Mahadji Shinde Chhatri was a commander-in-chief in the Maratha army during the 1700s. A temple of Lord Shiva was built by Mahadji Shinde in a small complex at Wanwadi in Pune at the time of his active life.
Mahadji Shinde passed away in 1794, and his funeral was conducted at the memorial site. ‘Chhatri’ means an umbrella – the memorial shelters his ashes, hence, the temple-memorial is called Shinde Chhatri.
In 1965, Madhavrao Shinde of the ‘Scindia Dynasty’, who ruled the erstwhile state of Gwalior, constructed a memorial outside the main sanctum of the temple along with the memorial hall.
The square shaped building reflects Anglo-Rajasthani style of architecture – a fine blend of two different cultures.
Six sculptures are seen at the top seated in a meditative state (as you can see in the cover image), a total of 24 well-crafted figures facing four directions.
The exterior exhibits windows with colored glasses, columns, and arches with intricate designs of flowers, shapes, elephant faces, and molds carved on a yellow stone; whereas the inner sanctum is made of black stone.
The interior has a photo gallery hall with carved pillars supporting the upper floor and white marble flooring with geometric prints. The hall is adorned with lamps, photographs and paintings of members of Shinde family. A unique combination of beige, pista and brown color paint gives the interior an elegant look.
Shinde Chhatri memorial is well lit from inside, with natural inflow of light and cross-ventilation; a visible feature in many of the old buildings and religious structures. It somewhat suggest’s, mankind’s limited dependency on artificial sources of light and fresh-air in the earlier period of time. Or to take an alternate view, a problem resolved through architecture design and precision artisan-ship.
When I visited the temple in March 2020, just before the national lockdown was imposed in India, access to the upper floor and the terrace area was closed. Apparently, the maintenance of the structure was neglected for many years, causing damage to the roof and its interior due to rain and moisture.
The guardians of the Shinde Chhatri memorial has revival plans to bring back the structure to its original look, but I doubt if any progress would have been made by now due to various pandemic-led restrictions and labor crises. I was lucky to be able to enter the memorial and take some photographs. However, this wasn’t the case with few other places that I visited in Pune as they were closed for renovation.
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Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai