Wadas are a rich and cherished architectural heritage in Maharashtra, reflecting the pride, religion, culture, traditions and turbulent history of Marathas. A form of housing in the past, Wadas today are being re-used and preserved as cultural and architectural heritage. The article highlights the emergence of Wada Architecture, its elements, spatial planning, ornamentation, fenestrations, religious influence and overall design philosophy.

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Nashik, The Religious City of Maharashtra © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar

The people of Maharashtra are highly inclined by the introduction of the international metropolitan city of Mumbai and also home to one of the biggest film industry Bollywood. The people of the state are flamboyant and are known to spend generously to remain up to date with the latest fashion trends. At the same time, the Maharashtra folklore did not completely lost its traditions they are going hand in hand with the changing times and protecting the heritage of their ancestors as well. The people of Maharashtra have a rich traditional heritage and values which are depicted through their religious practices and architecture.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Maharashtra is renowned for its caves and rock-cut architectures. The Buddhist monks initiated these caves in the 2nd century BC, in pursuit of a serene and peaceful environment for meditation, and so these magnificent caves were formed. Later, Hindu cave temples at Ellora and Ajanta became the finest designs of human art and was recognized by UNESCO Heritage in 1983. Some of India’s oldest wall paintings can be seen here which were made out of natural elements. The famous rock-cut caves have several distinct design elements, such as the techniques of cravings, the motifs and the depictions of different postures even though sculptures of the time are regarded to be so stiff and unmoving.

The state may be known as the fast-running state but it still holds the heritage values in its architecture styles specials in the temples and housing typology known as the Wada Housing. Wada is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Vata’ which means plot or piece of land meant for a house. The traditional residence ‘Wada’ included houses of several families or only one family who stayed there. It is generally used to denote a courtyard house mansion. This House form belonged to ruling classes as well as commoners. This typology is very significant in terms of historical, cultural and economic aspects. Though there are certain variations in size, scale and economical status, all wadas do share some of the basic elements and characteristics.

 Spaces In Wada

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Basic Floor Plan of a Typical Wada, Google Images

The roots of the history and the rich cultural heritage lie wrapped in the small elements of these structures that display the beauty and sense of style and creativity of those who could make it possible. The essence of the Maratha empire is alive in these structures built during their reign. The architectural design,layouts were affected by various cultural factors of which rituals and religion are an important aspect. The form and design developed on the basis of their daily activities and spaces needed to undertake those activities.

  • Osari: It is the transition space or verandah . It is a semi-open space or a
  • passage or spill out space for activities.
  • Dewadi: A verandah for guards
  • Sadrecha Sopa: Open to courtyard, verandah space used for administrative activities, usually in the first or central courtyard.
  • Kacheri : Office: It is the administrative department in the first or central courtyard.
  • Khalbhatkhana: Negotiation Room. It was a semi-public space where discussions/decisions place
  • Diwankhana: Living room. Huge hall for formal meetings. It is planned just above osari and dewadi
  • Majghar: Middle room. From this part, the private area is segregated from the public area. Generally, women & family members use it. It is a private hall .
  • Devghar: Prayer Room. Tijory : Treasury.
  • Gotha: Cow-pen in the backyard of a house.
  • Swayampak Ghar : Kitchen. Kothar: Storeroom. 

Development Of Wada Architecture

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Schematic Plan, Google Images

The Wadas of the Maratha and Peshwa period, on the other hand, represent the turbulence and traditions of the era. Some of them are magnificent and others are private, solitary structures on the banks of rivers. Wadas – which were the traditional residential form of Maratha architecture, evolved under the reign of Peshwas rules. Its style was a merger where features from Mughal, Rajasthan, and Gujarat architecture were combined with local construction techniques. This type of housing style deals with air and light resulting in great ventilation of both and it also fulfils security or privacy concerns due to the exterior of the structure. Wadas, as a form of residential architecture that emerged in the 18th and 19th century. The concept came into existence during the Peshwa, in 1730. the garhis (fortified palaces) had facades, ornamentation, and openings were minimum, whereas the facades of wadas had openings in every structural bay also highly ornamented opening. Topography and Climatological have also played an important role because in some regions people used flat roof and in some areas in sloping roof depending on the rainfall.

