Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Magnificent Palace of the Peshawa's -The Shaniwar Wada - Part II

(This is an excerpt from a book written by Rao Bahadur D,B, Parasnis and published in 1921. I found extremely absorbing, the detailed description of the Shaniwar Wada of the Peshawa's, given in this book and thought of sharing it with the readers of my blog. The description is rather lengthy. I would therefore cover it in three parts. I request all my readers to read this and enjoy the magnificence of the Peshawa's mansion.)

As the records show, the staff at the Palace or Shaniwar Wada, in 1779 contained the following :
480 Royal Guards,
229 Purandar Guards,
325 Kanadi Infantry,
34 Attendants of Royal Stables,
82 Royal Cavalry-men,
224 Infantry men,
76 Attendants,
1,690 Shiledars and bargirs

Thus making up a total of 3,144.
In addition to this there were 300 regular sowars or horse soldiers in attendance night and day. This number afterwords rose to 500. Such was the strength of the Royal household of the Peshwas. As regards the construction and style of the Diwankhanas or halls of this Palace, it may be said that they were generally of one pattern—" Kalamdani" meaning an oblong old inkstand fashion, one central hall with flat ceiling and small compartments with sloping ceiling on four sides. The ornamentation was generally of one pattern. The pillars supporting the main hall were beautifully carved out and shaped like cypress trees, and joined together on the top by engraved arches of exquisite workmanship. The ceilings were covered with beautiful wooden tracery in different designs and were painted with trees, creepers, flowers, scenes from the great epics, the Mahabharat and the Ramayan. Bhojraj, a very skilful artist from Jaypur, was specially engaged for the work of painting these halls.

The main Diwankhana or the Durbar hall in this Palace was the Ganpati Ranga-mahal. It was designed and built by Balaji Bajirao, the third Peshwa, for celebrating Ganpati Festival, in 1755. This historic hall was the scene of many political and social events and the famous picture of the Poona Durbar represents the remarkable assembly held here in 1791.
Captain Moor who visited Poona when the Peshwa's power was at its height describes the splendour of this hall in the following words :

" He (the Peshwa) has a very magnificent room in his palace at Poona, called the Ganes room, in which, on particular festivals in honour of Ganes, he receives numerous visitors ; I have seen more than a hundred dancing girls in it at one time. At one end, in a recess, is a fine gilt figure, I believe in marble, of this deity, and many other mythological decorations around it ; the other end of the room, bounded by a narrow strip of water in which fountains play, is open to a garden of fragrant flowers, which, combined with the murmuring of the fountains, has a very pleasing efiect. This room is well designed in Mr. Daniel's fine picture of the Poona Durbar unrivalled perhaps in oriental grouping, character, and costume. This picture was painted for Sir Charles Malet, from sketches by the Mr. Wales ; and the artist has chosen the time when Sir Charles, then our Ambassador at the Court, of Poona, attended by his suite, delivered to His Highness the Peshwa, in full Durbar, the treaty of alliance, ratified by his Majesty, between Great Britain and His Highness ; made, preparatory to the war between the triple allied powers and Tippoo, in 1790."

Ganpati Procession

Robert Mabon, a European artist, who helped Mr. Wales in preparing the sketches of the Poona Durbar and visited the Ganpati Mahal in his company about this period (1790-1795) has given a most graphic description of the Poona Durbar. " During my stay at Poona," writes Mr. Mabon,

