Pune, a city known mainly for its IT parks, has hidden surprises of rich culture and heritage owing to the Peshwa regime that had its main seat in the city. A heritage walk through narrow lanes and crowded markets unravels the concealed gems from the city’s glorious past.
The heritage walk starts from Shaniwarwada, the imposing walls of which greet you on entering old Pune. The foundation stone of Shaniwarwada was laid on January 10, 1730, by Bajirao I and being a Saturday, it was named Shaniwarwada, ‘shaniwar’ meaning Saturday and ‘wada’ meaning ‘residential place’ in Marathi.
It was a seven storied palace made of wood, that served as the residence for the Peshwas for nearly a century, till 1828, when during the time of Bajirao II, there was a massive fire that gutted the entire ‘wada’. What remains now are the foundation stones. One can also see the ‘Mastani’ gate, named after Bajirao I’s second wife who was not welcomed in the family, thus there being a separate entrance for her.
The next stop is Kasba Peth, the oldest habitation in Pune. It was built by Jijabai, the mother of the Maratha warrior Shivaji in 1639. It is said that when Jijabai along with Shivaji, who was a little boy then, arrived in Pune, the form of Ganpati appeared on a stone in one of the minister’s house. They took that as an auspicious sign, thus making Pune one of the main bases from where Shivaji later ruled. The interiors of the Kasba Ganpati temple are carved exquisitely on wood and is remarkably well preserved, considering it is nearing 400 years old.
The Kasba Peth area is dotted with charming old style ‘wadas’ with interesting brick and metal work. One of the main communities of Pune, the Kumbhars or potters, were known for their skills in customising bricks in different sizes and lengths. The bricks have been arranged, some horizontally, some vertically, to lend an enhanced aesthetic look and have not been painted over to allow circulation of air and keep the interiors cool. It is only after the arrival of the British in Pune that brick size was standardised and so was the laying of, of the same.
Nana Phadnavis Wada
Also called Nana wada, it was built by Peshwa minister Nana Phadnavis in 1780. It was from here that he managed the affairs of Bajirao Peshwa’s empire. The Diwan-khana (living room) is on the first floor with its intricately carved ceiling, pillars and the banana flower (‘kelphool’ in Marathi) motifs that were typical of Peshwa architecture. It now houses a municipal school.
Tulsi Baug Ram Temple
Situated behind a maze of narrow and noisy market lanes, stepping into this temple is like stepping into a silent bubble in the middle of chaos. Built by Naro Appaji Khire in 1761, it is a fine example of brilliant craftsmanship of wood carvings, stucco work and stone carvings. It has a 150 feet tall conical spire with intricately carved figures of deities. Its wooden ‘sabha-mandap’ has an ornate intricately carved wooden ceiling, supported by wooden pillars and columns with the typical banana flower motif.
One of the finest architectural marvels of Pune, Vishrambaug wada served as the lavish residence of Bajirao Peshwa II for around 11 years until his arrest by the British, after which he was detained in Bithur, near Kanpur. The wada was built in 1807 spreading over an area of 20,000 sqft. It’s a three storied building with exemplary wood carvings and Peshwa style architecture. At the entrance is a beautiful arch and equally stunning carved wooden ceiling, which then leads into the open courtyard. On the upper floor, there is the Diwankhana (living room) where exhibitions pertaining to the history and evolution of Pune from a small village Punavdi to Punyanagari (holy city) to present Pune are held. Currently, it houses miscellaneous offices.
Mahatma Phule Mandai
The heritage walk ends at this huge market place. In the 16th century, when Shaniwarwada was built, there was a market just outside its gate where vendors came and sold their wares without having to pay for the stall space. But when the British arrived, they wanted to dismantle the market which also served as a place where people came and exchanged news and socialised. So, they built a Gothic style complex in 1885 and rented out space for shops, mainly vegetable and fruit stalls in its premises. It was named Reay market, after the then Governor of Bombay but was renamed Mahatma Jyotiba Phule mandai (‘mandai’ meaning market) after the renowned social reformer. The ceilings of this octagonal structure are high with wide arches for cross ventilation and to keep the odors of the vegetables and fruit from stagnating with the premises.
In just two hours, the Pune heritage walk makes you travel through 200 years of Pune’s rich history.
Trujet connect: Pune is 235 km from Aurangabad. Trujet offers direct services to Aurangabad from Hyderabad.
Written by Priya Krishnan Das