Maheshwar: A 5th-Century Heritage Hinge

Madhya Pradesh, the heart of central India, fabulously showcases history through its well-preserved landmarks and monuments. From abundant 10th-century temples and palaces to wildlife galore, MP has various attention-grabbing sites that will leave you awe-inspired. A large section of these sites either flourished or underwent renovation in the lap of the Holkar Dynasty! One such Holkar-inspired small town in this large state is Maheshwar, whose ‘very’ name resonates with Great God Shiva. The cultural influence of this historic town girdled-in the tales of mythology find its mention in the early ancient texts of Puranas. In 18th-century, Malhar Rao Holkar III contributed a great deal to the development of Maheshwar.

The carvings on its Fort walls are an apparent narration of its ruling history. While 5th-century handloom factories a mark of the evolving progress of this Malwa town on the banks of River Narmada. Maheshwar is a remodelled town established upon the grounds of the ancient city of Somwanshiya. Once ruled by King Arjuna, this small town came to light through its mention in Mahabharata. King’s friends, namely Jamadagni Rishi, Renuka Devi and Lord Parashurama lived nearby in Janapav. But first, where is Maheshwar? And how to reach it? Maheshwar is settled, nearly 95 km or a 2.5-hour drive from Indore. If you are driving – take the road to Pithampur, leading towards Manpur. Travel in the direction of Dhamnod until you reach Ajanta Talkies or Maheshwar local police station.

From Police Station, take a right to get to the Chapai Handloom, the Fort or the market. Handloom imbibed its textile weaving roots in Maheshwar in the 5th century. Since then, Maheshwar has been home to India’s finest handloom fabrics. This handloom industry was set-up to empower women, and each Maheshwari saree symbolises the original thought. Together, more than 130 weavers produce 1 Lakh metres of fine fabric each year. Here’s a glimpse of the weaving centre located inside the historic Ahilya Fort.

To tour Ahilya Fort, arrive as early as 9 AM. Post 11 AM, it starts getting very warm as the sun moves up in the sky, heating the 18th-century stone structure. This fortress was built by the Maratha Queen, Ahilya Devi Holkar, and her cultured-taste in the art can be observed, all across Maheshwar.

Most city buildings, temples and riverfront ghats are laced, with unequalled sculpted elaborations. A flight of broad stone steps descends towards River Narmada. And as you walk down, you will be chased by a trail of intricate designs worth indulging. Part of Devi Ahilya Fort is held by Richard Holkar, son of Shivaji Rao Holkar, the last Maharaja of Indore. The rest of it is open to tourists like us! By and large, one can admire the ravelled work of artisans on the fortress walls and outer temples and indulge in the idea of what it must have been like when this palace was breathing alive. It’s right here Marathas graced the court wearing colourful Pheta’s, and heavenly blossoms were showered, during elaborate rituals of sacred ceremonies.

I went a little too far with my imagination as I dwelled upon the idea of an ideal royal life. This palace pretty much sums up the rich life and traditions of the Holkar Dynasty. After taking the Fort tour, I cruised across River Narmada in a small boat to visit Raj Rajeshwar and Akhileshwar Temples. The boat rower also took a brief halt at a Shiva Temple situated in the middle of the waters. A very-interesting holy site, I must say! Subsequent temple exploring, we ( I, along with a few friends) took brief rest at Labboo’s Cafe.

It is established right outside the fort and is the best place in town to get your hands on local snacks and lip-smacking coffees. Moreover, this open-air cafe has clean washrooms – every traveller’s feat in fall.

You may have already got a glimpse of Devi Ahilya Fort through several movies and TV serials that have portrayed the exquisite beauty of Maheshwar and the Narmada River in pivotal roles. Take, for instance, Bajirao Mastani, Ashoka, Yamala Pagla Deewana, Neerja, Tulsi, Tevar, Mahashivratri, and TV serial Jhansi Ki Rani. Visiting this palace in person brings alive those scenes and emotions. Before leaving Maheshwar, we stopped by Mahalaxmi Handloom Stores on the fort road. It is one of the best stores in Maheshwar to buy authentic Maheshwari styled attires and fabrics. Maheshwari Sarees are usually a fine blend of cotton and pure silk, further decorated with Zari-Brocade edging in various designs.

Some of the most eye-catching designs feature floral, stripes and checkered borders. Late that afternoon, we left Maheshwar to get lunch at the Jhira Bagh Palace in Dhar. Although if you plan to eat in Maheshwar, then I have heard Narmada Retreat, Panchvati Palace, Indian Heritage Food, Maheshwar Cottage Restaurant and Rajrajeshwar Bhojnalaya are a few good restaurants. The best time to visit Maheshwar is around monsoons or winter.

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