Menavali (मेणवली)

Baji J. Ram Rao
07:34 +0530 Sat. 12-Nov-2005

The weekend of the 5th and 6th November 2005, saw my wife Amita and I, and her sister Aparna and her husband Suvarnn Ranadive, camp at the Mahabaleshwar Club, Mahabaleshwar.

The charming old colonial Club has a magnetism of its own with its old red-laterite buildings and lush greenery. The dark knotty old trees have gnarled ancient trunks, marked with red and white bands. The rambling golf course and meadows present a great opportunity for a leisurely amble on the fresh dewy Mahabaleshwar mornings.

Sunday after lunch, we determined to drive down to Menavali (मेणवली) to see the famous 18th century Nana Phadnavis Wada.
Suvarnn opted out choosing instead to watch the cricket match and catch forty afternoon winks.

Amita, Aparna and I set out in Aparna’s Hyundai Santro and drove the scenic twenty-eight mountain kilometers due east, via Panchgani to Wai. 

Wai is famous for its dark-brown Kandii Pedhas and the Dholya Ganpati or Maha Ganpati temple.

The grey basalt temple of MahaGanapati, famous for its architectural grandeur, stands facing the east on the north bank of the Krishna in Ganapati Aali. Ganpatrao Bhikaji Raste built it in 1762 at a cost of Rs. 160,000. The huge Ganapati idol is carved out of a black basalt monolith and painted red.

The Peshwa, Balaji Bajirao ( Nanasaheb) married Gopikabai, daughter of Bhikaji Raste of Wai. The Rastes assisted the Peshwas in their Gujarat, Malwa & Karnataka military campaigns. They built palaces, temples, ghats, & gardens in Wai. Almost all temples around Wai -- the Kashivishweshwar, Mahalaxmi, MahaGanapati, Kaleshwar, Bhadreshwar and Maha-Vishnu -- belong to the late Peshwa period (1761-1818).

From Wai, we turned northwest. Driving another 3 km and through a tiny hamlet, we drove through a large Peshwa style stone and brick gateway and entered the village-town of Menavali. [17.9679168°N, 73.8636386°E].

Next to a temple on the left of the road was a small road leading to the Nana Phadnavis wada.

Nana Phadnavis Wada

Nana Phadnavis (1742-1800) was a great Maratha statesman, book keeper and finance minister of the Peshwas.

The Nana Phadnavis Wada is a large six-quadrangled, perimeter-protected wada. This construction was completed circa. 1780.

Nana Phadnavis Wada
Nana Phadnavis Wada, Menavali

A little history

Bhavan Rao Trymbak Pant-Pratinidhi of Aundh and Raghunath Ghanshyam Mantri (Satara) bestowed the village of Menavali to Nana Phadnavis in December 1768. Nana Phadnavis settled the village and built himself the Wada with the ghat on the river Krishna and the two temples, one dedicated to Lord Vishnu and another to Meneshwar (मेणेश्वर) Lord Shiva.

Originally, simple stone steps descending into a river, ghats evolved into an elaborate arrangement of terraces with separate areas for different activities, such as bathing, washing, filling water and performing religious rites. Temples were traditionally built on ghats.

The Peshwa-era saw architectural combinations of a Wada-type residence, a Ghat on a water-body and a Temple.
The Nana Phadnavis wada on the bank of the river Krishna at Menavali, is one of the very rare places where such a combination is preserved intact.

Nana, being the Peshwas' "Phadnavis" transcribed and maintained their documents of accounts and administrative letters in the ancient "Modi" script. These documents, known as the famous “Menavli Daptar” were preserved in this Wada at Menavali.

After Nana Phadnavis died in 1800, the Peshwa Bajirao-II, confiscated the Wada. The British General Wellesley (brother of Lord Wellesley), Duke of Wellington returned the property to the Nana's wife Jeeubai on 25th March, 1804. After her death, Sir Bartle Frere (governor of Bombay) handed over the property to Nana's descendants. The Nana Phadnavis Wada today remains with his descendants. Having split the major part of his properties between themselves, the Wada is still owned jointly by them all. 

The state of disrepair of the Wada was a tragic discount to its historic importance and did a disservice to the memory of its illustrious creator.

A red tractor was parked outside the wada and the caretakers were sitting around, seemingly in a Rip van Winkle style 18th century oblivion, while civilization marched on at Pune, barely 60 km to the north.

Entry into Wada
Entrance of Wada main building

Inside the Main Building

A friendly little boy called Razaak, volunteered to be our tour guide.

We climbed up the dark musty, narrow, steep staircase concealed in the metre-thick wall to the floor above. The staircase was at once secret and easily secured, admitting only one person at a time.

Here we saw Nana Phadnavis's reception "darbar" hall and attached bedroom with a teakwood bedstead. The teakwood bedstead was also an intricately carved four-poster. The floor was swept with clay and cowdung.


The teak ceiling of the reception hall had a beautiful carved floral motif and was supported by classic Peshwa suru (cypress-shaped) columns.

floral motif

Most Wadas are systems of open courtyards of increasing security. The corridors on the upper floor were lined with teak-wood lattice work. The still beautiful wood-work was heavily weathered and discolored through poor maintenance.

Teak lattice work corridors

Out of an upper-floor window, we could see a courtyard in a locked area of the Wada. The courtyard had a stone fountain carved out of a single monolith rock.

monolithic stone fountain

The wall was decorated with the characteristic white motifs against a brick red background, typical of the Peshwa era.

White-on-red Fresco work
Fresco Detail

The little boy also showed us a concealed escape stairway in the wall that led out of the Wada.

The Ghat on the river Krishna

Outside the wada, a little girl called Sheetal, volunteered to show us around. She led us down the stone steps leading to the ghat on the river Krishna.

Meneshwar Temple Ghat

View of the river Krishna

Sheetal told us that the film crew of the Bollywood movie Swades, had camped at the ghat to shoot some footage. The crew apparently cleaned and painted the old stone walls of the ghat and the temples.

On descending the steps and turning right, we saw a breathtaking view of Pandavgarh in the distance.

View of Pandavgad in distance

Nana Phadnavis constructed two temples on the Krishna ghat, when he built his wada. One temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The other to Meneshwar (मेणेश्वर) Lord Shiva.

The two temples

The Bell House

The bell house of the Meneshwar temple houses a six hundred and fifty kilogram bell. This bell was captured by Bajirao-1’s brother Chimaji Appa, from a cathedral in the Portuguese fort at Bassein. Dated 1707, the five-alloy bell bears a bas-relief of Mary carrying the infant Jesus Christ cast into it.

Meneshwar Bell house

Bell up close

Mary and Infant Jesus

The Baobab tree

There was an ancient Baobab (Adansonia digitata) tree, with a massive coniform trunk. It had a platform around it as old as the Wada itself.

Elephant tree

This tree featured in the Bollywood movie Swades. In the movie, the village elders hold a Panchayat on the stone platform around this tree.

Several Bollywood movies have been shot, using the wada as an exotic location, notably, Yudh (Jackie Shroff/Tina Munim), Mrutyudand (Madhuri Dixit), Goonj Uthi Shahnai, Jis Desh Me Ganga Rahata Hai (Govinda), Ganga-jal (Ajay Devgan), Sarja (Ajinkya Deo) and Swades (Shahrukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi).