Sawantwadi – Art Mart Of Konkan Coast, Maharashtra


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.

Palace Gate Sawantwadi
Palace Gate or the entrance in the current times

Sawantwadi Palace

Sawantwadi Palace panoramic view
Landscape view of the majestic Palace

We started our day by visiting the Palace, only to realize that it is a private palace run at the 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 of Sawantwadi Palace
The 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. The rest of the palace which also includes its famous Durbar Hall is open to the public with a ticketed entry.

Betal Stone carved Idol at Sawantwadi Palace
Betal Stone carved Idol at the 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 statues in the middle of many unidentified ones. There is a genealogy of the Bhonsle clan that ruled from here from the 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 a fantastic lake in the center of the town
Moti Talao is a fantastic lake in the center of the town

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

Heritage Ganjifa Cards on display at the Palace
Heritage Ganjifa Cards on display at the Palace

We were led to the backside of the palace from where we entered the Durbar Hall – which it seems has been preserved as such since its hay days. Stuffed animals, portraits of kings and queens, and 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 paints 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 the Royal family continue to paint here. When I visited many artists were sitting at 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. 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.

Painted wooden boxes at Sawantwadi Palace
Hand-Painted wooden boxes at the Palace

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

Locally made traditional Wooden Artifacts on sale
Locally made traditional Wooden Artifacts on sale

Chitrali Gully is the shopping street in the town. Here you can see wooden toys and wooden utensils being sold in abundance. Colorful Pats or Chowkis that look like low stools 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.

Wooden toys on display
Wooden toys on display

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 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.

Guarding the Konkan Coast – Sindhudurg

Understanding the Ajanta Paintings at Cave No. 1

Amboli Ghat – Kingdom of Waterfalls in the Western Ghats

Exploring the Street Art in Bandra, Mumbai

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!

  3. Amazing article Anuradha! Sawantwadi is one such place which has a lot to offer but has fortunately or unfortunately stayed away from the limelight. Thanks once again for sharing this with your readers.


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