Ghats of India, Part 2

ARCHITECTURAL MARVELS OF MAHESHWAR

The picturesque ghats on the Narmada riverfront of Maheshwar, named after dynasties, such as the Peshwa Ghat, Fanase Ghat, Ahilyabai Ghat, are a distinctive feature of the city. The 1.5 km long Narmada river here is lined with 28 ghats. The individuality of the location and exquisite, well-kept temples have drawn Bollywood and South Indian mainstream cinema to shoot at these sites, keeping the picturesque ghats in the background.

Madhya Pradesh’s Maheshwar town retains its timeless elegance as it did when it was ruled by the legendary Maharani Ahilya Bai, ruler of the Holkar dynasty. Taking over as queen in the late 18th century, she transformed this riverside city into a peaceful and prosperous capital city with buildings of astounding architecture and beauty. As a devotee of Lord Shiva, she got many Shiva temples constructed. Even today the temples lend to the town the aura of her era.

Besides the ghats, Maheshwar, mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, is home to some elaborately carved temples, many of which are inside Ahilya Fort on the northern bank of the Narmada. The fort complex encloses several tiered temples all of which depict intricate stone carving and sculpture.

On a normal day, the ghats reverberate to the cacophony of the locals thronging to the temples to take part in the aarti (prayer) every morning and evening. Sadhus sit cross-legged in silent meditation, pilgrims chant as they come for a holy dip, gossiping housewives replenish their stocks of water or wash their clothes, and villagers wait patiently to be ferried across the river in boats. A reminder of a distant past along the banks is the sight of chhatris (memorials in stone to the rulers).

There is an intricately-carved doorway near the Vithji chhatri and a flight of 31 steps lead down to the Narmada. Ahilyabhai Ghat below Ahilyabai fort, Maheshwar’s prime bathing ghat, it is the most vibrant ghat, being in the centre of a long series of ghats on either side. Many miniature shrines of Lord Shiva are built on its shore. The ghat is dotted with Shivalingas, Nandi bulls and carved temples all made of stone. To the right of Ahilya Ghat is Mahila Ghat with two chhatris of Ahilya Bai’s daughter Krishna Bai.

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