We first discovered the pull of the Narmada during our two weeks in Maheshwar last December. It was during our time there that we first met parikramavasis: the devotees of the holy river who make a 2,600-kilometer pilgrimage to circle her entire length. Some start at the river’s mouth on the Indian Ocean, walk along her northern bank, circle her source at Amarkantak and return to the mouth. Others start at Amarkantak and complete their journey there. Wherever they start, all the parikramavasis perform their journey in a clockwise direction, keeping the Narmada on their right.
Glancing up from my phone to tell Alan what I’d learned, I saw a man standing before the statue of Ahilyabai, his hands folded in prayer. I watched as he prostrated, then sat in meditation at her feet. That’s when I understood Ahilyabai is much more than a historical figure, or even a heroine: She is a goddess.