How many of you have heard about Maheshwar? I would bet that very few from among you would be aware of this Varanasi of Madhya Pradesh.The land of the famous Maheshwar Saris, Ahilya Fort, and the world famous Narmada ghats awaits you.
Many travelers to Madhya Pradesh know only about tigers, jungles, and Khajuraho and I hope Madhya Pradesh Tourism does some serious marketing of Maheshwar.
But Madhya Pradesh is a state of many mysteries. It is like the famous Russian dolls- each doll holds another one inside it, you know what I mean, don’t you?
Maheshwar- about legends and folklore
Many Indian towns and cities are associated with folklore and legends, but Maheshwar is different.
This ancient town, which is on the banks of the Narmada, is as old as Varanasi and packs in several legends. The dates of some of these legends go back to several, several thousands of years. You think it is weird, then you are not an exception. India is the land of fables and legends and my job is to share them with you.
History of Maheshwar
Have you watched the film, Bahubali? You will remember the name of a city, Mahishmati, in the film. Well, this town is closely connected with Mahishmati. Some writers like Sankalia, Bose, and Francis Wilford say that Maheshwar and Mahishmati are the same.
I brought up the subject of Mahishmati (महिष्मति) because various travelers and historians have failed to find out this ancient town.
Mahishmati is believed to have existed till 13th century AD. This town was also the capital of the Kalchuri kings who lived in Central India.
The earliest known Kalachuri family (c. 550–620 ce) ruled in northern Maharashtra, Gujarat, Malwa, and parts of the western Deccan and probably had their capital at Mahishmati in the Narmada River valley. Three members of the family—Krishnaraja, Shankaragana, and Buddharaja—are known from epigraphs and coins distributed over a wide area. Although the rise of the Badami Chalukyas ended Kalachuri power in the early 7th century, the dynasty seems to have lingered in the Malwaregion until a late date. (source- Encyclopedia Brittanica)
Many ancient Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharat mention Mahishmati. This was the capital of King Kartaveerya Arjun, who was the Lord of the World.
Some experts, however, consider the temple town of Omkareshwar as the site of Mahishmati.
However, according to the majority opinion, Mahishmati and Maheshwar are one and the same.
The story of Kartaveerya Arjun
If I told you that the King of Maheshwar had 1000 arms, what would your reaction be? You will exclaim, of course, no?
His name was Kartaveerya Arjun but I doubt he actually had 1000 arms. Probably, this King was very powerful in his time and controlled several thousand kingdoms. You know how stories convert into legends.
Arjun lived in Mahishmati and had several wives in his palace. Some people say that he had 500 wives!
This king is mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharat and if you want to read more about him then please read this book;
The wives of Arjun wanted a large playing area so the king stopped the flow of the mighty Narmada that was flowing close by.
While the king and his party were enjoying themselves, in came Ravana, the King of Lanka.
Ravana was another powerful king and had 10 heads! He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva too and always carried a Shivaling with him.
Finding an open ground, Ravana placed the Shivaling upon it and began praying to the Lord.
Meanwhile, Arjun was finished with his merrymaking and so undammed the Narmada. He did not know that Ravana was worshipping on the river bed nearby!
As the Narmada gushed down the river bed, its waters swept off the precious Shivaling of Ravana. He was zapped and did not know what happened all of a sudden.
And then he found out the reason for his discomfort.
10 heads and 1000 arms
No prizes to guess what happened next. There was a furious battle between Ravana and the 1000-armed Kartaveerya Arjuna. Both were battle-hardened fighters and extremely powerful kings.
Ravana challenged Arjuna to a duel which the latter declined haughtily. Arjun considered Ravana with contempt.
But Ravana was Ravana. He was arrogant but did not know the power of Arjun. Ravana thought that he was the most powerful king in the world.
A bitter battle ensued which led to a humiliating defeat of Ravana. He was tied down by ropes and put in a jail by Arjun.
So, the next time when you visit Maheshwar, replay this story in your mind.
The Cow and Arjun
Then there is another story about Maheshwar that you must know and this one again relates to Arjun.
One day, he and his army were passing through a jungle. It was a hot day and all these people were feeling tired and thirsty but there was no soul in sight which could help them.
After walking for a few miles, they came to an ashram of Sage Jamdagni. He had a cow that used to give lots of milk and other kinds of food to the travelers, free.
Jamdagni offered those goodies to these tired travelers and lo and behold, these people regained their energy in no time!
But Arjun was a greedy fellow. He demanded the cow from Jamdagni but the Sage refused. The King became angry and killed his host for refusing his demand.
After killing the Sage, Arjun captured the cow and left the premises. He had just stolen the cow of one of the most important saints.
