If you are ever bored with the current affairs and daily grind, take a walk around the old by-lanes of Pune and you’ll invariably hear a story or two about its history that will grip you, as you listen with bated breath. The walls indeed do have ears and if they had mouths too, oh boy! The stories they would tell!
One such unlikely tale resides in the sanctum of a quiet little temple in Sadashiv Peth, called Khunya Murlidhar Mandir. The name had always surprised me and as I dug a little deeper, out came an unlikely story of a blood-stained past…
The story begins in 1700 when, Sadashiv Raghunath alias Dada Gadre, dreamt that God had ordered him to construct a temple. A merchant and moneylender to the Peshwas, Gadre built the temple to the east of his garden in what was then known as Karkolpura.
Bakhatram, a renowned Jaipur artist, worked with great devotion at the then Gadre Wada, which now houses the Ahilyadevi Girls’ High School to create the marble idols of Tandav Murlidhar, i.e. Krishna, Radha, two cows along with calves, and Garuda. It was the grace and elegance of this lively statue of Krishna that caught the fancy of Bajirao II, a Peshwa ruler, who wanted to install it in the Royal abode of Shaniwar Wada to which, Gadre refused.
In an unprecedentedly sly maneouver, he summoned Vedic scholar Narayanbhatt Khare from Trimbakeshwar near Nashik for the deity’s consecration ceremony. Following the advice of Khare, Gadre decided to have the idols installed on the sly in the wee hours of May 6, 1797.
However, Gadre had expected Bajirao to create some trouble once he got a whiff of this plan and had stationed 200 hired Arab soldiers to guard the temple. Bajirao, who by then had been reduced to a ceremonial head of state protected by the British, deputed his army under British chief Boyd to thwart the proceedings.
Among the chants of the Pooja and holy proceedings inside the temple mingled the enraged voices of 200 soldiers, their steeds, guns and swords. The battle took over 60 lives. Hence the name “Khunya”, derived from the Persian term for blood, got formally prefixed with the deity’s name in the early 1800s.
As though continuing its revolutionising past, the temple served as the meeting place for freedom fighters such as Vasudev Balwant Phadke and the Chaphekar brothers.
The temple has withstood its bloody past, wars, storms and rains, but will it endure the brunt of modernisation and development? Only time can tell, or can we too?