" I had the pleasure of being introduced to the durbar, or court of the Mahrattas. After waiting there some time, in conference with several Brahmins, attendants of the Peshwa, he made his appearance. I made a salam to him, which he gracefully returned, and advanced to the musnud or throne ; on which he sat down, cross-legged, with attendants behind him, armed with swords ; one of whom was his chowree-bardar, with a large chowree, or whisk, in his hand to keep off the flies. In front of the Peshwa stood his chopdar, with a long silver stick, ready to receive any orders he might be pleased to favour him with." I sat down at a distance in the attitude in which the Peshawa was, viz : cross-legged, as nothing is considered by him a greater piece of impoliteness than extending your legs, or sitting in any manner in which the soles of your feet might be pointed towards him. He was of a fair complexion and appeared to be about twenty-three years of age ; his dress consisted of a long jama, or gown, of very fine muslin; a string of very large pearls hung from his neck, a considerable way down his waist ; a very fine red shawl, with a rich embroidered border, was thrown carelessly over his shoulders, wore a beautiful cluster of diamonds, the centre one of which was about an inch square, of a very fine water. On the top of his turban, he wore a small curvature of gold, about three inches high, richly set with emeralds and various precious stones ; over the right temple, from the top of the turban, hung several strings of pearls, which terminated at bottom by small red tassels. In this group, on the left, I was introduced to Nana Furanvese, his then Prime Minister, and formerly regent during the time the Peshwa was under age. It is to this sagacious politician, that almost all ascribe the present flourishing state of the Mahratta empire. His dress was much the same with that of the Peshwa, but not so splendid.” " The musnud, or throne, is raised from the ground about four inches, and consists simply of three pillows covered with dark green velvet, placed upon rich embroidered cloth, in the manner represented in the annexed sketch. Before the Peshwa, upon this cloth is placed his cuttar (Katyar) or dagger, beautifully enamelled with various devices : next to it, a small urn and plate, made of copper, enamelled, and his goolab-danee for sprinkling rose-water, richly set with diamonds; close to them, his betelnut-box, which is truly splendid, it is set so full of diamonds, that at a little distance, it appears entirely composed of them : next to it is placed a silver cup, for his saliva, on a towel ; and last of all, his sword and shield ; the handle of the sword is green enamelled, full of diamonds ; the scabbard is covered with red scarlet ; the shield differs in no respect from the common Mahratta one, otherwise than that the five studs upon it, are gold ; which, in that of a erson of inferior rank, would be plated, or perhaps plain brass. •' .... The room in which the Peshwa thus sits in state, has nothing of beauty or elegance to recommend it : on one side, is a row of wooden pillars, over which are hung purdahs, made of kincobs, or gilt flowered silk, which are so constructed as to bind up or let down as occasion may require. Opposite to these pillars, are a few windows made in the eastern mode, very narrow and
long. The Durbar is a very extensive building built in a style peculiar to the Asiaticks in general. "  In surveying the Peshwa seated on the musnud, the eye is dazzled with the immense riches about him ; but his effeminate dress and unmanlylike attitude which the customs of the people make him under the necessi y of observing, takes away from that dignity in appearance, which an European might expect to see in a Prince seated on a throne. After remaining sometime with the Peshwa, betelnut was presented me, which according to their custom, is the signal to depart. I accordingly, after accepting of it, took my leave."

The Ganpati Ranga-mahal may be styled as the 'Diwan-i-am ' of the Marathas, as it had seen many
vicissitudes of fortune and witnessed many important events of great consequence. Here the great festival in honour of Ganpati was celebrated with eclat every year in the bright half of Bhadrapad which lasted for ten days. Here the Dasara Durbar was held annually on a very grand scale when all the sardars and military officers assembled to pay their homage to the Peshwa. The great Peshwa, Balaji Bajirao, celebrated his glorious victories in the north and south of India in this very building. His son Madhavrao I tried to regain the lost glories of the Marathas in the battle of Panipat by his judicious and wise rule in this Palace. His brother and successor Narayanrao was cruelly murdered in a corner room
of the main building. His posthumous son, Sawai Madhavrao, resided here nearly for twenty memorable years, while the administration was carried on under the sole guidance of the famous
minister Nana Phadnawis. His brilliant courts in the Ganpati Rang-mahal were thronged not only
by sardars and chiefs from different parts of the Maratha Empire, but by representatives and
envoys of European Nations and other Indian States. The marriage of the Peshwa was celebrated
here with great pomp in 1782 and the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Raja of Nagpur,the Raja of Satara and other Chiefs and Sardars from all parts of India attended the grand ceremony. The state entry of Sawai Madhavrao in Poona after the victory over the Nizam at Kharda in 1795 was the last exhibition of Maratha glory and power, which passed away with the death of the young Peshwa by an accidental fall from the first story of the Ganpati Mahal on a fountain in the same year. It may be interesting to note that all the ambassadors and representatives of the foreign powers were received and political business was transacted with them in this very Durbar hall. It is stated in old records that two members of the Bombay Council, Thomas Byfeld and John Spencer, were received here by Balaji Bajirao in 1756 and given dresses of honour worth Rs. 1,224. Here Mr. Mostyn, Col. Upton, and many other English gentlemen were received with honour and were presented with rich dresses and ornaments. It is said that Mr. Mostyn was charmed with the fragrance of the Peshwa's rose-water and expressed a desire to have a bottle or two for his use, but to his surprise next day, orders were issued to supply him half a pound of best rose water every day as long as he remained in Poona. The French representatives, M. Bussy and St. Lubin, were given audience in the same hall and received costly presents from the Peshwa. Since the establishment of the British Residency in Poona in 1786Sir Charles Malet and his suite were the constant visitors to the Durbar. They cultivated great friendship with the Marathas and kept up cordial relations with them.

