India

Tulshibaug Ram Mandir – A Haven in the Heart of Pune

Hidden away in the heart of Budhwar Peth, Tulshibaug and the impressive Shree Ram Mandir is one of Pune’s great hidden secrets that I always find myself gravitating back to on each and every visit I make to the city. During the last 15 years I have seen many positive changes here in terms of restoration and conservation, and I always look forward to returning and witnessing what improvements have occurred in the intervening 12 months. For a long time now I have been meaning to write at least something about this place, and with COVID-19 preventing me from traveling this year the time has finally come to do this.

The origins of Budhwar Peth date back to 1703, when the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb camped here in a jujube (also known as red or Chinese date) garden, then south of the city. During the time of the fourth Peshwa, Madhav Rao I (1761 – 1772), the peth was significantly redeveloped by Govind Shivram Khasgiwale who encouraged the establishment of shops and widened the roads. The peth became an important commercial area and once contained a government mansion, Budhwar Wada, that was burnt down in 1879.

After the battle of Panipat in 1761 a nobleman in the Peshwa court, Naro Appaji Khire (later to be known as Tulshibagwale b.1700 d.1775), started the construction of Tulshibaug to boost the morale of the people of Pune. Work commenced on the one acre site in 1763 and was finally completed 32 years later in 1795 at a reputed cost of Rs.136,667

Tulshibaug appears to be one of the few places in Pune to have survived almost intact over the centuries. Although many would regard Pune as a city that is constantly changing and evolving, it’s heartening to experience somewhere that feels as if time has stood still. Despite how being situated in the very heart of the noisiest and busiest part of the city, here you are completely shielded from all of that, and a sense of calmness will almost certainly overcome you. The only other place in the city that gives me a true sense of this is the Nageshwar Temple in Nagesh Peth. I’m sure there are more places, it’s my quest to seek them out over the forthcoming years.

Aside from a few pots containing the plant, there is nothing left now of the basil (tulsi) plants that must once have been abundant here and gave this place its name. Baug means garden, so I can only conclude that these basil plants were specifically grown here rather than naturally occurring. One of the common offerings to Lord Rama is tulsi, which perhaps gives us a few clues as to why the main temple here is dedicated to Lord Rama.

The east-facing Tulshibaug Ram Mandir was also built by Naro Appaji Khire (Tulshibagwale), under the orders of Balaji Baji Rao (b.1720, d.1761), who was also known as Nana Saheb. During his rule Pune became adorned with numerous temples, ghats, wadas and new peths. Old temples that were falling into decay were also renovated and enlarged.

The original structure is built of teak, with a large congregation hall giving a great sense of open space with carved columns and arches. The craftsmanship and attention to detail with how the hall openings have been created is simply wonderful, and in some instances very reminiscent of “art nouveau”, an ornamental style of art that flourished for a short period between 1890 and 1910 throughout Europe. Only here we are in Asia, and admiring work that was accomplished over 150 years earlier.

The sanctum is made of stone and probably a later alteration, housing deities of Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman. Other deities such as Vishnu and Garuda sit nearby, with Hanuman located opposite in a separate shrine. There are also a number of smaller subsidiary shrines surrounding the Ram Mandir in the Tulshibaug courtyard.

The 22.2m high shikhara, once reputed to be the tallest in Maharashtra, was also a later addition and was completed in 1884 by Nandram Naik at a cost of approx Rs 30,000. It is typical of the Maratha style, with storeys arranged in an elegant pyramid. Many sources claim the shikhara scales to a height of over 40m (140 feet), but this is clearly an inaccuracy that has persisted across numerous sources. The sheer dexterity in the use of lime stucco plaster is impressive, but it is also quite hard to admire fully the images of saints and important persons from the city at ground level.

Over the many years I have visited Tulshibaug I have witnessed a significant amount of conservation and restoration here, and I applaud all these efforts which have made a significant difference both to the space in general and to the integrity of the heritage structures. These initiatives include :

  • Repairing traditional 18th century woodwork in the temple loft. Excess timbers were also removed to retain the essential features of the historic woodwork.
  • The basalt stone floor that was damaged due to bad repairs with cement was replaced with new stonework in the traditional style.
  • Wooden column bases that had been eaten by termites were replaced with stone basalt bases, carved with an identical profile.
  • Enamel paint was removed from the entire teak woodwork, revealing a rich texture of the traditional fabric of the building.
  • Restoring parts of the temple shikhara using lime mixed with pigments.
  • Repairing the tiled roof of the congregation hall with traditional materials.
  • Restoring the shikhara of the Ganesh Temple.
  • Restoring the lime stucco and stonework of the Hanuman Temple.
  • Construction of a new covered wooden stairway to the upper levels by the north entrance.

