Places to Visit in Pune: Exploring the Historic (And Haunted?) Shaniwar Wada!

Dilli Darwaza - Main Gate at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Impressive and historic entrance at Shaniwar wada
​​It’s interesting how a whiff of history breathes life into ruins of a fortress that otherwise stands listless in the mirror of time. The beauty of these structures and buildings lies incomplete if an effort is not made to see past the brick of walls, and question – what happened to them… what really lies beyond?

And then, laden with such curiosity, a journey begins… a journey that paints stories, nuggets and secrets from an era gone by... on the canvas of our imagination. Strokes of emotions like love, loss, lies and betrayal, sometimes pleasant, often unpleasant, run through them as a glue that hold the various pieces of the remnants together uncovering the bigger picture, like a jigsaw puzzle.

A latch on a door in Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Knock, knock!
Well, if you agree, come along and let us together embark on one such journey by stepping into the 18th century edifice Shaniwar Wada and let curiosity be our guide -

Delhi Darwaza and other gates:

Standing right at the entrance of the Wada will leave you in awe, thanks to the imposing gate called Dilli Darwaza which reminds of the bravery and triumph of the Maratha Empire.

The door Dilli Darwaza is enormous and sturdy befitting the stature of the Peshwas in those times – one can see several sharp pointed howdahs (seating canopies) arranged meticulously jutting out of the gate so built as to drive away battle-elephants charging the gates in case of an attack.

What amazed me was the architectural precision in building the gate where security was a primary concern but at the same time the admission of in-house elephants with howdahs held high wasn’t neglected either and the gate was built accordingly.

Spikes of Dilli Darwaza at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Security was given high prominence in building the main gate.
Dilli Darwaza stands tall at 3.25 meters high and 6 meters long!

Shaniwar Wada has 5 gates in all, out of which Dilli Darwaza is used to let in people through to the grounds – so this is the main gate towards the north pointing towards Delhi.

You can also see the other gates namely --

Mastani Darwaza (Mastani's Gate) later renamed Alibahaddur (Mastani's grandson) darwaza in the north which was used by Mastani (Bajirao I’s second wife) to leave and enter the palace. 10 guards used to stand at this gate.

Mastani Gate, Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Mastani gate used by Bajirao's well known second wife, Mastani.
Then comes Khidki Darwaza (Window Gate) towards the east which has a small window in its construct; Ganesh Darwaza (Ganesh Gate) facing south-east named after Ganesh Rang Mahal, a palace which used to stand near this door. Ladies used this as well, to visit the Kasba Ganapati temple which is just adjacent to this door. And the last one is Jambhul Darwaza or Narayan Darwaza (Narayan's Gate) facing southeast which was used by concubines and dancers to enter and leave the fort. Later, this gate was where Narayan Rao’s body was taken out after murder. Will brief you more on that later in the post.

Narayan Gate, Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Narayan Gate from where Narayan Rao's body was taken out after murder.

History behind Shaniwar Wada and what remains today:

The fort was established on the banks of River Mutha, in the city of Pune, Maharashtra, as a house for the Peshwas built in the honour of Peshwa Bajirao Ballal Balaji Bhat (Bajirao I) for his heroic acts of courage in the Maratha Empire. As the foundation stone (and later also the inauguration) of the soon-to-be-residence was laid on a Saturday, January 10, 1730, it was so named as Shaniwar Wada (Saturday and residence).

Family tree of the Peshwas at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Family tree of the Peshwas.
For the construction, teak was imported from the jungles of Junnar, stones were brought from Chinchwad, and limestone from the belts of Jejuri – a lot of money went into the building of this seven storeyed edifice (a total cost of Rs. 16,110 (said to a hefty treasure even for those times!)) which took over two years for completion and ready to move in by Peshwa Bajirao’s family.

What remains of all that money today is a different story altogether:

After entering the wada through the Dilli Darwaza, one can see indistinct frescoes on the walls.

Ganesha Gods Frescoes on walls in Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
I could see Lord Ganesha and Lord Vishnu on Sheshnag there… can you see them?

I later learnt that the walls of the Wada, in its heydays, were once covered with colourful frescoes depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata all over them. Just below the fresco is a large canon which stands as a grim testimony to the wars of those times.

A canon on display, Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
A canon on entrance, Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Canons on display inside the Wada.
Once inside, the landscape is a bizarre medley of floral tones mixed in stone.

