History of Maheshwar

Maheshwar is blessed with a rich history.

The landscape around Maheshwar is typical of the Nimar plains – hot in the summers and warm during the winters. This undulating land is composed of iron-rich, fertile red soil, which itself is derived from the ancient lava rocks that once covered the region. This area has been home to humans for millennia. In fact, Maheshwar is one of the few places where historical continuity can be traced from the pre-historic to the modern times.

Archaeological excavations at Navdatoli, across the river from Maheshwar, have yielded evidence of a material culture that flourished here as early as 1500 BCE. Ancient texts refer to the town as Mahishamati or Mahissatti. In all probability, the name was derived from the Sanskrit term for buffaloes (mahisha) for which the region was famed. During the age of the 16 mahajanapadas (great cities), Maheshwar, along with Ujjain, was the twin capital of the great city state of Avanti.

Another evidence of Maheshwar`s antiquity is its repeated mention in the ancient Indian texts, both Hindu and Buddhist. The Puranas refer to the people of Mahishamati as Mahishas or Mahishakas, antiquity in India is often judged by the place`s association with the epics. It is only natural, therefore, that Maheshwar is mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

In the 8th century CE, Maheshwar was also the venue of the spiritual discourse between the two most enlightened people of the time – Adi Shankarachary and Madam Mishra.
Ancient Buddhist literature and donation records inscribed at the Sanchi Stupa also mention Maheshwar. According to the description, Maheshwar is listed as an important stopover on the route from Paithan in Maharashtra to Sravasti in Uttar Pradesh. In addition, Hiuen Tsang, the 7th-century Chinese traveler, mentions the town in his accounts.

The Sanskrit text Harivamsha has its own version of the history or Maheshwar. According to this book, the city was founded by King Mahishamant of the Haiheya dynasty. Later, another Haiheya king and a chakravartin Kartavirya Arjuna made Mahishamati the capital of his realm that covered large parts of central and western India. When the Paramara Rajputs conquered much of Malwa in the 9th century, Maheshwar was already a thriving city. In all probability, the population of 9th-century Maheshwar far exceeded that of its sleepy, dusty modern-day version.

The glory days of Maheshwar ended with the decline of the Paramara Empire. From then on, sovereigns struggled for supremacy over Maheshwar. Sultan Ahmed I of Gujarat conquered the city in 1422. It changed hands once again in 1601 when it was taken over by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. The death or Aurangzeb in 1707 ended the long Mughal rule over Maheshwar and much of Malwa and they were replace by the Marathas under the Peshwas.

Peshwa Baji Rao I gifted Indore and its surrounding regions, which included the ancient towns of Imkareshwar and Maheshwar, to Malhar Rao Holkar in 1773, in recognition of his significant role in the Maratha conquest of Malwa. When Ahilya Bai, the widowed daughter-in-law of Makhar Rao, succeeded him to the throne in 1767, she chose Maheshwar as her capital. During her reign, Maheshwar rose to prominence again, becoming the centre of politics and trade in Central India.

The best time to visit Maheshwar is from October to March. Shivratri and Namrada Jayanti are celebrated here with gusto and draws pilgrims from all over the country. The Panch Kosi Yatra, a 5-day long pilgrimage along Narmada`s banks, attracts about 10,000 devotees each March.