Fortified by prayer

cultural centre

The medieval town of Maheshwar, with its old-world charms, was the brainchild of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, famous for her philanthropic activities.

The Holkar queen made an immense contribution in reviving the dying art of Malwa region and bolstering the Holkar bastion. The picturesque town of Maheshwar, once the seat of Malwa culture on the northern banks of Narmada, is trailing in the rich history of central India and provides a kaleidoscope of lives in rural India.

Tucked away in one corner of Madhya Pradesh, Maheshwar is located in Khargon district of Nimar region, about 91 km from Indore.

The age-old town finds mention in the epics as the flourishing town of Mahismati. For those travel freaks who wish to get a glance of the erstwhile Holkar queen and the architectural masterpieces of the Holkar regime, the little-known bastion of Maheshwar would certainly not disappoint them.

We were on our way back from Mandu when we embarked on a tour of Maheshwar. The road that leads from Indore to Maheshwar touching Moretakka is far better than the arduous drive from Mandu. We reached in the afternoon hours and were lucky enough to make our way to Yatri Niwas, which provides great views of the grand Maheshwar Fort complex.

We began our tour in the late afternoon hours and walked towards the steep fort that has a palace or rajwada, scores of intricately carved temples and ghats.

The rajwada, spread over two sq km, is a fort with huge gateways called Ahilya Dwar and Kamani Darwaza.

Built in 1766 AD, the rajwada has preserved the throne with a life-size statue of the Holkar queen and the relics of the glorious era. There are portraits of other heirlooms of the Holkar dynasty in the rajwada.

Within the fort stands Rajrajeshwar Temple, an imposing landmark with intricately carved doorways. We visited Rajrajeshwar temple and spent considerable time in the temple performing our rudrabhishek. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is a remarkable piece of architecture with 11 nanda deepaks that burn round the year, symbolising
happiness.

Our entire day was devoted to visiting the temples in the fort complex. Other significant temples within the fort that stand in splendid isolation are the massive, multi-tiered Ahileshwar, Vithaleshwar and Vishwanath temples with ornate overhanging balconies. Each of these temples lead down to the ghats — Ahilya Ghat, Peshwa Ghat, Vishwanath Ghat and Fanse Ghat.

Maheshwar has some of the best ghats on the river banks with a number of memorials that were built as a tribute to those who had performed sati in the bygone era. It was Ahilyabai Holkar who had made an effort to revamp the ghats.

While lazying about on the ghats, we came across sadhus and pilgrims absorbed in meditation, women carrying water in brass pots and a steady stream of rural folks humming Malwa tunes.

The Baneshwar Temple on the river is a perfect blend of splendour and spirituality. Further away stood the Til Baneshwar Temple. Our view stretched as far as the hamlet of Nawratori on the southern banks of Narmada.

The archaeological remains of Nawratori in the form of three mounds suggest that once upon a time, the hamlet was the focal point of Malwa art and culture. Another chief attraction of Maheshwar has been the U-shaped waterfalls called Sahastradhara with the torrential Narmada gushing across the rocks.

In recent times, Maheshwar Dam has been built on the site that lies about two km away from the fort.

One of the most interesting features of this medieval town is the Maheshwari sari, pioneered by Ahilyabai Holkar. The saris are rich in traditional motifs with intricate embroidery works that depict the brilliant craftsmanship of Muslim weavers.

The hand-woven sari with chequered pallu and reversible border comes in cotton fabric. We checked out the handloom centres for Maheshwari saris and were spoilt for choice by the range and designs. The next day, we bid goodbye to the town and began our journey for Khandwa in the Nimar district of Madhya Pradesh.

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