Heritage wadas in Pune cry for attention in city’s changing landscape
They were once the seat of power, intrigue and grandeur. Battle plans were drawn up, palace intrigues hatched and dissected here.
Today, more than 350 years after the height of glory of the Maratha empire, Pune’s wadas are waging a final battle for survival as the civic body turns its attention off this issue.
Last week, 250-year-old Mujumdar wada in Kasba peth of old city area suffered damage during the anti-encroachment activity by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). Civic officials razed illegal structures in the neighbourhood and in the process caused serious cracks to the iconic structure. While members of the Mujumdar family now wants PMC to repair the structure, civic officials say they cannot help, as the wada is privately owned.
Diminishing iconic structures
Today, many of these wadas, built in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Peshwas who were the Brahmin prime ministers of the Maratha kings, stand in sharp contrast to the city’s fast-transforming landscape. In May 2017, PMC identified 207 wadas and their occupants were served notices to vacate the old structures.
These wadas, located in the peth areas of old Pune, reflect the exquisite craftsmanship of their time and feature some characteristic architectural elements. A massive, iron , main door through which the Peshwas and other important visitors entered the wada, is a signature feature.
A typical wada would consist of an all-encompassing massive fort-like structure that could accommodate a cluster of houses with a central courtyard, forming the focus of the community’s social activities.Alongside were the dindi darwaja (small doors). The courtyard usually had a fountain or water tank and the buildings would have intricately carved wooden doors and windows. Since the Peshwas commanded their own armies, the wadas also set aside sections to accommodate horses, elephants and their keepers. Many of them also had a grand diwan khana or a reception room, where visitors (on official work) would be entertained. With up to a thousand people living inside a wada, each was a world unto itself.
The beginning of the end
The decline of the Maratha empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the dissipation of wealth and power of these miniature townships. On the other side, the city of Pune forged ahead with industrialisation, IT and real estate booms. Many educational institutions were also built in the city. And, thus the wadas came increasingly under threat. Slowly, the smaller among the wadas began to be razed to make way for multi-storied towers to house the city’s burgeoning population.
Heritage lovers and activists rue the fact that these wadas are on the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) heritage list. It has also met with resistance from an unexpected quarter – residents of the wadas themselves.
“On one hand, PMC has put our wada on the heritage list, which means we cannot touch or modify it. On the other hand, the civic body does not give us the required financial assistance to maintain the structure,” said Gopika Anil Raste, resident of the 200-year-old Raste wada in Rasta Peth. Built by Peshwa Anandrao Bhikaji Raste, a minister during the Peshwa regime in the 18th century, it is estimated to have costed him ₹9 lakh to build back then.
Gopika, the eighth-generation descendant of Anandrao Bhikaji, is, like so many others in his situation, finding it difficult to maintain his ancestral home, handicapped on one hand by the conditions imposed because of the heritage listing and on the other, the steep financial costs of restoring or renovating such a huge property. It costed them around ₹9 lakh the last time they repaired the walls and leaking roof.
Be it Rastes or Mujumdars, these family members had asked PMC to allow them to build some modern structure in the vicinity of the cavalry retinue so that they could rent it out and use the revenue for maintenance of the main wada. They claim the PMC has neither reverted to them, nor are they helping in any way to maintain the wadas.
Gopika’s words are underlined by Raste Wada’s diwan khana, which now houses a municipal school. The fountains have dried up; the chandeliers and lights that once lit up the wada, are all gone.
The stories of Mujumdar wada or Nagarkar wada in Kasba peth are pretty much the same.
“Our 250-year-old Mujumdar wada is already facing an existential threat and we are finding it difficult to maintain in the absence of any help from PMC,” said Anupama Mujumdar, a tenth generation member of the NR Nilakanth family line.Nilakanth was in-charge of the treasury during Peshwa era.
Turning a blind eye
Fresh damage to Mujumdar wada during the PMC’s anti-encroachment drive is worrying family members. “After our wada suffered damages, I went to the PMC and met officials. Civic officials, however, were indifferent as if they had no responsibility to maintain this historically important structure,” said Mujumdar.
Located in Kasba peth, Mujumdar wada was built in 1770. The wada, according to historical records, was built at a cost of ₹ 1 lakh on 10,000 square feet, mostly using teakwood.
For history’s sake
Mandar Lawate, a noted history researcher, felt the need for authorities to work out a plan to retain old structures, which would pass on the history of Pune for generations to come. “These wadas represent history. It is important for authorities to work out a plan and maintain them,” he said.
With many of these fort-like structures in such bad shape, the cost of repairs is high. It is not surprising their residents would prefer the old wadas demolished. One such wada which met with the same fate was Jabade wada in Kasba peth. It made way for the modern Panacea apartments, in which every resident was accommodated, with some space left to be sold.
The neighbouring Fadake wada too, has undergone a similar fate with the construction of the multi-storied Amey apartments. So has Kesari Wada, built by Sayajirao Gaikwad of the erstwhile Baroda state, and later, bought by freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The wada, which once witnessed nightlong discussions on overthrowing colonial rule, is now the office premises of Marathi daily Kesari.
What is the PMC saying?
Pune Mayor Mukta Tilak, herself a resident of Kesari wada, said, “As these structures are private, PMC cannot offer financial assistance. As far as Mujumdar wada is concerned, I have assured the family that I will ask the authorities to see how the civic body can undo the damage caused during the anti-encroachment drive.”
Shyam Dhavale, former head of PMC’s heritage cell says the sites identified under Grade I, II and III of the heritage list have historic and architectural importance and have to therefore ensure that any restoration work sticks to the original structure and architectural details.