Tales of Love & Deceit – the Shaniwar Wada haunted story

First Published on May 25, 2016

It was a small change of one alphabet that altered his fate
From a mere capture to a gruesome murder of hate.
His mortal remains were chopped to bits
But even today, in the fort - his ghostly spirit flits.   

Discover the Shaniwar Wada haunted story - of love and deceit! 

It had been years since I had recounted the story of the haunted Shaniwar Wada – the epic mansion of the Peshwas. The recent Ranvir Singh – Deepika Padukone superhit – Bajirao Mastani was the one that rekindled my curiosity and urge to visit the remains of this grand palace in Pune. Adding fuel to this fire were the constant questions that my dottie asked when I shared the Shaniwar Wada horror story – Is this palace still there? What happened to it? Why was Shaniwar wada burnt? Is there really a ghost in Shaniwar Wada?…..argh!  The only way I could satiate some of her curiosity was with a promise to visit Shaniwar Wada on our next trip to Pune. Secretly – It was a promise that was more an excuse for me to visit this place again! πŸ˜‰

The Dilli Gate of Shaniwar Wada Pune
The Dilli Gate of Shaniwar Wada Pune

Not only did I manage to take her there but recently, got another chance to refresh my earlier visit to one of the haunted places in Pune. Though for a layman, there isn’t much left to see but if you listen carefully, there are plenty of tales that the surviving walls of this lost palace have to share. They begin with a tale of victory, involve a love story and end with a saga of murder and deceit. So get ready to read it all in this virtual tour of Shaniwar Wada.

History of Shaniwar Wada

The half stone, wood and brick wall of Shaniwar Wada
The half stone, wood and brick wall of Shaniwar Wada

Build in the 18th century by Bajirao I – who was the Peshwa or the prime minister to the Maratha ruler – Chhatrapati Shahu. The original palace was planned to be a 7-storied stone palace but after the first floor was constructed, there was a hue and cry among people. They said that stone palaces were to be built only by the Chhatrapati and not his Peshwa. Hence, the rest of the construction of this palace was done using bricks and wood. The palace stayed with the Peshwas for a long time before it was taken over by the East India company. Shortly after that, a massive fire, raging for over 7 days, razed the entire palace to the ground and what remains are just the original stone foundations and the stone walls & doors.

The Bajirao -Mastani Love Story of Shaniwar Wada

If you have already watched the movie, this love story is not a new tale for you. However, for those readers who are not familiar with the Bollywood movie, the tale begins with a request from Maharaja Chhatrasal of Bundelkhand to the Peshwa Baji Rao I for assistance against an attack from the Mughals. Baji Rao rose to the cause and defeated Muhammad Khan Bangash, a commander of the Mughal army. In gratitude, the Maharaja gave him his daughter Mastani in marriage along with one-third of his kingdom.

Baji Rao fell in love with the beautiful Mastani and despite their religious differences (he was a Brahmin and she a Muslim), accepted her as his second wife. However, this was not acceptable to his mother and some of the other elders in the Shaniwar Wada. They made life a little difficult for her – eventually forcing Baji Rao to move her out of Shaniwar Wada to her own palace called Mastani Mahal. Baji Rao died post a battle and Mastani followed soon in a few months. Her death remains a controversy – some amount it to suicide while others say she died as she could not take the loss of her beloved.

Remains of Mastani Mahal that are now kept in Raja Dinanath Kelkar museum
Remains of Mastani Mahal that are now kept in Raja Dinanath Kelkar museum

Shaniwar Wada was just an early home for the couple. There was never a separate Mastani Mahal in Shaniwar Wada. It was in fact, built in Kothrud, Pune and now, it no longer exists. Some parts of it have been preserved and can be seen in the Raja Dinanath Kelkar museum in Pune. And of course, the whispers of it still echo strongly in Shaniwar Wada.

The Shaniwar Wada haunted story

Shaniwar Wada has been listed as one of the most haunted places in Pune and the story behind that goes back to the Peshwa period of this palace. It is believed that the ghost of Peshwa Narayan Rao roams along the abandoned passage of this palace following his gruesome murder. The tale starts with Peshwa Narayan Rao having differences with his uncle Raghunathrao and putting him under house arrest. To secure his own release, the uncle conspired with some tribal hunters called Gardis and sent a message to them saying – “Narayanrao la dhara”. The message meant – “Hold Narayanrao” but before it reached the hunters, the message was changed to  – “Narayanrao la mara” by Raghunathrao’s wife – Anandibai. The message now meant – Kill Narayanrao.

