Maheshwar – literally means the abode of ‘Lord Mahesh’ – another name for Shiva and is located along the Narmada River and hence an important pilgrimage site. But whether or not you are spiritually inclined, Maheshwar has an irresistible charm.
“Out of India’s 5 most sacred rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri, it is the Narmada that is the holiest. Surprised? Well as legends go, when ‘Ganga’ herself feels unclean, she takes the form of a black cow and takes a dip in the waters of Narmada during the night to cleanse herself “
Some also refer River Narmada as ‘Shankari’, the Daughter of Lord Shiva! And maybe that is the reason the ‘Banalingas‘ or the cylindrical pebbles that resemble the sacred Shiva Linga can be found in abundance at few of the shores of River Narmada.
Maheshwar finds its first mention in the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata when it was known as ‘Mahishmati’ and was the capital of King Sahasrarjun. The tale also goes that he with his thousand arms stopped River Narmada and created a playground for his 500 wives! and there are many local legends attached each quite interesting as you would learn from the locals or your boat rider. Read HERE to know about the legend behind Sahastrarjun.
However; the fort was originally built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1601 and was decades later regained and reconstructed to become an important place of rule by Rani Ahilyabai. She belonged to the Holkar Dynasty of Indore and reigned over the region from 1765-1796. Maheshwar was the capital of the Malwa during the Maratha Holkar reign till around 1818 as afterwards the capital was shifted to Indore by Malhar Rao Holkar III
Rani Ahilya Bai was a powerful woman, who was loved and admired by the locals. She transformed the city by reconstructing old temples and adding numerous more including Water Canals, Roads and even Dharamshala’s that still tell the historic past of the city. And not just atMaheshwar, Ahilya Bai also developed Baoli’s and Dharamshala’s at other cities including Haridwar, Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Kanchi, Jagannath Puri, Pushkar, Nasik and Pune.
An Old Picture showing Mandleshwar
Madleshwar is the main town located 9 kms from Maheshwar and is also located along the River Narmada. Founded by Mandana Mishra the place has a Stone Fort built by the Mogul rulers and another Palace by Tukoji Rao Holkar ll. With a flight of 123 steps leading down to the river, this place is enchanting and quite serene.
The other prominent temples here are Gupteshwar Mahadev, Chhappan-Dev, Shree Ram Temple, Shree Datta Temple, Ganga-Zira and Kaashi Vishweshwar Temple. Other religious places are Dhawal-kunda, Hathani, Shahastradhara and there are numerous tanks and Ghats surrounding the city with Ram Ghat being the most important one. You may also visit the old Jail Quarters, that makes an interesting trip.
Places to Visit
1. Ahilya Fort & Temple Complex: Rani Ahilya Bai was a powerful woman and one of kind in her times and she reigned from the fortress that commands an impressive view that is beautifully mirrored in the Narmada River that flows along the fortress know as the Ahilya Fort.
The temple complex here is stunning and you will be amazed to see the intricate carvings on the Ahilyeshwar Temple doorways and the equally stunning overhanging balconies.
Interestingly the temple is not just a temple devoted to Lord Shiva but is also the chhatri of Ahilya Bai Holkar and was built by her daughter – Krishna Bai.
Ahilya Bai had initiated a ‘Sapta-Lingam’ ceremony that included making 100000 ‘shiva Lingams’ that were offered to the Narmada River fish and also gave work to the Brahmins. The tradition still continues today but with only 15,000 Shiva-Lingams.
Pandharinath Temple is an important one as it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Vaishnava Saints (13th-17th Century) started the worship of Mahavishnu in the form of Pandrinath and since then the tradition continues.
Another important temple is the Sahastrarjun Temple (also called Sah-bahu temple or Sri Somavamsha Sahasrarjuna temple). It was originally built during the 2nd Century and was reconstructed back in the 13th Century after being demolished by the Muslim Rulers. What’s distinctive here are the 11 eternal lamps (akandh Jyoti) that have been kept lit for over a few hundred years! There is even and interesting Deep Stambh that is lit during special festivities.
The Rajrajeshwari Temple is also quite distinctive in its architecture.
There is an Archaeological Museum inside the Fort that displays antiques and royal possessions and the place was once Ahilya Bai’s living quarters!
