With Love, From Maheshwar

by | Dec 22, 2020

A rather sudden decision and I managed to squeeze in a visit to Maheshwar over a weekend. Chaitanya WISE, my organisation works across 4 different locations in Madhya Pradesh. Maheshwar is one of them. So far, most of my work has largely been in Indore and in the nearby villages around the city. So it is safe to say that I had not gotten a chance to romanticise my share of rural life yet. Maheshwar is about 90 km from Indore and falls under the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. The Narmada river flows through this beautiful town and hence, keeps the winter at bay. But the summer has no remorse. 

On a Sunday noon, Tanaya (my co-fellow) and I set out to see the town of Maheshwar. She has been here since October and in the last two months, has found a piece of home. I was yearning to know how.

We took a bus from Indore, the best way for this journey and the only way one would do justice to the sprawling views outside the window. The site of largely spread out fields ranging in all shades of green to the sun that sets as your day draws to dusk, is far from usual, especially for all you city buffs.

On getting down from the bus in Maheshwar, we walked for about 10 minutes to reach our office (and home!). I realised that all the similar looking homes are open, barely covered in a curtain, enough for me to steal a glimpse into their living rooms. The doors were pretty much left ajar through the day and just shut (not locked) at night. Striding along to look for our keys, after Sharda* Didi’s house, at Devi* didi’s place, we got our keys!

Devi didi was warm enough to invite us over for dinner. A meal consisting of daal chawal and the infamous daal baati known as daal baafle here. (when in MP, you can’t afford to dislike it, beware of committing this blasphemy!) Devi Didi’s was by far the best daal baati I had had since my stay in the state. Was it all her warmth, her daughter’s absolute excitement to feed us or her husband’s pleasant conversations or was it a mix of all?

Nonetheless, the meal was beyond satisfying! We walked back as I tried to dodge the cows and dung cakes along my way. The streets can accommodate no more than two cows, so you either make way for them or matrix your way through them, because they ain’t speeding or slowing for you. We got to bed early that day, as I wanted to wake up in time for the main purpose of my visit, the sunrise on the ghats.

The sunrise was to be at 6.54 am. After about an hour of snoozing, at 6.40 am, we jumped out of our beds. No brushing or bathing, we picked up our jackets and headed straight to the ghats. A short walk and I see a glimpse of the morning waters. As I sped along, I couldn’t help but pull out my phone for the camera (not a phone person, have absolutely no photography skills). But the ghats at that hour just make you want to capture them, and everyone could feel like a photographer here.

At the backdrop is the famous Maheshwar fort standing tall in all its glory, below are the ghats sharing shore with waters stretching out into the sky where the sun rises and sets. Yes, Maheshwar is the only place in India where you can catch the sunrise as closely as the sun set. The air was filled with religious hymns or bhajans being sung by locals who arrive at the ghats every morning to pay their respects to the river.

The Narmada waters are laid with the most beautiful coloured boats and schools of fish that swim at your feet. We watched the sunrise. The day had officially begun for Maheshwaris. After what seemed like the most pleasant morning I had had in a long time, as we walked back, I heard the ‘tik-tok’ noise from handlooms – the main attraction of Maheshwar, along with its gorgeous lighter-than-air textiles.

Local families run these handlooms , and they get passed on from generation to generation. The origin of Maheshwari sarees dates back to the 18th century, when the Indore state was ruled by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar. She had asked for craftsmen from Surat and Malwa to design special 9-yard sarees to be gifted to royal guests and relatives. All the patterns on these saris are still inspired by Ahilyabai’s Fort. Be it the Leher, the Shatranj, the Chatai. Even with a little understanding of these designs, one will be able to identify them while walking past the fort.

One can find a loom in almost every third house. On visiting one such house, the design and engineering of that age-old loom will not fail to amaze you, from the weights on one end to balance as the craftsman weaves out the patterns, to the colours they merge together in coordinated movements of pulling, pushing and sliding. I did try running a loom myself, and it’s safe to say that my brain could barely process the marvel of this machine!

At Chaitanya WISE, we work with women weavers, to empower them and their businesses. These women are undoubtedly the best at their craft, but we strive to facilitate the marketing and selling of the craft. If you do think of a Maheshwari, think of us (shameless plug-in) and the women here.

I started my trip with a sunrise and ended it with another. No two sunrises are ever the same here. The place welcomes you sooner than you realise and makes you feel at home. A big part of me hopes for Maheshwar to flourish in commerce, in business and in tourism, but a tiny part of me selfishly wants this town to retain its innocence and be open to just those who go in quest of it. The sanctity of Maheshwar lies in its narrow roads, the devotion of its people, and the sacred Narmada ghats.

*Names changed to protect identity

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