The ruler 'Khem Sawant I' established the kingdom in 1627 AD. In 1692 AD, 'Sawantwadi' was declared the capital of the state. This was earlier a part of the village of 'Charatha' ruled by then king 'Khem Sawant II'. The 'Sawant Bhonsales' of Sawantwadi are the oldest ruling family in the Konkan region.From 1819 AD onwards, the rulers embraced development with a progressive attitude and they reformed the state of Sawantwadi.
The 'Bhonsles' brought along with them several artisans and craftsmen who earned their livelihood due to the generosity of their patronage especially by Raja Khem Sawant III (1755-1803 AD).
In 1773 AD, a consignment was sent to 'Angre', the Maratha sea lord, which included ganjifas. In September 1778 AD, Nana Fadnavis wrote a letter to Khem Sawant acknowledging the receipt of one ganjifa amongst many other things. The earliest producers of ganjifa cards were the 'Telugu Brahmins' who passed on the knowledge of their art to the 'Chitaris' of 'Sawantwadi'. The cards were also an important part of the 'Maharashtrian' bride's trousseau. The Sawantwadi cards, unlike its contemporaries from other parts of India, depict the figures in action whereas the cards from the Deccan school show their figures seated against a bolster or a cushion.
Sawantwadi covers an area of 6.78 kms lying in the 'Sindhudurg' district. It is built around the lake called 'Moti Talav'. Its other principalities include 'Khaskilwada' in the north-east of the lake, Royal Palace complex at the north, 'Vazirwada' at the north-west and newly developed housing complexes at the south. The town is flanked by the Mumbai- Goa highway and is situated 60kms away from Goa as well as 540 kms from Mumbai. The nearest hill station is 'Amboli' which comes under the 'Sawantwadi taluka' jurisdiction. The nearby villages are 'Verle', 'Chaukul', 'Kumbhawade', 'Banda', 'Sangeli' and 'Dongarpal'.
The Sawantwadi railway station is 8kms away and connects to Karnataka, Goa, Mumbai, Kerala and other major destinations. About 12 to 13 buses are available daily between Goa and Mumbai.
Sawantwadi has a semi-tropic climate and remains warm and humid most of the year. It has three main seasons; Monsoon (June- September), winter (October-January) and summer (February-May). Temperatures vary from a maximum of 32 degrees Celsius to a minimum of 21 degree Celsius. Horticulture is a common practice in Sawantwadi and alphonso mangoes, kokum and cashew are grown.
The cashew and kokum syrup factories of 'Mazhgaon' and 'Udhyan nagar' are 2-3 kms away from Sawantwadi. There are around 239 co-operatives in Sawantwadi district. The town has 12 banking co-operatives and 25 banks. The MSEB (Maharashtra State Electricity Board) supplies electricity to the town from a water source/dam which is situated at 'Radhanagri' about 150kms from 'Kolhapur'. Water is supplied to a reservoir situated 7kms away called 'Palni' tank. There is a chemical treatment plant and chlorination plant at 'Chivas Thekadi' for water treatment. The town has an efficient drainage system, where the garbage is collected from each house through a door to door system called 'Ghadi Ghanti'. The garbage is separated into wet and dry waste before being dumped about 8 km away at a disposal site.
There are 3 colleges and facilities for primary and secondary education and even high schools. The municipality is the main governing body at Sawantwadi which receives DA grants from the government.
The 'Akeri' temple was patronized by the royals of Sawantwadi. It is believed that the childless royal ancestor offered prayers to 'Shreedev Rameshwar' and they were blessed with a child. The 'Chitaris' painted the murals as part of the temple decoration in the 18th century. The architectural style is reflective of the architecture of Konkan coast.
Sawantwadi has a predominantly 'Malvani' culture that is a blend of Maratha and Konkani culture. Goddess 'Vetaoba devi' is highly regarded and worshipped in this part of Maharashtra. It is a strong belief that Goddess Vetaoba provides moral guidance and support to troubled people as well as those who need moral guidance. During prayer devotees concentrate on the patterns formed by the leaves pressed against the deities' chest; this is known as demanding 'Kaul' from God. They interpret the fall of the pressed leaves and depart with the satisfaction that god has spoken through this gesture.
The temple decorations are inspired by the style of Ganjifa. The artisans are called the 'Chitari' artists who are active painters of murals and temple chariots. They live in a street named after them called 'Chitari Ali'. The cuisine of the town is predominantly non-vegetarian 'Malvani' cuisine. It draws similarities with 'Goan' and 'Maharashtrian' way of cooking.
The people of Sawantwadi are ethnic Malvanis. Sawantwadi was a bastion of the erstwhile Maratha Empire before it became a separate principality. All religion, caste and clan lived in harmony. Many of the people are 'Marathas'; the population also includes 'Konkanhast Brahmins', 'Dalit's and 'Malvani Muslims'. Other small communities of Christians and Jews make up a small minority. 'Malvani' is the primary language spoken throughout the town. It is a blend of Marathi and Konkani. Portuguese and Konkani are also spoken by a small minority.
'Chitari Ali' or the craftsmen's lane houses the skilled craftsmen called 'Chitaris'. Originally hailing from Karnataka, it is believed that they moved here 300 years ago with a patron king and were eminent in painting the intricate 'Dashavatari Ganjifa' cards. Their forefathers were temple mural painters using the same 'Dashavatari' motifs. The Chitaris still live, work and display their craft in that narrow alley.