Social factors of caste and occupation also contributed to the looks of the wada where the facades of the trading community were highly ornamented the facades of the Brahmin were plainer and simple.

  1. Wadas are planned depending on the weather conditions of the areas.
  2. The arrangement is generally linear.
  3. They are two or three-storey houses which are rectangular in shape with a courtyard in the centre and rooms around them.
  4. Wadas have two or three courtyards with different function rooms around them.
  5. The first courtyard is considered as the public area for social events while the other courtyard is meant for rooms only for ladies.
  6. The wadas also have a well that is placed within one of the courtyards.
  7. The main staircase for the owners was from the courtyard while the staircase for servants were hidden between walls so they are no seen.
  8. The wada with three courts were used in a different way:
    1st court was used for social gathering leading to rooms accessed by guests.
    2nd court was used for the office called the ‘Kacheri’ and was accessed by the officials only.
    3rd court was for private use especially by the ladies of the house the spaces were the kitchen, store room, and the balantini kholi (delivery room). It also contained the tulsi vrindavan plant for prayer purposes.
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Schematic Column Plan of Wada

Measurements Of Wada

The spaces followed the structural grid. These structural system measurements depended on the type of timber available.

All the dimensions of these houses are the multiples of the unit bays called khann.

Ghay =2 x width of khann

Chapekhann is always used at the corners of the structural system.

Different Types Of Doors, Brackets And Windows


Different types of doors depict the wealth and the social status of the owner. The more decorated the door is the wealthier the family while the simple doors belonged to a middle-class family.

Doors of Wada, Pune © The Better India, Pune’s Old Wadas Stand Tall Amid High-Rises as Reminders of a Bygone Era by Aditi Patwardhan

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Doors of Wada, ©Google Images
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Doors of a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar
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Doors of a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar
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Doors of a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar


The windows were of two kinds: half windows and full windows.

  1. Half windows had four opening panels two above and two below depending on the weather and purpose the window panels were opened.
  2. The full windows were designed with cravings and had two panels.
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Windows of a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar
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Windows of a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar


The brackets are the end details done on the beam. These details were either depending on the family and heritage or were influenced by the Asian designs of dragons and lotus.

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Wall Brackets in a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar

Wall Niches:

It is an 18th-century feature. It was made to put candles/diyas inside them as they protect the light from the wind.

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Wall Niche of a Wada © Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar

Wadas have journeyed a long way since the start, and though not many have survived these beautifully designed and decorated houses have become a significant part of Maratha Architecture. The unique planning based on a square grid pattern set the wadas apart from the other typologies available in India. Though in today’s scenario, we notice a decrease and deterioration of Wadas on the maps of Maharashtra as they have been erected for years and today cannot sustain the changes occurring around them. Many of the preserved wadas are used as temples or museums but very few are inhabited by people. The wadas play an important role in shaping the architectural map of Maharashtra as the cravings and decoration were not just established but were inspired by Indo-Saracenic, Chinese and Rajasthani style of Architecture.  Few notable Wadas include Shaniwar Wada, Dhepe Wada, Nana Wada, Vishrambaug Wada, Kesari Wada, Raste Wada, Bhor Rajwada, Purandare Wada in Pune, Sarkar Wada in Nashik, and Gaikwad Wada, Juna Wada in Kolhapur, as these wadas have survived the test of time and are used in movies to portray the perfect scene.

Top to Bottom: Shaniwar Wada, Pune ©Google Images, Juna Wada ©Google Images, Gaikwad Wada ©Image Courtesy Inquisitive, Sarkar Wada ©Image Courtesy Samanata Kumar and Dhepe Wada ©Google Images

Samanata Kumar, is a young interior designer, driven by keen interest for Architectural heritage and culture. Her curiosity includes parameters of architecture and design, photography, travelling, writing, roller skating and air rifle shooting for leisure. Her latest focus includes gaining knowledge in development of housing typologies around the world, space psychology and conspiracies in architecture.