MP Foundation Day: Why Maheshwar — Located At 'Centre Of The Universe' — Is A Sight To Behold
Grand yet calming, Maheshwar is one of the best advertisements for Madhya Pradesh on its foundation day.
The small town of Maheshwar in the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh lies 90 kilometres south west of Indore and not too far from the Maharashtra state boundary.
As the state of Madhya Pradesh celebrates its foundation day, getting a greater number of tourist footfalls to places like Maheshwar may help the state diversify from its principally agrarian economy.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Maheshwar is amongst the best kept tourism secrets, whose potential awaits its turn to be unlocked.
It is not a completely unknown site of course. The town was the seat of the Maratha ruler Devi Ahilyabai Holkar, whose imprint is visible in much of what qualifies today as tourist attraction.
But the itihasa of Maheshwar goes back much beyond this. It is widely believed to be the ancient city of Mahishmati, the capital of the Haihaya dynasty.
The best known Haihaya ruler Kartavirya Arjun is said to have taken on the mighty Ravan in this area.
His feud with Rishi Jamdagni and Bhagwan Parshuram is well-documented.
In fact Janapav, the birthplace of Bhagwan Parshuram is not too far from Maheshwar.
The stories of this era are covered in detail in the Mahabharat, pointing to the timelessness of Mahishmati.
The oral history traditions, quite characteristic of the Indian tradition, have preserved the links from Mahishmati to Maheshwar. King Kartavirya Arjun was also known as Sahasrabahu — the one with thousand arms.
A Sahasrabahu Arjun temple stands even now, not too far from the ghats developed by Devi Ahilyabai.
A popular boating cruise on the mighty Narmada takes a pit stop at a place dubbed Sahasradhara — where thousand streams meet and fall to a lower altitude, creating thunderous sounds.
Even without the story of Mahishmati, today’s Maheshwar stands firmly as the capital city of Malwa, which was instrumental in revamping a vast majority of the Hindu holy sites around the country.
Devi Ahilyabai’s devotion to Lord Shiv and the long list of temple renovations, spiritual infrastructure and the public amenities building carried out in her tenure, make her one of the most prominent Indians to have ever lived.
While her own living quarters were sparse and can still be visited entering the Maheshwar Fort, the fort itself is grand. It houses many Shiv temples and open to the glory of Narmada via a magnificent ghat.
While, the Maheshwar ghats can be seen in the songs Snehithane in the movie Alaipayuthe, Aaj se teri from the movie Padman and Hud hud dabang from the movie Dabangg 3 among countless others, nothing really beats a visit in person.
During the calmer months of winter, a boat ride on the river makes for a serene experience with the view of the ghat and the fort very similar to the one at Assi Ghat in Varanasi.
This may not be a coincidence given that Devi Ahilyabai was instrumental in the renovation of the Kashi Vishwanath temple as it stands today.
In the middle of the river and accessible via the boat is a Shiv temple, which the locals believe is the centre of the universe.
Maheshwar is also the birthplace of a very rich weaving tradition. Dating back to the fifth century, the handloom weaving industry was revived by Devi Ahilyabai during her reign.
She settled weavers from nearby Mandu and Burhanpur and also from Surat and rejuvenated an old Maheshwar tradition, which continues till date.
Maheshwar is quite easily accessible with a couple of hours of journey from Indore, the nearest big city. The drive is quite scenic in itself, especially during the monsoon and the post-monsoon months.
The Janapav hill is on the way as a good pit stop. In fact, another historical town of Mandu is just minutes away. With the two jyotirlings of Ujjain and Omkareshwar in the vicinity, this circuit makes for a great week-long tourism experience, with Indore as the easy place for overnight stays.
A state like Madhya Pradesh needs such tourism circuits to develop with greater focus.
A state which has been late to industrialisation and relies largely on the agrarian economy will not be able to rise up the human development index ladder without new sources of local income.
Tourism is a very obvious choice, which creates in-situ jobs at multiple price points, creating a service industry in which participation is easy, gains are immediate and the intermediary chain is short.
Specific focus on such tourism offerings may be required. These are areas where public — private partnerships can do wonders.
Integrated tour packages covering this religious — historical — cultural circuit with Indore as the transit hub can easily be designed to attract tourists.
Maheshwar may also be an ideal location for a world class ‘Narmada Museum’ — it is not just a river, but the lifeline of the states of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
But even without all this, Maheshwar is a sight to behold. Grand yet calming, it is one of the best advertisements for Madhya Pradesh on its foundation day.
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