FROM witnessing the rise of the Maratha empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, to being regarded as one of the major IT hubs in the country, Pune city has come a long way.
Despite growing by leaps and bounds over the years, Pune has managed to safeguard its rich historical heritage to a large extent. From Aga Khan Palace to Shaniwarwada Fort, and from Gokhale Institute to Kesari Wada, Pune’s innumerable ancient structures speak volumes about the city’s rich history.
Peth areas and cantonment
Talking about city’s historical heritage, Shirish Kembhavi, one of the architects on the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) panel to carry out heritage conservation and restoration projects, said, “Pune has a long historical past, being the origin of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Swaraj and then the capital of the Maratha Empire during the Peshwa regime. The British period, too, has left its mark on the city. Several old buildings bear testimony to this passage of time and the changing political structure. The old Pune city can be divided into two parts — the Peth areas and the cantonment. Peth areas are dotted with several historic buildings and temple precincts that boast of the rich heritage value. Several wadas or residential buildings, originally owned by joint families, form the fabric of the old city.”
The Cantonment area, Kembhavi added, which was developed after the British advent, has a unique character with colonial influences and a more cosmopolitan expression.
Several landmark buildings — administrative buildings, churches and educational institutes — dot the cantonment.
Over time, most of the wadas, or residential buildings, have been converted into multi-tenanted residential accommodations. The cost of maintenance, as compared to the rent being received, made it impractical for the owners to take care of these properties and they continue to deteriorate over time, leading to occasional collapses. “Pune has lost a large number of such buildings due to this. Pulling down an old building and reconstructing a new one in its place has been happening for last couple of decades. It has been observed that the properties, which are still with their original owners, or who continue to occupy and carry out the same profession or trade, are better maintained,” said Kembhavi.
He added that landmark buildings, which are either with the archaeology department, the PMC or private Institutes, fare better as there is some patronage in its upkeep. The Heritage Department of PMC, he added, has been on the forefront on conserving and restoring such landmarks and retaining the glory of the city.
Sharing how the face of some of the famous monuments has changed over the past two decades, Pandurang Balkawade, city-based historian, said, “Over two decades ago, a number of Sindhi families had shops that were touching the wall of Shaniwarwada Fort. They were shifted to some other place so that beauty of the historical structure remained unaffected. Likewise, the Parvati Temple, which was in a bad shape earlier, was restored 15-20 years ago. A museum was also built in its vicinity. Structures like Aga Khan Palace, Shinde Chhatri, Pataleshwar Temple, Mandai, Vishrambaug Wada, Nana Wada have been maintained well.”
At the same time, however, Balkawade rues that the city has also lost its historical legacy in the name of development. In Kasba Peth area, he alleges that there was a wall which was 700-odd year old, which was felled by the PMC. He also claims that near the Thorla Sheikh Salla Dargah, some remnants of one Yadav era temple existed. When PMC tried to fell it, historians gathered and filed a court case. As of now, there is a stay from the court on the place. The civic authorities, he added, should take experts’ opinion prior to destroying any structure of historical importance. “I also feel that though there is more awareness about the city’s old monuments now due to efforts taken by the local bodies and some organisations, people still don’t value and respect the historical structures. It is not just government’s responsibility but also people’s. A lot of people create nuisance in these places by either writing nonsense on the walls or throwing garbage or destroying them,” he said.
Saving the past
PMC has listed about 250 properties, which have been recognised as heritage sites and need to be conserved. The efforts of PMC and INTACH have brought into focus the need for conserving the built heritage of the city. PMC has made provision in its current DC Rules to set aside 2 per cent of the total development charges collected by the building development department to create a Heritage Conservation Fund, which will help aid the maintenance of listed properties, said Kembhavi.
To create more awareness about the city’s history, NGO Janwani started Pune Heritage Walk in 2012. It also runs Virasat Pune Club, established in May 2014, for heritage enthusiasts and organises an annual Heritage Festival, in association with over 30 other organisations. An exhibition, titled “Heritage and Us”, has also been organised by Intach as a part of the festival. The object of the exhibition is to create awareness about heritage and linking it to the people.
NC Talwalkar, director, Janwani, said, “Efforts such as these have definitely made Puneites more aware about the city’s past. In our Heritage Walks, which are organised every Saturday and Sunday, nearly 15 people participate in the walks. Likewise, the Heritage Festival sees an encouraging response.”