Shaniwar wada haunted story of how a ghost roams around in these passages
Shaniwar Wada haunted story of how a ghost roams around in these passages

What followed was the murder of Peshwa Narayanrao – so gruesome that his entire body was cut into pieces. Given the state of the body, it could not be cremated and was submerged in the river. They say that since Peshwa’s spirit was not released properly, he returned as a ghost, who roams around this palace, shouting – “Kaka Mala Vacchva“.  Meaning “Please save me uncle” – a cry that was unheeded by his uncle, when he did indeed run to him for help.

The Pune residents around this area swear that these voices can be still heard on full moon nights. Some have even reported a ghost sighting. True or not, well – that is a mystery of Shaniwar Wada that I leave for you to solve.

Why was Shaniwar Wada burnt?

Burnt remains of Shaniwar Wada Pune
Burnt remains of Shaniwar Wada Pune

Yet another intriguing angle to this Pune fortress. An inexplicable fire in 1828 broke out during the period the British controlled Shaniwar Wada. The fire razed on for 7 days continuously, destroying all the buildings within the complex. To date, no one has been able to find out how this fire started.

This fire is said to be the last of the five fires that happened in the 1800s. It was the most devastating of them all, leaving nothing behind but a bare layout of what was a stunning and enviable structure built by the Peshwas.

Why was Shaniwar Wada named Shaniwar Wada?

Ganapati Rang Mahal as seen from the walls of Shaniwar Wada
Ganapati Rang Mahal as seen from the walls of Shaniwar Wada

Another interesting trivia about Shaniwar Wada is how the name came about. Shaniwar literally means Saturday and Wada refer to a fort or palace. The area around the fort is called Shaniwar Peth. Back in the times of the Peshwas, the local market used to be put up in different wards (peths) on different days. Based on that, the various peths were named after the days and thus, came about Shaniwar Peth. It was here that Baji Rao decided to build his home and since he laid the foundation stone as well as had his house warming pooja on Saturday, the fort was named Shaniwar Wada.

Facts about Shaniwar Wada Pune

Inside Shaniwar Wada today
Inside Shaniwar Wada today

Well, those are the various tales about Shaniwar Wada – some verifiable like the Baji Rao Love story and some just intriguing and chilling like the Shaniwar wada horror story. Keeping those aside, here are some more interesting facts about Shaniwar Wada –

  • The total cost of Shaniwar Wada was 16110 Rupees.
  • It was home to one of the most complex fountains with 16 jets of water that made an 80 feet arch. The fountain was called Hazari Karanje.
  • The main palace was seven storeys high. They say from the top floor one could see Alandi – almost 20 km away. The building collapsed when the British artillery invaded it, leaving behind just its stone base.
  • Shaniwar Wada was not just featured in the movie Baji Rao Mastani but also, was a huge part of the movie Panipat.

Shaniwar Wada architecture and layout

The Maratha Imperial architecture of Shaniwar Wada
The Maratha Imperial architecture of Shaniwar Wada

The haunted Shaniwar Wada fort has been constructed in typical Maratha-style architecture. As mentioned in the Shaniwar Wada history section, it was initially constructed using stone but owing to tradition, only the base level was made using that material. The rest of the complex was finished using bricks and wood. It is believed that the teak wood for Shaniwar Wada came from Junnar forest while the stone was sourced from the quarries in Chinchwad. The limestone that was used to bind the materials was brought in from Jejuri.

Inside one of the Bastions of Shaniwar Wada Fort
Inside one of the Bastions of Shaniwar Wada Fort

The Shaniwar Wada complex included five massive gates, nine bastions and numerous palaces. The buildings were planned such that the front courtyard had all the administrative offices while the rear had the residential and entertainment palaces. Today, when you visit Shaniwar Wada, you will only see the sad remains of what was recorded as lavish, ornamental and beautiful buildings. However, walk around the walls and you will be able to spot some of the faded murals and remnants of the carved banana flower arches – that is typical of the Maratha Imperial architecture.

