Once upon a time, I lived in Narayan Peth in Pune. Last year I walked the roads around it as part of the city Heritage Walk or rather a discovery of Pune of the Peshwa era. The place has obviously changed in all these years but there was an element that remained unchanged. The very Marathi character of the place is still intact – thankfully. Come with me to see some of the things you should not miss when going to the heart of the city – especially the Peshwa Heritage scattered all around.
Peshwa Heritage in Pune – A Walking Tour
This walk begins at Shaniwar Wada – the medieval palace of the Peshwas who ruled from here.
Shaniwar Wada – the Peshwa Home
Shaniwar Wada stands next to Kasba Peth – the oldest part of Pune. It is a palace that looks like a fort, surrounded by the city. It has recently been made famous by the film Bajirao Mastani – that was based at Shaniwar Wada. Well, if you have seen the film and you come looking for the grandeur shown there, you are in for a huge disappointment. Shaniwar Wada is a rather simpler place. Add to this the fact that not much remains inside the façade and the boundary walls that look formidable.
We enter through a tall wooden door flanked by two bastions on either side. A small board on top confirms that you are entering Shaniwar Wada. As you buy tickets, stretch your neck and look upwards on the walls around you. You would see faint paintings of Ganesha – who was the pattern deity of Peshwa dynasty.
History of Shaniwar Wada
Shaniwar Wada was first built as a residence of Peshwas in the 1730s. It was but a mansion for the ruling family. The gates, bastions, and gardens were later added over time. A lot of wood was used for these palaces. There was a fire in 1828 and everything was gutted. What remains is the bare foundations of the rooms and skeletons of the fountains.
There is an ASI board that gives the description of the palaces, halls, and gardens as they would have been during the hay days of Shaniwar Wada. It talks about the wall murals that told the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, of the artists who came from around the world to do work here. It tells us about a seven-storeyed structure that must have been the most magnificent part of Shaniwar Wada.
Walk around the lawns and you would see a few old trees, a lovely fountain called Hajari Karanje and a lot of foundations. It is said that Hajari Karanje once was a fountain with a thousand sprays. On the edges next to the wall, some structures have survived. There are 5 gates that are more or less intact – 2 each on east and north and one in the south. The main door is called Dilli Darwaja – I assume it is because it faced Delhi or towards the North.
Another board shows the Peshwa family tree.
Mastani Darwaja is interesting as it is a small door at one end of the wall. The story goes that when Mastani was brought here by Peshwa BajiRao, she was not allowed in from the main gate so he got this door specially made for her. It is sometimes also known by her grandson’s name – Ali Bahadur. This door as per records used to be called Natakshala gate.
Ganapati Rang Mahal here has seen many political battles being fought within its walls.
Best preserved part of Shaniwar Wada is the first story on top of the main gate called NagarKhana. It has a lovely wooden pillared hall that overlooks the Shaniwar Wada on one side and outside of the city on another side. It is here that you can see the marker of Peshwa architecture – the pillars with banana flower carved on them. I saw them here and then across all the old monuments of the city that I visited.
Did you know Shaniwar Wada is so called? Well, there used to be a Saturday market just outside the big gate of the palace and that is what gave this area the name – Shaniwar Wada.
In fact, Pune has Wadas named after other days of the week too like Budhwar Peth, Shukrawar Peth.
What you need to notice is that Peshwas never called it a palace or a fort, they called it a Wada – which is a word used for a home. Though, at its peak, about 1000 people lived in these premises.
The Kasba Ganapati is gram Devta or the village deity of Pune. I know it is no longer a village but still, Kasba Ganapati remains at the heart of the city that was then known as Punawadi.
Legend is that way back in 1630, Maharani Jijabai lived with her young son Shivaji in the city. She found an idol of Ganesha and taking it as an auspicious sign, she got the temple built for it. Since then Kasba Peth Ganapati is the presiding deity of Pune. It is said that Shaniwar Wada that is located quite close to this temple used to have great celebrations on Ganesh Chaturthi.
It is a small temple, still reflecting the village it was supposed to take care of. No photography is allowed inside the temple but you can see images at the temple website.