Lovely flowers in teh garden of Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Poetry in flower and... stone!
The Shaniwar Wada was originally supposed to be made entirely of stone but after the completion of the first storey, people raised an objection that stone buildings can be built only by the king himself and not the Peshwas. This led to the remaining storeys being completed in brick. 90 years later, in 1818, the Wada was attacked by the British East India Company and in the battle that ensued all the top six stories collapsed leaving only the stone base which we see today. After the British took over, the fort became the residence of the British officers for a decade until 1828 when a major fire broke within the fort for seven days and caused heavy destruction to the monument.

Nagarkhana above Dilli Darwaza at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
The Nagarkhana can be seen right up there!
The garden and the flowers were added later (by the ASI and other managing authorities) and look quite modern.

As you climb the stairs above Delhi Darwaza, you reach the Nagarkhana or the Drum House which survived the fire. From here, you can see the entire Wada in one panoramic glance. The Nagarkhana is wooden in its construct including the pillars and the arches. On the opposite side i.e. towards the entrance, you can also see the soaring statue of Bajirao -I on a galloping horse with a spear in his hand all set to attack the enemies.

A chamber at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Chambers and hallways, Mastani Mahal, Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Nagarkhana done in wood.
As seen from Nagarkhana above Dilli Darwaza at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Chiman Baug, Shaniwar Wada Pune
Chiman Bagh or garden inside Shaniwar Wada
as seen from the Nagarkhana.
Connected to the Nagarkhana, on the north-east side of the Wada, is the elegant Mastani Mahal, the residence of Bajirao I’s beloved Mastani. The haveli have a few rooms with doors all of which are locked, so there is nothing much to see here except the views which are stunning!

A hidden door at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
A door in Mastani Mahal.
Walking further, is a parapet attached to the massive periphery walls of the Wada which takes you around the palace and its 9 bastions in between.

Walkway along the perimeter at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Walk around this elevated parapet for a complete Wada tour.
This was one of the best highlights of the Wada for me. Walking here, one can see the ruined remains and gardens on one side and the busy street on the other.

View of Shaniwar wada from the side walk, Pune
Nana Wada old building heritage in Pune
Small windows at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
All that you can see while walking the parapet.
In between are bastions, small windows, and narrow steps leading to secret passages and doors... looking at them, I couldn’t help but wonder what lied beyond them.

How many Peshwas walked these steps?
What strategies were hatched behind those doors
and did Narayanrao ran out screaming through this very pavement?

A brick house below a bastion at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
A passage in Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Mysterious passages and doorways along the way.

With these questions in mind, I ascended the steps and decided to spend some time in the garden area at the base level. Here, history came alive as I encountered the ruins of various palaces, havelis and mahals that now lay in shambles.

First was the Ganesh Rang Mahal (constructed by Peshwa Bajirao I) which hosted religious ceremonies, various functions and was known for its grand architecture. The halls were said to have huge curtains adorned with beautiful fountains.

Ganesh Rang Mahal vlong side Chiman Bagh
Notable among them was ‘Hazari Karanje’ (fountain with a thousand spray) of the lotus shape with sixteen petals. This was a master piece of that time.

A reservoir at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
A large reservoir at the Wada;
a necessity in those times.
Facing the Ganesh Ranga Mahal is a garden called Chimanbaug. Apart from these fountains and mahals, there are ruins of Peshwa’s office area, reservoirs, quarters of servants and Arse Mahal of Nanasaheb Peshwa. This palace had a seven storied building and from the terrace the spire of Alandi temple was visible, but the destructive fire spared nothing.

Stone foundation remnants, Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Stone remnants at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Ruins and remnants in Shaniwar Wada.
So unfortunately, all that remains of everything literally in this gigantic Wada - are ruins and ruins and more ruins - nothing more.

Is Shaniwar Wada Haunted?

The structure which was once renowned for its architectural brilliance and a beaming beacon of success against the Mughal Empire, is today dreaded for supernatural activities on the full-moon night. If the local stories are to be believed, the fort is haunted by the ghost of Bajirao I’s grandson Narayanrao, who was brutally killed on orders of his relatives.

