The Hill-Top Temple
After unnumbered steps of a hill-stair
I saw upon earth’s head brilliant with sun
The immobile Goddess in her house of stone
In a loneliness of meditating air.
Wise were the human hands that set her there
Above the world and Time’s dominion;
The Soul of all that lives, calm, pure, alone,
Revealed its boundless self mystic and bare.
–Sri Aurobindo, 1902, Parvati, Pune
Marathas are eccentric breeds. They are relentless warriors, ferocious on the battleground, but sweet and soft from inside, like jack fruit. Unlike extravagant north Indians, they like to keep a very low profile, even after doing many legendary things.
Since the dawn of time, they are living on this rocky, patchy, hilly, jungle, area right in the middle of India called Maharashtra. Occasionally, they can be found wandering on the plateau as well, fighting. Fighting alongside, fighting with each other, fighting for foreigners, and mostly fighting against invaders. Looking back in history, these guys are fighting for a long time. There is no wonder, that their modesty, sturdiness and fighting spirit reflects into whatever they have created, intentionally or unintentionally. Whether it may be their sports, their way of speaking, their attitude or in their Temples as well. These people adore hills, and so do their gods. And hence, most of their gods, live on Hills. Such a hillock can be found right in the Pune city named Parvati.
Being a proud member of this weird clan, me, my partner in crime Amruta, and my senior citizen parents were climbing 103 stairs Parvati hill, on one fine dawn of Dipawali. We were joined by a few more, to remember the fallen heroes of Panipat on the auspicious day of Padwa. After the deep lightning, we had a heritage walk to know more about the history of this hillock and its significance in history.
Find a spot, or if you are late, make a parking spot for your bike and start climbing. The rocky stairs are of uneven height as well as of uneven length. You can see this feature on many forts in Maharashtra as well. This arrangement is not mere negligence towards aesthetics, but to reduce the speed of attacking horse riders and elephants.
Completely ignorant of this feature, one genius tried climbing this hillock on an elephant. The result was nothing but predicatively hilarious, as the riders ended up ‘royally’ falling on the ground, besides the fallen elephant on which they were riding. The visionary rider was none other than his Majesty Prince of Wells, who was visiting India to meet his poor, hungry loyal citizens. Here is the newspaper cutting dating December 18, 1885.
After you start climbing, the path turns to the right and then immediately left. There is a small shrine-like structure where you will find senior citizens taking a breather. This platform was considered as a stop for palanquins. Bhois or palanquin carriers use to shift here while carrying someone to the top. Nowadays, it is a favorite spot for teenage couples to sit there and enjoy the view of Pune city bellow.
Start closing towards the temple, climb few steps furthermore, and where the stairway takes a sharp right turn, leave the stairs and walk towards the woods. After a few meters, you have to cross an ancient rock wall, and you will stand in front of the rock cave of Parvati. Unknown, even to many Punekars. First of the civilized footsteps of humans can be traced to Parvati in the form of caves, where three pillars and 45 by 30 feet small-sized hall is carved out of a monolith, believed to be carved during Rashtrakuta period. Exact origins of this cave are unknown, but like Pataleshwar caves, it was left in the middle.
Temple has a tall wall circulating the shrine. Remove your footwear outside, under Bhadra, guarding the temple and walk through under the Drum chamber. You will be facing the Devdeveshwar or Parvati temple. On your left side, there is a small shrine of Parvati goddess with a lion in front, oldest shrine on the hill. There is a Nandi shrine, right in front of Mahadev, under a stone canopy. On left, there is a Ganesha shrine. If allowed, go upstairs to the Drum chamber or, Nagarkhana. The true beauty of the Pune city can be seen from here. Anytime you come here, you will be mesmerized by the view from the top.
Peshwe museum is one of the most overlooked construction on Parvati hill. But it is something you should not miss. Take the ten-rupee ticket, leave your shoes outside and enter. This two-storied building is packed with various artifacts, paintings, weapons, utensils, clothes, etc from the 17th and 18th centuries. Coins, starting all the way from the Vijaynagar empire, till current days are displayed here. This museum gives allows you to peek in history, where this hillock has seen its golden days.