On the way to Kasba Peth temple notice the parapets of the old houses with their Victorian imagery.
Situated very close to Shaniwar Wada the Nana Wada was the home of Nana Fadnavis – the administrator of the Peshwas. Built in 1780, this structure in wood is also an example of Peshwa architecture. Its wooden pillars are in cypress shape and each has a banana flower adorning it.
The first floor of Nana Wada has a Diwan Khana. When I visited it in August 2016, massive restoration was going on. I had to jump around to take some pictures.
Tambdi Jogeshwari Temple
The narrow lane leading to the main door of Tambdi Jogeshwari temple greets you with the colorful blouse pieces that are offered to the deity – Shri Jogeshwari. Tambri refers to the red color of the main idol that is supposed to be Swayambhu – the one that appears on its own.
Tambdi Jogeshwari is the oldest temple and the deity is the presiding gram Devi of Pune. The temple has small carvings in stone. I saw a lot of women praying to her.
Records of Peshwa rulers tell us that they used to seek the blessings of the Goddess before their military campaigns.
Read more on Temple Website
Dagdusheth Ganapati Temple
The Dagdusheth temple was built by a Halwai named Dagdusheth in the 1800s. He lost his son and his Guru advised him to construct a Ganesh temple. Bal Gangadhar Tilak got the idea of celebrating Ganeshotsav from this temple that would play an important role in India’s freedom movement.
Today, this is one of the most revered temples of Maharashtra. During the Ganesh Utsav, it is visited by who’s who of the city and state. On a normal day, you can stop in front of the temple and see the proceedings. Only a glass wall separates you and the Ganesha. You would typically see many mobile phones pointing towards the deity.
To admire its Shikhara, you have to stand at a distance and she the bell-shaped superstructure with a lot of latticework done on it. From across the road, you can see two jharokhas on the walls of the temple. The ground story has marble work done on walls. However, the dominating figure is that of Ganesha himself – who stands tall and healthy with all his charm.
Shops outside this temple sell flower garlands, fruits arranged in small plates and all other Pooja material.
Mahatma Phule Mandai
This is the centralized vegetable market that was built by the British in 1885, as is evident from its neo-gothic architecture. So, all the vegetable markets that existed outside various Wadas shifted here. It has an interesting octagonal structure with a central tower.
What I found interesting in Mahatma Phule Mandai is that each of the 8 arms of the Mandai serves a particular sub-section of the market. I roamed around in the coconut market, where there are coconut sellers everywhere.
Technically, Mahatma Phule Mandai is located in Shukrawar Peth.
My walk came to end at the lovely Vishrambaug Wada – a lovely mansion in wood with courtyards that now tell the stories of the city.
Vishram Baug Wada was the residence of Peshwa Bajirao II built in early 19th CE. The loveliest part of it is – its wooden façade with finely carved brackets and a hanging balcony overlooking an extremely busy road.
There is an exhibition about the city that says – Punawadi to Punyanagari. The exhibition traces the history of the city through the development of its various Peths, through its water management system and through its people.
The rear part of the building is not open to the public. Parts of it are occupied by some organizations including a post office. However, I did manage to see the rear courtyard and it definitely looks majestic. A bit of restoration and this can be a heritage jewel of Pune.
Tulasi Baug Ram Mandir
You cannot miss the tall spire of the Ram Mandir that is almost like an inverted cone with a lot of stucco work on it. It almost seems to be cropping out of a bustling market. Yes, the temple is surrounding by Tulasi Baug market. It is a market that sells everyday things – mostly comprising of smalls shops.
The temple has a wooden base to the which the tall shikhara was added at a later date. The wood carvings are worth seeing as are some of the paintings that depict the scenes from Ramayana. No photography is allowed inside the temple.
The temple shikhara reminded me of the similar temples that I saw in Ayodhya and Orchha. Most of them also dedicated to Lord Ram.
My walk ended at this unnamed shrine on the banks of Mula River that has a Shivalinga with verses of Gita written on the marble slab.
I did this walk with Jayesh Paranjape of The Western Routes. They conduct many such walks across the city.