Since the middle of the 18th century Tulshibaug and the Shree Ram Mandir have become one of the landmarks of Pune. With shrines, halls, music galleries and rest rooms set within a courtyard, it has grown over the years into an important complex now in the heart of the city.

Today the courtyard is also lined with interesting brass and copperware shops, ensuring that it continues to be a thriving center. Very few spaces and buildings of the Peshwa era survive in Pune today, so I’m very much looking forward to returning here once again just as soon as I can.

A short distance away from Tulshibaug is Mahathma Jyotiba Phule Mandai, Pune’s largest vegetable market, which is also well worth exploring.


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26 replies »

  1. Thanks for covering this historic site built by my ancestor. I didn’t know about Aurangzeb’s camp in Budhwar peth. From what I know, the name “tulshi bag” comes from this being the garden belonging to the peshwas from where they would get the tulshi leaves for their daily pujas.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well depicted in short but with authentic information.Some of the inputs seems to come from Mr. Kalamdani, our restoration architect. Next time whenever you wish to visit Tulshibag, we will be glad to welcome you. Thanks again

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. My sources were from a number of articles, but I do try and ensure authenticity which can be difficult at times. The reputed height of the Shikhara, often quoted as 150 feet, has been widely reported and is clearly incorrect. I hope to return to Pune in early 2022, COVID permitting….

      Like

  3. Very good evening
    Just read your article (through Twitter).
    Amazing photos & documentation of historical facts.
    I blame myself, how I missed out on visiting this place, as I lived in Lonavla, for quite a few years in late 90s & early 00s.
    Will definitely pay a visit at next opportunity
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s awesome to see Tulshibag getting the due recognition. I used to visit Tulshibag regularly in late sixties and early seventies. We, my cousins and I, used to explore every corner of this temple complex during summer vacation. I have some of the fondest memories of Tulshibag. Now I see the revival of this already beautiful temple. Tulshibagwales have done a commendable job in bringing back the earlier era look of the temple. Now the future generations can enjoy it’s magnificence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So happy to read this article! Very well written, I must say. Since this article is in English, it should reach a wider audience, especially to the new generation… There are certain additional interesting details about how the idols were made, which might add to this article

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Kevin

    An excellent account of the Sri Ram Mandir. I used to visit it during the 1970s/1980s, sometimes with my late mother when we lived in Pune. Now far off here in Australia you brought home the memories and some very interesting information that I was not familiar with. Well done mate!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you Kevin for such an indepth research and detailing by you. I spent most of my childhood here and really feeling nostalgic looking at the pictures.Due to the pandemic, most of us have not been able to visit our Ram mandir. Ramjanma celebrated in this temple every year is grandiose and thats the only time when we all meet – the entire Tulshibagwale family.
    We all are waiting for the revamp of our Mandir to be completed. Felt happy to read this. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Kevin! It was a wonderful experience to read your article and revisit this place. It is like a trip down the memory lane for me having spent my entire childhood in these premises. I can never have enough of it. I don’t remember seeing such a lovely collection of the photos of Tulshibag. This is my ‘ माहेर’. The beauty of this place enhances during Ramnavmi , the annual event which lasts for 15 days. Thank you so much for your efforts to capture it so beautifully!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Rama, those are very kind words.
      Tulshibaug was one of the very first places I visited in Pune 15 years ago, I was taken there by a work colleague who had lived in Pune all her life but never knew of this place, we went there on the recommendation of her parents who live in Law College Road.

      Since then I have returned to India on 21 occasions, always starting my travels with some time in Pune, and always revisiting Tulshibaug. So for me it has become a bit of a spiritual home away from home.

      I have photographed it many times over the years, but have never been happy with the shots I’ve taken. In part I felt they didn’t portray the essence of this place, and often I would visit during a time of much renovation activity.

      As my travels didn’t happen this year for obvious reasons, I decided it was time to write something about this place, it has been on my mind to do so for many years.

      Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog and for commenting. If you know of any other information about Tulshibaug that my piece would benefit from then please let me know, I will of course credit any sources.

      Best wishes from the UK !

      Like

  9. Brilliantly written article that engages the reader till the end.. I am so glad to have stumbled upon it. In Feb 2021, I visited Pune and be at the Ram Mandir, hence the details resonate very well. In my last visit years back, the temple was cordoned off due to restoration work. Its heartening to see it open gain.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for making many like me revisit our favorite pune location.Nice that so many care for the most beautiful heritage wooden temple of national Deity icon of humane values, Sri Ram.I used to write trolls on its lack of maintenance Decade back and paradox envy of neighborhood Dagdushet Ganesh cornering all attention.Even if such richer temple trusts spend fraction of their funds all heritage of pune will be restored?

    Liked by 1 person

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