Located in Kasba Peth, the oldest residential part of Pune, Kasba Ganpati refers to both a particular murti of the god Ganapati as well as to the temple built around the murti. The Kasba Ganapati is the presiding deity (gramadevata) of Pune, and the temple today is a major landmark in a city.
The origins of the temple we see today can be traced back to the 1630s when Jijaubaisaheb Bhosale, the Maratha aristocrat and wife of Sardar Shahaji Bhosale, arrived in Pune with her infant son, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of Maratha Empire. Shortly after settling in Pune, Jijaubaisaheb heard of how some young shepherd boys had found a stone in the form of Ganesh and had began to worship it. Impressed by the piety of the shepherd boys, she commissioned the construction of a stone temple to house the deity. The families that were displaced by the construction of the temple, mostly Hindu and Muslim weaving castes, were relocated a short distance to the west on the land on which Shaniwar Wada now stands.
It’s a lovely story, but we do also have documentary evidence that suggests a Ganpati temple of some importance existed here prior to 1630. Documents dating to 1613 mention that the Nizam Shahis gave inam grants to a Moreshwar temple in Kasba, Moreshwar is another name for Ganpati. It’s impossible to be certain if this is the same temple. I would imagine the landscape around Kasba Peth was once dotted with many temples, some of which may have also been dedicated to Ganesh, that have since been lost.
The temple we see today has grown considerably to become a full temple complex in the last four hundred years, having acquired a large hall, tank, rest house, and dwipstambhas. With so many additions it’s hard to isolate the older parts of the temple now, and some elements have since disappeared, most notably the tank which has been filled up and seemingly lost. My reluctance to explore the temple with my camera (I’m always sensitive to where I am and not wanting to intrude on devotees) resulted in me almost certainly missing out on seeing the complex in its entirety.
The Peshwas were ardent followers of Lord Ganesh. During their era Shaniwar Wada witnessed grand celebrations for Lord Ganesh, and Pune became known as the city of Ganesh.
In 1893, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the Indian Nationalist Leader, initiated the now famous Ganesh Festival. His intention was to gather people sharing similar ideas and exchange thoughts to deal with the British rule. He started celebrating Ganesh Festival from his own house called Kesari Wada, and due to his personal popularity and initiative, the Ganesh Festival became a public festival soon afterwards.
As the popularity of the festival grew in the city, rivalry started among the various temples regarding the privilege of immersing the murti on the last day of the Ganpati festival. Bal Gangadhar Tilak resolved the rivalry by declaring the privilege of immersion to Shri Kasba Ganpati, as it is the local deity of Pune.
Until 1925, Shri Kasba Ganpati temple celebrated the festival within the premises of the temple and from 1926 it has been celebrated in an enclosed mandap. Today, the ten days of the festival is a platform for local artists to display their talents through various cultural programs, allowing a large number of devotees to participate in the celebrations. On the last (10th) day, Shri Kasba Ganpati plays the leading role during the immersion procession in the heart of the city.
The Ganesh Festival, also known as Ganesha Chathurthi, is a wonderful time to be in Pune. I was fortunate to be there in 2013 and it was an unforgettable experience.
Shri Kasba Ganpati is still very much the focal point of religious life in the locality. All auspicious ceremonies begin with a visit to this temple, the first invitation to any wedding is first made to the deity. It certainly holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Pune, as it has done for more than 400 years.
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