Dhepe wada

A Priceless Heritage of a Forgotten Culture – Dhepewada

The geographical and natural conditions of an area influence the architecture as well as the structure of houses in any city or village of the world. It goes on to an extent of becoming the identity of that city or village. Maharashtra too has its own set of architecture. Typically seen in the 80’s and the 90’s single storey houses, bungalows, wadas, and chawls were the dominant structures. Subsequently, the flat system came into existence and these unique structures gave way to the new way of living. Pune city was famous for its wadas or large houses. Raste Wada, Vishrambag Wada, Shanivar Wada and the more latest ones built by Sardars, Patils, and Deshmukhs are excellent examples of Maratha culture that came into existence under the guidance of Shivaji Maharaj and later on the Peshwas who were the leaders of the Maratha Empire. In addition to these, common people also built their own houses or Wadas in similar architecture style in the pre-independence era. These were in the peth areas of Pune. These are now in a state of neglect or lack proper maintenance.

The common people built the Wadas as per the space available and as per their family requirements. Every home was thus different in design and there was hardly any trend in the way they were constructed. However, there was always a ‘Mahadwar’ and a smaller door within that door for anyone to enter the house or its premises. The small door was named as ‘Dindi Darwaza’. A small alley would lead to the main courtyard or ‘Chowk’ which would usually have flowering plants like Parijat, Chafa, Jai, Jui, and one or two fruit-bearing plants for everyone’s delight. The fragrance of the flowers would spread all over the house, making the atmosphere light and pleasant. The main square also was the playground for the children of the house. Traditional games like Langdi, ShivnaPani, Khamb Khamb Khamboli, Lagori, Istop Party, Daba Aispais, Sagargote, Bhavra, Gotya etc. were the favourite among the kids. The rooms of the house were lined up along the borders of this courtyard. The architecture was such that from any of the rooms, it was possible for the parents to watch over the kids playing in the center.

The ladies of the house would use this main square very effectively to dry chilies, potato slices, tomatoes and a number of other traditional items that would bring extra flavor to the lunch or dinners that the women would cook. The main square also had a small open platform and the rooms for people to stay alongside it. A wooden staircase would lead from this open space to go to the upper floors of the house. The toilets were usually located towards the backside of the ‘Chowk’. Bathrooms, a small tap, and a well were also close by. In those days, most houses had joint families living in them. Since the number of people living in the houses was large, all the rooms would usually be occupied by someone or the other. Private spaces and rooms like today’s concept of master bedrooms were non-existent. An attached toilet to the bedroom was unthinkable and out of anyone’s imagination. Toilets, bathrooms and the taps to get water were all in a public place everyone would queue up to go about doing their daily needs of washing, bathing, etc. Arguments between them was a daily affair. On rare occasions, the owner of the whole property would reserve a toilet and bathroom for his family’s use and the others had to use the common ones.

Hot water in the bathroom was provided by using a special hotpot called as a ‘bumb’. It would use wood as fuel to burn and heat the water. It was usual practice for everyone to finish their bathing rituals before the wood burnt out every day. Metal drums, metal buckets, and large pots were used to store water needed for use. A large stone was usually placed in the washing area near the tap and was useful in washing clothes by literally slamming them on the stone like a whip. A small passage would usually lead to this washing place. The passage was called as a ‘Bol’.

Till our kitchens were blessed with cooking gas cylinders, a traditional cooking stove called as ‘chul’ was an inseparable part of every kitchen of every house. The typical utensils and equipment that supported various tasks in the kitchen included a combination of a ‘Jata’. The upper disc would rotate on the surface of the lower one and crush grains along with the circular movement making flour. A large pestle to pound certain items or spices, a special purpose stone to remove the seeds from groundnuts or a flat stone to grind and make certain mixtures to flavor curries and spices were usually available to the women of the house as aids in the kitchen. The special taste of the preparations when the spices were made in this traditional equipment was really cherished by one and all. To store monthly supplies of grains such as rice and wheat, large vessels of brass or hindalium was a common scenario. Water was stored in copper utensils. A typical shelf was used to store these utensils in the kitchen. Small baskets made of bamboo peels or smaller metal utensils would be used to store the vegetables. Milk and other perishables were kept in a special cupboard that had a grid mesh on its door that would allow air to circulate and preserve these quickly perishable items for longer times.

