Cenotaph Complex, Maheshwar Fort, Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh (MP)
Cenotaph Complex, Maheshwar Fort
Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh (MP)
The massive Maheshwar Fort stands on hill overlooking the Narmada River on the south. The stupendous walls of the Maheshwar Fort rises straight out of the Narmada River to a height of more than 30 meters.
The Maheshwar Fort dates back to antiquity and there are no clear evidence of its first construction. The fort as we see today was conceived during the reign of Ahilya Bai Holkar (1767 – 95).
Ahilya Bai, was the daughter in law of Malhar Rao Holkar, the founder of Hindu Maratha dynasty of Holkar, who ruled central India from Indore.
Ahilya Bai become a widow in 1754, when her husband Khande Rao, died during the siege of Kumbher.
In 1766 after the death of Malhar Rao Holkar, Ahilya Bai’s only son Khande Rao, ascended the throne. He died only nine months later forcing Ahila Bai to ascended the throne.
She ruled ably for 28 years and even led the army in many a successful battle. Ahilya Bai was a skilled archer and tales of four bows and quiver of arrows fitted at the four corners of her howdah (elephant seat) had become a part of the local folklore.
Ahilya Bai commissioned two architects from Rajasthan to redesign and construct parts of the Maheshwar Fort.
The architect brothers Bhujdar and Gajdar turned the Maheshwar Fort into a Rajasthani palace, complete with arches, balconies and oriel windows.
The Maheshwar fort is approached from the Narmada River (boats are available) through a massive arched gateway, approached by a long flight of stairs. On the top of the gateway are sculptured figures of musicians.
The gateway leads to a open courtyard housing a couple of memorials or cenotaphs of the members of the Holkar family. They are locally known as chattris. At the centre of the courtyard or the cenotaph complex is a rather Islamic looking beautiful doomed structure. This is the chattri or cenotaph of Vithoji Rao.
Vithoji Rao was the younger brother of Yashwant Rao Holkar (ruled 1807 – 11). Vithoji Rao plundered the Peshwa territories and was finally captured by Peshwa Baji Rao II. He was killed in 1801 by being trampled under the feet of an elephant. His ashes were brought back to Maheshwar and placed in this cenotaph.
The majestic embellished chhatri has amazing elephant frieze on its plinth. It is approached by a flight of stairs leading to a hexagonal garbhagriha (inner sanctum).
Facing the Cenotaph of Vitoji Rao, is a short flight of steps leads to the Cenotaph of Ahila Bai. The chhatri built by her daughter Krishna Bai resembles more of a temple than a cenotaph.
It is also known as Ahilyeshwar Shivalaya, as its garbhagriha (inner sanctum) contains a shivalinga, along with a statue of Ahilya Bai. Built in Nagar style the black curvilinear tower of the cenotaph is capped with a brass finial.
The Cenotaph of Ahila Bai, has a pillared mandapa and is built on a high platform, with beautiful floral and geometric friezes on its side.
Note: This trip was part of a FAM (Familiarization) trip of Hanuwantiya (Jal Mahotsav), Omkareshwar, Maheshwar and Mandu. Special Thanks to:
- Abhijit Dhar, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (MPTDC), Kolkata
- My fellow FAM participants Uttara Gangopadhyay, Soumya Mukherjee amd Ishandev Chatterjee