This Day in History (28-Dec-1885) – The Indian National Congress was founded

At the close of the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, the British government established an imperial headquarters on the subcontinent at Kolkata. Over the next twenty-plus years, administrators set out to engage the natives in order to avoid the rebellions which forced the East India Company to relinquish control in the first place. By 1883, the responsibility for developing this coalition became the personal mission of a retired district officer named Allan Octavian Hume. Capitalizing on the simmering desire amongst Indians for independence, he composed an open letter for a carefully-chosen group of graduates from the University of Calcutta explaining they would have to “make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country.”

The idea of the Congress took concrete shape during a meeting of the Theosophical Convention in Madras in December 1884. In March 1885 a notice was issued convening a meeting at Pune in December of the same year, but due to a severe plague outbreak there, the meeting was later shifted to Bombay. Granted permission by the governor, the Viceroy understood Hume’s intention — coupled with that of natives like Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee and others — to be the creation of a single point of contact for the varying concerns locals might bring to the colonial government.

On December 28, 1885, a group of 72 delegates gathered at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Mumbai to form the Indian National Congress (INC) with W.C. Bannerjee in the chair and Hume assuming office as the General Secretary. Other important delegates included Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, Pherozeshah Mehta, K.T. Telang and Dinshaw Wacha. Defining the objective of the Congress, the president spoke of the “promotion of personal intimacy and friendship among all the more earnest workers in our country’s cause in the parts of the empire and eradication of race, creed or provincial prejudice and fuller development of national unity”.

Subsequently, the Congress led India to Independence in 1947 after a long but remarkably peaceful struggle.


This Day in History (14-Sep-1893) – Celebration of ‘Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav’ (Festival of Lord Ganesha) started

Ganesh Chaturthi was being celebrated as a public event in Pune since the times of Shivaji in the 17th century, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The Peshwas, the de facto hereditary administrators of the Empire from 1749 till its end in 1818, encouraged the celebrations in their administrative seat Pune as Ganesha was their family deity (Kuladevata). With the fall of the Peshwas, Ganesh Chaturthi lost state patronage and became a private family celebration again till its revival by Indian freedom fighter and social reformer Lokmanya Tilak.

As the unquestioned leader of the Hindus, Balwantrao Gangadhar Tilak had, by the last decade of the 19th century, accurately judged the need to give a more forceful interpretation to Indian nationalism. By reviving an old institution like the Ganapati festival and transforming it into a public celebration, Tilak sought to, and succeeded, in challenging the decade plus monopoly of the moderate-liberal leaders who had set the agenda for social and political reforms in the country. He recognised the need to form a national political movement circumventing the artificial barriers created by the moderate-liberal school of political thought.

He initiated the Ganesh festival with the intention to bring like-minded people together to share ideas and exchange thoughts on freeing India from the British regime. Tilak started celebrating the Ganesh festival from his own house at Kesari Wada. Others followed and started celebrating the Ganesh festival.

On this day, the offerings to the Lord, which till then was a private affair in every home, were brought out in the open and a common platform was created. Thus, came into being, the ‘Sarvajanik Ganpati’ in the year 1893. This brought the people together and people heard ‘kirtans’ (devotional songs) which resulted in mass education and helped bridge the gap between the different classes in society. It also created awareness among the people regarding the British regime. Solutions to common sufferings were also resolved at the gatherings. Tilak’s endeavor led to the formation of numerous clubs or mandals in India. This gave a new dimension to the Ganpati festival.


This Day in History (12-Jul-1961) – Pune floods due to failure of the Khadakwasla and Panshet dams

In July 1961, the new under-construction Panshet dam had started developing some problems, even before it was complete. Against some recommendations, the dam was being filled up during the 1961 monsoon season. Cracks started developing and yet there was lot of debate on whether the dam was in real imminent danger. A valiant last-ditch effort by the Army Jawans managed to delay the inevitable by a few hours. These few hours helped a lot. If not for this great effort, where thousands of sand bags were deployed, the dam would have burst in the middle of the night, creating havoc for the sleeping residents of Pune. The few hours delay meant that the burst happened early morning and the wall of flood waters reached Pune later in the morning. The deluge of flood waters of Panshet also broke the smaller Khadakwasla dam, further downstream.

