12 July 1961 – this fateful day will remain forever etched in Pune’s history. A day that changed the history and geography of this great city. Call it a bad coincidence – but two events that happened almost exactly 200 years apart have played a critical role in Pune’s history – to the extent that they have been added to the local Marathi lexicon. The first one was the 3rd Battle of Panipat in 1761 and the second one: the Panshet flood. “पानिपत झालं” (Panipat zala) and “पानशेत झालं” (Panshet zala) are commonly used terms today to refer to a big disaster.
Half a century ago, the new under-construction Panshet dam had started developing some problems, even before it was complete. Against some recommendations, the dam was being filled up during the 1961 monsoon season. Cracks started developing and yet there was lot of debate on whether the dam was in real imminent danger. Read this technical article for a good engineering summary of what went wrong at Panshet: http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/IIT-MADRAS/Hydraulics/pdfs/Unit41/41_2.pdf
A valiant last-ditch effort by the Army Jawans managed to delay the inevitable by a few hours. These few hours helped a lot. If not for this great effort, where thousands of sand bags were deployed, the dam would have burst in the middle of the night, creating havoc for the sleeping residents of Pune. The few hours delay meant that the burst happened early morning and the wall of flood waters reached Pune later in the morning. The deluge of flood waters of Panshet also broke the smaller Khadakwasla dam, further downstream.
Residents started getting some warnings early in the morning and the authorities started moving out the residents living near the riverside. Many residents fled to higher grounds, some all the way to the Parvati Hill. Apparently, All India Radio did not broadcast any warnings, and was playing a regular scheduled music program when the floods struck. The low lying areas of the old city were almost completely submerged. Except for the Bund Garden Bridge, all the bridges were under water as well. Water rushed into the old ‘Peths’ and along Karve Road, Deccan Gymkhana areas. For many hours, the high water levels persisted. Roughly speaking Panshet water reservoir stores enough water for all of Pune’s city needs today (today’s needs are probably 5-10 times more than the 1960s requirements). Imagine all that water being drained out in just a few hours! To give you an idea of the level of the water, just visualize the first floor of Abasaheb Garware College (MES) on Karve Road, nearly completely submerged! Some people and rescue workers were trying navigate Deccan Gymkhana, FC/JM Road areas in small boats.
The water levels finally started falling by late night. The floods completely cutoff the electric and water supply. July 12th was a dark, rainy night in Pune – with rumors still doing the rounds. Some of them pointed to more floods on the way… (even though the dams had been drained empty by then..). When the flood-waters receded, they left behind a trail of destruction and a muddy mess. The cleanup and rebuilding took many months. The old riverside city landscape changed forever. New localities (such as Lokmanya Nagar, Gokhale Nagar, etc.) were setup to resettle some of the flood affected citizens. Most of the bridges were damaged and needed fixing and in some cases complete rebuilding. With Khadakwasla and Panshet dams completely drained, there was no water supply for the city. The Peshwa era Katraj water aqueduct was used to meet some water requirements. Wells were another source. Wadas that had wells had to prominently list ‘Well’ on their main door – so that, the water source could be be made available.
I have found a series of good articles about the Panshet flood disaster, including many firsthand accounts. Some of these links are listed below. I will continue to add more links here. If you come across any good articles, do let me know. Also if you have personal memories from your own experiences, or from your friends & families, please share them here in the comments section.
Indian Express Headline: July 12, 1961 http://twitpic.com/5owvo0
पानशेत प्रलय आणी मी – मधुकर हेबळे (‘Panshet Pralay Ani Mi’ – Madhukar Heble)
January 14, 1761 – the fateful day that forever will live in the infamy of Pune, Maharashtra and India history. This was the day that coined a new word in the Marathi lexicon: ‘Panipat’ (literally means ‘a disaster’ in Marathi).
This was the day when Sadashivrao Bhau’s armies were defeated in a bloody battle against Ahmedshah Abdalli on the plains of Panipat, 100km north of Delhi, in one of the biggest battles witnessed in India in the 18th century. The causalities and destruction on both sides were very high; even the victor couldn’t consolidate his position significantly.
This was the day where a culmination of many strategic and tactical mistakes finally caught up with the Marathas. This was the day when the Maratha Empire took a big step down from its absolute peak. This was the day from whose shock Nanasaheb Peshwe never recovered – and eventually died later in the same year.
[The fact that the Maratha Empire was able to rise back to a respectable level again owes a lot to the great Madhavrao Peshwe, who inherited a shocked and weakened post-Panipat empire at a young age of 16. In a short span of 12 years, before he fell to tuberculosis, he brought about a huge turnaround. British historian Grant Duff summarizes this quite well: “…the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince”]
This was the day where many great instances of individual bravery and heroism were witnessed. This was the day that quite possibly changed the course of Indian history. The British who had just won their first major victory in India at Plassey in 1757 got an opening.
Today, we solemnly commemorate the 250th anniversary of 3rd battle of Panipat. This is the time to remember the heroism; and also to learn from the mistakes. Today we remember Sadashivrao Bhau, Vishwasrao, Dattaji Shinde, Ibrahim Gardi and countless other brave soldiers who fell in that fateful battle, 250 years ago. All over Maharashtra and India, many functions have been organized to remember this day, including some at Panipat.
Numerous books and research works have been published on this topic. To get an overview, I would recommend the reader start with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Panipat_(1761)
——Update on Feb 7, 2011—–
Vishwas Patil has written one of the most popular books about the Battle of Panipat. Originally written in Marathi nearly 20 years back, it has had many new editions/reprints and has been translated into other languages as well. Here is a nice indepth interview of Vishwas Patil (4 parts):
——-Update on Jan 13, 2013——
One of the best books to read on this topic is ‘Solstice at Panipat’ by Dr. Uday Kulkarni. Highly recommended. You can check out the book’s facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/SOLSTICE.AT.PANIPAT?fref=ts
Good review of ‘Solstice at Panipat’ by Manimughda S Sharma: ‘Panipat 3 resurrected’ http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/parthian-shot/entry/panipat-3-resurrected