Internal greed for power and family politics among the Bajirao family ultimately led to the downfall culminating in one of the goriest murders in history. In 1773, the fifth and the youngest Peshwa ruler, Narayanrao had an ugly fallout with his uncle Raghoba and aunt Anandibai over the throne and ordered an house arrest for his uncle.

An enraged Anandibai teamed up the tribals of the region and got Narayan Rao killed, in a brutal manner. At the time of the attack, Narayan Rao headed straight for his uncle, shouting for help, “Kaaka! Maala vaachva (Uncle save me)”, but no one came to his help and Narayan Rao’s body was mercilessly cut into innumerable pieces which had to be taken out into pots.

It’s been quite some time that people around the area, who have earlier witnessed the lingering sound, have heard anything supernatural or ghostly so many are now led to believe that the ghost is finally resting in peace.

Floral bloom at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Dark eerie chapters lurk in the corners of the Wada
The place resonates the sentiments. Shaniwar Wada today is a safe place to spend some time with family, friends and children while regaling in its fascinating history. There are vast spaces enclosed in a garden to breathe in some fresh air, a long and narrow walk encircles the entire perimeter of the fort - the sights all around enriching reminding of the glory gone by.

A kid gives a pose at Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
There is nothing to worry, assures his smile!
What was most disheartening to see, for me however, was how Shaniwar Wada never prospered as imagined by Peshwa Bajirao instead was heavily throttled by the webs of disloyalty, deceit and violence. What stands as a huge tourist attraction once the seat of the Peshwas, a major cultural landmark today, at the edge of a bustling bazaar in the middle of the city, when scratched further… this regal-yet-in-ruins fortress splattered with spacious corridors, stony remains and fortified walls reveals a politically deadly and hauntingly intriguing picture painting a rather gruesome and painful chapter in the length of Indian history. (And who doesn’t love intrigue? Remember the Hindi feature film Bajirao Mastani?)

View from above Dilli Darwaza - Shaniwar wada fort, Pune
Entangled in the webs of disloyalty -
Peshwa Bajirao's Shaniwar Wada!
As I moved out of the Wada, I spent a few minutes staring at the large statue of Bajirao I galloping his way towards victory(?) with the Wada in the background. The image stood as a stark reminder of the hazards of being blinded by the love of power – and how it tore the strong and sturdy Peshwa household into pieces leading to the downfall of the Empire. That scene broke a piece of my heart as well.

Tips for travelers and other information:

- Entry fee for Indians is Rs. 5 while it is Rs. 125 for foreigners.

- The light and sound show is a major attraction though we had to give it a miss. Make sure to catch it if possible. Timing of the show is 7:15 p.m. to 8:10 p.m. in Marathi. Alternatively you can watch the English version which runs from 8:15 p.m. to 9:10 p.m.

- Ticket rate for the light and sound show is Rs. 25/- per head

- Ticket booking cannot be done in advance; you can buy them at the ticket counter itself from 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m.

- The place is littered with waste here and there, so as a responsible tourist and traveller make sure you make your contribution towards #SwachchBharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission). In addition, also try and stop the people who are blissfully abusing the place in neglect and ignorance.

- The place closes at 6.30 p.m., but as what happened in our case, they start evacuating the palace grounds at around 6 itself, so plan accordingly. It takes minimum 1 hour to roam the grounds of the Wada and if the place catches your interest, then even more!

- Address and contact information: Shaniwar Peth, Pune 411030, India || +91-20-2612 6867.

Previous Posts from Pune-Pandharpur yatra diary:

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  1. The place is full of intriguing history. I can't help thinking how much it would have meant to the Peshawar to stay at that place and rule...or maybe not because of the violence and deceit around

  2. Nice coverage of this lovely fort.

  3. Whenever anyone talks of Shaniwar wada, I cannot but not help but remember Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.

  4. An article with detailed descriptions and beautiful pictures. I loved re-living the Peshwa history.

  5. Pune is a historical place and you have define it very beautifully in your words !!

  6. Beautiful place, so much to see here.

  7. Very detailed post. As a puneri, I enjoyed reading it

  8. Hearty thanks for this travelogue containing the vivid description and the beautiful pictures of a place of immense historical value. I visited this place (alongwith other significant places of Pune) during my family trip to this city last year.

  9. Superb write up Arti. Somehow I had never been able to see the beauty of Shanirwarwada till you wrote about it! It feels a lot less run down and a lot more intriguing now!

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