It was a glorious city at the dawn of Indian civilization when it was Mahishmati, capital of King Kartivarjun. This temple town on the bank of the river Narmada finds mention in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Revived to its ancient position of importance by the Holkar queen Rani Ahilyabai of Indore, Maheshwar is an important Hindu pilgrimage center with beautiful ghats and temples were erected by the queenin the mid-18th century.
The 1.5-km long river front is dotted with shrines, ghats and the elegant cenotaphs of the Holkar rulers. A magnificent fan-shaped stairway leads from the river front to Maheshwar fort’s royal enclosure, and the Ahilyeshwar Temple. The richly carved courtyard, leading onto the palace, has an impressive statue of Ahilyabai.
Peshwar, Fanase and Ahilya Ghat line the river Narmada, flights of steps lead down from the sandy banks to the river, and though out the day a kaleidoscope of rural Indian can be seen here, in the pilgrims and holy men sit here in silent meditation. Lining the banks are poignant memorials in stone to the ‘Satits’ of Maheshwar, who perished on the funeral pyres of their husbands.
The massive forst stands on a hill overlooking the Narmada on the south and the modern town of Maheshwar to its north. Some historians argue that it was done by the Parmaras while other historians stretch the antiquity of the fort to the 4th-5th century AD and attribute its construction to a local ruler called Subandhu. Some scholar also conjecture it was built as early as the Mauryan period (322-185BC).
Documented history states that the Holkar ruler, Malhar Rao captures the fort in 1733 and undertook some repairs and reconstructions. When his daughter-in-law Ahilya Bai Holkar ascended the throne in 1767, she built the fort as seen today. The formidable walls of the fort are pierced with five gates, of which two are more frequently used by the local population.
Rajgaddi and Rajwada
A life-size statue of Rani Ahilyabai sits on the throne in the Rajgaddi within in the fort complex. Other fascinating relics and heirlooms of the Holkar dynasty can be seen in the other rooms which are open to the public. Within the complex is an exquisite, small shrine which is the starting point of the ancient Dussehra ceremony which is carried out even today. The image o this day is installed reverently in a splendid palanquin and carried down the steep fort road to the town below to receive the yearly homage of the people of Maheshwar.
Introduced into Maheshwar 250 years ago by Rani Ahilyabai who brought weavers from Surat, Gujarat to weave cloth for the royal household. The queen particularly partial to floral designs, and thus the weavers, commanded to only create geometrical motifs, drew inspiration from the detailing of the Maheshwar fort.
The main difference between Maheshwari and Chanderi sarees is the former’s distinctive design, which comprises checks and stripes, while Chanderi has a less austere touch with pretty floral motifs woven throughout the saree.
Within the fort is the Rehwa Weavers’ Society, where the famous gossamer fine Maheshwari cotton and silk textiles are woven.
Best time to visit
Best time to visit Maheshwar is between October and March. Festivals like Shivratri and Narmada jayatanti are celebrated here with gusto and draws pilgrims from all over the country. The Panch Kosi yatra, a 5-day long pilgrimage along Narmada’s Banks, attracts about 10,000 devotees each March