Vishrambaug Wada: A symbol of Pune’s cultural heritage and apathy

Vishrambaug Wada was built as a residence by Peshwa Baji Rao II in 1811. Today, part of the Wada is open to the public, while other parts have government offices and a post office installed in them.  Located in the heart of Pune city, the Wada is a symbol of Pune’s rich cultural heritage. Ironically, it is also a symbol of neglect and apathy to that very rich cultural heritage.

I visited Vishrambaug Wada on a Sunday morning. Though the markets were open, there were not too namy people around. The hawker that you can see outside Vishrambaug Wada in the photograph below was busy displaying his ware of sofa and TV covers and bedsheets, when I arrived.

The terracotta, brown and white façade of the Wada, its wooden balcony, and massive wooden pillars (which I could see from across the road), presented the perfect opportunity for a photo-op as I waited to cross the road.

Vishrambaug Wada

Close up, the beautifully carved wooden pillars in the verandah are imposing. Rather unusually shaped, each pillar appears to have been carved from the trunk of a single (teak?) tree.

Beautifully carved wooden pillars

It’s only when you enter the Wada that the state of ruin, neglect and apathy hits you. There are broken tiles, pipes, rusting iron rods and piles of cement lying in the central courtyard. One could see botched up ‘restoration’ efforts. I was so shocked that I forgot to take photographs for some time.

The beautiful wood and stone staircase (see photograph below) took me to a rather dusty exhibition on Pune’s history and development through the ages. The exhibition was amateurish and left me feeling dissatisfied, largely due to the fact that the exhibition was in Marathi, a language I can speak fairly well, but one I really labour to read! Though some of the exhibits were labelled in English, the information given in them was quite sketchy.

Stairs leading up to the Darbar Hall

The exhibition further leads the visitor to the Darbar Hall (see photo below), where dance and music performances used to take place. The Darbar Hall also opens out into the wooden balcony that you saw in the first picture. Unfortunately, it is not open for visitors, as the structure is considered unsafe.

Though the Darbar Hall has a rather sad and neglected air today, it is easy to imagine what it must have looked like about 200 years back.

A carpeted room, lit up with the light of many lamps. It’s dusk. The room is redolent with the fragrance of incense and jasmine flowers. Musicians are fine tuning their instruments in preparation for the evening’s performance. The lead singer sips an infusion of some warm water and honey. The Peshwa walks in with his guests for the evening and soon the music performance begins with an abhang. And then it is a composition in Raga Marwa…

I shake myself out of my reverie and try to focus on the mundane present. Not an easy task, considering I am the only one in the room and have all the space for my imaginations.

Darbar Hall

On my way out, I pop into a handicraft shop run by an SMILE, an NGO, which sells locally made products. Bags, purses and wallets made out of khann material are particularly nice.

SMILE: The NGO-run shop at Vishrambaug Wada

As I came out of the Wada, I stopped for a moment and looked around and saw this:

Storage Space !

I was speechless and amazed at the ingenuity of the fruit-seller who had stored his mango crates at each and every such nook and cranny created by the wooden pillars.

Can this be considered a desecration of a heritage site? Where are the cultural chauvinists who scream themselves hoarse whenever there is an attack on their language, leader, “culture” or place of worship? Why isn’t at least part of this consideration extended to heritage sites like the Vishrambaug Wada?

This brings me to the some questions that I have always asked myself and other people and have never been able to find a satisfactory answer: why are we so callous towards our history and historical sites? Why do we write graffiti on their walls? Why do we let our heritage buildings crumble to dust? Why do we sell our priceless sculpture and carvings without a twinge of conscience? Why? Why? Why?…

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One thought on “Vishrambaug Wada: A symbol of Pune’s cultural heritage and apathy

  1. A travelogue with a twist. It is a sensitively written piece which does not border only on the essential but goes beyond it , to tell the truth. Travel writing ought to be like this. Sensible, informative, but real.

    If this is the way we look after our heritage in an elite city like Pune, what should one expect from any other place in our country?

    Look forward to more…of your favorite things, Sudha…

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