Abhijit Ghorpade, SPPU’s official spokesman, explaining the history of SPPU’s main building during the heritage walk.(RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)
Abhijit Ghorpade, SPPU’s official spokesman, explaining the history of SPPU’s main building during the heritage walk.(RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

Campus Connect: Now travel through timeless history at Savitribai Phule Pune University

After renovating most of its buildings and Potdar Sankul’s 300-foot tunnel, SPPU authorities held one of its monthly heritage walks on Thursday, exposing residents to its rich saga
Hindustan Times, Pune | By Ananya Barua
UPDATED ON FEB 23, 2018 03:11 PM IST

After undergoing renovation and restoration for 11 years, the Savitribai Phule Pune University’s (SPPU) main building finally opened its doors to the public on February 10 and had announced that it will be organising a heritage walk to educate the city residents of the historical significance of the buildings. Treating city residents to a ‘time travel’, the SPPU authorities also held one of its monthly heritage walks on Thursday.

The heritage walk began from Potdar Sankul, which now houses the Board of Students Welfare, which was originally the main kitchen and servants’ quarters. To restore its historical charm, the SPPU authorities recently renovated and opened the 300-feet underground tunnel which connected Potdar Sankul to the main building. The tunnel is said to have been used to carry food from the main kitchen to the governor’s house. While the British had spent seven years and almost 18 lakh to build the iconic governor’s house, which is the SPPU’s main building now, this time around, the restoration costed 14 crore.

“The entire structure was built with a colonial mindset and the tunnel was made to make sure that unwanted elements do not get into the food and to ensure that those carrying it stay out of plain sight. During that time, the mindset was that Indians were ‘to serve, not to be seen’,” said Radhika Seshan, head of the department of History at SPPU.

At the end of the tunnel, the butler’s chamber was yet another highlighted spot of the walk. The chamber was historically meant for storing silverware, warming food and was also the head-servant’s or butler’s residing place.

The itinerary of the walk further led the participants to the 147-year-old main building, an iconic example of neo-gothic architecture in Pune. Elaborating on the specifications of the structure, Seshan added, “The building was originally made as the monsoon residence of the governor in 1870, while Mahabaleshwar was the summer residence. Made out of basalt rock, the structure is an imitation of the original gothic style and is adorned with distinct gothic features like gargoyles, arches and pointed towers.”

However, according to her, a deeper look into the structure would reveal the confluence of cultures. “At the entry of the main building, the arches that support the structure have a typical keystone at the centre. This is a typical Deccan architectural feature. Further, inside the Dynaneshwar Hall, which was initially used as the ballroom, has a ceiling adorned with gold-lined motifs made by Malaysian craftsmen. Even the main tower of the building is inspired by Italy’s Bell Tower,” said Seshan.

The Dnyaneshwar hall was the third spot in the itinerary which has undergone heavy restoration work. A reflection of opulence, the ballroom with Burma teak flooring and gold-lined ceiling and arched balconies for the orchestra, once had a grand chandelier made of Venetian glass which costed over 500 pounds (45,282) and was said to require almost a thousand candles every hour. Currently, the chandelier has not yet been installed at the ballroom due to technical difficulties. 

The fourth and the final location mentioned in the heritage walk was the museum which has been recently installed by the varsity on its foundation day on February 10. With artifacts from three different departments; geology, anthropology and history, the museum houses historical evidence of evolution and Deccan grandeur under the same roof. One of the prominent artifacts were the 19th century weaponry which was donated by the princely state of Bhor, located 51 kilometers south of Pune.

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