2. Laxmi Bai ki Chhatri: refers to the Chattri of Ahilya Bai’s Daughter – Krishna Bai. This beautifully carved temple is located right on the Mahila Ghat, near the Ahilya Fort.
3. Baneshwar Mahadev: is an ancient Temple (approx. 5th century) dedicated to Lord Shiva and is situated just a few minutes away from the Ahilya Fort and is located right in the middle of the River – Narmada. Interestingly it is believed that a heavenly line from the Northern Star passes through this temple and makes its way to the centre of the Earth!
4. The Ghats: Maheshwar is also referred as the city of ‘Ghats’ and each have been named after the dynasties that ruled the state. Although there are a total of 28 Ghats, the most prominent ones are Ahilya Ghat, Peshwa Ghat, Mahila Ghat and Phanse Ghat. There are also other cenotaphs located at and near the Ghats that belong to the erstwhile kings, Queens or their loved ones.
Do visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is a small replica of the original Kashi Vishwanath temple of Varanasi which too was built by Ahilya Bai. It is located right along the Ghats and makes for a calm place to be and offers nice views of the river.
Being the Abode of Lord Shiva, don’t be surprised to see numerous temples dedicated to Shiva. The Ghats too have the sacred Linga’s carved out of stone that can be found everywhere, even on the river bed and each of them has a story to tell.
5. Jaleshwar Temple: is an ancient Shiva Temple that is reched after an easy 3 km walk along the river bank.
6. Kaleshwar Mahadev Temple: is at the confluence of Maheshwar River which merges with the Narmada River and one needs to take a boat ride. It is a fortified temple and very few visit it yet it is quite intriguing.
7. Sahastradhara: is about 2 kms (45 min boat ride) from the Ahilya fort and is worth the trip. It was once a volcanic zone and today has around 1000 streams that run past a rocky terrain with rapids that look amazing especially after monsoons. It is quite a popular place for a day out in the cool waters.
Bakawa: is a hidden little place located right across the River Narmada that makes and supplies ‘Shiva Linga’ all across the temples of India and even the world over. The place can easily be reached via a boat ride too.
Navdatoli: is an Archaeological site which was discovered in the year 1950. You may visit the site and view the washed off ruins of once flourishing town which seems to have vanished due to massive floods.
Explorations have found relics, earthen and stone pottery and microliths that date back to Lower Paleolithic period up to the 18th century and even from 1,500 BC and 1,200 BC.
Handlooms of Maheshwar
Maheshwari Sarees: Maheshwar is globally known for its Maheshwari Sarees that are made of Cotton or Silk and it was Ahilya Bai got the weavers from Surat (near Ahmedabad, Gujarat) to create this beautiful Indian weave. What makes the Maheswari Sarees special and distinctive is that these can be worn either side (reversible). Being light in texture and color, these are ideal for all weather and look elegant. Usually with one color background, the patterns may include plain stripes, checks, leaves or flowers (Karnphool) on them.
You must see the weavers in action and visit the Rehwa Society, an NGO that was set up in the year 1979 by the Holkar Family. It helps the local community earn a livelihood and the Handlooms made are just keeping this dying weave alive but reaching globally too.
The weaving center of Rehwa Society is located right behind the Ahilya Fort and is also one of Maheshwar’s historic buildings. Today one may also buy a variety of Home Linen, Dupattas and Maheshwari Stoles that are woven, embroidered or printed. Maheshwari Sarees can range anywhere between 450-15000/-
Recommended shops are Hemant handloom and Hansa Handloom which are both located near the fort gates.
With such an architectural grandeur, Maheshwar charms you with its natural surroundings, the beautiful Narmada and the spiritual life one becomes part off no matter how many you stay here.
Other Places to Explore:
Bawangaja: Here the main attraction is the 82 ft Jain Statue that belongs to the early 15h Century and is an important site for Jain Pilgrimage. The center is located in the Satpura Range and is 8 kms from the main Barwani town that is also a temple city .
Oon: is located at a distance of 18 Kms and has some fascinating ancient temples belonging to both Hindu and Jain communities. Gwaleshwar Temple is dedicated to 16th Jina savior Lord Shantinatha and was constructed during 12-13th century AD, during the reign of later Parmara. Learn More sovereign of Malwa region.The other temple is Chaubara Dera II. The Architecture and carvings in these temples are truly beautiful and few even resemble the ones found at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.