Residents started getting some warnings early in the morning and the authorities started moving out the residents living near the riverside. The low lying areas of the old city were almost completely submerged. Except for the Bund Garden Bridge, all the bridges were under water as well. Water rushed into the old ‘Peths’ and along Karve Road, Deccan Gymkhana areas. For many hours, the high water levels persisted. More than 100,000 families need to be relocated and the death toll exceeds 2,000, though no offical numbers are available.

The floods completely cutoff the electric and water supply. July 12th was a dark, rainy night in. The cleanup and rebuilding took many months. The old riverside city landscape changed forever. New localities (such as Lokmanya Nagar, Gokhale Nagar, etc.) were setup to resettle some of the flood affected citizens. Most of the bridges were damaged and needed fixing and in some cases complete rebuilding. With Khadakwasla and Panshet dams completely drained, there was no water supply for the city. The Peshwa era Katraj water aqueduct was used to meet some water requirements. Wells were another source. Wadas that had wells had to prominently list ‘Well’ on their main door – so that, the water source could be be made available.



This Day in History (22-Jun-1897) – The Chapekar brothers shot British Officer Rand in Pune

The Chapekars three brothers, Damodar, Balkrishna and Wasudeo settled at Chinchawad near Pune. As the Chapekars grew, they began to feel that a deliberate attempt was being made to humiliate their religion by the reformers and Muslims, at the instigation of the British government. They organized an association for physical and military training which they called “the society for the removal of obstacles to the Hindu Religion”.

About the end of 1896 plague assumed an epidemic form in Bombay presidency. Rand was posted as a special officer to the city of Poona to fight the disease. Instead of helping the people to fight epidemic, british gave inhuman treatment to the residents. In revenge, Chapekar brothers determined to kill Rand, the chief source of all the harassment.They procured weapons and watched Rand’s movements for a few days.

On 22 June 1897 there were celebrations at the Government House in Ganesh Khind on account of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Fireworks were let off from the nearby hills which attracted large crowds from the city in which the Chapekars easily mingled. As Rand’s carriage came out of the Government House at midnight, Damodar jumped on the back seat and fired his gun at Rand at point-blank range. The officer collapsed immediately, as also Lt. Ayerst who was in the carriage in front and who was fired upon by his brother Balkrishna.

In October, the police, working on information received from one Dravid, arrested Damodar in Bombay. Damodar died on the gallows on 18 April 1898. Balkrishna, who had escaped in Nizam’s territory, was traced and was hanged on 12 May 1899. In the meanwhile the third brother Wasudeo came to know of the treachery of Ganesh Shankar Dravid and gunned him in the evening of 9 February 1899. After a short trial he was sentenced to death and was hanged on 8 May.



This Day in History (20-Jun-1916) – SNDT, Indian first Women’ s University was established in Pune by D.K. Karve

To encourage widow remarriage Dhondo Keshav Karve, a social reformist, set up the Widhawa Wiwahottejak Mandali in 1893. The year 1896 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of women’s education in India when he established an ashram for widows and helpless women at Hingne near Pune. He realized that to make these women self-sufficient, reliant and confident, schooling was essential at the ashram. Karve launched a programme of schooling there, which later became a regular school for girls and women. After reading about the Japan Women’s University, he had a dream of establishing a women’s university. In December 1915 Karve, in his presidential address to the National Social Reform Congress in Bombay, announced his decision to shape his dream into reality. In 1916 the university started with the enrollment of five students. Karve did not wait for the government permission for funds. The University expanded rapidly when in 1920 an industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Vithaldas Thackersey, donated Rs. 15 lakh.

The vision of Maharashi Karve and the foresight of Sir Vithaldas Thackersey led to the establishment of the first women’s university in India called ‘The Indian Women’s University’. In 1931 the University established the first college in Mumbai. Thereafter, in 1936 the University was shifted to Mumbai from Pune and in 1949 the Government of India recognized it as a statutory university. In 1951 the university was named Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University, in the memory of Thackersey’s mother. Maharshi Karve received Bharat Ratna in 1958 for his contribution towards women’s education.

