Places To Visit In Kolhapur – The Cultural Heart Of Maharashtra
Kolhapur to me stood for the temple of Mahalakshmi, Kolhapuri Chappals, Hot Chillis and Lavani dance. I first visited the city as part of the luxury train Deccan Odyssey trip. Got to spend just a couple of hours there that gave me a glimpse of Places to visit in Kolhapur. I knew I would come back. It took me a few years to return, but this time I savored the sights, sounds, and flavors of the city.
I remember wearing a saffron Pheta at the city railway station. This was my first taste of Kolhapuri culture.
Brief History of Kolhapur
In the recorded history, Kolhapur was ruled by Shilaharas from 10th-13th CE. In the medieval times by Maratha rulers with Shahu Maharaj its best-known ruler. Tarabai – the daughter-in-law of Shivaji Maharaj also ruled the region. Her idols can be seen all over the city.
In the Pauranik literature, it is a part of the Karvirpur Kshetra.
Places to Visit in Kolhapur
The New Palace actually dates back to 19th CE. Since it replaced an old palace, the name new stuck to it. Since there is little possibility of any new palaces coming up, the name suits it.
Built in a combination architecture in dark grey, the 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 continues to stay in one part of this 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. Of course, there is a 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. The museum is well organized and documented. Opposite the building, there is a small lake and a zoo. We could see a lot of birds including the migratory ones on the trees standing in the lake.
This obviously is among the list of Places to visit in Kolhapur.
Bhavani Mandap – Old Palace
Bhavani Mandap is the old palace that you enter through a big gate. This palace was destroyed in a fire and that led to the construction of the new one. Construction here is massive and medieval in the same dark grey stone. There is a life-size statue of Sahu Maharaj, the beloved king of the city.
We moved towards the imposing stone gate of Bhawani Mandap.
Before that, we visited the Karvir Nagar Vachan Mandir or the local library. On the left of the main gate, we saw the lovely Rajaram Mahavidyalaya. This beautiful building has nuances of Rajasthani architecture like Jharokhas and arches, Mughal as well as colonial architecture. Built in 1880, this building still runs like a school.
We entered Bhawani Mandap, but instead of a building, we found ourselves in an open ground with shops all around. There were hustle and bustle all around. There was street food on one side and the temple offerings including the beautiful Saris on the other.
Straight ahead, I remembered watching Dandpatta during my earlier trip here.
Here in this city, I got to see these young men and women showcasing the traditional Maratha Martial arts. Watch the video.
Dandpatta is the traditional martial arts practiced by women. It was a sheer delight to see young girls in saffron saris playing effortlessly with the swords in their hands. Young men also presented their skills with the swords but I missed the traditional attire.
Last time, I missed visiting the Tulja Bhawani temple. This time I visited it and discovered a small museum here.
Shivaji Gaddi – Bhawani Mandap
There is a life-size statue of this favorite King of Kolhapur – Shahu Ji. There are dioramas of animals, including a giant bison that were apparently hunted by Shahu Ji Maharaj.
When you stand in the vast courtyard of Bhawani Mandap, you get a glimpse into the world of walled cities. I wonder how life would have been, well protected by the strong walls on all sides, and right next to the Mahalakshmi temple.
The interesting part of this museum-cum-temple is a throne that was once used by Shivaji Maharaj. A portrait of his hangs behind the throne.
Apparently, there is an underground tunnel that connects Bhawani Mandap to Panhala fort, some 20 km away. No one seems to know about it though.
Kushti or Taaleem
Kolhapur is a great center for Wrestling or Kushti as we call it in India. It would not be wrong to say wrestling is the favorite sport of this city. It was well patronized by its erstwhile Kings and the legacy continues to live.
The Olympian K D Jadhav who won a bronze in 1952 Olympics, was spotted and trained by the then King Shahaji II in the city.
There are two places that I recommend you to visit for wrestling enthusiasts.
Khasbag Kushti Maidan or the Khasbag Wrestling Stadium
I have never seen a wrestling stadium in India, and that too such a big one. It has a covered platform that I assume would have been the place where the King sat. The legacy may have passed on to the current day VIPs.
In the center is the wrestling ring with soft soil in it. All around the stadium is just a slope with a layer of cow dung. However, it is designed in such a way that wherever you sit, you will get the full view of the ring.
I have never seen a dedicated wrestling stadium like the one I saw in this city.
Gangavesh Taleem or Akhara
The city has many Akharas or Taleems as they are known locally. Gangavesh Akhara is quite popular. I visited it around noon time when the wrestlers and their Guru Ji were resting after their daily practice.
I saw the large space dug within a large room. The soil is nurtured with Haldi or turmeric, ghee, and herbs. It is worshipped like a deity before the wrestlers start their daily practice. On the wall was an image of Hanuman, the Isht Devta of all wrestlers.