Keeping the Peshwe museum on your right, walk past the garden, and you will find yourself on the intersection. On your left side, you will find Nanasaheb Peshwe Samadhi. In your front, you will find the names of Maratha leaders who laid down their lives in 3rd battle of Panipat. Besides Nanasaheb Peshwe samadhi, you will see Kartik Swami temple and Behind that, there is a shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Nanasaheb Peshwe Smarak:
Its a monument to this great Peshwa, who was responsible for making the Maratha state into Kingdom. After the Islamic invasion, almost nine hundred years later, under his leadership, an Indian flag was flattering on the fort of Lahore. Marathas, rulers of Mughal India, received a fatal blow in the third battle of Panipat. Every household in Maharashtra, lost somebody in that battle. The emotional blow was the greatest to Nanasaheb Peshwa. “All the riches are worthless, without Bhau”- Saying this, he died in agony of loss of his beloved cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhau in Panipat, right here on Parvati. As you enter the place by keeping two cannons on your back, you will realize its a very very quiet place. Eight sided platform on the marble floor is the place where he took the last breath. His picture is placed here under a simple wooden canopy. He is accompanied by all the Peshwas on the wall. Walls surrounding the monument are painted with Peshwe era battles, Ganapati visarjan, and other cultural scenes.
Kartik Swami temple:
Peshwe was the commander of Maratha Chhatrapati. So, it makes a perfect sense to have a Kartikeya – Commander of the god’s temple on Parvati. The temple has a mixed style of architecture, consisting of the Vedic and Mughal era. Temple is surrounded by a brick wall of canopies, decorated with paintings. Usually, women are not allowed to meet him, but on the day of Tripura Purnima or Kartik Purnima, the temple is open for everyone for 24 hours. For other days, it is very calm and uncrowded.
The last temple on our tour is the Vishnu temple. It also has the same Mughal and Indian architecture mix. Four feet tall Lord Vishnu is standing there with Conch, mace, Chakra, and Lotus. The stone was selected carefully from river Gandaki, all the way from Nepal, and then, this brilliant statue was bought to life. Half feet tall Narad and Tumbar are standing on his each side, praising their lord with heavenly songs. Three hundred-year-old Ram Panchaytan is set beside Vishnu Vigraha. Vishnu stands under the oak canopy, in the silver border. Silver border or Mahirap is decorated with Kirtimukha, Makar animals and parrots. As it is a live temple, every day, Arati is done twice here. This is the same temple where freedom fighter turned spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo Ghosh had a sakshatkar (audiences with god). The poem- The Hill Top temple he wrote, is dedicated to the Parvati. Ramashastri Prabhune was a chief Justice of the Maratha empire, in the 18th century, well known for his strict judgment of the death penalty he had passed against Raghoba dada, for the murder of his nephew Narayarao Peshwe. Ramshastri is considered a model of the highest integrity, even these days. The Ram, Lakshman, and Sita besides the Vishnu idol are the same idols, prayed by Ramshastri at his home.
History of Parvati:
Being a favorite god of Peshwas, many documents mentioning Parvati can be found in Peshwe archives. Even though there are Rashtrakoot timed caves, the first documented traces of Parvati could be found in Nizamshahi papers. Initially, Parvati hill has one small temple of goddess Parvati, which was given as prize (Inam) by Nizam to one Brahmin Named Mahadbhat Bin Mudgalbhat Purandare and it was continued to the times of Malik Ambar and Shahaji Raje. After the death of Dadaji Kondadev in 1647, the revenue was stopped. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj inquired and started the revenue again, and since then, it is a well-known fact, that Purandare family served the Nation with all of there strength and might. They helped Balaji Vishwanath in his early days, and later when he became Peshwa, Ambaji Purandare was his Deewan, they fought alongside Peshwe in many battles for generations to come, and till this date, Purandare family is serving the nation with utmost dedication. One of the names is legendary historian Babasaheb Purandare.
So, the story of Parvati goes like this: Kashibai, wife of the legend Bajirao Peshwe, had a chronic sore leg. Nanasaheb Peshwe, son of Bajirao, tried everything in his power but no success. So, Kashibai prayed to hill goddess Parvati, and soon, she got rid of the ailment. Then, Nanasaheb Peshwe decided to build a huge temple there.