The family would usually sit cross-legged on the floor to eat meals. They would either use a small square or rectangular thick cloth as a seat or a slightly raised wooden platform popularly known as ‘paat’ and have the dish of food in front of them. All food was consumed with the use of the hand to break or part it into bite-sized morsels and moved from the plate to the mouth in a smooth fluid action.

In the 50’s decade, the concept of renting out a few rooms in this large house started taking a foothold. Owners of the house who had no other means of income found this as a needed helping hand in their monthly economics. Those who had extra rooms in their houses got additional income as well as the company of these tenants in their houses. The construction style and material used in those times were so good that every house had a safe life of at least a century. Naturally, many generations of a family would live in one such Wada.

In most of the scenarios, the owners and the tenants came from almost the same income group. The number of people in a family and limited means of earning usually resulted in families belonging to lower income groups. Mostly these families were of the worker class and running the house was a tough task. Young college going children and even older schools children would take up part-time jobs and provide some aid to the overall family income. The needs of people in that generation were also limited and they had a general tendency to be satisfied with whatever they had in front of them. these two things helped immensely in allowing them to live together and even enjoy each other’s company. Since most of the things were shared there was no concept of ‘my family’ and ‘other family’. Members of all the houses would come together in happy as well as difficult times. The Wada would be a witness to all the functions and celebrations in the owners as well as the tenant’s houses such as engagements, weddings, Diwali, naming ceremonies, etc.

The collective study and the recitals of poems and tables by the kids, their chitchat as they played among themselves and the joint prayers in the evenings kept the atmosphere lively.

Not just this, the house would even be an equal participant and a witness to the young women of the families when they played traditional games and invited each other to the cultural ritual of ‘haldi kumkum’. The ‘Chowk’ would provide them with the place to have these ceremonies and enjoy themselves thoroughly.

The primary reason for this was the typical construction of the Wada. It had more of common space and less or rooms or private space. Naturally, the inhabitants had lots of social interaction with each other. This is the birthplace of the Wada heritage or Wada style of living which thrived and spread in those times.

In my childhood – the 70’s and 80’s this style of living was at its peak and I am from that fortunate generation who enjoyed this experience this first hand. This was a simple and straightforward living. Nowhere did it have any artificial angle or show off in it and is also responsible for bringing up my generation into responsible citizens of today.

As times changed, the references for living and enjoyment also changed. The joint family concept started spreading into distant nuclear families. Skirmishes and clashes in the families were one of the reasons every family started thinking of moving out of this co-living under a single umbrella of the head of the house concept. It also became increasingly difficult to maintain such a large house as inflation and the cost of living grew steadily. Financial and money-mindedness took over and the usual friendly atmosphere in the Wada was replaced by court cases, tensions, and fights amongst the residents. Exactly around this time, the self-contained houses or flats started impressing the owners and the tenants alike. Everyone wanted to shift to such a house and the picture of Pune changed rapidly. I am a builder by profession. Due to professional connections and compulsion, I was involved in reconstructing a number of such houses in the peths of Pune and erecting buildings there that had such self-contained flats. It is said that emotional involvement and professional duty do not get along well together. I was never able to keep both separate. Maybe because I had actually lived in such a home myself and because I had a lot of emotional attachment to this culture, I was very moved and almost to tears when I would take the charge of these houses and take the Wada down brick by brick and construct houses with the exact opposite concept on those places. Such empty homes would make me feel guilty of literally destroying a live home and the realization that our future generation would never really get to experience and understand this concept would make me feel extremely uncomfortable.

