The name Maheshwar comes from Mahesh, a name for Lord Shiva. The word Maheshwar in Hindi means the abode of Lord Mahesh. Maheshwar was the capital of king Kartavirya Arjuna, who is mentioned in the Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. It was then known as Mahishmathi. The reason, it is said, was probably the abundant presence of mahishya or buffalos. The other assumptions for its etymology includes names of various kings and sages who once lived and worshiped here.
In the late eighteenth century, Maheshwar served as the capital of the great Maratha lady Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar, ruler of the state of Indore. She embellished the city with many buildings and public works, and it is home to her palace, as well as numerous temples, a fort and riverfront ghats (broad stone steps which step down to the river).
Maheshwar is situated at the banks of River Narmada, which is one of the holy rivers of India and due to which Maheshwar too became popular as a religious city.
It is located at 90 kms from Indore in the south, 13 kms from Dhamnod in the west, 5 kms from Badwaha in the east and 32 kms from Khargone in the North. The city is approximately 283 meters above sea level average (Â± 9 m). It's 1247 hectares (Nagar Panchayat area) is lived in by a population of 20,597 (2001 Census of India).
Maheshwar is a bustling temple town by banks of river Narmada. It attracts great devotees of Lord Shiva and the river. Now, the Maheshwari saris have also brought it in their share of visitors and admirers. The landscape goes back in time as you move into the town from the market centres. Nearing the riverside, the numerous stone steps of the ghats,forts and the splendid temples are freckled with devotees and tourists. A few take a dip in the holy river while others are engaged in rituals. The temples and magnanimous fort with their feet in the river are flocked by awestruck crowd.
Visitors come at milder temperatures or major festivals like Maha shivrathri, which exist during the months of October to March.Maheshwar has extreme climatic conditions with temperatures in summer going upto 45 deg. celsius (May) and winter dipping to 3 deg. celsius (Nov- Feb). Granite, Kailsait, Kwartjait, limestone, Breksia and Reteelapttht are the major minerals found in the district. Rabi sorghum and maize are the principal crops. Krif.Cotton and groundnut are the major commercial crops.
This temple town is a pilgrimage spot as well as tourist destination. The main city is just like any other with good hotels, hospitals and shops. Commute by vehicles is also not difficult. The city changes shape as it nears the river and temple side. It splits into smaller lanes and bylanes flanked by numerous houses. The road that bifurcates at Bazaar Chawk, with one branch leading to the fort and the other to the river Narmada, forms the main axis of the town, along which are located all the important commercial activities.The rest of the town has an organic development pattern with narrow streets and large public squares.
The grand Maheshwar fort steals all the attention in the skyline. The hundreds of steps of the ghats leading upto the fort and temples, start their journey from the banks of the river. Closer to the temples, the structures seem ancient and lost in time. They are mostly massive and made of stone. These are veined by small lanes between houses of the locals. These are built of brick and concrete. There are sudden sightings of older houses amongst the modern constructions. These have pillared verandahs and elaborately carved balconies (A clear Maratha Influence).
Maheshwar also houses weaver colonies (Mominpura, Dalalpura, Maru Mohalla etc.) and cottage industries. The dwellings of the weavers are of modern construction and have simple functional plans. The handlooms are placed in the first room on entry or the living room and the private spaces far in. The looms are embedded into their routines so much so that there is no concept of a different workplace and a different space to live. There is a statue of Queen Ahilyabai at certain intersections.
There are also the organisations like the Rehwa Society (5) an NGO founded by the Holkars in 1978 to give women employment and revive the town's textiles. They have vast courtyards, lined with handlooms for the women to gather and work.
Maheshwar is a town of great historical and religious importance. Its mention in the scriptures and traces of ancient architecture stand testimony to the fact. The culture is also termed 'Nimar' as it is believed to be a mix of Aryan and non-Aryan cultures. The culture mix continued with the handloom industry which hired people from various castes and religions, including Kshatriyas, Bharuds, Muslims, Kumhars and Kahars. All these people are either from nearby areas or have migrated to Maheshwar and are now permanent residents there.
Maheshwar is full of festivals and celebrations. Maha shivrathri is a prominent festival when people flock to ardently worship Lord Shiva. Every year Swaadhyaaya Bhavan Ashram organizes Mahaa mrityunjaya Rath Yatra in the town of Maheshwar. The yatra intends to invoke blessings of Ayurved Murti Bhagwaan Sadaashiv Mahaamrityunjaya (who is regarded as the primordial and supreme doctor), and it starts from Swaadhyaaya Bhawan Ashram and culminates at the banks of the Narmada. The festivals of lord Ganesh and Navaratra are also celebrated with great enthusiasm. During Navratra, the urban squares and public places are filled with festive people dancing, singing and praying.
The continuing reverence for the Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar is visible as thousands of devotees throng to the Ahilyabada during the Ahilya festival, the palace within the fort from where she ruled and held meetings to coordinate her welfare and building works across India.Other prominent annual festivals include the Narmada festival, Kalidas festival and the sacred river festivals.Another prominent festival is Moharram. Though a muslim celebration, almost 75 percent of the Hindus join in too.
Maheshwar's religious importance and the way it interacts with its architecture and open spaces like its Ghats marks it as a must-visit on the map. It is famous for some of the oldest Shiva temples and shrines. Some of the ancient temples here are Shiv Jyotirlingam Mandleshwar, Bawangaja and Mandav. Towards 65 kms east of Maheshwar lies Onkareshwar temple, which is one of the 12 most popular Shiv Lingam temples in India. Jain influences have also been found near Maheshwar. Oon is situated in Nimad, 70kms south of Maheshwar, which is one of the important centers for Jains and excavations of the place have revealed artifacts as old as 11th century AD. The Oon is an 82 feet statue carved out of a single rock. It was built by the King Meena Ramchandra during 1166 B.C.
Maheshwar is in close proximity to some picturesque destinations. Mandu is a beautiful hill station located in the Vindhyas around 2000 ft above sea level. This city is also famous for the epic lovestory between Shamshah Bajbahadur and Queen Roopmati.