History was not my subject of interest in school days, but I saw a batch of young school students lined-up inside the Shaniwar Wada Palace complex during my self-guided heritage walk at this nearly 300-year-old building that chronicles the glory of the Maratha Empire.
Rise and Fall of Shaniwar Wada Palace:
The Shaniwar Wada was the most magnificent and stately mansion that has ever built in Pune by the Peshwas in the 18th century. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Bajirao I (1700-1740) on Saturday, January 10, 1730 and the construction was completed in 1732.
‘Shaniwar’ means ‘Saturday’ in Marathi language, and ‘Wada’ means Home, hence, this grand residence was named ‘Shaniwar Wada’.
It is stated that the total expenditure on this palace came upto Rs. 16,110/-, and atleast a thousand people use to reside in the palace area in 1758 A.D.
The successors of Bajirao made several additions such as fortification wall with bastions and gates, court halls and other buildings, and added fountains and reservoirs to this property.
The building was a seven storeyed structure and it is said that, it was supposed to be made entirely of stone. However, post the completion of the base floor, the people of Satara objected to the making of this palace using stone, and were of the opinion that a stone monument can be sanctioned and built only by the Shahu (King) himself and not the Peshwas. Following this mandate, the elevation of the building was done using bricks instead of stones.
In 1818, the Peshwas lost control of this seat to the British East India Company. Shaniwar Wada was attacked by the British army, in which all the top six stories collapsed leaving only the stone base. The remaining structure that can be seen even today, was strong enough, and survived the British artillery.
Shaniwar Wada in the 19th Century:
After facing defeat in 1818, the Peshwa abdicated his throne to Sir John Malcolm and went to reside near Bithur near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, as a political prisoner of the British Government.
About ten years after this event the whole palace was completely burnt down by a great fire on 27th February, 1828, which lasted for seven days and except the heavy ramparts, strong gateways and buried foundations and ruins that still bear witness to the rise and fall of a mighty Empire, nothing of this majestic and magnificent building has been saved from the cruel hand of time.
The Nagarkhana on the top of the Delhi gate which once sang loudly the glories of the great Peshwas has now become a popular symbol of Pune city.
Other important buildings in this palace were The Court Hall of Bajirao I, Dancing Hall, Ganesh Mahal and Old Mirror Hall.
Hazari Karanje Fountain:
“Hazari Karanje” or thousand sprayed fountain, was constructed most artistically and ingeniously for the pleasure and joy of the infant ‘Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao’, and was an object and curiosity of wonder. It has a shape of Lotus flower of 16 petals, each petal having sixteen spouts with a circumference of 80ft.
It is said that in India that there was not a single fountain like this anywhere having 196 jets not even in Europe, except the celebrated fountain “Fontana de Treville” at Rome. The sun for its amusement would make and break a thousand rainbows.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai