Of all the culturally significant places in Pune, hardly a name pops up which is as worthy and as significant as Shaniwar Wada. Much of our city’s history has evolved, revolved and developed around it. Spanning across several generations, the fight for Maratha independence was conducted and influenced by the on-goings in this Wada.
Most of us know why and how Shaniwar Wada is important to Pune and Punekars. Most of us also know the chilling tale of betrayal and deception, but for those who don’t, sit tight and follow along!
This is the tale of the murder of Narayanrao Peshwa, the ruler of the Maratha empire from 1755-1773. He was the third son of Balaji Baji Rao Peshwa. His eldest brother, Vishwas Rao, was killed in the battle of Panipat. His second brother, Madhavrao Peshwa, succeeded his father after Baji Rao’s death.
Their uncle Raghunathrao was appointed as a regent to Madhavrao but conspired against them and was eventually placed under house arrest. After Madhavrao died in 1772 from Tuberculosis, the 17-year-old Narayanrao succeeded him. Differences arose between them, and with several advisors around them manipulating both, such began the horrifying plot to assassinate Narayanrao.
The main masterminds of this plot were Anandibai, wife of Raghunathrao, and Tulaji Pawar, an evil servant. During the last day of the Ganesh Festival of 1773, several guards, influenced by Raghunathrao, entered Shaniwar Wada in order to free him. They created a commotion and chased Narayanrao, the in-denial 17-year-old ruler. Narayanrao ran to Raghunathrao’s chambers, thinking that his uncle wouldn’t let them harm him, unaware of his true intentions. After a brutal slaughter in his chambers, Narayanrao’s body was taken away through the secret passageway and cremated near Lakdi Pul by the banks of the Mutha river.
A deeper plot was later realized. Raghunathrao had sent a message to Sumer Singh Gardi, the leader of the guards who had chased and ultimately assassinated Narayanrao. He had written the Marathi word धरा which means to hold, or capture. Anandibai, Raghunathrao’s wife, changed the first letter of the word, now forming मारा which means to kill. When Narayanrao heard the soldiers coming, he screamed for his uncle, shouting, “Kaka mala vachwa”. (Save me, Uncle.)
Rumor has it that his body was hacked into so many pieces that it had to be carried in a pot. Such is the brutal betrayal and murder of an innocent 17-year-old ruler, transpired against and executed by his own family members, thus concluding one of the most bloody tales of deception in Pune.