Carving of Banana flower in Shaniwar Wada
Carving of Banana flower in Shaniwar Wada

What to see in the haunted Shaniwar Wada fort?

Though in ruins, there is plenty to see in the Shaniwar Wada Pune. Consider that your tour is a treasure hunt of sorts, where what is left are the clues that help you build the entire story of Shaniwar Wada. Keep an open mind and let your imagination fly as you walk through those crumbling walls of Shaniwar Wada.

The Five Massive Gates of Shaniwar Wada

Shaniwar Wada has 5 major gates, all of which can still be seen. The name of each of those gates has a story behind the. Let’s begin with the main entrance called Dilli Darwaza.

Delhi Darwaza or Dilli Gate.

Dili Darwaza of Shaniwar Wada
Dili Darwaza of Shaniwar Wada

The main one is the Dilli gate which is so-called as it faces Delhi to the North. This is the current entrance to the palace as well. They say that the gate was considered to be a reflection of Baji Rao’s sentiments towards the Mughals. Essentially, he hoped to overthrow them. Though the gate is tall enough for an elephant with a howdah could enter, at the same time, it has 72 iron spikes. Each of these is 12 inches long and is placed such that a rogue elephant that charged toward the closed gate would be instantly crushed to death.

Iron spikes of Delhi Darwaza
Iron spikes of Delhi Darwaza

If by chance the enemy succeeded in breaching that gate, he would still be in danger for the passage from the gate was laid out in a zig-zag fashion. They would be traveling through a maze, giving the soldiers enough time within the palace to counterattack as they emerged.

Mural of Ganesha in the nagar khana of Shaniwar Wada
Mural of Ganesha in the nagar khana of Shaniwar Wada

Being the main entrance, Delhi Darwaza also, had a nagar khana or the drum hall. The area was predominantly used to welcome the victorious Peshwas after a war, or receive important guests with drum beats and music. If you see the walls carefully, you will also, see the faded remains of a mural of Lord Ganesha – the main God of the Peshwas. One of the many surviving cannons of the British era has been kept in the Nagar Khana as an exhibit.

Mastani Darwaza of Shaniwar Wada

Mastani Darwaza in Shaniwar Wada
Mastani Darwaza in Shaniwar Wada

The Mastani Gate is the 2nd gate, which is again to the north. Smaller than the Delhi gate, this is so named as it was used by Bajirao’s favorite wife- Mastani to enter and leave the palace. (Read about Mastani Mahal here). After Mastani’s death, her son Shamsher Bahadur was adopted by the first wife of Baji Rao – Kashibai. He was givens some of the property of the Peshwas (largely the kingdoms owned by Mastani) and was considered a part of the family. His son – Ali Bahadur, too was given a similar status in the Peshwa household. Later, this gate was renamed after Ali Bahadur.

Khidki Darwaza

Khidki Darwaza
Khidki Darwaza

The Khidki Darwaza or the Window gate is to the East of the palace and now faces, Lal Mahal  – The palace that Chhatrapati Shivaji grew up in. The small window on the door is the reason for this name. My guess is that it was used as a gate to receive messages or things.

Ganesh Darwaza of Shaniwar Wada

Further to the southeast of the palace, facing the famed Dagdusheth Ganapati temple of Pune, is the Ganpati gate. Of course, back then the Dagdusheth temple did not exist but this gate was used by the women and other residents of the palace to visit the Kasba Ganapati near the gate. A small Ganesh temple is right outside the gate, though not in its original state.

Narayan Darwaza – the connection to the Shaniwar Wada horror story

The last but not the least is the Narayan Gate – a gate named so owing to the fact that the remains of the same Peshwa who became a ghost of Shaniwar Wada, were taken out from this gate. Officially though, the gate was used by the concubines visiting the palace.