The foundation ceremony was done in 1748, and the rock-solid temple was built and completed on 11 April 1749. Documents say, that religious ceremony was conducted for four days, from 7th to 10th April 1749, and Peshwe spent Rs 4,320 from his account for these ceremonies. Silver Mahadev idol, weighing 78.5 Kilograms (Yes, you red right) with the idol of Parvati weighing 14.5 Kg pure gold, along with 8 KG gold Ganesh was placed there with ceremonies. Nanasaheb Peshwe, every day, use to ride from Shaniwar Wada to here for Puja. Later in 1755, his devotion made him built a Wada or Palace there itself. On auspicious occasions, he uses to do Puja himself. In 1760, he guilded gold spires weighing 11.8 KG on the temple. These idols were mover several times during wars, and when Nizam invaded Pune.1761 was a very difficult year for Marathas. Due to the blow in Panipat, Nanasaheb was heartbroken. He was moved here in Parvati Wada, and soon after, he died there. His son Madhavrao Peshwe, continued his devotion to the Parvati.
Nanasaheb started a thing called Ramana, where huge donations were given to deserving Brahmins, coming all over from India on an auspicious day. During the first year, donations of 16,354 Rs were distributed during 1736. After that, it grew up in a gigantic manner, where, in 1752, Rs. 6,28,353 worth donations were given to the candidates. Many Pundits from all over India use to arrive here for donations, made Pune the cultural and religious capital of India during the Peshwe period. Scholars, all over from Shringeri, Tanjore, Rameshwaram in the south to Gwalior, Banaras, Kanoj and Mathura, all the way to the north came here, seeking the patronage of Peshwe. Among them were Vaidikas, Grammarians, Astrologers, Pandits, Poets, Vedantists, Logicians, Ascetics, doctors and many more.
Captain Moor visited Parvati in 1779, and he has written down the details of the Ramana ceremony in is account. Till the time of Bajirao II, donations went up to Ten Lakhs. After the downfall of the Maratha empire in 1818, the British discontinued this patronage to these Indian learning systems (Gurukul) and diverted the cash to other things.
Mount Stuert Elphinstone in 1821 writes about these donations, “A class of men was maintained, whose time was devoted to the cultivation of their understandings, their learning may have been obscure and degenerate, but it still bore some affinity to real science, which can be improved in time.” ( Just read somewhere, that 75% of British women opt for some kind of Yoga/Ayurved treatment every year. Not so degenerate is it now, Mr. Stuert?)Anyhow, afterward, a very small amount of scholarship was given to the study of Sanskrit literature and philosophy, which was later popularized as Dakshina fellowship or Dakshina Prize fund.
Parvati is a jewel of Pune. Early morning, people gather here for exercise. Some will pace, some will climb it backward, some will do push-ups, some will jump a rope, few will bird watch and the rest will just be there to catch fresh air. As the sun comes up, it will get deserted, and you will find college-going couples hanging there till evening. When shadows elongate, again, Parvati calls senior citizens, devotees and fitness enthusiasts, and they will answer the calls of this ancient goddess, the true pride of Pune. Parvati has seen good, bad and ugly days. When it was just a hillock, she must have witnessed an amusing childhood of Chhatrapati Shivaji the great. His mother was the one, who started developing the Pune in the real sense. During the golden days of the Maratha empire, she has witnessed grandiose Ganapati visarjan ceremonies, epic Dassra military parades, Ramana donations and fireworks reflecting in the lake. She must have suffocated in the fumes coming out of burning Shaniwar Wada in 1828, announcing the end of the Maratha empire.
Now, Parvati is surrounded by slums, tall buildings, bridges, and a web of roads. Like an old man’s forehead, Parvati’s tree line is getting faded as the years pass by. During the evenings, Parvati gets smothered by the pollution from nearby industrial towns. Like an old grandmother, she must be feeling alone, as her ancient companions- old Wadas and Mahals in Pune are being demolished, getting converted into shopping malls and residential apartments. The footfall of devotees has massively reduced. Many come to exercise, but very few actually remove their footwear and step in. Sometimes, few history buffs, ornithologists, astronomers, tree planters come here, she becomes lively again and blesses them with what they want. Whether it might be good health, mental peace, fresh air, birds in the morning and stars at night or just a brilliant view.
1. Poona in Bygone days: By Rao Bahadur D. B. Parasnis, The Times Press, 1921
2.The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volume 2.- Collected Poems.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2009.- 751 p.
3. Marathi Riyasat, Set in 8 volumes, G. S. Sardesai, Popular Prakashan, 2017
4.Wash drawing by Henry Salt (1780-1827) of a view of Pune in Maharashtra, with the river in the foreground, dated October 1804. This is the original drawing for ‘Poonah’, plate 13, of Henry Salt’s ‘Twenty Four Views in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt’.