This article has 20 Pune related trivia/historical facts that I found interesting…watch this blog for further articles in the same series. The present article is primarily focused on the period conisisting of the 18th century, 19th century and early 20th century.
Note – I cannot make any guarantees regarding the complete accuracy of these facts. It is unfortunate that we don’t have 100% accurate versions of our recent history in Pune. If you would like to correct/add to any of the points below, please write a comment and ideally provide a good source. I would be more than happy to edit and update the post. In fact, on an ongoing basis, I would like to post some of these Pune history trivia articles in ‘Questions Format’ and invite readers to comment with answers. That way, we can start a collaborative process to answer some fairly basic history related questions from our neighborhood such as – ‘When and why was Lakdi Pul built’?
1. Tilak Tank
Tilak tank was an old stone quarry with some natural springs. This was converted to a swimming pool sometime in the 1910s, as part of the Deccan Gymkhana Sports Club complex. One story suggests that the extra stone excavated during the construction of the pool was used for construction of some of the stone bungalows in the original Deccan Gymkhana society (Prabhat Road Lanes 1, 2, 3). For many years, Tilak tank was considered to be one of the largest swimming pools in Asia.
2. Pune University Campus Location
The modern Pune University campus was part of the battle field where the 3rd battle between the Peshwes and the British was fought on Nov 5th 1817. Probably it’s not a coincidence that the British picked that same spot for the subsequent construction of the Governer Mansion (present day university main building).
3. Lakdi Pul
Lakdi Pul (Sambhaji Bridge) was constructed by Nana Saheb Peshwe in the 1750s. One story suggests that the bridge was hastily constructed so that Nana Saheb could return to the city discretely after the monumental loss at the battle of Panipat. Another story suggests that the bridge was simply built to support the city expansion.
The original bridge was built out of wood – hence the name Lakdi Pul. Since its original construction, it has been rebuilt 4 times (the latest one being after the Panshet flood of 1961).
The oldest bridge in Pune was probably a small stone bridge near the present day ‘Dengle’ Bridge near the Pune Municipal Corporation. No idea when that was first built, but for many years, that was the only river crossing in Pune. It is interesting to note that the present day Dengle Bridge is probably the shortest in length amongst all the Pune bridges, thereby indicating that it represents the narrowest part of the Mutha River in Pune. No wonder, that spot would have been selected for the bridge.
The modern game of Badminton was originally called as ‘Poona’. It was invented by a group of British soldiers stationed at Pune…hence the original name. Apparently, a senior British official named ‘Badminton’ provided space to these soldiers in his estate to play this game, and hence the name was changed to ‘Badminton’ in his honor.
5. Deccan Gymkhana Club
The Deccan Gymkhana sports club was established in 1906. Lokmanya Tilak and Vishweshwaraya (who was an alumnus of COEP) took the lead in establishing a sports Gymkhana for the local people of Pune. At that time, all the existing sports clubs in Pune were accessible only to the British. The Deccan Gymkhana housing society was established a few years later in 1926, around the sports club.
6. College of Engineering Pune (COEP)
COEP is the 2nd oldest college on the Indian sub-continent, established in 1854. Only Roorkee was setup before that. The present COEP location was setup in 1860s. I think it is ironic that unlike most old college campuses, COEP doesn’t have a single joint campus! A railway line and a busy national highway run through it! I doubt if this was envisaged at the time, the present site was selected.
7. Pune population in the 19th century
Pune population in 1818 (when the ‘Peshwe’ era came to an end) was over 100,000. Over the course of the 18th century and early part of 19th century, Pune had become a bustling capital town and attracted large scale immigration from neighboring areas, as well as from distant parts. After 1818, the economy was affected really badly and it is believed that the population decreased to fewer than 40,000 by the middle of the century. It took another 100 years after the end of Peshwe era for the Pune population to climb back to where it was in 1818.
8. British perspective of Pune and Punekars after the Peshwes were defeated in 1818
A lot has been written about this period by British historians, but I found these two statements very interesting and revealing. They talk about the British take of the local population, and their attempt to placate them. Here is the source and statements:
“Deccan Commissioner’s Records, 1818, Volume 89, Poona 8th April 1818, To Elphinstone by Robertson.
‘…when the town was taken possession of public opinion was strong against us. The
people had been prepared during a considerable period before the War whence all the
feelings… recited against our Government, and surprised at the boast of the Mahratta
Indians that we should be driven into the sea.’
‘The Policy of pleasing the People of Poona is in my opinion unquestionable- This city has for many years given the tone to the feeling of the Mahratta Empire. It is
looked upon with a respect that is quite surprising, and it has been considered by the
lower classes…that he who rules Poona governs the world.’
9. Prabhat Studio
Prabhat Studio – Prabhat Studio was originally established in 1928 in Kolhapur and was shifted to Pune in 1933 (at the location of the present day Films & Television Institute). At that time, it was considered the most sophisticated cinema studio in all of Asia. Courtesy Prabhat Studio, the 1930s saw Pune as the leading film production destination in India.
10. Shaniwar Wada
Shaniwar Wada was built by Peshwe Baji Rao I and was completed in1732. The total cost at that time was estimated to be around Rs 16,000. There is a popular legend that one of the buildings in Shaniwar Wada was 7 storeys high. I am sure that most Punekars have heard of this legend – though not a single conclusive proof seems to be available to corroborate this legend? I vaguely remember the year (1985?) when the ‘Devi Heights’ building was constructed near Bal Gandharva Bridge. This was Pune’s first building to exceed 7 storeys. I remember thinking about this back then – how it took over 200 years for Pune to get back to having a 7 storey building!
