On the day of Dussehra, when Hindus in India are busy burning effigies of Ravana, the king of Lanka, vanquished by Ram, the epic hero, people in Mandsaur, a small town in Madhya Pradesh walk the other way. They not only abstain burning effigies but also keep all lights switched off for some time in honour of the vanquished king. It may come as a surprise to many in the rest of the country but that is how Mandsaur residents honour their son-in-law. According to legends, Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, was born here.
There is also a statue of Ravana in a corner of the town. Married women passing that way usually cover their head because traditionally, in India, women cover their head in front of their in-laws.
And Mandsaur&rsquos association with the Ravana does not end here. Khilchipura, about two km away from Mandsaur town has a temple dedicated to the god of wealth, Kuber. It is said that apart from Kedarnath, this is the only place where Kuber resides along with Shiva.
Tucked away in the north-western corner of Madhya Pradesh, near the state&rsquos border with Rajasthan, Mandsaur is one of the little known gems of central India. The eponymous district, is also home to several religious and archaeological sites.
The main attraction of Mandsaur town is the old temple dedicated to Shiva in his Pashupatinath incarnation. The eight-headed idol (divided into two sections &ndash four above and four below) has been interpreted variously. The temple has four doorways facing of the cardinal directions, with the main entrance lying through the western doorway.
Before setting off for the archaeological sites, you may pay a visit to the Yashodharman Archaeology Museum in Mandsaur where many of the important findings from various excavations are exhibited.
About 80km from Mandsaur is the carved Dharmarajeshwar Temple. Consisting of rock cut temples, the complex is often compared with Ellora Caves of Maharashtra. Not far from here is a Buddhish cave complex, which is said to date back to the 5th century AD. Bhim Bazar, the largest among the chain of caves, contains small shrines.
About 110km from Mandsaur is Bhanpura, the gateway to some of the oldest rock art shelters (especially the Chatubhuj Nala rock shelters), and the Hinglaj Fort belonging to the Parmara dynasty (9th to 14th century).
And Mandsaur never ceases to surprise. About 30km from the district headquarters is Sitamau village, home to an ancient Mahalakshmi temple. According to local belief, those who are able to adorn the idol with a new dress during dusk on the day of Diwali, will be highly blessed. Those interested have to register their names with the temple office. Local media reports say that those who registered this year will get a chance to fulfil their wish in 2032 and beyond.
Information Mandsaur is a little over 200km from Indore, the nearest airport. By road, it is also accessible from Ujjain (about 150km away) and Ratlam (about 90km away). Apart from staying in Mandsaur town, you may also stay at the state tourism&rsquos MPT Highway Retreat, located in a picturesque setting, about seven km away from the town centre. The best time to visit is between November and March.