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Located a little away from central Pune, Shinde Chhatri is one of those monuments which should be celebrated as city's key heritage places, but is unfortunately not even known to many. Situated in the Wanowri suburb of Pune, the Shinde Chhatri complex comprises of a Shiva Temple as well as a samadhi (cenotaph) of 18th century military leader Mahadji Shinde.
To understand the importance of the place a little better it's important to dwell a little in the past and understand the history of the region. Now Shinde is the surname of a prominent royal family from Maharashtra and they come from the Satara district of the state. However, during the rule of Marathas, they generally served under the Peshwas. Often Peshwas are considered as kings, but they were actually the caretakers under the Marathas who were the real kings of the land. A parallel to this existed in Lucknow also where the Nawabs were caretakers for the Mughals, but are now often mistaken as kings of Awadh.
The Shindes also formed the Scindia dynasty once they moved further up north to central India, in what is known as Madhya Pradesh. The state of Gwalior was prominent and a powerful state even during the British era and joined the Indian Union in 1947. The Scindia dynasty members very powerful in politics now.
Now Mahadji Shinde was part of this powerful community and served as as commander-in-chief of the Maratha army under the Peshwas, who had Pune as their seat of power, between 1768 to 1794. After the third battle of a Panipat in 1761 where the Maratha army was annihilated by the Afghans (Durrani Empire) in an ill-fated north India expansion plan, the era of Mahadji was actually the time of Maratha revival. He is credited to bringing back much of lost Maratha glory, including restoring the Mughals in Delhi, though under Maratha terms. He was also instrumental in the defeat of the already powerful British army under the East India Company in yeh first Anglo-Maratha war.
As a Shiva bhakt, in 1794 he decided to build a Shiva temple in Pune. However, unfortunately he died the same year and he was also cremated in the same compound. Much later in 1965 a samadhi was created in his memory and his last remains where kept here. The Scindia family from Gwalior, his descendants, are now the caretakers of the property.
Unlike other buildings from the Peshwa era, the architecture of Shinde Chhatri is quite unique. The influence of Anglo architecture is seen the the front section, and one can also see some Rajasthani influence. The garbhagriha is typical to a temple from the era, but the rest of the structure is quite unlike other temples.
The yellow sandstone rectangular block shaped mandapa with stained glass doors and windows, stands in stark contrast to the temple shikhar right behind it. Usually the shikhar is prominently the tallest part of the temple, but here the mandapa competes in height.
While the exterior of the temple both surprises and please the eye, the interiors take your breath away. There is beautiful stucco work in orange and green and gives the feel of a typical Rajasthani Hindu temple. There is a viewing level as well though it's not accessible to visitors. The floor has simple geometric designs in black and white stone tiles, and compliment the rich work on the columns, walls and ceiling.
Since it's a bit far from where I live, somehow I never made it to this place in all these years. So one Saturday morning I just decided to pack my bag (camera etc), call a cab and go there!
I had seen very few images of the place before I came, so was quite impressed with the formidable stone wall all around the complex. Not surprisingly it was poorly maintained and there were multiple breaks in the wall, some big enough for me to pass through!
As I mentioned the Chhatri is unfortunately not so popular so there was barely anyone there, except a few travellers from Tamil Nadu who were only interested in climbing up in restricted area or taking selfies. But they made the place alive with their chatter, and strangely it felt nice to hear Tamil :)
The biggest shock and disappointment was actually a modern gym located right inside the complex! This really made me wonder if ASI was in anyway responsible for its maintenance. To me this was crass negligence of the historical and aesthetic value of this beautiful building. Why do we treat our heritage so badly? Pune is often known as the cultural capital of Maharashtra, yet we destroy its heritage ourselves.
However, let's just ignore the gym, and the place is as beautiful as ever! It has gone through some restoration work already and it's been done quite well.
Inside the mandapa there are also portraits, some photographs and some paintings, of prominent kings from the Scindia dynasty. The stained glass windows looks beautiful and they let light fall inside in beautiful hues.
I was done in about two hours and was really upset with myself for not coming here earlier. I didn't just learn about the Chhatri here, but the visit was also a lesson in Maratha history. I recommend it strongly to anyone who wants to explore Pune, and understand the layers of its unique heritage.
9am to 6pm
Indians: Rs 5
Foreigners: Rs 25
To reach Shinde Chhatri
The best way to reach Shinde Chhatri is by an auto-rickshaw or a cab (both Old and Uber work great in Pune). There is some space for parking outside the compound so you can easily drive down and park here. It's located next to the Cantonment area so you have to pay toll of Rs 20 if you are coming in a cab.
Here's the address:
Nagar Wanwadi Nagar,
Fatima Nagar, Vikas Nagar,
Wanowri, Pune, Maharashtra 411001