As soon as you cross the northern borders of Goa, you are in Sawantwadi. If you drive between Mumbai & Goa, you cross the town. Even if you take a train by Konkan railways it makes a stop on the outskirts of the town. I always found the name very intriguing and with an air of royalty around it. Last year we passed by the town 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 there to explore the local heritage, arts & crafts and obviously nature.
We started our day by visiting the 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.
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.
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 or lake
Palace overlooks an artificial lake called Moti Talao. Without modern day traffic, it would have been quite a picturesque location. If you sat on the upper-story 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 the town.
Art 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.
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 the 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 sets 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 here from Andhra Pradesh.
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
Chitrali Gully is the shopping street of the town. 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 lifelike 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.
I was told that once upon a time these artisans used to use Pagara wood for creating their merchandise. But with time the wood is no longer available or when available, it is not affordable. This made artisans shift to sawdust 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 the town known for its fish specialties.
Apart from this, there is a Shilpagram that I would have like to visit when I pass by the town 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 the following Places to visit in Maharashtra on my Travel Blog.