THE PRIDE OF THE MARATHAS

THE PRIDE OF THE MARATHAS

The Maratha Empire certainly had a profound impact on the history of India. When we talk about great names in the uprising of 1857, we can’t forget to mention Rani Laxmibai, Tatya Tope and Peshwa Nanasaheb – all from the Maratha empire – who fought until their last breath to save the falling throne under Bajirao II. Maratha empire in the 18th century gained fame by capturing the largest area from the Mughals and hence became one of the strongest opposition to the Mughals in Central India, all thanks to great Peshwas like Bajirao I. However, when we talk about this great Maratha empire, we can’t stop mentioning its founder – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who is well revered in Maharashtra even today, with one of the largest airports and railway stations in India named after him. Likewise, how could we forget Pune – the primary place residence of Shivaji Maharaj in his childhood?I had visited Pune many times earlier, but those visits were insignificant as they mostly involved coming back on the same day. Nevertheless, this time I managed to visit some of the most spectacular tourist spots that Pune is known for.

If you wish to visit Pune from Mumbai/Gujarat, I recommend traveling by train. Although a train journey from Mumbai takes longer than by cab or a deluxe Shivneri bus, you can experience the Bhor ghats – which were built in the 19th century to connect the interior Maharashtra with a strategically important port of Mumbai.

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The Mumbai CST bound Pragati express passes as we watch it inside the Pune bound Deccan express

Pune is famous for the Dagdusheth Halwai Ganesh temple. It was built by Dagdusheth Halwai (who gained this surname because of his business as a sweet seller). Wikipedia explains his story of building the temple as follows: –

Dagadusheth Halwai (Dagadusheth Gadve) was Lingayat trader and Sweet maker (Halwai in Marathi). He originally came from Karnataka and settled in Pune. After he gained fame as a Halwai, that became his surname. His original Halwai shop still exists under the name Kaka Halwai near Datta Mandir in Pune.

Mr. Dagdusheth Halwai was a successful sweetmeat seller and a rich businessman. In late 1800s, he lost his son in a plague epidemic. This caused Dagdusheth and his wife to go into deep depression. To heal themselves, their Guru, Shri Madhavnath Maharaj recommended building a Ganesh temple. This was completed in 1893.

Lokmanya Tilak, the Indian Nationalist leader and a contemporary of Dagdusheth, was a close friend of him. Tilak saw his dedication and the construction of the temple and it was here that the idea of celebrating public Ganesh festival struck him. It proved to be an epoch making event in Indian history.

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Dagdusheth Halwai Ganesh Mandir

We do not miss the darshan of this temple whenever we visit Pune. This temple has become a sort of an unofficial kuladaivat for our family now. And yes, one would easily get startled by the wealth used in the construction of the temple. The temple was built in 1893, even older than the Mysore palace, though it doesn’t seem to be! Photography inside the temple is not allowed, so this is the only photo of the Lord that one can click (from outside).

Pune is famous for its Puneri misal and Puneri milkshake called as ‘Mastani’. The name is derived from the second de facto wife of Peshwa Bajirao, Mastani. It’s a blend of ice cream and milkshake, though it’s costly – even if you have it from a small shop on a small street!

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The ‘mastani’ is at the centre – surrounded by two glasses of milkshakes

Pune is also famous for its legendary sweets chain – the Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale. One can also say that as Haldiram’s is to Nagpur, Chitale is to Pune; though the former has a nationwide presence. The ‘bhakarwadi’ is a unique delicacy here – though I don’t adore that much.

Next day, we made a visit to Lal Mahal, the palace where Shivaji Maharaj lived in his childhood. Technically, it is a small bungalow painted red. Since it was under renovation then, we weren’t allowed to venture inside.

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The old Lal Mahal amidst the heart of the city

The Shaniwar Wada is also located at a walkable distance from the Lal Mahal. ‘Shaniwar’ means Saturday in Marathi and Hindi and guess what, we made a visit to Shaniwar Wada on a Saturday itself! The Shaniwar Wada is said to be a haunted place and as per the reports of a night watchman, cries of a former murdered Prince ‘काका, मला वाचवा’ (‘Uncle, please save me!’) are heard on full Moon days.

It was formerly a huge palace but only its stone base is remaining today. Excerpts from Wikipedia –

The Shaniwar Wada was originally the seven storied capital building of the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire. It was supposed to be made entirely of stone but after the completion of the base floor or the first story, the people of Satara (the national capital) complained to the Siva(King) saying that a stone monument can be sanctioned and built only by the Siva(King) himself and not the Peshwas. Following this, an official letter was written to the Peshwas stating that the remaining building had to be made of brick and not stone. The Wada was then completed and upon being attacked by the British Artillery 90 years later, all the top six stories collapsed leaving only the stone base, which was immune to the British artillery. Hence only the stone base of the Shaniwar Wada remains and can be seen even today in the older parts of Pune.

Also, On February 27, 1828, a great fire started inside the palace complex. The conflagration raged for seven days and hence, only the heavy granite ramparts, strong teak gateways and deep foundations and ruins of the buildings within the fort survived.

Had the remaining monument being built from stone, we would have been able to see it in entirety today, just like the several magnificent forts of Rajasthan and Gwalior!

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The Shaniwar Wada entrance
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The interior ruins

The Shaniwar Wada also hosts a high-flying national tricolor which is probably the highest in Pune.

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The national flag at Shaniwar Wada

Pune is a must visit city for people keen to know about the Maratha legacy and culture. Today, it is also an emerging IT hub, and it’s keeping its pace with top cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. The Mumbai – Pune urban agglomeration is also rapidly developing and there is a huge demand for property buyers in places like Khopoli and Lonavala, which are close to Mumbai and Pune both. Since the formation of the state of Maharashtra, Pune has been consistent on its status as a secondary million-plus city in Maharashtra, and guess what, Maharashtra is the only state in India to have two cities in the list of 10 most populated cities in India (List of cities in India by population), two cities classified in the X category as per the HRA classification (Classification of Indian cities) and two cities with franchises in the Indian Premier League. And what would you say when you see that Pune and Mumbai are the two teams competing in the IPL final? I’m writing this article before the start of the final match; let’s see who wins!

जय हिंद! जय महाराष्ट्र!

जय भवानी, जय शिवाजी!

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