Khargone: is about 55.3 kms from Maheshwar and is situated at the banks of Kunda River. Here the newly constructed Ek Mukhi Datta Temple at Sahastradhara, Jalkoti is quite an attraction to devotees and travellers alike. You may also visit the Navgraha Mandir, devoted to the nav grahas (nine planets).
Omkareshwar: is one of the 12 revered Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva and is located 133 kms from Ujjain and 77 Kms from Indore. Not many know but the Memorial to the celebrated singer, Kishore Kumar is located on the Khandwa to Omkareshwar route. Please read my Travel Guide to Omkareshwar for more details.
Mandu: is 65 Kms from Maheshwar and is home to India’s finest examples of Afghan architecture and is also known as a fortress town. Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal (Swing Mahal), Hoshang Shah’s Tomb, Jami Masjid, Rewa Kund, Roopmati’s Pavilion, Baz Bahadur’s Palace are some of the most important attractions in Mandu.
Indore: is 90 Kms from Maheshwar and 77 Kms from Omkareshwar and is the largest city of Madhya Pradesh. Did you know that gates of ‘Lalbagh Palace’ at Indore are replica of the gates at the Buckingham Palace, London! The gates at Indore were casted in England and were shipped to Indore.
Interestingly the ‘Rajwada’ of Indore is also the only 7 storeyed entrance ever seen or constructed for a Palace!
Ujjain: is 152 Kms from Maheshwar via Dewas and Indore and 138 kms from Omkareshwar. Mahakaleshwar Temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas is venerated at Ujjain. The other temples include Harsidhhi Temple (a Shaktipeeth), Sri Radha Madan Mohan Temple (ISKCON), Temple of Chintaman Ganesh, Kaliyadeh Palace and some Jain Temples are worth visiting here. Visit Ujjain Travel Guide for more details on this pilgrimage town.
Must ‘Eat’ at Maheshwar
The delicious Indori Poha and the ‘Pann’ at Pakeezah (Main Market Maheshwar City) are highly recommended.
Places to Stay at Maheshwar
Ahilya Heritage Hotel: When Ahilya Bai took in charge of the fortress in 1765, she built the Ahilya Wada. Today the descendants of the Holkar Family have converted it into a Luxurious Heritage Hotel and is currently managed by Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar, son of the last ruler of Indore.
Commanding stunning views of the Narmada River, the place offers 13 Unique rooms along with a few Royal Tents that are ideal for a distinctive and authentic stay accommodation. Tariffs: 26000-30000/- INR
Laboos Cafe and Lodge: Situated in the old parts of the Ahilya Fort, it is located right at its gateways. The place was probably where the guards slept or guarded the fort in its hay days. The place is a wonderful stay option with 5 rooms and are ideal for solo travellers as well. But it is a little overpriced when it comes to food! Tariffs: 1500/-
Narmada Retreat: is an MPTDC run Hotel and offers a unique and comfortable accommodation and is located right along the banks of River Narmada. Tariffs: 1990 – 4590/- INR
Hotel Kanchan Recreation: is a comfortable stay option located on the Sahastradhara Road, Maheshwar. Tariffs: 1550-2550/- INR
Hotel Raj Palace: located just 100 mtrs away from the Ahilya Fort, this hotel offers good views of the River Narmada. Tariffs: 900 – 1500/- INR
Hotel Hansa Heritage: is located close to Laboos Café and offers comfortable rooms and is also a popular handloom store. Tariffs: 1000-1500/- INR
Following are the list of Guesthouses that offer decent rooms with attached bathrooms and even balconies for tariffs between 200-700/- INR
- Akashdeep and Magandeep Guesthouse
- Chandan Guesthouse
- Cheer Chayan/Chandrakantha Guesthouse
- Mangalam Guest House
Taxi Transport from Indore Airport to Maheshwar: 91 Kms – 2 hour drive Tariffs: 1200-2000 (Non AC & AC)
Madhya pradesh has a good network of Railways the connect all the major towns and cities in India including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh & Maharashtra. national Highways too are easily drivable and people can reach via Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi, Tadoba National Park, Ranthambore, Raipur, Vishakhapattnam, Ajanta, Ellora, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Mount Abu, Chambal Sanctuary, Lucknow etc.
Read a beautiful travelogue on Maheshwar by www.beyondlust.in
To download this article for offline reading or travel directions to the attractions highlighted in this article click here.