I woWadas are the grand houses of elite in Maharashtra. Remember the Shaniwar Wada of Peshwas in Pune! Well, Nagpur’s old city is full of many such Wadas. My introduction to the city began with a tour of Chitnavis Wada in a locality called Chitnavispura in the Mahal area.
It is one of the few Wadas that has managed to preserve the grandeur and the old world charm of the elite houses. I entered through an arched gate with wooden door. A board outside announced the name and address of Chitnavis Wada.
Inside the gate, I could see buildings all around an open ground. I wondered, if I was inside the Wada or still outside, it was difficult to say! Construction on the main door side gave an impression of belonging to colonial era. In fact, the wooden blind panels reminded me of similar structures in Colonial Calcutta.
The thick trees, probably older than these buildings, stand tall. I stepped inside what I was told is the office. A lot of old wooden furniture here including some palanquins, wooden boxes, writing desks and wooden bullock carts is lying around. I realized this is the main Wada. What I saw outside were extensions that served as guest house during the British period.
A gentleman who manages the place helped me with a brochure and asked the staff to open the wada for me. I was not expecting much except nice wood carved pillars in the Wada. However, surprises are never too far, though I did first see the carved wooden pillars all around the front courtyard.
Chitnavis Wada is a 3-Chowk Haveli or Wada, which means there are 3 courtyards one after the other. Remember we saw similar plan at Shekhawati Havelis. First Chowk is usually the public area where the guests or business related people visit. Here, this area is outer courtyard that acted as the office of the head of the family.
Chitnavis is a designation that refers to the chief documentation officer of a king. This wada was build by Rakhmaji Ganesh Randive who was a Chitnavis of the Bhosle kings of Nagpur. He first came to Nagpur in 1744 CE with Raghuji – I Bhosle. It is believed that this Wada is about 200 years old, based on the stylistic details.
I stepped into the first courtyard and was suddenly surrounded by colorful paintings all around. The open courtyard is now covered with wood, but the corridor running all around had soothing mud flooring.
The walls had paintings depicting the life of Krishna that I would soon discover is the family deity. There were scenes from epics like Mahabharata. There were framed lithographs of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings.
In one corner of this courtyard is a lovely temple in wood. It reminded me of many temples in Rajasthan. Dedicated to Krishna, it is a beautiful temple. You are totally surrounded by Krishna when you sit in front of this temple. This courtyard is rightfully called Deoghar chowk or the courtyard of the deity.
A door here took us to the next chowk that has a fountain in the middle. It also had a corridor running all around with mud flooring. We sat around the fountain to admire this simpler yet warm part of the Chitnavis Wada. This is the family area where people would sit together and eat. I could imagine the women of the family gathering here for chit chat or to soak in the sun.
Another door led us to the last chowk that was probably used more by the staff of the family. This is where the kitchen used to be. You can see the grinding stone and groves for pounding. There is well and a Tulsi plant. Palkis in bright colors were lying around.
An interesting feature is a small opening in the wall that is connected to the granary. You just open the window and take the grains required for the cooking. You could also call it a service chowk or the backend services for running the wada.
A door on the side of this chowk leads to the family temple. Yes, most big wadas had a personal temple dedicated to the family deity. At Chitnavis Wada it is the Murlidhar temple. The temple has a small garbhagriha and a shikhara in Nagar style. The mandapa is full of wooden pillars, something that I would see in many temples in Nagpur. Small temples of Hanuman and Garuda flank the temple.
After admiring the interiors, we come out in front of the wada and admire its woodwork. A hanging corner with peacock and parrot is like a signature of the woodcarvers here. There are Banana flower endings just like Peshwa wadas in Pune.
Upper floors connect to the outer guest houses. Colonial part of the guest houses may have been used to entertain or host Europeans. This part is connected to the main wada but it stands separate, creating a partition between family area and the guest area.
Opposite the wada, there was a charbhag style garden that divides the garden into four parts through walking paths. The garden is a pale version of its original self. However, I did find an interesting vintage handpump there that is still in use.
From the rooftop of the wada you can see the inner courtyards and the Murlidhar temple. More importantly, you also get a skyline view of the city surrounding it. I was there when the sun was just setting and the slanting red tiled roofs added their own aura to it.
Over the period the descendant owners of Chitnavis Wada have tried to add modern facilities like bathrooms. A part of the wada is used as offices for various organizations. They do rent out the place for events like weddings or small functions. You can see wooden planks used to serve food traditionally.
As of now, Chitnavis Wada is not open to public. You need to contact the Sh Gangadhar Rao Chitnavis Trust office to visit it. Architect Nitika Ramani conducts a heritage tour of the Wada and it may be best to go through her.
You need 1-2 hours to see, depending upon your level of interest.
You can walk around and see many Wadas and temples in the lanes around Chitnavis Wada.