The Maratha confederacy was a ruling power in the majority part of the Indian subcontinent. Marathas were a warrior community that originated in the Deccan plateau. The Peshwa was originally the prime minister in the court of ministers advising the Chhatrapati (the throne of the Maratha empire). Shahu Maharaj was the last of the Bhonsle family to occupy the throne and spent the first half of his life in the Mughal camps. The rescue of Shahu Maharaj from the camp was facilitated by Balaji Vishwanath Bhat (aka Ballal). He also played an instrumental role in acquiring the taxes for the heir who became the next de facto Chhatrapati. Bhatt’s contribution earned him the title of the Peshwa. It later became a hereditary office.
Shahu had a few loyalties to the Mughals amongst whom he spent the better part of his formative years and hence did not make strong moves against the Delhi sultanate and the Mughals. He also, unfortunately, did not have an heir to the throne, hence the ruling power was transferred from the Bhonsle family to the Peshwe. As a result, the later part of the Maratha empire came to be known as Peshwai (1749-1818) with its capital in Pune.
Much like many other empires, the Peshwai also left its mark on the areas under their control in the form of Architecture. Various members of the ruling family contributed to society by providing infrastructure to ease their lives and to date prove to be monumental landmarks. Here is a brief account of the Peshwai history along with the iconic architectural pieces of the time.
Bajirao Ballal (1720-1740)(Thorle Bajirao Peshwe)
After Balaji Vishwanath Bhatt’s short reign, his son Bajirao Ballal took over. As opposed to his reckless romantic image as depicted in the movie Bajirao Mastani, He was a valiant warrior whose expansion of the empire on the northern side of India, who remained undefeated. He was the military commander who won numerous battles and singlehandedly walked over the Mughals. He did not sanction any projects apart from his iconic residence along with his sister Anubai, the Shaniwar Wada.
The Shaniwar Wada was the seat of the Peshwai. The administrative center was a monumental fortified complex. It was a grand 7 storeyed structure that could comfortably accommodate 1000 people.
The campus had five entrances with the main entrance facing North called Delhi Darwaza (Delhi Gate) & the MastaniDarwaza (Mastani Gate) in the same orientation, the Khidki Darwaja (Window gate) facing east, Narayan Darwaza (Narayan Gate) facing south and the Ganesh Darwaza (Ganesh Gate) facing south-east towards their native deity- Kasba Ganpati.
The palace was constructed using stone, brick and teak wood. However during the fire of 1828 after the anglo-Maratha war, a huge fire engulfed the majestic palace. It burnt down everything except the stone plinth and base floor of the main building.
Bajirao’s wife Kashibai ordered the construction of a Ghat alongside the river in her native village ‘Kaas’ for utilitarian and ritualistic purposes. His Brother Chimajiappa constructed one of the most iconic stone temples in Pune city, Omkareshwar temple.
Balaji Bajirao Ballal (1740-1761)(Nanasaheb Peshwe)
Nanasaheb Peshwe was next in line to the seat of Marathas. He is often called the architect of Pune city as he was solely responsible for the structural development of the city and the expansion of its boundaries for administration and development. His structural marvels are sprinkled throughout the city. He is responsible for the water supply system in the city derived by diverting the Ambil Odha (Ambil canal) and utilizing and constructing numerous lakes as intermediate water reservoirs.
Water supply system in Pune
Nanasaheb constructed the Katraj Lake elevated at 723m in 1749 and another lake at a lower level with large water reserves. Aqueducts were built beneath the ground level connected to the two lakes and further ran throughout the city. These aqueducts provided wells for access at intermediate distances. The water line further ran all the way to Saras Baug and then finally Shaniwar Wada. Utilizing gravity Nanasaheb solved the issue of dry summers and devised an advanced supply system that was ahead of its time. The project cost two lakhs Rupees in the 18th century.
Some other structures in his vast portfolio are the hill fort temple of Parvati, the garden and temple of Sarasbaug, Hirabaug temple and finally the most noteworthy LakdikaPul (Wooden Bridge) across the mutha river. The bridge has been retrofitted/restored and is still in use for three centuries now.
Madhavrao Ballal (1761-1772) (Thorle Madhavrao Peshwe)
Madhavrao was very young when he took over the seat after his brother hence he didn’t make any structures. His uncle constructed many Wada residences in Nashik and also an entire settlement named after his wife Anandibai. Wada architecture was a very prominent format for residences. Some such old wadas still exist or are in use in the old city limits. The symbolism in the ornamentation of the wadas depicts the roots of the Peshwa. The banana flower is one such element that makes repeated appearances in these structures, it symbolized the origin of the Chitpavan Brahmin family in Konkan.
Madhavrao’s mother Gopikabai sanctioned numerous religious structures. Her parental family, Raste, was also active in such projects. The Raste Wada in Pune and Wai are quite prominent.
One of the oldest and yet grandest of Wadas on Rasta Peth, Pune. It was a five-storey structure with two entrances. The structure was designed along with two quadrangular courtyards with numerous rooms around it. The structural details consisted of intricate wood and latticework. Presently a Municipal school by the name of Anandrao Bhikaji Raste’s descendants is run in the historic space.
Narayan Ballal (1772-1773) (Narayanrao Peshwe)
Narayanrao’s short reign was abruptly stopped by his murder. Since he held the seat for barely a year, no significant architectural developments are noted.
Madhav Narayan Ballal (1774-1795) (Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa)
His reign, although successful, did not involve his interest in architecture. Due to his young age, the administrator appointed to him Nana Phadnavis undertook these responsibilities.
Fadnavis initiated the project of the Belbag temple and the second water line through the Pune city. The most noted structures by Phadnavis were the Ghat and Wada at Menavali, near Wai.
Nana Phadnavis had settled the village along the river Krishna. He also constructed a Ghat along the river and a Wada for himself right next to it. The ghat also had a lord shiva temple next to it. Originally the ghat consisted of simple stone steps descending into the water body. Later on, it developed into terraces with spaces sectioned off for various activities such as fishing, bathing, washing, religious rites, etc.
Bajirao Raghunath (1796- 1818) (Bajirao Peshwa II)
Bajirao II was the last of the Peshwa Empire and is also considered as the reason for the downfall of the great Peshwai. His corruption allowed the British to infiltrate the administration and cause destruction from the inside.
In his duration as the Peshwa, he bankrupted the treasury with his ruinous lavish lifestyle. His structural contributions were three residential structures, Vishrambaugwada being one of them.
It is a luxurious leisure palace constructed for the Peshwa. It is a three-storeyed structure with a distinct imperial Maratha style of architecture. Great use of dark teak wood was used for the delicate detail work in carvings. The woodwork in the façade, columns framing the courtyard window frames & shutters, etc., the vast column flanked spaces, and the vintage appeal of the darbar hall where performances took place instills a sense of grandeur.
He also instituted a small community settlement and a ghat along the mutha river as the last known markers of Peshwai.