The foundation of various palaces of Shaniwar Wada

Remains of Arse Mahal in Shaniwar Wada
Remains of Arse Mahal in Shaniwar Wada

As the terrible fire razed down the magnificent palaces of Shaniwar Wada, all we are now left is the stone base on which these palaces were built. They say that the Arse Mahal – Mirror Palace was the only one that survived the fire but owing to neglect eventually, fell down to ruins. Besides the Arse Mahal, the three other important buildings in the palatial complex were – Thorlya Rayancha Diwankhana (reception hall), Ganapati Rang Mahal (The Ganesh temple and hall used for religious ceremonies) and Naachacha Diwankhana (Dance Hall)

Ganapati Rang Mahal in Shaniwar Wada
Ganapati Rang Mahal in Shaniwar Wada

Records state that the palace walls were full of pictures from the epics – Ramayana and Mahabharat. Gorgeous arches and pillars in the shape of Cypress trees (suru) held the ceilings that were in turn carved with creepers and flowers. There were majestic teak doorways in all the palaces. Marble flooring graced the passages which were in turn, covered with Persian rugs.

The original construction was seven storeys high, with the topmost floor called Meghadambari (room in the clouds). This was the Peshwa’s chambers and it is from here that one could see Alandi.

The remains of Peshwa's administrative offices
The remains of Peshwa’s administrative offices

When you walk along those ruins, you will spot the stone foundation of many of these buildings, including the palace area of the Queen mother and the functional structures like the stables and barracks.

The Hazari Karanje Fountain

Hazare Karanje fountain of Shaniwar Wada
Hazare Karanje fountain of Shaniwar Wada

Hazari Karanje means a Fountain of thousand jets. A fountain that was one of the most enviable ones of those times. Made for the amusement of the Peshwa baby – Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa, this fountain is said to be shaped like a lotus with 16 petals, with numerous jets emerging from each petal and spraying water over an 80-foot high arch. Here is what one of the British visitors to the palace – Captain Moor -has to say about it.

Very magnificent. A hundred dancers can dance here at a time. In one corner is a marble Ganapati statue and the palace is flanked by a fountain and a flower garden

Small passages along the walls

The carved balcony of Shaniwar Wada above the Dili Darwaza
The carved balcony of Shaniwar Wada above the Dili Darwaza

As soon as you enter the Dilli Darwaza, you can head left or right to arrive at small staircases that lead you up the huge walls of Shaniwar Wada. The steps are quite steep and the passages are narrow. As you walk along the walls, you will find several of these along the perimeter.  Here and there you can get a glimpse of the gorgeous carvings that adorned the walls of this palace.

Cannons used by the Peshwa

One of the cannons in Shaniwar Wada Pune
One of the cannons in Shaniwar Wada Pune

A few surviving cannons can be spotted within the palace. A large one at the entrance itself and a smaller one within the palace. There isn’t anything that unique here but it sure is a reminder of what existed back then.

Like I said, it was easy to reconstruct this palace in our minds but having done so, I felt terrible about having lost this illustrious and magnificent piece of art and history. However, what remains too, is not well maintained and it is an urge through this post to people and authorities like the PMC and ASI to take care of what is left – be it the litter that seems to be flowing around or the signboards that seem to be knocked out. Even though there may be nothing there physically, the remnants of what was is enough to remind people of what was.

This concludes the tour part of this haunted Shaniwar Wada story. I am sure that you will now want to visit this place for yourself. Hence, check out the basic tips and faqs below to help you plan your visit to one of the most haunted places in Pune.

Common FAQs about Shaniwar Wada

What is the best way to reach Shaniwar Wada in Pune?

Pune is one of the main mini metros of India and is easily accessible by road, railway and by plane. Shaniwar Wada is right in the center of this city and can be reached using any of the local transport options – buses, taxis or autos.

Shaniwar Wada is covered by most of Pune Darshan tours or the local city tours. It is one of the many things to do in Pune.

What is the best time to visit Shaniwar Wada?

In terms of the weather, Pune is pleasant throughout the year. However, since there is a lot of walking around to be done, avoid the peak summer months of April and May. Keeping the same in mind, it is best to visit this palace either in the morning or evening.

What are the opening and closing times of Shaniwar Wada?

Shaniwar Wada is open on all days between 8:00 am to 6:30 pm on all days.

There is an evening light and sound show which is about the history of this place. You can attend the English one between 8:15 pm to 9:15 pm while the Marathi one is just one hour prior to this show. Owing to the pandemic, the show was put on temporary hold. It is slated to restart shortly.

What are the Shaniwar Wada entry fees?

The entrance tickets to this palace is just INR 5 per Indian and INR 125 for a foreigner. There are no camera charges here.

