Sawantwadi – Art Mart Of Konkan Coast, Maharashtra

Palace Gate Sawantwadi
Palace Gate Sawantwadi

As soon as you cross the northern borders of Goa, you are in Sawantwadi. If you drive between Mumbai & Goa, you cross Sawantwadi. Even if you take a train it makes a stop at Sawantwadi. I always found the name very intriguing and with an air of royalty around it. Last year we passed by Sawantwadi on our way to Kaas –Valley of Flowers. This time, when we planned to go to Amboli Ghat, we made sure we spend half a day at Sawantwadi.

Sawantwadi Palace.

Sawantwadi Palace
Sawantwadi Palace

We started our day by visiting Sawantwadi palace, only to realize that it is a private palace run at whims and fancies of the staff who still think they work for the king and hence are placed above the visiting public. I had earlier seen a similar attitude at Laxmi Vilas palace in Vadodara. And was not surprised to know that one of the queens of Sawantwadi comes from the royal family of Vadodara. We were told to come back in the afternoon. I did not like the attitude at all but we did come back in the afternoon, as we wanted to see the palace.

Durbar Hall Sawantwadi Palace
Sawantwadi Palace Durbar Hall

You enter the palace through a red gate, a British-era inscription on it says this gate was opened in 1857 for the carriages. Although I could not figure out if there was any other gate for other purposes, or was it just the commemoration of the erection of a formal gate. The palace is in a dilapidated state. The erstwhile royal family continues to live in a small part of the palace and that is the only part that seems maintained. Rest of the palace that also includes its famous durbar hall is open to the public with a ticketed entry.

Betal Idol at Sawantwadi Palace
Betal Idol at Sawantwadi Palace

Palace Museum.

Red color with green growth on the walls makes the palace look charming, especially when you see the series of delicate canopies on the windows and doors. A part of the palace is turned into a museum. Here you can see various 10-12th CE sculptures in stone. I could spot Brahma, Ganesha and curiously Rawalnath & Betal statue in the middle of many unidentified ones. There is a genealogy of the Bhonsle clan that ruled from here from 17th – mid 20th CE on the walls. There are picture galleries and there is a display of local art. The wood lacquer products like furniture, trays, coasters, boxes and board games. Some of them are available for sale too.

Moti Talao at Sawantwadi
Moti Talao at Sawantwadi

Moti Talao or lake.

Palace overlooks an artificial lake called Moti Talao. Without the modern day traffic, it would have been quite a picturesque location. If you sat on the upper storey of the palace overlooking the lake – while reading a book or sipping your Chai – it would be a scene straight out of your dreams.

Sawantwadi Palace hosted Mahatma Gandhi in 1925. This blog is the best resource on the history of Sawantwadi.

Art at Sawantwadi Palace.

Ganjifa Cards at Sawantwadi Palace
Ganjifa Cards at Sawantwadi Palace

We were led to the backside of the palace from where we entered the Durbar Hall – that it seems has been preserved as such since its hay days. Stuffed animals, portraits of kings and queens and the imported chandeliers are all there. The durbar hall is not as grand as you would see in most other palaces in India but it has its own charm.

An artisan painting a Tarot Card at Sawantwadi Palace
An artisan painting a Tarot Card

Art & Craft Centre.

What impressed me most about this hall is the fact that it is not just a piece of history preserved as a museum, but it is a living art and craft center. Painters and artists under the patronage of royal family continue to paint here. When I visited many artists were sitting on a table each with their palette of colors. Some were painting the Ganjifa cards – with intricate paintings of 10 avatars of Vishnu and some with other deities like Devi’s. Some of them were creating Tarot cards. Other set of artists were working on painting the colorful wooden boxes many of which will be used to store the ganjifa cards. I later learned that they use watercolors to paint the wood. Then lock the color with a coat of lacquer, a technique that came to Sawantwadi from Andhra Pradesh.

Painted wooden boxes at Sawantwadi Palace
Painted wooden boxes

I wanted to pick up a set of Ganjifa cards but found them just too costly. Wonder if they would find a market with that pricing. I asked them if they make them only on order and the answer was No. But I did gather that most of these handcrafted pieces are exported. The numbers may be very small but the Bhonsle family deserves appreciation for keeping the art form alive in its native form.

Chitrali Gully or Painters Lane in Sawantwadi.

Wooden Artifacts at Sawantwadi
Wooden Artifacts at Sawantwadi

Chitrali Gully is the shopping street of Sawantwadi. Here you can see wooden toys and wooden utensils being sold in abundance. Colorful Pats or Chowkis that look like a low stool cannot escape your eye with their bright red and yellow base color on which bright parrots are painted. There were fruit baskets with life like fruits made of wood. There were board games like Tabalphal. Toys for children in wood and of course there were utility items like spoons and spatulas for the kitchen or acupressure aids. My readings tell me that these are the same items that they used to make centuries ago. I assume there is a market for these items. But I also feel they need to create new designs so that they can sustain their art, craft and the livelihood associated with it.

Wooden toys at Sawantwadi
Wooden toys at Sawantwadi

I was told that once upon a time these artisans used to use Pagara wood for creating their merchandize. But with time the wood is no longer available or when available it is not affordable. This made artisans shift to saw dust and that is the primary raw material used today.

The prices are reasonable and negotiable. We picked up quite a few items from here including some wooden jewelry.

Try the spicy Malwani cuisine in Sawantwadi known for its fish specialties.


Apart from this, there is a Shilpagram in Sawantwadi that I would have to visit when I pass by Sawantwadi next time.

Small towns of India with continued rich cultural heritage never cease to amaze me. Add it to your Tourist Places in Maharashtra list. It can also be a nice weekend getaway from Mumbai, well connected by Konkan railways.

Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Maharashtra on my Travel Blog.

  1. Guarding the Konkan Coast – Sindhudurg.
  2. Understanding the Ajanta Paintings at Cave No. 1.
  3. Amboli Ghat – Kingdom of Waterfalls in Western Ghats.
  4. Exploring the Street Art in Bandra, Mumbai.
  5. Thoseghar Waterfalls, Satara.


  1. Thanks for this useful account of Sawantwadi and its charming tradition of art. As a youngster growing up in Panvel (in Konkan) I remember receiving colorful wooden toys from Sawantwadi (including tops and once a set of gulli danda) on birthdays and other occasions. Hopefully, articles like this one will help preserve and promote the cultural heritage of India. Looking forward to reading about the Shilpagram when you revisit this place. Thanks also for providing a link to the blog that provides in detail the history of Sawantwadi.

    • Shrinivas ji, I am getting so much response from people who have played with Sawantwadi toys that I feel good about writing this. It has re-kindled so many memories and hopefully some of these would lead to reviving the crafts there. Do read about other art villages of India as well like Cherial in Telangana, EkTaal in Chhattisgarh and Bishnupur in West Bengal.

  2. Nice commentary. We drove up the Konkan coast last summer till Ratnagiri, but sadly skipped stopping at Sawantwadi due to the extreme heat. Your article inpsires me to plan a visit sometime again!