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The freedom trail runs through Pune
Sakal Times | Sunday, 17 August 2014 AT 06:23 PM IST
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There are many landmarks buried in modern Pune’s landscape that have a deep connection to our freedom struggle. We uncover the significance of a few, lesser-known places as we celebrate the Independence Day weekend

A doctor’s service to the nation

Hundred and fifty years ago, Ayurvedic doctor Bhau Laxman Javale used architecture to create secret niches and compartments in walls to help revolutionaries hide their weapons in his wada (stone structure) located in the lane behind Shaniwarwada. Today, Baba Dafal, president of Bhausaheb Rangari Ganapati Trust, uses CCTV to keep track of visitors in and around this heritage site. For, there is lots to ‘see’ in this edifice that once served as a charitable Ayurvedic dispensary for the needy, a shelter for freedom fighters and a place for spiritual discussions too. And we are not just talking about the pistols and guns that Dafal chanced upon when a wall of the wada gave way or the photographic history the upper storey showcases. From the moment you enter the wada, there are many things that transport you into the 19th century.

It is said that the wada had a basement and a road leading out of it, to help revolutionaries escape when chased by British soldiers.

But most importantly, it was here that the idea and execution of the public celebration of Ganesh festival happened in 1892 when a friend of Bhau imported the idea from Gwalior. The idol of Lord Ganesh that Bhau created out of cloth and paper mache then still stands on a 122-year-old teak platform in a little temple, next to Bhau’s residence and the Trust celebrates the 10-day Ganesh festival every year.                 
 — Vrunda Juwale

A mute monument speaks of history

If you happen to visit the Dagdusheth Ganpati temple, don’t forget to walk a few feet to the right towards a white marble structure that stands tall under the very old banyan tree. The structure, called Hutatma Smarak, shares space with the Majoor Adda. When I visited the place, it had a deserted, forlorn look which is quite ironic, since it stands right at the end of the lane that leads to Appa Balwant Chowk on one hand and the popular temple on the other. Both of these places see throngs of men and women everyday at any given time.

This, however, does not undermine the importance of the structure. For those who’ve passed by yet never registered its significance, it’s worthwhile to know that it is a memorial to Bhaskar Karnik, a fierce nationalist who was part of the Quit India movement of 1942. He was a part of the attacks on Capitol and Westend theatre that killed four Englishmen. In fact, he had smuggled explosives required for the bomb blasts from the Khadki Ammunition Factory, where he was employed. To remain loyal to his mission and avoid revealing the names of his accomplices, Karnik swallowed poison and killed himself.

The place itself is quite clean, but doesn’t stand out amongst its busy surroundings. This might change if the government puts up a board that marks the presence and importance of the Hutatma Smarak.  

Pune’s revolutionary road

Nobody knew where Keskar Vitthal Mandir in Sadashiv Peth was, when we went searching for this little relic of our freedom struggle. Not surprising, we discovered, since the temple stands almost like a petrified apparition caught in the middle of a bustling housing society off Kumthekar Road. It’s hard to imagine such an eccentric structure inside a regular, middle-class residence. The yellow buildings almost brush against the black stone walls of the temple, its gaudily colourful pillars mocking the ordinariness of its surroundings.

But this is no ordinary place. Shivram Hari Rajguru, the revered revolutionary born in Khed, was brought up here. The motivated young man ran away from home at 14 to reach Varanasi, where he learnt the Vedas and met Chandrashekhar Azad and other revolutionaries. He later teamed up with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev to assassinate English office JP Saunders, to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. The brave Rajguru was then arrested in Pune and executed in 1931. He was 23.

It was a young life cut short in service of the motherland. And a part of that life was spent around Keskar Vitthal Mandir. The idols of Vitthoba, Rakhumai and Rahi sit cosy inside the temple. And the memory of a great freedom fighter lingers in air somewhere.

Where revolutionaries used to meet...

If you travel through Bhide bridge and enter Narayan Peth, the chaos of urbanity crammed into the narrow lanes of old Pune can leave you disoriented. The silence of Muralidhar Mandir then feels almost surreal in the middle of this din. The old temple with its sheenless teak arches is an anachronistic piece of architecture daunted by the surrounding concrete buildings. Moss grows thick on the walls of the Garuda statue opposite the main shrine, as if effacing history. The last milestone of history in the area, in fact, is a red line high on the facade of a nearby building, marking the point the water reached during the 1961 Panshet floods.

The disaster has perhaps washed over the piece of our pre-independent past that lurks in the musty courtyard of Muralidhar Mandir. It was here that Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad had secret meetings with Rajguru, a resident of Pune. The revolutionaries had closely guarded discussions about their activities in the temple precincts. If they suspected anyone hearing them, Rajguru, a Vedic expert, would start reciting shlokas to escape suspicion!

The temple is in court custody today over an ownership battle and opens only on Janmashtami day. A small bit of history, literally, remains locked away in Muralidhar Mandir.

— Renu Dhole


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