11. Mumbai-Pune rail link
The first railway in India ran in 1853 between Mumbai and Thane. Soon thereafter, the focus was to connect Pune with Mumbai. The Pune – Khandala line was completed in 1858. However the Bhor Ghat proved to be a great challenge. It was finally completed in 1863. Thus interestingly, between 1858 and 1863, the passengers traveling from Mumbai to Pune had to disembark at Karjat and then use a bullock-cart/horse-cart/or travel on foot to Khandala, where they boarded a different train towards Pune!
12. Bhor Ghat Railway Line
It took a total of 10 years to build the Ghat with tens of thousands of laborers working night and day on the project (One estimate puts it at 30,000). It is believed that the casualty rate amongst the laborers was near 50% – the primary cause of death being malaria that used to spread rapidly in the mosquito infested camps. The other cause was faulty explosives that were used for blasting the tunnels. Just think of these people, next time you train crosses the Bhor Ghat!
13. Deccan Queen
Deccan Queen was inaugurated in 1928 after the completion of electrification of the Mumbai-Pune route. This was the first electrified line in India and Deccan Queen was considered amongst the fastest train in Asia at that time, traveling the distance between Mumbai and Pune in 2 hrs 45 min. It was originally intended to be a weekend train to ferry the Horse Racing British crowd between the capital Mumbai and the winter capital Pune, during the Pune racing reason. Later on, it was converted to a daily train.
14. Malet Residency
Charles Malet was the first permanent British resident with the Peshwes. He was given a piece of land well outside Pune near the Mula-Mutha ‘Sangam’ to build his establishment or ‘residency’. The primary house was constructed in 1787. This housing complex consisted of 5 houses, outhouses for troops. This residency was completely destroyed during the 3rd battle between the Peshwes and the British in 1817. It was rebuilt again later. It stands today at the beginning of Sangam Bridge and is used as the Judge Bungalow.
15. Pune Water Supply
The first systematic water supply plan for Pune was instituted by the Peshwes in the 18th century. This involved building a bund to create the Katraj Lake and the laying down of aqueducts to bring the water to the city. The water was made available in various ‘Houds’ (public water outlets) in the city. The water was also directly supplied to Shaniwar Wada. The water distribution system was extended by Nana Phadnavis towards the end of the 18th century.
The British built the Khadakwasala dam in 1867 to supply the growing water requirements of the Pune Municipality and the Cantonment. Two separate canals were built to supply water to the city – a dedicated one was built for the Governor’s estate on Ganeshkhind Road. This canal, though not operational for many years, was visible until a few years back before a road was built on top of it.
In the 20th century, the Panshet dam was built in 1961, which was followed by the Varasgaon dam was completed in 1993.
Incidentally, the first modern underground sewage system for the city was established in 1919.
16. Pune Power Generation
Pune city got it its electric supply in the 1910s. (Prior to that, selected British Government installations such as the Governor’s estate had dedicated power generators). The first local power plant was commissioned at Rasta Peth. Even today, we refer to that neighborhood in Rasta Peth as ‘Rasta Peth Power House’ area. This power plant ran for a few years and was replaced by a direct power line from the Tata hydro-electric power project.
17. Simla Office
The present day “Simla Office” of the Indian Meteorological Survey was inaugurated in 1928. The earlier weather office was located in Simla (the then summer capital of British India), from where it was shifted to Pune in the 1920s.
18. Pune…The Capital of India?
I have heard this story from a few different people, but cannot really find a good link/source to corroborate it. Back in the 1860s the British think tank had started thinking about shifting the capital from Kolkata to some place more central in the Indian sub-continent. After extensive research, they finally had short listed 2 cities – Delhi and Pune. Delhi had its advantages of being the capital of the Mughal dynasty. Primary Pune advantages were a) Proximity to Mumbai and b) Pune being the capital of the Peshwes, the last major power in India.
Apparently, Pune lost out to Delhi in a close race…One only wonders how different Pune would have been, if it were to be selected! The capital was finally shifted to Delhi at the beginning of the 20th century.
[Note (added June 21, 2010) – According to Acharya Atre — in 1862 the British were seriously exploring the possibility of Pune as the future capital of India. The advantage of central location was important. The land near present day University of Pune was considered as the potential Viceroy House (later, the same site was used to build the house for the Governer of Bombay) ]
19. Erandwane & Bhamburda
Erandwane (Greater Deccan Gymkhana Area) was included into the Pune Municipality only in 1920! Bhamburda (Present day Shivajinagar) followed soon after. The key Jangli Maharaj Road was constructed only in the late 1920s/early 1930s and was known for a long time as ’80 feet Road’. The road connected the newly acquired Erandwane and Bhamburda villages into Pune
20. Laxmi Road / Tilak Road
These two major arterial roads were opened around 1917. Laxmi Road was originally only 28 feet wide and was subsequently widened to its present width in 1952. As a result, a part of a large number of old ‘Wadas’ had to be demolished and rebuilt.
For more Pune History Trivia, continue reading at: Pune History Trivia 2
Some questions for the readers that I have been wondering about… (Looking forward to your answers!)
- What year were the following roads built – Prabhat Road (I understand that in the 1930s, this was an unpaved road ‘Kachha Rasta’), Bhandarkar Road, Karve Road.
- What year was Kamala Nehru Park built?
- Are there any old constructions (temples/other dwellings built during the Peshwe period) in the Deccan Gymkhana area that were built prior to 1906 (year when the club was built), and are still around today?
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