Any tourist visiting Pune is likely to make Shaniwar Wada one of their first stops in the city.
Shaniwar Wada was built in 1732 at a total cost of Rs 16,110 by Bajirao I, the Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shahu. At it’s peak in the 18th century, the Maratha Empire controlled an area over half of present day India, and easily rivalled the size of the Mughal Empire that preceded it.
Originally the palace was planned to be seven stories constructed solely from stone, but an outcry over such construction by a mere Peshwa resulted in the remaining floors being built of lesser materials, just brick and wood. By 1758 over 1,000 people resided within the complex.
Ninety years after completion, the Wada was attacked by British artillery. All the top six stories collapsed in the resulting attack, leaving only the stone base which was immune to the British artillery. Hence only the stone base of the Shaniwar Wada and the outer walls remain and can be seen even today.
If that wasn’t enough destruction for the Wada, a massive fire in 1828 again destroyed most of the buildings inside the fort. Only the same foundations, the periphery walls, and the main entrance gate survived. The exact cause of this fire is not known. After the fire the British had no interest in rebuilding this symbol of Maratha Power and the fort deteriorated over the coming decades. Post independence, Shaniwar Wada has seen a little restoration work.
Shaniwar Wada has five major doors, all of which are intact and can still be seen today :
- Dilli Gate – So called because it faces Delhi to the north, this was the main entrance gate and is still how visitors enter the Wada today. Huge spikes attached to the door at elephant height prevented any successful attack.
- Mastani Gate – Again to the north, so called as it was used by Bajirao’s favourite wife Mastani to enter and leave the palace.
- Khidki Darwaza (or Window) Gate – Which faces the Lal Mahal.
- Ganpati Gate – Facing the Dagdusheth Ganapati temple to the south east (which didn’t exist back then), it is thought this gate was used by residents of the Wada to visit a Ganpati temple in the city.
- Narayan Gate – Named because the remains of a Peshwa (who folklore has it still resides as a ghost here) were taken out through this gate. It is thought this gate was used by concubines visiting the palace.
The experience for any visitor to Shaniwar Wada is likely to be mixed. The “gardens” are perhaps a little better maintained compared to when I first visited the Wada over 10 years ago, but there’s little to guide the visitor as to what there is to see. Nearly half the signs describing the buildings and structures are missing, and the remains of half abandoned restoration work seems to have been left discarded by the side of the Wada curtain wall.
On my visit in Feb 2017 a quite substantial fire was burning debris in one corner of the complex, giving the whole space a haze and unpleasant smell that really just made you want to turn around and head for the exit.
You can walk around on top of the wall which I recommend doing, and also exploring the hallway above the main entrance gate which has a few carved pillars remaining intact.
For me the highlight was something that I think probably 90% of visitors fail to even notice, and that’s a great shame. Within the main entrance gate (Dilli Gate) can be seen the faint remains of wall paintings, depicting scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Again, there is nothing to indicate their existence, perhaps in part because the entrance gate is your only way in and out of the Wada and it can get congested at times. It is also quite dark, and you need time for your eyes to adjust to the light, but they are there and after a couple of minutes you’re able to fully appreciate what remains of this decoration which must have been quite extensive, including some wonderful Ganpati decoration.
Sadly the hoards of tourists, locals and school parties flooding the Wada by lunchtime seemed to be totally oblivious to what existed just a few meters above their heads.
Shaniwar Wada is open everyday 8am – 6:30pm.
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