This hall as well as others were surrounded by beautiful rows of fountains that used to play here on festive occasions. It may be noted that in India it was the custom from ancient times to erect fountains and gardens in Royal Palaces for the sake of pleasure, art, and beauty, and the Mogul Palaces at Lahore, Delhi, and Agra are specially famous for their magnificent gardens and ornamental fountains. The Moguls and Hindus like other Eastern nations were interested in art, and enjoyed beauty not for selfish purpose, but for religious and traditional ideas which they cherished most. The Peshwas too following the example of the Mogul princes adorned their palaces with beautiful gardens and water fountains, terraces, and pavilions. There are yet some traces of original fountains which confirm our belief that they were imitated from Mogul palaces in Northern India. Besides a number of fountains and gardens for ornamental purposes, the Poona Palace had some special fountains constructed most artistically
and ingeniously for the pleasure and joy of the Peshwa, Sawai Madhavrao. There was one celebrated
fountain known as " Hazari Karanje” or thousand sprayed fountain, in the western side of the main Palace which was an object of curiosity and wonder to the whole court. It had the shape of a lotus flower of sixteen petals—each petal having sixteen spouts with a circumference of 80 feet. It is said that in India there is not a single fountain like this anywhere having 196 jets, not even in Europe, excepting the celebrated fountain 'Fontana di Trevi ' at Rome. The water of this great fountain
played in hundred patterns while the sun for its amusement would make and break a thousand
rainbows. Like the Diana's Fountain at Versailles it was a favourite rendezvous of the Poona Durbar
and the young Peshwa Sawai Madhavrao was an enthusiastic lover of this wonderful sight. In the western side near the Ganapati Hall, there was another deep tank or well, built after the Mogul pattern, to exhibit shining waterfalls. The stone-chutes were so ingeniously cut that the water running over them was thrown down forcibly and broken into ripples and splashes. They were called "Chadars" meaning white shawls of water. Behind these transparent waterfalls a skilful arrangement was made to place coloured lights in the niches which gave a charmingly brilliant effect at night. The young Peshwa was very fond of these shows and used to invite his Royal guests to enjoy the delightful scene. It is on record that he had invited one of the Patwardan Sardars to see this marvellous water "Chadar" in 1780.

In this Palace the state rooms or Durbar halls were lofty and well arranged, and contained very rich articles of furniture and tapestry. The department of jewelery and library contained choicest and rarest things. The picture gallery possessed most valuable masterpieces of the old Mogul and Persian arts, and also finest specimens of old masters in Europe, mostly presents from foreign Nations such as the English, the French, and the Portuguese. The armoury was full of rare and curious arms, and the collection of arts and curios was placed in the Museum Hall known as Jinnas Khana. It contained chiefly foreign articles of art and mechanism including watches, clocks, globes, music boxes, and toys. According to oriental fashion these halls were tastefully arranged and decorated with wall paintings and were the objects of great admiration to those who had the good fortune to visit them. This brief account will hardly give a real idea of the pomp and glory of this historic building which it once possessed in the zenith of the Peshwa's power. Among Marathi records there are no descriptions preserved of this Palace, but fortunately they have been recorded by a few European gentlemen who visited the Poona Durbar on diplomatic mission or with an object of curiosity. Their accounts place vividly before our eyes a graphic picture of the old scenes of the Palace, and it is hoped that the following extracts will be found highly interesting.
(To be continued)
19 February 2012


  1. Fascinating.
    Wish I could go back in time and see it with my own eyes.

  2. We had used a copy of this book available in the Bharat Itihas Samshodhak Mandal library to create a digital version of Shaniwarwada as desired by the late B G Deshmukh.