meets Savitri Nala a little after. Beglar further says that Savitri Nala receives the drainage of a vast country while the tank stream only gets drainage of a small country of about 1 km square. Also, Savitri Nala originates from a plateau which lies above the plateau on which the present tank is situated.
General Epigraphs – This section gives details on various epigraphs which are not associated to a particular monument.
- Amarkantak Statue Inscription – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol IV part II – written in Sanskrit using Nagari characters – dated year 922, probably of the Kalchuri Era which corresponds to 1170-71 CE – The inscription is inscribed at the pedestal of a statue of a male person who is shown seated holding a lotus-bud. On his either sides are standing female figures with fly-whisks. The object of the inscription is to record that the statue is an exact representation of Narayana, the son of Madhavaksha, who was the superintendent of writing at Ratanpura.
Monuments – There are many temples and shrines at Amarkantak however only one temple complex is of interest for archaeology perspective as all other are very modern in nature and architecture.
Group of Ancient Temples – This group has many temples within a compound maintained by ASI. The largest one is known as Karna Math. Traditionally this temple is ascribed to Raja Karan Dahariya, King Karna of Dahala, who supposedly ruled over Amarkantak. Beglar reports that it is the oldest existing temple however is deserted or neglected as not many pilgrims pay it a visit.
Karna Math has three temples which are constructed on a high raised platform. These three temples may have been connected together via a common mandapa (hall) as suggested by Beglar. Beglar suggests that probably the mandapa was planned however was never finished. But the bases of pillars on which this mandapa would have been supported can still be seen over the platform. The temples are very simple, yet elegant, as the only design element seen is the chaitya-window or horse-shoe shaped windows on the tower.
Not many images are found on vimana however places to put images are there which made Beglar to suggest that the temple was left incomplete. However R D Banerji is of opinion that the temple was finished and it was the intentional design of the architects not to use images for decoration. The tower is built in typical Nagara style.
Panch-Math is a group of five temples which are constructed on a common platform. These buildings are very later to the Karna Math as evident from their style and execution. Three out of the five were constructed in the chatari-like style while the remaining two have towers but of no interest.
This Shiva Temple is referred as Machchhendranatha Temple by Banerji. It is a fine temple which is consisted of a mandapa and sanctum. The mandapa is supported on pillars and is covered with lateral slabs on either side which does not reach till the ceiling hence provides an opening for light to come in. The roof of the mandapa is damaged now. There is an image of Ganesha on the sanctum door lintel. A Shivalinga is placed inside the sanctum.
The curvilinear tower of the temple is constructed in the typical Nagara style with Orissan traces. The shikhara is topped with two amalakas which are further topped by a kalasha or chudamani. The pointed gable roof of the antarala is topped with a lion placed in front over the transept above the sanctum door.
Pataleshvar temple is also dedicated to Shiva. As it is constructed slightly below the ground level hence called Pataleshvar ( the god of the nether world). In execution and style, it is very similar to the previous temple the only exception is its mandapa roof which is executed in a pyramidal shape, with each floor rising above is recessed and reduced in size. It is said that Sankaracharya installed an image of Shiva in this temple during his visit in the eight century CE. However, as the temples of Amarkantak are traditionally assigned to Karna Raja who would be the same as the Kalchuri king Karan Deva of the eleventh century CE hence this legend about the Shankaracharya is contestable.
This Vishnu temple is referred as Keshava-Narayan temple by Benrji. It is constructed in a unique style, consisting of two garbha-grihas (sanctums) situated perpendicularly and connected via a single mandapa (hall). Banerji mentions that originally there was only one shrine at south with a mandapa on north, but later on, another shrine was built on the west. The hall is of the same style as of the previous two temples. This temple is also constructed in the Nagara style. Images on the lintel centers are much worn out. The sanctums are now empty but when Banerji visited this place he reported two images, one in each shrine. There are niches on the three sides of the vimana however all are empty.
Johila Temple is the latest temple in this complex. It is built probably by a Maratha or some local chief. The tower of this temple does not match with the other temples of the complex. Its pyramidal tower is adorned by side transepts on all the sides.
Narmada Udgam Temple – This large temple complex houses the tank which is said to be the origin of the Narmada river. There are two temples, facing each other and connected with a mandapa, one known as Narmada Udgam temple and other as the Narmada Mai temple. Both the temples have a female deity inside the sanctum, one is having four arms and holding a baby while another having eight arms. There are many subsidiary shrines within the complex dedicated to various gods however these two temples are the main temples where pilgrims pay their veneration.
There is a legend about the construction of these temple which mentions that the goddess Narmada appeared in a dream of a banjara (nomad), Rewa Nayak, and asked him to clear the site of the present kund (tank) which was covered with a mass of dense bamboo jangle. Rewa Nayak cleared the site and installed an image of the goddess. His image was also installed, probably by himself or by his descendants.
Sonmuda – Located about 1.5 km from the Narmada Udgam, Sonmuda is supposed to be the source of the river Sone. Sone flows eastwards to meet the Ganga at Patna. Sone was mentioned the travelogues of the Greek traveler Megasthenes where he mentions that the name of the river was derived from the gold dust found in its waters.
However, it appears that the stream originating from this tank at Amarkantak meets Arpa after a distance and this Arpa flows into Shivanath to meet Mahanadi. The river Son which meets Ganga at Patna originates from a tank, known as Son-Kund or Sonmuda, located in village Son Bacharvar (सोन बचरवार).
Kapil Dhara – It is located about 6 km from the Narmada Udgam, where a small stream of the Narmada plunges down a 24m high vertical cliff-face into a gorge. After this fall, the Narmada transforms into a large river. It is believed that the ancient sage Kapil performed severe austerities here and a small temple dedicated to him is constructed here. It is also believed that the sage Kapil asked Narmada to stop flowing but she defied him and fell into a gorge.
Dugdha Dhara – A little far from Kapil Dhara is located another small waterfall known as Dugdha Dhara (the milky stream). The name is derived after the frothing waters of the river.
Food and Accommodation – Amarkantak has hotels to suit every budget and many eateries. MP Tourism operates Holiday Homes hotel which is the best place to stay at Amarkantak.
How to Reach – Amarkantak is about 228 km from Jabalpur and 230 km from Raipur which are also the nearest airports. The nearest railway-head is Pendra Road which is about 42 km far. Public buses are available from Raipur, Jabalpur, Katni and Bilaspur.
- Banerji, R D (1931). The Haihayas of Tripuri and Their Monuments. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Deva, Krishna (1969). Temples of North India. National Book Trust. New Delhi. ISBN 9788123719702.
- Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 8173050546.
- Mani, Vettam (1964). Puranic Encyclopedia. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi. ISBN: 8120805976.
- Mirashi, V V (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part 2. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Cunningham, Alexander (1872). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces (Vol VII). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Rahul Singh on the origin of Son, retrieved on 20/10/2011