Needing little to no formal introduction, Shaniwar Wada is Pune’s highly celebrated historical fortress. The monumental seat of the renowned Peshwas, Shaniwar Wada stands as a reminder of the indomitable spirit of our Marathas! Apart from being featured in Bajirao Mastani, our Shaniwar Wada has also hosted a tiny part of the renowned ‘The Amazing Race Asia’ (the participants had to find the correct pheta from among those 50 worn by men within the Shaniwar Wada!)
A cultural symbol, an architectural prowess, and Pune’s metaphorical signature, the Shaniwar Wada has proven to be infallible through tumultuous times. However, just like other historically significant architecture, the younger generations know very little about this prestigious monument. Here are a few facts to highlight Shaniwar Wada’s role in Pune’s history and culture.
Testimonial to the Glorious Marathi Era
Built in 1732, Shaniwar Wada was a literal architectural representation of the Peshwas. Throughout the glorious Maratha rule, Shaniwar Wada remained as the central source for politics and culture. After losing power to the East India Company in 1818, Shaniwar Wada was reduced to just a historical monument, to diminish the Maharashtrian prowess throughout history and to break the public spirit. We all know how well that worked out for the British.
What once was a glorious monument amounting to seven stories, has now been reduced to remnants for the tourists. An unexplained fire destroyed most of the fortress; rumour has it that Shaniwar Wada comprised of lavish gardens and fountains. Due to governmental negligence and tourist defacing, the magnanimous monument is now nothing but a mere memory of the once glory days!
The Palaces and Fountains
Apart from the defensive prowess, Shaniwar Wada is renowned for its elaborate and elegant palaces. Referred to as ‘Thorlya Rayancha Diwankhana’ (Court Hall of the eldest Royal), the palace houses intricately carved doorways and ceilings.
From the historical information available, it was rumoured that prestigious and large glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The floors were made of marble and were decorated with rich Persian rugs. The walls were painted with beautiful figurines from the Ramayan and Mahabharat tales.
The palace also comprised a gorgeous fountain, known as ‘Hazari Karanje’ (Fountain of a thousand jets); it’s shaped to look like a lotus, and the 16 lotus petals comprising this fountain had sixteen jets of water with an 80 foot arch!
Kaka Mala Vaachwa
Yes, the infamous haunting story, Shaniwar Wada is renowned for Narayanrao’s spirit. Retold and modified, legend has it that people have heard Narayanrao’s spirit shouting, “Kaka Mala Vaachwa” (save me, Uncle!).
A tale of betrayal and murder, Narayanrao was murdered by his jealous aunt Anandibai and her courtesans in order to gain the Maratha throne. The tale takes a gruesome turn; Narayanrao’s body was hacked into pieces to make it unidentifiable, painting Shaniwar Wada’s history in a dark, bloody red shade.
During the Peshwa rule, Shaniwar Wada was practically immune to destruction. The architecture of the fortress is a good reason why the fort was so powerful; well-planned exits along with spiked doors made it almost impenetrable. The high stone walls were equipped with canons, giving the fort an almost unfair advantage over the enemy down below. However, like history tells us, Shaniwar Wada was a victim of internal politics and betrayal, as opposed to military captivation.
Above and beyond these golden facts, it cannot be denied that we are mistreating our cultural remnants. Even now, you’ll see tourists littering around the fort, awkward and illicit name-sketching can be observed in several parts of the monument. Please understand, this is our history. We have a moral obligation to safeguard what’s left of it till the future generation takes over the mantle. Respect, protect and nurture these monuments, this is the real pride of being a Punekar!
Feature image by Rutvika Patil