Tulsi baug or the Basil garden was created sometime during the time of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath(early 18th century). It was converted into a habitable locality by one Jivajipant Khasgiwale. The locality was called Kale vavar or blackfields. Khasgiwale named the area around it as Shukravar peth (Shukravar means a Friday in the local Marathi language).
Today it is one of the most crowded commercial areas in old Pune.
The Khasgivales came to construct several areas in Pune like Guruwar peth,Ganesh peth etc. Even the famed Shanivar wada (built for Peshwa Bajirao I and Chimaji appa, the valourous sons of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath) was constructed under the supervision of one Shivram Khasgiwale.
Tulsi Baug is today a famous shopping area for copper and brass idols, besides several household utility items. Amidst the cluster of these shops lies the Ram mandir.
The Ram Mandir (est.1761) was constructed by Shrimant Naro Appaji Tulshibaugwale a nobleman in the Peshwa court.
Naro Appaji Tulshibaugwale played an important role in the administration of Poona (post the murder of Narayanrao Peshwa). He improved on the revenue system, constructed temples,dams and carried out several irrigation projects in the kingdom.
The entrance to the temple is though a narrow bylane accessed from a small wooden door in a very old nondescript building.
One crosses a nagarkhana (built by Peshwa Madhavrao I, after winning the battle of Kharde) to enter the temple premises.The nagarkhana also serves as a residential complex.
The Ram mandir has this wooden sabhamandap that appears very much in need of a renovation. Some of the wooden columns have colapsed and broken tiles are cluttered around (Note.during the time of my visit, the jeernoddhar of the sabhamandap was supposedly on. But one does gets an idea of its past grandeur).
The sabhamandap is itself covered by a corrugated tin roof.
The porch of the temple was constructed by one Shrimant Nandramji Naik in 1884.
The interiors of the sabhamandap are typically Peshwakalin in style, very similar to the wadas found in old Pune.
There is a exquisitely carved teak ceiling supported by an cusp arched wooden lintel supported by an array of carved wooden pillars.
Part of the flooring is definitely modern and the tile work is very much recently done. A copper plated tortoise, a part of hindu temple iconography, is embossed on the flooring.
The garbhagriha (sanctum)section is possibly the first to be constructed and is a stone structure.
The idols of Lord Ram, Laxman,Sita (carved by sculptur Umaji Pandharpurkar) were placed here in November 1765. One can also see idols of Lord Vishnu and Lord Garuda. The sancum has a lotus shaped ceiling.
The shikhara (superstructure)is the most attractive feature of this temple. It is very ornate and nagara in style. It is around 140 feet in height.The basic structure may be brickwork and is covered by plaster and lime mouldings.
The shikhara has several figurines of deities, saints, royalty carved in meghadambari styled niches . The overall structure has a conical shape to it .There is a gold plated finial atop the shikhara.
The Ram temple has several other minor temples in its vicinity, dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Vithal-Godess Rakhumai, Lord Ganesha(est.1781), Godess Parvati (est.1781), Lord Dattareya and Lord Hanumana (idol crafted by Bakhtaram Patharvat Gujrathi in 1767) .
The temple wall has murals painted depicting the exploits of Lord Rama. The temple has a huge percussion instrument called Chaughada, that is generally played during festivities. In the olden days the temple premises was used to deliver lectures on several important issues by eminent personalities like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bhalakar Bhopatkar etc.
Outside the temple premise lies the famous ‘Mandai’ vegetable market. The land for the same was purchased by the British from the Khasgiwale family . Whereby they constructed a Gothic styled complex (estb. 1885) which rented out several fruit and vegetable shops in its premise. It was then known as the Reay market (named after Lord Reay, the governor of Bombay). But subsequently it was renamed as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai (in 1940). For some time Reay market even served as a Municipal office.
The Tulsi baug area also has its own Ganpati idol, said to be the fourth in terms of heirarchy in Pune city. The celebrations during Ganesh chaturthi were started here by Sardar Krishnaji Kashinath a.k.a Nanasaheb Khasgiwale in 1893, while Lokmanya Tilak converted it into a public festival in 1894.
The Tulsi baug temple is one of Punes most important heritage sites desperately craves for immediate attention.
Text and pictures : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha