The Mahatma Phule Mandai market has withstood the British time and the great movement of freedom struggle in the city. Currently, it is a living example of Pune's great and rich history and culture.
Markets that hold the essence of the old bygone era have their own charm. They depict the old forgotten stories, and a few of them have existed for centuries witnessing various historical episodes. The Mahatma Phule Mandai market in Pune is one place that narrates many passé stories, which has kept the ancient times alive till now.
Out of many heritage walks conducted in Pune, a walk to this retail market of fruits and vegetables is mandatory for all tourists, especially history buffs and culture lovers. Talking about the history of this city, this market holds a long story of its existence and transformations subjected to various periods.
Its story began during the 18th and early 19th centuries when the Mandai used to be an orchard and merely a garden belonging to Sardar Khasgiwale, a member of the Peshwa’s court. The Khasgiwale Wada existed for almost 25 years till it housed a municipal school. Later, the area Mandai developed in the Shaniwar Wada. In 1938, Acharya PK Atre, the chairman of the Pune Municipal Corporation and a well-known writer, got the market renamed Mahatma Phule Mandai.
During that time, the place used to be an open-air setting for selling grocery items. The scenes changed with the growing population and the congestion in the area, so the municipality proposed moving Mandai to its current location in Shukrawar Peth. The only problem was that it was to be done using the public funds amounting to Rs. Rs 2.3 lakh, due to which the decision attracted a lot of opposition from prominent leaders and freedom fighters like Lokmanya Tilak and social reformers Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Hari Raoji Chiplunkar.
Despite the opposition, the Municipality took control of the land in the year 1882. Soon after, a complex was designed by WM Ducat and executed by architects Vasudev Bapuji Kanitkar and Ramchandra Godbole. It was named after Lord Reay, the then Governor of Bombay, during the time of its inauguration in 1886. Moreover, Reay Industrial Museum was also located on the premises that served as the office of the Pune Municipal Corporation. It shifted to Shivaji Nagar in 1966.
Role in the freedom struggle
The market, though, serves as a commercial hub for the locals of Pune, it was once an important ground during the freedom movement. A clandestine radio station had begun its operations from Abhyankar Wada, behind Mandai. The speeches of Jayprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, and Yousuf Meher Ali were broadcasted through the radio station. The radio station was functioning until January 24, 1943, before the members were arrested.
The modern-day market
Initially, the design allowed for much more than just shops for vendors and hawkers. It was constructed in an octagon shape, being an 80-ft tower with a tiled roof that would keep the interiors cool. The structure remains the same till now. One can see a total of eight entrances, out of which two are currently closed due to the Metro construction work. The primary area and serving items, i.e., fruits and vegetables at almost 500 stalls, are available at a specially dedicated corner of the market.
Along with this, the market also offers various religious items, handicrafts, bakery items, and some vendors selling fashionable clothes and cosmetics, and as people share, some also sell their bikes and cars. One of the major events celebrated here is Akhil Mandai Ganapati Mandal, an annual Lord Ganesh festival where the Ganesh-Sharada idol is made from eco-friendly materials.
The place has also been a space for art and exhibition as the market conducts various exhibitions to promote the local art and culture. Various artists are also seen performing their music and theatre gigs. A few of them also set up their stalls displaying their designs and products.
All in all, the market is a one-stop destination to visit an essential part of Pune's history and witness the Gothic-styled architecture and rich culture.