Many of you must have heard, read or even visited the known-over Shaniwar Wada in the city of Pune, Maharashtra. But did you know that the historical fortification is today the most haunted place in the city? Let’s take a read at what happened to the fort and how it became a haunted place.
Build in 1730, on the banks of River Mutha, in the city of Pune, Maharashtra, Shaniwar Wada was the seat of Peshwas of the Maratha Empire until 1818, when the Peshwas lost control to the British East India Company. This 18th century edifice was put together in the honor of Peshwa Bajirao Ballal Balaji Bhat for his great courage and triumphs towards the Maratha Empire. The palace became the center of Indian politics in the 18th century.
Construction of Shaniwar Wada
Peshwa Bajirao I, prime minister to Chattrapati Shahu, laid the foundation of his own residence on Saturday, January 10, 1730. It was named Shaniwar Wada, an amalgamation of Marathi words, Shaniwar (Saturday) and Wada (residence). Teak was imported from the jungles of Junnar, stones were brought from Chinchwad, and limestone from the belts of Jejuri. The fort was completed in 1732, at a total cost of Rs. 16,110, a very large sum at the time.
Curse on Shaniwar Wada and betrayal by blood relations
In its first year, Shaniwar Wada saw an early and unfortunate death of Peshwa Bajirao I, betrayal for his first wife Kashibai, an incomplete love story of Bajirao-Mastani (his second wife) and treachery by the hands of Nanasaheb (Bajirao-Kashibai’s first born). Even before his father’s, Peshwa Bajirao I, death, Nanasaheb claimed his power on the Maratha throne and hold on Shaniwar Wada.
Battle of throne, death of Vishwasrao and Madhavrao and crowning of new Peshwa, Narayanrao.
Three of Nanasaheb five sons who survived infancy death were Vishwasrao, Madhavrao, and Narayanrao. After Nanasaheb’s death, Vishwasrao earned the power of throne, which angered former’s younger brother Raghunathrao (fondly called Raghoba) and his wife Anandibai.
During the third battle of Panipat, the Rohilla Afghans of Doab, and Shuja ud Daula, the Nawab of Awadh, Nanasaheb’s eldest son Vishwasrao led the Maratha Army, while his second son Madhavrao played the chief strategist. Some of his strategies backfired, which led to the killing of Vishwasrao. Holding himself responsible for his elder brother and Peshwa’s death, Madhavrao plunged into depression and later died due to deteriorating health.
Following the death of both Vishwasrao and Madhavrao, their younger brother Narayanrao (only 16-year-old at that time) was appointed as the next Peshwa. And, Raghunathrao was assigned as the regent to take responsibilities of the throne till Narayanrao was minor; this angered Anandibai even more, who by now obsessed to take the power into her own hands.
Narayanrao orders Raghoba’s house arrest over his family’s fallout with his elder brother Vishwasrao.
Narayanrao was aware of the bitterness of his uncle Raghoba and aunt Anandibai and their ugly fallout with his elder brother Vishwasrao. This hatred among them was fueled by their closest advisers; resulting in Narayanrao ordering Raghoba under house arrest. Anandibai turned furious after hearing the news of her husband’s house arrest and plotted revenge on Narayanrao. She planned out a vicious plot to break out her husband and kill Narayanrao, simultaneously. She knew that Narayanrao had been having conflicts with the hunting tribe, Gardi, originally the Bheels from Central India.
Once Anandibai convinced Raghunath to send a signed letter to Sumer Singh Gardi, leader of the tribe, asking for help and capturing Narayanrao saying, “Narayanrao la dhara”, which meant ‘Capture Narayanrao’. Seeing this as an opportunity, Anandibai tweaked the letter, which now read, “Narayanrao la Mara” – ‘Kill Narayanrao’.
Bloodiest assassination in the history and the death of Narayanrao.
On the night of the last of Ganesh Chaturthi, the highly trained and fiercest assassins were sent by the Gardi tribe to Shaniwar Wada. In the cover of night, they invaded the inner chambers of the palace and released Raghunath; killing all who intervened.
The assasins then headed for Narayanrao, who was sleeping unaware of what was happening. Hearing the commotion inside his room, he stood up and ran straight for his uncle, to seek his help. But, the Gardi assassins got hold of him and began brutal attacks on him, Narayanrao kept shouting, “Kaaka! Maala vaachva (Uncle, save me)”, but no one came to his help.
Downfall of Shaniwar Wada and prosecution of Raghunathrao, Anandibai and Sumer Gardi
He kept wailing while the assassins tore him into pieces; Raghunath kept mute and witnessed the ordeal. Later, Narayanrao’s body, which was cut into numerable pieces, was taken out in vessels and thrown into the river.
Soon after Narayanrao’s death, Raghoba and Anandibai proclaimed their power on the Peshwa’s throne and Shaniwar Wada. Later, Peshwa administration prosecuted Raghoba, Anandibai and and Sumer Singh Gardi.
Spirit of Narayanrao haunts Shaniwar Wada
As per Hindu customs, a dead individual’s cremation must be done with all rituals to release their spirit from the mortal world. And, as Narayanrao’s body was dismembered and thrown away in the river, his remains were never found and his last rites couldn’t be performed. Locals believe that because Narayanrao’s funeral rites never took place, his spirit till date moves in pain in the mortal world and his soul is trapped within the walls of Shaniwar Wada.
While tourists and explorers are allowed to visit the outer chamber of fort during the day, the place is deserted during the night. It is said that some locals and enthusiasts even lay out camps near the river bank to listen to the wailing cry of help of Narayanrao’s spirit shouting ‘Kaaka! Maala vaachva’ that continues to haunt Shaniwar Wada.
Shaniwar Wada is most haunted place today in Pune.
The palace which was built to nurture and witness memories and heroic tales saw nothing, but treachery, pain and ill-fate of those who resided within these walls. Not just this, it is believed that such is the fate of this fort that at present day it is the most haunted place in Pune.
The structure which was once renowned for its architectural brilliance is now dreaded for supernatural activities on the full-moon night.
The curse and other horror of Shaniwar Wada
It is also believed that once Kashibai’s best friend from childhood had cursed the prosperity of Shaniwar Wada, after her husband was killed by Bajirao on suspicion of being a traitor to the Maratha Empire. It is said that Shaniwar Wada never prospered and was always strangled by the webs of betrayal, dishonesty and bloodshed. The power of throne was such that it saw the Peshwa household falling to pieces.
And as fate would have it, on February 27, 1828, a major fire broke out inside the palace complex, which raged for nearly seven days, destroying everything that marked the legends of Peshwa household. Only the heavy teak gates and deep foundation of the fort survived.