Unlike Jamdagni, who was a peaceful man, Parashuram was the polar opposite. His DNA was made up of anger and Parashu, or axe was the son’s favorite weapon.
When Parashuram came back in the evening, his mother told him about the murder and mayhem. Of course, the son was filled with uncontrollable rage.
Losing no time, Parashuram caught up with his father’s killer and killed Arjun. Parashuram had finally fulfilled his vow.
So you see, Maheshwar is known for this legend too.
Agni and the girl
While researching on Maheshwar, I came across a very interesting fact about this town. Until now, I hadn’t known that this ancient Madhya Pradesh town allowed girls to marry according to their choice!
Yes, that is true.
But what is the origin of this practice?Again, there is a story behind this as well.
Several thousands of years ago, Agni, the God of Fire had promised to protect Maheshwar as long as its people allowed their daughters and sisters to marry according to their choice.
The Fire God was forced to grant this promise because he was a secret lover of the daughter of a brahman living in Maheshwar. Every day, when the brahman lit his sacred fire, Agni used to gaze secretly at the daughter.
The father was, quite obviously, unaware of these developments until one day when he saw Agni and his daughter in an embrace.
The brahman became angry at Agni and was about to curse him when the God gave him a solemn promise. Agni promised the brahman that Maheshwar would stay protected as long as the girls of the town were allowed to marry put of pure love.
Did Maheshwar remain a safe city down the ages? Do the research and let me know.
Also read- Ujjain and its Kumbh Mela
City of Ahilya
In relatively modern times. Maheshwar was the capital of Ahilya Bai Holkar.
Ahilya was an amazing woman of her day and age and has left an indelible impression on Indian history.
She was married at an early age to a king of Central India. Her husband, however, died quite early and left her with small kids. Many people expected that Ahilya would commit sati and join her husband in heaven. Ahilya was just 29 when she became a widow.
Many people expected that Ahilya would commit sati and join her husband in heaven. However, her father-in-law dissuaded her from committing suicide and asked her to lead a normal life. Ahilya considered her father-in-law as her father and accepted his advice.
Unfortunately, after a few months of her husband’s death, her father-in-law too expired. Ahilya’s subjects later crowned her as the Queen of the Holkar kingdom.
The young queen did an admirable job and defended her people stoutly against the Muslim invaders. She also constructed several temples, dharmshalas and other buildings for her people.
Ahilya encouraged her people, especially the women, to study and be self-reliant.
When you go to Maheshwar, you will not fail to be impressed by the magnificent Ahilya fort on the banks of Narmada.
One of the everlasting legacies of Queen Ahilya is the Maheshwar saris. These saris were introduced to the people of Maheshwar by Ahilya. She actually invited various artisans and weavers from the Gujarat city of Surat to teach the Maheshwar artisans this art.
Today, these saris are always on the bucket list of every traveler to Maheshwar.
Places to see in Maheshwar
Having delved into the history of Maheshwar, let us go the important places of this town;
- Ahilya Fort- This was the palace of Queen Ahiyabai Holkar. If you want to see the setting sun on the banks of Narmada, then this is the place to be in.
- Sahastrarjuna Temple- As is evident, this temple was made for Lord Shiva by the famous king, Kartaveerya Arjun. The original temple has been replaced by a newer construction.
- Rajrajeshwar Temple- The ceiling of this temple is made of glass and when you visit this place, you will see that the temple is lit by thousands of lamps. These lamps have been burning continuously for hundreds of years.
- Ahilya Chhatri- Interested in visiting the memorial of Queen Ahilya? Then visit this place.
- Vindhyavasini Temple- This temple is one of the Shaktipeeths of India. If you want to invoke Shakti, then visit this temple.
- Sahastradhara- This is a place where the Narmada splits up into several streams.
Maheshwar has more than 100 temples and this is the reason why this town is called the Varanasi of Madhya Pradesh.
Booking a hotel in Maheshwar is not very difficult. Madhya Pradesh Tourism operates a property in the town and you can book one of its rooms online.
Check out these hotels in Maheshwar- Hotel Devarshi, Kanchan Recreation, and Hotel Sanginee. Fares range from rs. 2,500 to Rs. 850/-
How to reach Maheshwar
This town is just 90 kilometers from Indore. You can reach Indore by taking a train or a flight.
Upon reaching Indore, book a cab and reach Maheshwar easily.
The best time to reach Maheshwar is from October to March.
Traveler’s Tip- Club your visit to Maheshwar with Ujjain and Omkareshwar.
Did you like this article on Maheshwar? I hope to get your feedback, dear friends.
Thanks for reading this.