The moment one hears Shaniwar Wada, the first thing that would come to one’s mind is Bajirao Mastani. Second may be extravagant court, gardens and stuff. But Shaniwar Wada is not just limited to romance and valour. Politics, competition, jealousy, conspiracies, betreyal and murder – Shaniwar Wada has seen it all. Located in Pune, Maharashtra, Shaniwar Wada was built in 1732 by Peshwa Baji Rao I. It was the seat of Maratha Empire until 1818, when the Peshwa lost control to the British East India Company after the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
Its foundation was laid by Peshwa Baji Rao I. It was built such that it could never be conquered. However, internal turmoil in the family of the Peshwa eventually lead to its fall. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, who was the son of Baji Rao I, had three sons – Vishwasrao, who died during the Third Battle of Panipat, Madhavrao and Narayan Rao. After Vishwasrao perished during the Third Battle of Panipat, Madhavrao took over. However, he died in 1772 due to health issues. Eventually, Narayan Rao became the Peshwa at the young age of 17 years and went on to become the youngest Peshwa ever.
However, this succession was highly challenged by his own uncle, Raghunath Rao, who had been fighting for power for a long time. He served as a regent for the young Peshwa but, Narayan Rao was also not particularly fond of his uncle. He held Raghunath Rao responsible for the assassination attempts on his elder brother, Madhavrao. Finally, he put Raghunath Rao under house arrest.
His (Raghunath Rao’s) wife, Anandibai, was furious. On Ganesh Festival of 1773, armed Gardi soldiers, lead by Sumer Singh Gardi, attacked Narayan Rao. Now, a good thriller can never be complete without a legend. So, here’s one:
Raghunath Rao most probably had written to Gardis (in Marathi) to hold Narayan Rao. He had used the word dharaa (धरा) which means “to hold”. But, this message was changed by Anandibai and dharaa was changed to maaraa (मारा) which means “to kill” in Marathi. This miscommunication, caused by the exchange of just one letter, turned out to have disastrous consequences and went on to lead to one of the most brutal murders ever.
Gardis chased Narayan Rao through the Fort. Narayan Rao is believed to have kept calling out for help while running but to no avail. As he ran towards his uncle’s residence, he cried out Kaka! Mala Vachva!! (काका! माला वाचवा!!) which means “Uncle! Save me!!” Finally, he was caught and killed in front of his uncle. There’s a rumor that Narayan Rao’s body was hacked into so many pieces that it was carried in pots. His body was cremated at midnight near the river.
Whoo!! Okay, so basically, he was murdered inside Shaniwar Wada and it is believed that his ghost still resides in the Fort and cries of Kaka! Mala Vachva!! can be still heard from the inside campus. Another add on : Sumer Singh Gardi died in Patna in 1775 under mysterious circumstances. Raghunath Rao’s son, Baji Rao II also met with the same fate. An unexplained fire in 1828 destroyed much of the Fort and left it in ruins.
This is one of the perfect examples of how a minor misunderstanding can lead to a disaster and how small rivalries can wipe out dynasties.