As Pune moves into an unknown future we have a wealth of urban planning history and experimentation to learn from. This is our sacred legacy and our endowment of wealth!
Separated from the ancient Kasba period and the early Maratha period by the occupation of Aurangzeb, the emergence of the Peshwa period in 1720 gives us a third layer of history to glean wisdom.
This period was ushered in with the migration of Peshwa Baji Rao from Saswad to Pune, where his father Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath had resided.
Pune became the political-military centre of a far-flung empire, with the centre of power emanating from one family.
Pune reached its zenith of civility during the Peshwa period. A system of urban management emerged with a clear and transparent chain of command and responsibilities.
The strategy encouraged a heterogeneous mix of castes and income groups living side by side within the same neighborhoods.
There was a robust Structure Plan of utilitarian networks easing movement and bringing potable water through five aqueducts to lakes, tanks, wells and gardens in various parts of the city.
There was a new wooden bridge, Lakdi Pul, opening up the west of Pune, and seasonal causeways crossing the north-west toward Sangam, where the Mula and Mutha rivers meet, with ghats created along the riverbanks.
A string of temples were built by the riverside and within the new neighborhoods. Leisure parks and water bodies were created.
House and occupation taxes, and toll gates at Kumbhar Ves, Swar Gate and Ghashiram Gate, give clues to a mature revenue mobilisation system. There were clear ‘edges’ between peths, lending a sense of ‘urban identity.’
There was a consensual land use system where residential, military, manufacturing and public institutions each had their own place.
Large pavilions such as Ambar Khana, Faras Khana, Hatti Khana, Talim Khana, Gadi Khana, Kabuter Khana and Toph Khana suggest a vibrant urbane life with a myriad range of pomp, entertainment and amusement.
Pune was famous for its horse riding displays, elephant fights and wrestling matches. It drew up to 60,000 pilgrims annually from across India for the Dakshina ceremony where thousands of Brahmins were honoured with gifts.
The cavalry stables of Durjan Singh, Thosar, Phadke and Huzur Paga were set about the city’s periphery, with the latter was gifted as the ‘Huzur Paga School’.
Whatever uneasy relations existed between the Peshwas, Marathas, immigrants, lower and new mercantile castes, these appear to have been peacefully navigated within cultural boundaries.
The concepts of mixed-use planning within neighbourhoods, including light manufacturing and commerce, now considered an avant garde approach, was then the norm.
Nestled within this over-all structure plan were walkable, compact, decentralised urban wards, developed on micro-level planning principles and through joint venture concepts, being discussed today as if they’ve fallen from heaven!
Music, poetry and drama flourished and peoples of many languages and faiths were invited to settle in Pune to implant entrepreneurial skills.
A local drama gharana, tamasha, emerged in this period, along with the poetic lavani tradition! Painters from Mogul courts were engaged for portraits of noblemen and murals in temples and wadas, generating a ‘Maratha School’ of art.
A menagerie of exotic animals was created at the foot of the Parvati temple, managed by a zoo department created by Nana Phadnis.
Dharmashalas, a foundry, government housing, and even an apartment block for courtesans, known as Bavankhani, were built.
The great wadas of Vishrambag Wada, Shaniwar Wada, Raste Wada and more than a thousand others, large and small, were all built during this period.
The names of grand wadas like Holkar Wada, Gaikwad Wada and Musafarjung Wada hint of the presence of emissaries and populations from allied princely states.
Crafts and business people from the farthest reaches of Hindustan were invited to settle here! From a population of 25,000 people the metropolis grew to over 100,000, becoming one of the largest cities in the world.
One document states that from 150,000 people in 1800, the city declined to 113,000 in 1817 when the populous fled the British occupation!
Whatever the population, Pune had emerged as an international centre with a Jesuit ‘international’ school, foreign embassies and developed banking systems.
In 1788 Charles Malet noted the influx of construction workers from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, following investments into the city from across the sub-continent.
Religious tolerance is evidenced in the diverse community life reflected through lanes like Bohri Ali, where a Jamaat Khana was built in 1730.
Gosavis inhabited Gosavipura, where they built temples, matths and samadhis. Jains, resisted at first, built two temples.
Twelve new peths were created in this period, at the rate of one every eight years! Each Peth was a walkable, convivial, mixed use ‘urban village’ in the same spirit by which modern planners seek to create ‘good neighborhoods,’ under the banner of The New Urbanism, or the Principles of Intelligent Urbanism.
The metropolis of the Peshwas enjoyed political patronage that is unknown today. It was not sub-divided into a myriad of political fiefdoms trading in citizens’ rights for the greed of individuals.
As opposed to the ill-mannered and uneducated leaders of today, the ruling elite were proud of their indigenous culture, fine tastes and were patrons of the arts.
They were the visionary stewards of a great culture, and the builders of the new civilisation in which we live today!
The image of every city revolves around some iconic, manmade structures and grand boulevards; not so in Peshwa Pune! While Pune was the capital of an empire, it worked for the empowerment and facilitation of a new nation, not for its subjugation and plunder!
It was the protector of the Indian nation, language, culture and traditions. The Maratha and the Peshwa rulers were merely liberating an India lost to foreign invaders.
The sedate lifestyles of Pune’s brahminical rulers never generated the monumental edifices, found in Paris, Rome or London. Stolen booty was not the pride of the city. There were no grand vistas or towers.
There were no tombs or mausoleums or grandiose triumphal arches, and even a planned city wall was scrapped!
Yet there were impressive wadas, more than two dozen gardens, five over- and under-ground aqueducts feeding into a system of uchchwas (dipping-wells) and howds (tanks) used for potable water and bathing.
Nanasaheb made a new plan for the city based on watershed management, restructuring the city’s topography and hydrology. By draining marshlands, he made way for urban expansion.
He realigned a major stream, the Peshwa Nala, rejoining this with the Ambil Odha channel, creating a chain of lotus ponds, cooling pools and pleasure gardens, employing damns and sluices along this network that included Hira Bag and Sarasbag.
The six early Maratha peths multiplied into eighteen well planned and socially diverse communities during the golden century from 1720 until 1817!
The only lacunae seems to have been the sewerage system that was ill-conceived, dumping human affluent into street-side gutters, all gathering into an appropriately named gandhanala, polluting the river!
This seems to be the only lesson our city fathers have harvested from the past!
It is never too late to learn the concept of a Structure Plan promoted by a strong central urban development authority; the idea of less rigid, micro-level development components within the structure; the concept of private sector land pooling, land banking and redistribution into rational neighborhood plans; the importance of urban watershed planning and management; the concept of ordered separation of arterial movement from neighborhood tranquility; a package of public required amenities for each local area; the deployment of a robust, city tax regimen; the implementation of sensible urban management and public works; and finally the need for ‘trusteeship’ from dynamic political leaders.
These are the truths and wisdom of our forefathers. We can only be fools to abandon their legacy; or geniuses to claim their endowment!