What I love about my work is that I get to travel to many places in India, get to know different people, cultures and some interesting facts. Recently I visited Maheshwar and was touched by a few things…

Maheshwar is well known as a religious town on the north bank of river “Narmada” as well as for its Handloom Maheshwari silk. I found it very interesting that most of the artisans of Maheshwar are Muslims and they are very much cognizant of Hindu religion and allied traditions. It’s hard to believe that you are talking with a non-Hindu person when he talks about a particular religious day and rituals on “Narmada Ghat”. The local economy has higher standings than the religious discrepancies. This has proven by the time that Maheshwar has not seen communal riots in many decades…concludes 80 years old “autowala” Nasirbhai.

Oh and by the way, In Maheshwar, the only local transport available is just half a dozen autorickshaws and if you want to hire one, there is no rickshaw stand, you have to call them :)!

Handloom art & business in Maheshwar was conceived and nurtured by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar. It was the specialty of Holkar family that they did not use public funds to meet their personal and family expenses, in fact, they used their Personal funds for charity. They did so many great works throughout India.

I found the story of this queen very inspiring especially considering her lifetime in 17th Century. She was an impressive young girl who the king, Malharrao Holkar had met by accident. He was so taken with her character that he had arranged her marriage to his own son. And what a visionary he was!
Unfortunately, her husband died in one of the battles just after a few years of her marriage. At that time, when there was a Hindu tradition of “Sati”, a woman who dies burning herself on her husbands funeral fire, and when there was almost no practice of women working in public, at such point of time, father in law, Malharrao Holkar stopped Ahilya bai to perform “Sati”. And to add to it, made her run his kingdom.

For 12 years that she ruled with Malhar Rao, she was trained by him in administrative and military matters. Ahilyabai proved him right and became a great ruler devoting herself to her subjects. Ahilyabhai was not only a tough personality, but she was a generous patron of the arts. Luckily for the world, she also loved sarees and under her guidance, weavers arts flourished and specialized into the present day Maheshwari cloth.

September 13, 2022 — Rashmi Patwardhan