These homes had housed generations of families until they became old and had to be reconstructed. But the homes that were being built in their place would never be able to bring back that style or culture and this kept pricking my mind. It went to such an extreme that I started dreaming of constructing such a Wada or large house regularly and ended up in a promise I made to myself to actually build such an edifice. I decided to give the new generation a glimpse of the culture their parents experienced and finalized my idea of recreating the life they lived.

To reach the maximum number of people, tourism was an ideal channel. The initial investment and the maintenance costs and the income expected from the tourists and visitors were never going to match, however, it did not seem important in front of what I had originally planned to achieve. During the entire construction and erection of my Wada, I did not hire or appoint any supervisor or engineer. I wanted everything to happen in front of my own eyes. Actually, I wanted to enjoy seeing the Wada take shape as per what I had dreamt. I wanted to bring in every detail of what I had lived, experienced and studied as a child living in such a house myself.

Pretty soon, I had the realization that dreaming something and bringing that into reality had a big gap in between it. The cost of getting sufficient space and the cost of constructing a house in this style was enormous, but since I worked in the same industry, I knew at the back of my mind that I would be able to make this happen. The other challenge was my lack of knowledge about Maratha architecture and their style of constructing houses. Fortunately, at this time, I met Dr. Avinash Sovani, an expert in this field and Dhepewada came into being, with my experience of the Wada culture and his key inputs and knowledge about the Maratha architecture style.

As a structure, Dhepewada has a unique style of the famous Maratha architecture and the old Wada culture that was prevalent 40 years ago in Pune. All the typical characteristics such as a large and grand entrance gate, special arrangement for the guards to sit and keep a watch. A unique place for artists to sit and play the traditional drums (nagarkhana) played to welcome any guests (distinguished and famous people) into the house. The main square is large enough for children to play traditional games and run around freely. Dhepewada also showcases a typically constructed well with a wheel to draw water from and an old-fashioned bathroom close by so that the new generation can actually visualize the construction and experience the same first hand. The courtyard of the Wada, the surrounding rooms and the windows of the upper floors that opened to the view of the ‘Chowk’ attract and mesmerize every visitor. Every visitor takes turns to sit and enjoy a big wooden swing in one of the corners. The room where most of the women folk had their presence and their say, also called as the ‘mazghar’ or the kitchen used to be called as mudpakkhana have been laid out in the most attractive way, exactly like the old style of the yesteryears. The Wada has total 12 rooms, each furnished with a big wooden bed, an old style folding chair, and typical glass domed lampshades. Keeping the modern trend and the convenience that is expected today, each room has an attached toilet and a bathroom – an opposite to the tradition of having the toilets and bathrooms at the back side of the house.

The ‘diwankhana’ on the first floor mesmerizes the visitors with its wooden pillars with intricate carvings, a unique roof and the size of the hall does not fail to give the visitors an experience of Maratha grandeur with a royal touch to it. All the lampshades are of old glass domes and are sure to take the visitors on a journey to the old times when these lamps were prominently used all over. The lower floor or the basement of the house is the dining room named as ‘udarbharan’ literally translated to filling the stomach. Visitors can enjoy the traditional seating of the wooden platform ‘paat’ and ‘chaurang’ to have their meals here. This section also has a list of classic, traditional games that can be enjoyed here. Most of these games are from yesteryears and are another way to take you back to those nostalgic moments from your childhood.

Just like old times, family functions and celebrations such as engagements, weddings, thread ceremonies, Diwali celebrations of a newly married couple, baby showers, birthdays and even 81st birthdays of grandparents (also known as sahastra chandra darshan) educational, as well as religious trips, can be arranged here.

To every visitor who comes to see this creation of mine, I just have one message – consider this as our own traditional and cultural heritage. It then becomes our responsibility to make sure it reaches our future generations. I urge you to look at it as your own house and protect it from that perspective. Everyone who comes here leaves with a nostalgic experience of visiting a dream house or a home as warm and welcoming as their own family home.

Nitin Dhepe