Kolhapur to me stood for the temple of Mahalakshmi, Kolhapuri Chappal, Hot Chillis and Lavani dance. When I landed here one morning on the Deccan Odyssey trip, I was all curiosity and I must admit Kolhapur did not disappoint me. I missed going to Panch Ganga and many temples and museums that could not be accommodated in a short trip, but what I saw in that short time makes me wonder how did we fit in so much in such a short span. First taste of Kolhapur came at the station where a saffron turban or Pheta as it is called here was tied on our heads, it was like including us in the clan and of course it made us all look gorgeous. It also turned out to be the day when Holi was still being played in the streets and that added its own color to the experience.
The first place we saw was the new palace of Kolhapur. This is a 19th CE building, but since it replaced an old palace, the name new stuck to it and I think no other palace is going to come up after this so in a way name suits it. Built in a combination architecture in dark grey, palace has unique eight angles with a clock tower in the middle. The ground floor of this building is now a museum where the collections of the royal family are displayed. The erstwhile royal family we were told, continues to stay in one part of this palace. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the palace. There are huge displays of Royal portraits, old furniture, artifacts, statues, Ganjifa cards, a gallery of stuffed animals that were hunted by the kings and of course the display of weapons and arms. Durbar hall with high ceilings, carved pillars and panels of exquisite glass paintings depicting life events of the royal family is the high point of this palace. Museum is well organized and documented. Opposite the building there is a small lake and a zoo, and we could see a lot of birds including the migratory ones on the trees standing in the lake.
Our next stop was the Bhawani Mandap or the old palace that we entered through a big gate. There is supposed to be a Bhavani temple here that we did not see. This palace was destroyed in a fire and that led to the construction of the new one. Construction here is massive and medieval but in the same dark grey stone. There is a life size statue of Sahu Maharaj, the beloved king of the city. Here MTDC had organized a martial arts performance for us where young girls in bright Orange Saris impressed us as did the young boys with their lemon cutting dare devil acts. How I wish boys had also taken to traditional wear like the girls.
Mahalaxmi temple’s lemon and orange tiered Shikhras were visible as soon as we entered the Bhawani Mandap. It gave me an impression that temple is a relatively new construction, but when we entered the temple we saw the base was all in grey stone with carvings that would place it somewhere around 10-11th CE. The huge Deep Stambhas or Deepmala are the unique feature of this temple and you only have to imagine how beautiful the temple would look when they are lighted and when all the security paraphernalia would be removed. The temple is a Shakti Peetha, one of the most important Devi temples. The idol in black stone covered with lots of precious metals and gems and in colorful Sari is beautiful. I got to spend couple of minutes here and I felt blessed. There is a huge security surrounding the temple and no cameras are allowed inside but that does nothing for the people who want to visit the Mahalaxmi.
Outside the temple, there were shops selling colorful bangles and bunches of Lotus flowers, to be offered to he Goddess. There were of course colorful shops selling Maharashtrian or Kolhapuri delicacies, and then were lines of shops selling Kolhapuri chappals – the real ones and the miniature souvenir ones. Our rendezvous with this cultural city would not have been complete without the famous Lavani dance and we did get to see a glimpse of it in a small performance by local TV artists who presented various dance and singing styles of the region in a small package based on – a day in the life of a village home in Kolhapur. When they ended the performance with a dedication to the presiding Goddess, there was so much energy in the room that we could almost feel the presence of the divine.
I know I have to go back to this city to know it a bit more intimately.