It had been years since I had visited the haunted mansion of the Peshwas – Shaniwar Wada and I had some fleeting recollection of the same. The recent Ranvir Singh – Deepika Padukone superhit – Bajirao Mastani 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 daughter had (I swear, she has my pesky genes and is infected with a travel bug herself!) – Is this palace still there? What happened to it? Why did they have a fire there? Is this really true?…..argh! And none of my fleeting memories were enough for her questions. The only way she finally reduced (not stopped) her questions was when I promised her that on our next trip to Pune, we will be visiting this lost palace. Secretly – It was a promise that was more an excuse for me to visit this place again! 😉
Here we were – the Mom-Daughter duo, in front of the Shaniwar Wada fort in Pune. Thanks to the recent movie Bajirao Mastani, imagination of how life would have been was not too difficult for my daughter, though the few misrepresentations of movie had my daughter getting a little irked. Separating fiction from history is not easy at that age 😉 So, let’s start with the real history –
History 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 ground and what remains do are just the original stone foundations and the stone walls & doors.
The Eerie Story of Shaniwar Wada
If you noticed the beginning of this post, I use the word haunted. This palace is well known for its eerie tale – the ghost of Peshwa Narayan Rao that 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 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.
What followed was the gruesome 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 to 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 and trust me, I definitely had no intentions of finding that out. 🙂
Perfectly safe during the day, here is what you can expect to see at the present-day Shaniwar Wada.
1) The 5 doors
Shaniwar Wada has 5 major doors, all of which can still be seen. The main one is the Dilli gate, 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. The gate is designed such that any elephant that charged towards the closed gate would be instantly crushed to death. Thanks to the huge spikes on the gate. However, the gate was tall enough for any elephant with a howdah to enter with permission.
The entrance after the gate is in a zigzag fashion so that even if the enemies were to enter, they would be traveling through a maze, giving the soldiers enough time within the palace to counter attack as they emerged.
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)
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.
Further to the south east 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 a Ganpati temple in the city.
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, were taken out from this gate. Officially though, the gate was used by the concubines visiting the palace.
2) The foundation of various palaces
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.
They say that the palace walls were full of pictures from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharat. Gorgeous arches and pillars made up the halls and there were teak doorways all over the palaces. The palaces had beautiful marble flooring and was covered with Persian rugs. Some remnants of these paintings are visible at the entrance of the palace.
The Ganpati Rang Mahal is one significant site here – a place for all significant and religious functions of the Peshwas. It is said that it had a large statue of Lord Ganesha and had quite an ornamental interior.
There are some broken plates around these foundations that give you an idea of which building or palace existed. The main palace of the Peshwa and the Dancing Hall being the other significant ones.
My daughter and me pictured the scenes from movie – Bajirao Mastani where they have recreated this palace. However for me, it felt a little depressing to do so, given that there was nothing left of that amazing place.
3) Remains of the Hazari Karanje Fountain
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 -have 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.”
4) Small passages along the walls
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 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.
5) Cannons used by the Peshwa
A few surviving cannons can be spotted within the palace. A large one at the entrance itself and a smaller ones 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 maybe nothing there physically, the remnants of what was is enough to remind people of what was.
For my daughter, it was a tad bit disappointing as she could not imagine how such a magnificent palace was no longer there for her to see. For me, it was a little depressing. Let me know what you think of this place. Given a choice, would you like to visit it? Me – I would definitely recommend at least one visit. 🙂
- 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.
- Pune weather is pleasant throughout the year. However, since there is a lot of roaming around to be done, avoid the peak summer months of April and May. Else, visit this palace either in the morning or evening.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 no guides here. Unfortunately the signages too, are broken. I found the guards friendly enough to help me out with a few queries.
- 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.
- The one thing that I recommend is walking atop the entire perimeter of Shaniwar Wada. It allows you a lovely view of the entire palace campus. Be careful when you are walking along the walls as the same are quite open and while the pathway is safe and stable, one side of the wall is quite low.