I do not count myself as a regular to Pune’s extraordinary Peths. That works to your advantage if you want to avoid traffic of the worst kind and are not a fan of jostling for space on the narrowest of roads. Not knowing the Peths well can be a drawback too, if you’ve planned to cover four of them in a go and realise on getting there that one of them is humongous and has been grossly underestimated! Well, that’s Sadashiv Peth for you. If this were a movie, I’d call it ‘The Return of the Huge Peth’ after wandering through relatively smaller Peths.
But we aren’t in a Tolkein wonderland even though our roads quite resemble the wastelands of Mordor. Tilak road, which runs across the heart of Sadashiv Peth, is one of the longest commercial roads in Pune. It starts from one end of Sadashiv Peth just after Saras Baug and ends at the other extreme, which is Alaka Talkies. Dotted with a mélange of commercial establishments, educational institutes, eateries and amrutalayas, it gives you a preview of the contrast Sadashiv Peth has to offer. On the commercial front Tilak road is primarily big on all kinds of mobile, computer and accessory shops. From the biggest brands to little setups specialising in repairing gadgets for a cut price, Tilak road is the go-to place in case you need anything to do with gadgets.
A lot of other Peths are big on food but Sadashiv Peth beats all of them hands down. Yes, all of them. A big yellow board with the words “Jumbo King – Mumbai’s original vada pav” draws my attention as soon as I park on Tilak road. Given my weakness for wada pavs I walk right in and order a Veg Crispy Jumbo King, from their innovative menu, which does not disappoint in the least. Reasonably priced, quite delicious and bearing more semblance to burgers than wada pavs, Jumbo King gives the likes of McDonalds a run for their money.
A little distance from Jumbo King, opposite SP College, is the well-known SP’s Biryani House. Established in 1994, SP’s had a humble beginning and has now grown into a full-fledged three floor restaurant. Along with their famous and to-die-for Mutton Chop Fry and Sajuk Mutton Dum Biryani, SP’s offers quite a few seafood options on its menu. Be prepared to stand in a queue though as the three floors haven’t helped enough to negotiate the huge crowds the place attracts. Worth every second unless you are a vegetarian.
Masemari is another very popular restaurant on the other side of Tilak road and draws crowds from all over the city for its delectable range of seafood. As does Durvankur, which is further down Tilak road, for its Maharashtrian thali.
Apart from the usual Pethi amrutalayas, Sadashiv Peth has countless ‘chaha and nashta’ centres to cater to the large number of educational institutions in the area. Peppered around all the colleges and schools, students can be seen swarming around them for their early morning breakfast to their late evening snacks. I join a bunch of students at one of these joints for a hot cup of chaha feeling happy about Sadashiv Peth having started on a good note.
It becomes quite clear in no time that Sadashiv Peth is the educational hub of the city. Pune Vidyarthi Griha, Sir Parshurambhau (SP) College, New English School, Jnana Prabhodini Prashala are only some of the educational institutes’ names the Peth houses.
While SP College and New English School lie on the main Tilak road with sprawling campuses, Jnana Prabhodini is a short walk inside the lane opposite New English School. The huge building can be recognised from a distance and once inside, you sense something different.
I talk to Prashant Divekar who is the coordinator of the Teacher Training Centre at Prabhodini. He tells me how the institute is run along the lines of Swami Vivekananda’s educational philosophy. Established in 1969, ‘‘Motivating Intelligence for Social Change” is Jnana Prabodhini’s motto and it sets about doing so by using various techniques for enhancing intelligence and ensuring exposure to society for its students.
The entrance test for this CBSE school, which has classes 5th through 10th, consists of psychological tests based on creativity and thinking skills. Other than being a regular school, Jnana Prabhodini has a Public Examinations Department, which trains students for examinations like the UPSC, the Prajna Manas Samshodhika, a Ph.D research centre recognised by the Pune University, which focuses on research in psychology and its application for identification and development of human abilities, and the Sanskrit Sanskriti Samshodhika, which aspires to handle a wide range of subjects that are related to Sanskrit and Indian Culture.
The Sanskrit Sanskriti Samshodhika has a research library with 15,000 books on different subjects including Sanskrit literature, philosophy, religion, grammar, Mahabharata, etc. It also houses a rare collection of 2,500 books on Ramayana from different countries in different languages and scripts. Jnana Prabhodini also incubates wonderful initiatives like rural development, a women’s self-help group and Gyan Setu, more about which can be read here.
Overwhelmed, I walk out of Jnana Prabodhini, which aptly means ‘awakener of knowledge’ in Marathi, and turn towards the peaceful residential lanes of Sadashiv Peth. Beautiful old wadas and buildings with dense creepers hanging over most windows, the residential area is as laid back as it gets. Round blue plaques (remembrances of the history and culture so embedded in Sadashiv Peth) on some of the structures proudly mark names of the famous people to have lived in those buildings. I try for a while to locate the plaque with Lokmanya Tilak’s name on it but in vain.
Exploring further, I ask directions to the Bharat Natya Sanshodhan Mandir. In 1814, students of Vishrambaugwada High School initiated the Students’ Social Club, which today has led to this gorgeous theatre, picture gallery and research department. The Bharat Natya Sanshodhan Mandir houses over 11,000 theatre-related books, has been preserving prose and musical theatre for more than a century and is a matter of great pride for all of Pune.
Just next to it is the Bharat Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal, which is one of the great institutions of Maharashtrian history. It was founded more than a hundred years ago by the great historian Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade. The institute maintains a treasure trove of historical documents, coins, artifacts, maps, paintings, rare books and early Marathi newspapers, special exhibitions for which are organised from time to time. This collection has helped many history scholars and researchers over the past in their research. The painting gallery has a collection of over 1,500 paintings.
The Khare Museum has a collection of various artifacts from across different dynasties and the library houses a collection of over 80,00,00 documents in Sanskrit, Marathi, Kannada, Farsi and other languages! I did manage to sneak into the library and was delighted to no end. Row upon row of books neatly placed in beautiful old glass and wooden shelves; it is a book lover’s dream.
Dizzy at the thought of all this history I get to the famous Khunya Murlidhar temple. A structure supported by bamboos, as a result of being weakened, and a roof full of spider webs welcomes me. The inner courtyard of the temple is adorned with beautiful trees and there’s something eerie about this temple, which I cannot put my finger on.
I speak to the priest, Ambarish Khare, who is his family’s seventh generation serving the temple and he tells me about the temple’s blood-stained past. It was following a dream in the late 17th century that Dada Gadre, a merchant and moneylender to the Peshwas, got the temple and marble idols of Murlidhar and Radha made. The grace and elegance of the wonderful statues tempted the then Peshwa ruler Bajirao II to consider installing it in Shaniwarwada. Gadre refused and this caused bloody battle between Gadre’s Arab soldiers, who had been hired to guard the temple and Bajirao’s army deputed under British chief Boyd. This is where the name “Khunya Murlidhar” originates from.
Besides being a cultural hotspot, Sadashiv Peth is a whirlwind of history, commercial establishments, beautiful residential pockets, educational institutions and some top-notch eateries. It is your quintessential Puneri Peth and much more. Never will I dare to underestimate this magnificent Peth again. Lesson learnt!
All image credits: Parmeet Kohli