Historical importance of the Parvati Hill, Pune
2 July 2022
"The hill has 108 stairs, which in Hinduism is a sacred number....."
As Maratha empire was at its zenith during the time of Peshwa Nanasaheb, only in our imaginations can we fully grasp the splendor of the Maratha kingdom and its continuously thriving capital, Pune;controlling entrance of the Central Asia ‘Khyber Pass’ situated nearly 2000 kilometers away! The Parvati hill has been stopping people's eyes from sweeping across Pune's horizon for nearly 275 years! The Parvati hill is one of the Pune’s most historic places and one of its most picturesque sites. The hill was owned by a Patil named Taware having Goddess Parvati as his family deity. Long believed to have healing properties, the presiding deity of Parvati was visited by Nanasaheb Peshwa's mother Kashibai occasionally in the 1740s when she had a leg ailment. Peshwa Nanasaheb purchased the hill from the Patil after knowing that his mother’s leg ailment got cured after praying to the goddess. The Peshwa decided to construct a temple complex there.
The hill has 108 stairs, which in Hinduism is a sacred number. In 1749, Nanasaheb started work on the Devadeveshwar temple on Parvati, which included a central Shiva shrine and four outlying temples. Therefore, the Panchayatan has a temple depicting the Sun riding a seven-horse chariot, second temple being of Lord Ganesh, the third being of Goddess Parvati dressed as Bhavani, and the final being of Vishnu dressed as Janardan. The five principal Hindu sects who worship these deities could be found in a single structure, thanks to the Peshwa’s planning.
Peshwa Nanasaheb also obtained the shoes of his king Chhatrapati Shahu and placed them underneath the diety. Behind a Shivling is where Shiva's main deity is located. The Ganesh and Parvati idols on either side of the solid silver idol were crafted of pure gold. A golden pinnacle was erected to the temple around 1760. The Parvati deity was moved to the adjacent fort of Sinhagad whenever an enemy attack occurred in Pune because it was an open city. Following a four month siege the idols and a sizable amount of loot were taken into British hands together along with fort Sinhagad in 1818. The British took control of the remaining loot, but they gave the Parvati priests the idols, which were later restored in the temple. What the invaders did not destroy, however, was ultimately destroyed in 1932 when thieves stole the actual idol. It was never found, so a replacement was made using a photo, which is what we can see now.
An underground area beneath the Devadeveshwar temple has been the focus of several theories. Some tunnels that wandered beneath the complex were discovered during a series of explorations in the 1930s. Brick walls surround the tunnels, which appear to be the remnants of an earlier structure that once stood beneath the Parvati temples. There are speculations that Nanasaheb Peshwa utilized this space for a "Suvarnatula," where he weighed himself in gold before donating it to charity. The Madhav-Vishnu temple on Parvati was added by the Peshwa in the 1750s. It may be recognized by the sequence in which the conch-shell, mace, lotus, and chakra are positioned in the idol. Raghunathrao, the Peshwa's younger brother, is credited with constructing the temple dedicated to Kartikeya, the sixth-headed son of Shiva.
On Parvati, a dated and unassuming Peshwa palace still exists. It is close to a plumeria tree that is 250 years old! This tree was planted to provide fresh flowers for Puja. Peshwa Nanasaheb passed away in this palace, where there is also a small memorial dedicated to the remembrance of those who died at the Battle of Panipat on January 14, 1761, and there are plans in motion to build a larger Panipat memorial.
Peshwa Museum is another distinctive place in city of Pune lying on Parvati hill. Once a palace, it is now converted into a museum. Having an unique collection of Maratha weapons including swords & guns, paintings, manuscripts, utensils, wooden, furniture, Coins, clothing, Royal Drums, Palanquins & gifts acquired from the times of the Peshwas; it is one of the important places which has such a collection about rich Maratha history & culture.
There are some ancient Buddhist caves about forty feet wide halfway up Parvati's hill. These caves are believed to be contemporary with the Pataleshwar caves. The water that seeps through the rock into these caves has already formed reservoirs. A waterway from the hills at Dhankavadi was also attempted to be built by Peshwa Bajirao II, but the project was never finished. He constructed the stone stairway leading up the slope that is seen today. The Parvati water tank supplies water to the half of the city of Pune. A platform where a woman committed "sati" is visible as one ascends Parvati's wide, slowly ascending steps. On November 15, 1875, Edward VII of Britain, who was then the Prince of Wales, paid a visit to Parvati and rode an elephant up the hill. When the Prince's beast stumbled on the fifty-seventh step and injured the royal passengers of the houdah, the stately procession experienced a hiccup.
Pune's greatness and dark days have both been seen by the Parvati Hill. The hill may well recall its former life as a renowned temple in the capital of an empire that stretched from Attock to Cuttack and Kumaon to the Cauvery as it observes Pune's bustling residents. The legacy of the once-powerful Peshwas, Parvati Hill, is a must-see on a trip to Pune.
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New history of the Marathas-in 3 volumes, GS Sardesai, 1970.
Pune in the eighteenth century, BK Gokhale, 1988.
Solstice at Panipat, Uday S Kulkarni, 2012.
The extraordinary epoch of Nanasaheb Peshwa, Uday S Kulkarni, 2020.