For the light and sound show, there is a separate fee of INR 25 per person. There is no advance booking and tickets can be availed on the spot.

Is Shaniwar Wada a UNESCO World heritage site?

No, Shaniwar Wada is currently not included in the UNESCO World heritage site list. It is managed by Archaelogical society of India (ASI) and Pune Municipal corporation

How old is Shaniwar Wada?

Shaniwar Wada was built in 1736 – making it over 250 years old.

General Travel and Photography tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes as there is a fair amount of walking to be done. The pathways are rugged and not very friendly for the handicapped or for kids in a stroller
  • There are a few guides available at the entrance. They are however, not licenced and do not have a fixed rate.
  • There is no food or water available within Shaniwar Wada. You need to buy the same from outside. A plea from me  – to please not litter the place and drop your trash in a proper waste bin.
  • Restrooms are there within the campus at one or two points. However, the same are not too well maintained.
  • Carry a wide lens and a basic kit lens for photography here. Best time for it would be around 4 pm when the light is not so harsh.

Before you go, pin this

haunted Shaniwar Wada
Shaniwar Wada horror story 1
Shaniwar Wada horror story

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66 thoughts on “Tales of Love & Deceit – the Shaniwar Wada haunted story”

  1. It’s strange as a Pune native and after several visits to the Wada, I’ve never climbed up as you have. I had better climb up to the top before my knees give way !

    Reply
  2. I like visiting forts and I feels even ruins have so much story to tell. I wish I had known about this place when I visited Pune in 2014. Your pictures are wonderful and I know how you feel depressed about the condition of the place. India is such a treasure but still not much is done to preserve. Even people behave irresponsibly by littering or writing their names on walls. Thanks for sharing the history of the place. That ghost story is scary. I should see the movie at least πŸ˜‰

    Reply
  3. I loved reading about the history! This is a very interesting place! Beautiful photos like usual πŸ™‚

    Reply
  4. Definitely learned something after reading this post.I have not traveled anywhere near Pune so all the names and titles are all “Greek” to me. Looks like a fascinating place to see and I love anything haunted. Man, oh man, those spiked doors are so Game of Thronesish.ο»Ώ

    Reply
    • Thanks Vishal. A lot of times we forget to be a tourist in our own towns. I am guilty of the same too. πŸ™‚ There is always a next time

      Reply
    • Oh yes, she was quite thrilled in the beginning. However, later as she discovered that there wasn’t too much left, she got a little bored. πŸ™‚ The haunted connection is quite a story among the locals. I knew of it as I have spend some time in this city

      Reply
  5. Got to know about this place only after the movie Bajirao Mastani and was really curious to visit it. Thanks to this post, I am now really intrigued to visit it.
    Awesome post Ami πŸ™‚

    Reply
  6. Being a history buff myself, this place is in my to visit list too. I never knew that this fort was haunted. After reading your account, I am more eager to walk through the corridors now. The pictures are lovely. your daughter, she is pretty. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  7. I love ghost stories, especially when connected to a historical event. A new destination to add to the travel wishlist. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  8. The palace has such a sad history and the spectre of a ghost haunts it. It is a pity that the Palace was burnt down and now we have only the foundations as a testimony to an age gone by.

    Reply
  9. Another really cool site in Pune! Although it’s a palace, it reminds me very much of some different abandoned forts we have in the US. It doesn’t seem to creepy though, which I can always be fine with.

    Reply
  10. Hello Ami,

    Thanks to you for sharing such nice & deep knowledge about Shaniwar Wada. I just hear this name in Bajirao Mastani movie but I got more deep info by your this post.

    Keep sharing such a wonderful post.

    Reply
  11. It was just last year when I went ot Shaniwar Vada and the images bring back memories of my own visit. I love visiting forts , there are too many in India already. But it was amazing to visit a haunted fort. It was great.

    Reply
    • If you like stories trapped in ruins, you are bound to enjoy this one. And it is quite central to Pune. Hope you visit it sooner.

      Reply
  12. Great post. I love the Shaniwarwada fort. My cousin told me the β€œ Kakka Mala vachva story” and next day took me to this fort. The fort has a story to tell in spite of having been razed to ground. Thanks for bringing back memories.

    Reply

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