A few days before we started our all India road journey we had decided that the first major stop would be the ancient city of Maheshwar. The idea had come when my daughter Saisha was studying history in social studies and was on the chapter that mentioned Rani Ahilyabai Holkar. It was written that the widow queen had built a formidable military reputation such that none of her powerful neighbours ever attached her kingdom and the forty years of her rule were very peaceful and prosperous. But the reason we got interested in Maheshwar was because Rani Ahilyabai had moved her capital from Indore to this city on bank of Narmada River and spent a considerable amount of her treasury on restoration of old Hindu shrines just like Adi Shankaracharya had done several centuries back. This generated immense curiosity in me and from google I found more details and decided that Maheshwar would be the ideal place for our family to disconnect from our regular lifestyle and connect with the heart of India. As we wanted to have a down to earth approach for our travel life, I searched for ashrams and dharamshalas in Maheshwar to find where to stay overnight. While browsing I came across SWAR Ashram on the banks of Narmada and within the fort area and sent an introduction email to Amma, the lady who runs the ashram. The very next day Amma wrote back to me offering her assistance to make our visit fruitful but also informed that her ashram has no rooms for guests. Her email was simple but filled with affection and I called her on the phone and had a nice conversation. From her accent it was clear that Amma was not originally from India, but her words indicated she was a deeply spiritual person. We surely wanted to meet her when in Maheshwar.
So when we crossed Narmada river and saw the lovely sunset, I called Amma and informed her about our decision to reach Maheshwar the same day. She suggested staying at Raj Palace Hotel which is next to Raj Rajeshwar Temple, has direct view of Narmada River and was close to her Swar Ashram. So following her advice I called them up and booked a room for our overnight stay.
After we checked into the hotel I called Amma and she came to meet us. When we met for first time it was as if I had known her for a long time, maybe it was the warm smile and “Narmade Har” greeting she gave with a serene smile and folded hands. Amma is short American origin with long braided hair and in long white dress with beads around her neck. When I introduced Amma to Ruchi and kids, she took out four fresh flower garlands from her bag and put around our necks to welcome us to Maheshwar. It was an overwhelming feeling of warmth and love and was totally unexpected. All five of us stood at the balcony overlooking Raj Rajeshwar temple and had a long deep conversation about several things. Amma invited us early next morning to join her for Agnihotra ceremony at her Ashram and we all agreed instantly.
Next day (March 13th 2020) we all got up before dawn had our baths and were ready to experience Swar Ashram and the wonderful things Amma had planned for us. The Swar Ashram is on the bank of Narmada river on the north edge of the Maheshwar fort. A part of the Ashram had fallen during the floods of 2013 and now only two rooms on lower level and three rooms on upper level remained. The garden where we had our Agnihotri ceremony was on the upper level and had a vintage view of Narmada river. Amma gave all of us small pyramid shaped yagna vessels, round dried cow-dung discs along with some pure-ghee and brown rice grains. She explained how to conduct the ceremony and we all do it on our own per her instructions. Doing the Agnihotri in front of river Narmada was certainly a profound experience.
After the Agnihotra ceremony we did some yoga asanas and then saw the library of Swar Ashram. Amma told us about her production technique of female MC-pads and how she gives them away for free in sets of 10 to underprivileged girls but charges double to foreigners to balance her financials. We took some pictures at Swar Ashram and then left for breakfast and rest.
This break time gave me time to upload videos to our newly created youtube channel called Bharat Bhraman. Later in the afternoon we met Amma again and she too us on a tour of Maheshwar Fort. We saw the palace of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, her darbar (court), her artifacts and her large metal sculpture. There was also a large underground tunnel (now sealed) which is supposed to connect to Indore city. Within the fort there is the Rehva Weaving Society ( https://rehwasociety.org ) which was established by the Royal descendants of Holkar dynasty to preserve and promote the unique saree making art initiated at the time of Rani Ahilyabai. A young designer Dhanya gave us a nice orientation of the Rehwa Soceity which Taran has captured for all to see.
After the Rehva society tour we all went to the Banke Bihari Bhojanalaya. The place is run by a family relocated to Maheshwar several decades ago from Rajasthan and have their own Krishna Temple, Gaushala and Bhojanalaya. The unlimited satvik thali is served for lunch at only Rs.50 per person and obviously is highly subsidized by the owners. The food is given as they do in the Ashram traditions.
After the heavy lunch we checked into Krishna Guest house and the kids took a nap while I updated myself digitally on various work related emails and messages. After the afternoon rest it was time to jump into river Narmada and take holy dips. Taran, Saisha and I spent quite some time in the fresh flowing waters and then visited the Raj Rajeshwar Temple, supposed to pre-date the Mahabharata times. After the temple we attended the Narmada Aarti at the main ghat and then headed back to Krishna Hotel to sleep.