Watch this video of Tulsi Akhara
Other important Akharas in the city include Shahupuri Akhara, Motibag Akhara, and New Motibag Akhara.
Normally, women are not allowed in Akharas during practice time. So, please check with the authorities or take prior permission to visit the Akharas.
I am told that wrestlers from around the country come here to learn wrestling. This includes the famous wrestlers of Haryana, who have won many Olympics and other international medals in wrestling.
Traditionally, wrestlers or Pahalwans came from villages and hinterlands. It was kind of a family sport for many families. However, with recent success stories in professional wrestling, many young men and women are taking it up as a career. Akharas are also opening up for women.
Pahalwans I spoke to at Gangavesh Akhara were all preparing for some tournament or the other. May they rise and shine.
It is a huge lake little more than a kilometer away from Mahalakshmi temple. The nightlife of the city is centered around this lake. You will see a long queue of street food sellers along the lake.
Rankala Lake is a man-made lake. It has a temple in the middle just like Panchganga River has along its ghats. One of those places to visit in Kolhapur for the waterbody fans.
Kailashgarhchi Sawari Mandir
This is a small temple located inside the lanes of the city. It is an ancient Shiv temple that was renovated a few years back. Shiva here lives as Kailasheshwar, just like he lives as Vishveshwar in Kashi. Kolhapur is also treated as Kashi of Karvirpur Kshetra. Nandi in golden color sits outside the temple door as does the Deepstambhas of the temple.
What took me to this temple is the paintings of Shivaji Maharaj that is the official portrait of him declared by the Maharashtra Government.
The temple has many exquisite paintings by the noted painter – Sh G Kamble including:
- Shivaji Durbar
- Shahu Ji Maharaj portrait
- Mahabharat War scene or Ranbhumi painting with a 3-D effect
- Shiva Tandav painting.
Panchganga River & its lovely temple
The city is located on the banks of the Panchganga river. I wanted to visit the river, but no one told me that it has lovely ghats. I noticed them while passing over a bridge on the river on my way to Panhala Fort. On our way back we stopped here at the ghats.
The ghats of Panchganga are full of various temples and tall Deepstambhas. All temples are made in stone, have a single room with a pyramidical Shikhar and a Nandi outside the main door. Each temple is at a different level. When we visited in early April, some were totally submerged in water with only the roof visible, others were half submerged while some were just inside the water.
This reminded me of temples on the ghats of Tapti at Burhanpur that are used to measure the water levels. I wonder if these temples also had a similar purpose. For now, no one could answer this for me. Opposite this ghat is a huge temple which stays closed most of the time.
I could also see some carved hero stones on the ghats. The place was filthy and full of garbage. I hope the authorities do something to keep it clean. It can be such a beautiful location for locals as well as travelers to visit in the mornings and evenings.
One person said, these are not temples but they are cenotaphs of the royal family of Kolhapur. Any information on this would be highly appreciated.
Town Hall Museum
While the New Palace Museum is popular with tourists, the town hall museum has some of the local archaeological gems. The place used to be a Jain Mutt, but in 1949 it was formally converted into a museum. The architecture is totally colonial.
Some must-see artifacts at Town Hall Museum here are:
- Shivalingas with a Sri Yantra on it
- Vishnu Murti
- Sculpted Elephants
- Excavated artifacts from Brahmapuri area of the city
- Hero stones and Sati Stones
During my Deccan Odyssey trip, I got a glimpse Kolhapuri Lavani. Local TV artists 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 the region. They ended the performance with a dedication to Ambabai – the presiding Goddess of Kolhapur. There was so much energy in the room that we could almost feel the presence of the divine.
I saw boards announcing Mujras in the city. I could not attend one this time, but I do want to see one next time I visit the city. Will update this space then.
What to Eat
This city is famous for its non-vegetarian cuisine. For vegetarians, there is Misal Pao and Wada Pao. I did enjoy my street food inside the Bhawani Mandap one evening. My favorite being Sabudana Wadas.
Places to visit near Kolhapur
Panhala Fort – This is located just on the outskirts of the city.
Narsobachiwadi – a temple at the confluence of Panchganga and Krishna River. You can do it on the way to Kopeshwar Temple.
Jyotiba temple – This is a beautiful temple complex where the deity is offered Gulal or bright pink colored powder.
Siddhagiri Museum – An attempt to recreate the ethnic life of Maharashtra. I did not particularly like it.
No photography is allowed inside the Mahalakshmi temple, Town Hall Museum, and New Palace. Most of the other places photography is allowed.
Places to visit in Kolhapur city is easy for the visitors with autos available everywhere for commuting.
There are all kinds of Hotels in the city. I stayed at Maratha Residency and it was a decent place to stay on a reasonable budget.
The city is well connected to Mumbai, Pune, and Belagavi.