Last sunday, I had a chance of looking at a completely different side of Pune through the Pune Heritage Walk. A joint venture of Janwani and Pune Municipal Corporation(PMC) , this initiative to make the masses understand the history of the city was started in 2012. Guided by an expert in the field, this two and half hour, 2.4 kms walk takes us from the PMC building and ends at Vishrambaug Wada, covering around 18 spots in total. While I chose the regular walk, there is also a signature walk which includes cultural programs and a small market-”Pune Kasba”- at the end.
The walk started at around 7am from the PMC building after a slight delay as I was the only participant who had reached the venue at the stipulated time. From there, we progressed onto the Lloyd Bridge which connects the old part of the city-’Kasba’- with the newer parts like Shivaji Nagar. Also known as the Nava-Pul(New Bridge) or the Shivaji Pul, it boasts of two forms of architecture. The arches of the Pul are made up of stone masonry, reminiscent of the British architecture. One can also find floral patterns which are influenced by the Islamic architecture. Another important feature of this bridge is the wide area beside the road which was used by the Britishers and other people as a spot for relaxation during the evenings.
From the bridge, one can see the Ghorpade Ghat. A Ghat is a place built at the banks of a river where the people could wash their clothes and take a bath. Although Pune has many Ghats, this is one of the most well preserved despite the 1961 floods which washed away most of it. It has a washing area, a temple and also separate changing rooms for men and women.
After seeing the Llyod Bridge and the Ghat, we then proceeded towards Shaniwar Wada. Legend has it that Bajirao I, who started its construction, once saw a hare chasing a hound on this site and believed that a fort built here would never be besieged by the enemy. Although much of it is now in ruins due to a terrible fire in 1828, the front portion is still intact. Facing the north, is the impressive Delhi Darwaja gate, which is now the sign of Pune. It has spikes along its width upto some height to prevent an attack by elephants. The subsequent Peshwas also built underground tunnels to the fort and surroundings areas from Katraj to bring fresh water to the place. Structures called houd were made throughout the city, which provided the citizens with this water.
After visiting the home (Shaniwar Wada) of the so-called rulers, we then proceeded to see the area called ‘Kasba Peth’ which is considered as the heart of the Pune city with its origin dating back to the 5th century. There we saw the houses of the sardars and the commoners in the era of the Peshwas, done in the Agra and British style of architecture. Kasba Peth was essentially the place where all the skilled craftsmen used to live and sell their wares, notable among them the Otari (skilled metal craftsmen) and the Kumbhars (earthen pot makers).
The temple of Kasba Ganpati, the Gram Devat (presiding deity) of Pune, is also located in this area. Considered the most auspicious temple in Pune, it receives the first invitation for any major event in the city.
Next stop was the Lal Mahal (Red Palace). Built by Shivaji’s father for his wife and his son, it was originally located in Kasba Peth but was damaged in a fire. Its reconstruction stands today near Shaniwar Wada, although it is not a replica. It was the residence of Shivaji till he captured the Torna Fort. It was also the scene for one of the most daring and earliest known commando attacks when the 2000 strong army of Shivaji attacked the more than 150000 strong army of Shaista Khan who had captured the Lal Mahal. In the ensuing battle, Shivaji cut three of Khan’s fingers who ultimately managed to escape. The Mughals were shocked by the attack and Shaista Khan soon vacated the premises and was then transferred by the ruling Mughal King, his nephew Aurangzeb, to Bengal.
Nana Wada ,the home of Nana Phadnavis, who was the administrator during the rule of the Peshwas, is located south of Shaniwar Wada and that is where we went next. The place is currently under repair. Such was the knowledge of Nana Phadnavis that when he died ,a British authority remarked that with his death has died the wisdom of India. His name originally was Balaji Bhanu, but he was later given the name of Phadnavis which means an administrator. He served under four Peshwas and the Maratha Empire grew to great heights under his able guidance.
Near Nana Wada is the Pune Nagar Vachan Mandal ,which is the oldest public library in Pune ,established in the year 1848. It is still functioning. It was established to promote education through reading among the local population. One of its distinguishing characteristics is the clock installed on the building which uses Marathi numbers to denote the time.
Pune Nagar Vachan Mandir
Next up was the Bhau Rangari Ganpati. Bhausaheb Laxman Javale, popularly known as ‘Bhau Rangari’, was a famous Ayurvedic doctor from Pune. His main profession was dying clothes, hence his name. A freedom fighter himself, he was known to provide shelter to other freedom fighters at his house who were on the run from the British. The main door of his house could be easily opened by anyone from the outside provided they knew the position of a secret latch.
He was also the person who started the concept of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi in Pune to unite the masses against the British. To that end, he made a Ganesh Idol from paper and wood, crushing a demon, which symbolised the struggle against the ruling power. This idol, after undergoing a few repairs, is still in use today. Inspired by his ideology, Lokmanya Tilak, another freedom fighter, started the concept of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi every year in Maharashtra.
Bhau Rangari Ganpati
The next stop was Tambdi Jogeshwari Mandir, which is considered the Gram Devi (female presiding deity) of Pune. The temple signified in earlier times the limits of the city of Pune.
From the Tambdi Jogeshwari temple, we proceeded towards Tulsibaug. Tulsibaug has a famous Ram Mandir apart from a market place. This temple, towering over 140 feet, was built during the reign of the Peshwas. It has 4 monkeys in each direction, totalling 16, to signify the contribution of the monkeys in the battle against Ravana. Unlike most historical monuments in Pune, this one is still largely intact. The shops which were built by the original builders to give employment to the local women still stand today.
Tulsibaug Ram Mandir
Located next to Tulsi Baug temple, is the Mahatma Phule Mandai. Mahatma Phule, along with his wife, was the pioneer of women’s education in Maharashtra and had set up a school for the same in Pune.Originally, this was an open market where the traders used to sell their wares on the streets.However, the British wanted a closed market and hence, the current structure was built up to a height of 145 feet to rival that of the Tulsi Baug Ram Mandir. To avoid suffocation due to the large number of people in the area, eight branches were built originating from the main structure. At the center is a statue of Lokmanya Tilak. During the visarjan(immersion) of the idols at the end of Ganesh Chaturthi, every procession stops here to pay their homage before proceeding to the river area.
Mahatma Phule Mandai
The last stop was Vishrambaug Wada.The residence of Bajirao Peshwa II, the last Peshwa in the Maratha Empire, it is notable for its balcony and fine entrance. In the near future, it will house the offices of the heritage cell.
Overall, it was a great experience to just take a step back from the daily hustle bustle of our lives and see the grandiose and history that the city has to offer us. Though, the monuments are far from being in perfect condition, restoration efforts are underway, and I see them resorted to, if not their past glory, at least close to that in the near future.
PS: All images are courtesy Google images.