Narmada Parikrama: Karna Matha Temples (Amarkantak Group of Ancient Temples), Amarkantak, Anuppur District, Madhya Pradesh

The Narmada Parikrama, a 3500-km journey that starts near the Arabian Sea in Gujarat takes one to the origin of the Narmada River at Amarkantak. Known as Amarkuta in Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, Amarkantak has been mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as a mountain of incalculable sanctity. Amarkantak is one of the most frequented places of pilgrimage in India and is popularly known as tirthraj or king of pilgrimages. This ancient place is surrounded by the Vindhya and Satpura Range and Maikal Hills. The two important rivers of Sone and Narmada are said to have their origins in this holy place.


Close to the Narmada Udgam Temple, is a group of ancient temples that is impeccably maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The largest temple in this complex is Karna Temple built by Raja Lakshmikarna, also known as Raja Karna of the Kalachuris of Tripuri. The Karna Temple lends an appearance of three distinct temples arranged like a trefoil leaf on a raised platform and connected with a mandapa that was never completed. This appears to be the oldest temple in the complex and is largely neglected.


The Pancha Math is group of five temples seated on a common platform. These structures were built much later, with three out of five built like a chhatri, a common design element seen in Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture. The remaining two are built like towers but not much information is there about these structures.


The Shiva Temple also known as Machendranath Temple (Machhendranath Temple) is one of the finest examples of 11th century temple architecture. This is a simple temple with the mandapaantarala and garbha griha. There is a beautiful carving of Lord Ganesha on the lalata bimba. The sanctum sanctorum has a Shiva Linga placed inside. This temple has a pyramidal roof over the antarala and a shikhara over the main shrine.


The most sacrosanct temple in this complex is Pataleshwar Temple. Legend has it that Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya built the Surya Kunda in the 8th century to mark the origin of the Rewa River. He also installed the idol of Lord Shiva as Pataleshwar Mahadev in the temple that is placed slightly below the ground. This Linga is said to be Swayambhu and legend has it that Narmada Devi comes to this temple to offer prayers to Lord Shiva once a month. It is also interesting to note that the water level rises automatically on every Monday during the month of Shravan.


Some locals say that Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya meditated near the Swayambhu Linga to find the origin of the Narmada River and it was later discovered that Narmada Devi comes to the temple in the month of Shravan to offer water to Lord Shiva. The temple was built by Raja Karna somewhere in the 11th century. The temple is built as a pancharatha with a curvilinear shikhara. There are lovely sculptures on the outer wall.


The Keshava Narayana Temple built by the Bhonsle family of Nagpur has two garbha grihas placed perpendicularly to each other and connected by a mandapa. This temple is built in the typical Nagara style of architecture.


The Johilla Temple built by the Marathas appears to be the last one in the complex. It is simple in design and decoration.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian


* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)

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