A hundred years ago, Pune was quite a different city. Shukrawar Peth and Sadashiv Peth had a lot of open areas, gardens spread out in both directions along Bajirao Road, huge lakes dotted Saras Baug and the areas near Nehru Stadium, and ‘shahirs’ filled the streets and air with ‘powadas’. But now, unfettered urbanisation has turned the city into a vast, cosmopolitan urban jungle. Even the climate of Pune, which drew the Peshwas and later the British, who made it the monsoon capital of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency, has changed.
The story of this journey will be the subject of a lecture, titled ‘19th century Pune’, at Art2Day Gallery on Bhandarkar Road at 6.30 pm on January 4. Sharvey Dhongde, convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Pune, will be the speaker.
Through this lecture, the organisers hope to foster a feeling of belonging towards the city among the hundreds of people who migrate to Pune every day. “We hope to help the people connect with the city’s culture and heritage by learning its history, and not feel like outsiders. We want to make everyone care for Pune, and they will only do it if they feel attached to the heritage of the place,” Dhongde told The Indian Express.
“Around 1100 AD, Pune was just a small fishing village. During the 12th and 13th centuries, it became the military garrison of the Sultans of Bijapur, who fortified it. Relics of those times can still be found in the city. On the periphery of the Deshpande Church in Kasba Peth, one can see remnants of that period,” said Dhongde.
“A famous folklore says the city was destroyed in a conflict during Muslim rule, and it was ploughed with a plough drawn by a donkey to signify that no living soul should inhabit this place. Then Shivaji came and settled here. It was he who reversed the whole situation by cultivating the land with a golden plough. This was a statement that he will protect the place and make it safe for people to live. He also consecrated the Kasba Ganpati as the deity of the city,” said Dhongde.
In the early 18th century, Peshwa Bajirao took control of Pune and commissioned the construction of Shaniwar Wada, but it was only during the reign of his son and successor, Peshwa Nana Saheb, that it actually grew into a city.
“Peshwa Nana Saheb built a lot of Pune’s infrastructure, like the underground water system. He established many ‘peths’, renewed many dilapidated areas, build numerous gardens and parks and expanded the Shaniwar Wada,” said Dhongde.
Currently, Pune is referred to as the ‘Oxford of the East’ because of the large number of educational institutions here that attract international students. But the seeds of Pune’s growth as an educationcal centre were laid by the Peshwas. “Many Brahmins settled in Pune during the time of the Peshwas. They held a dominant position as teachers, and that tradition of learning has somehow continued,” said Dhongde.
After the fall of the Maratha empire, the city passed into the hands of the British, which marked another era for the city. “In the colonial period, many educational centres were set up in Pune and wealthy merchant communities, including the Jews, Iranis and Bohras, from Bombay, migrated here,” he added.
Structures like Fergusson College and the College of Agriculture stand as evidence of British rule. Since they were built by colonial rulers, they were built in the European style of architecture. “Pune University was specifically built in what we call the Italian Gothic style of architecture,” said Dhongde.
However, the building that houses the university had a different purpose when it was built — it was the residence of the British Governor. But just like its function has changed, so has the rest of the city. For example, unlike the education culture fostered by the Peshwas, the culture of ‘powada’ is obsolete now. “Powada is a kind of song ‘shahirs’ used to sing in the streets with a handheld drum. The songs narrated stories of valour and love. One of the famous ‘shahirs’ was Ram Joshi,” said Dhongde.
Another remnant of the Peshwa era is the number of wadas that adorn the city.
Most were “inspired by the havelis of Gujarat, Rajasthan and even Agra. There are as many as 500 to 1,000 wadas in the city”, he said.