Today, the University has an enrolment of over 70,000 students. It has three campuses, located at Churchgate, Santacruz-Juhu, Pune. It has 26 colleges, 38 university departments, 11 undergraduate colleges and 38 postgraduate departments. The university continues to manage three secondary schools for girls, which it had inherited.


This Day in History (1-Jun-1929) –’Prabhat Film Company’ founded at Kolhapur

Baburao Painter’s students, V Shantaram, Dhaybar, Damle and Fattelal moved out of the Maharashtra Film Company and formed their own Prabhat Film Company on 1st June 1929 in Kolhapur. Their first production, Ayodhyecha Raja went on to become a huge success. It was a first Marathi film. They also remade the silent film Sairandhri into India’s first colour film. Subsequently Prabhat shifted to Pune. Here, they built the best and the most well equipped studio in Asia. In 1934, the talkie Amrut Manthan was produced here. This had the first ever close-up shot in Indian cinema. Fattelal drew a sketch of a lady blowing a trumpet in the early hours of the morning when the sun’s rays were just breaking out. This picture later became the famous logo and stamp of Prabhat Films.

Balgandharva enactment of the role of Saint Eknath in the movie Dharmatma was his debut on the silver screen. Next, in 1936, came the movie, Sant Tukaram which became the first ever Marathi movie to be screened at the International Venice Film Festival and was rated as one of the best three movies that year which celebrated its golden jubilee. Later, Prabhat produced beautiful films like Kunku, Gopalkrishna, Mazaa Mulgaa, Manoos and Shejari .

The sensitive V Shantaram was the first to leave Prabhat owing to some partnership issues. On 5th July 1945, Vishnupant Damle passed away. The success of the film Ramshastri too could not save Prabhat, which was on the verge of collapse. In 1952, the Prabhat Film Company finally closed down. The Government of India bought the studio in 1960 and established the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

Many artists and technicians became well known due to Prabhat Films. Among these are various scriptwriters, musicians and directors like Vishram Bedekar, Keshavrao Bhole, Master Krishnarao, Vasant Desai, Raja Nene, Datta Dharmadhikari, Anant Mane; actors and technicians like Shanta Hublikar, Hansa Wadkar, Jayashri Gadkar, Shanta Apte, Baby Shakuntala, Dev Anand, Shahu Modak, Anant Marathe, Ram Marathe and Gajanan Jahagirdar.



This Day in History (5-Apr-1663) – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj attacked Shahistekhan at Pune

After his accession to the throne and the dramatic death of Afzal Khan in the hands of Shivaji, Aurangzeb sent his uncle, Shaista Khan as viceroy of the Deccan with a large army to defeat Shivaji. In January 1660 Shaista Khan arrived at Aurangabad and quickly advanced, seizing Pune, the center of Shivaji’s realm. On his way, he destroyed many temples in Maharashtra. He also captured the fort of Chakan and Kalyan and north Konkan after heavy fighting with the Maratha. The Maratha were banned from entering the city of Pune and Mughal distance from the locals turned out to be an error. Shaista Khan brutally ruled the region for more than 3 years while Shivaji patiently waited for the right opportunity.

On the evening of April 5, 1663, a wedding party had obtained special permission for holding a procession. Shivaji and many of his nearly 400 men disguised as the bridegroom’s procession members entered Pune. Others entered in small parties dressed as laborers and soldiers of Maratha generals serving under Shaista Khan. After midnight, they raided the Nawab’s compound and then entered the palace in an attempt to assassinate Shaista Khan.

Shaista Khan was clearly unaware and unprepared. The Marathas broke into the courtyard of the palace and slaughtered the palace guards. Shaista Khan lost three fingers in a skirmish with Shivaji, while his son was killed in an encounter with the Marathas in the palace courtyard. Forty attendants and six women were also killed. Taking advantage of the confusion and darkness, the Marathas escaped the palace and Pune, despite the widespread camping of Mughal forces. Shivaji escaped to SinhGad while enticing Khan’s army on a wild chase to a mountain pass in Katraj.Shocked by the sudden and bold attack in Pune, Aurangzeb angrily transferred Shaista Khan to Bengal. Within 3 days of Shivaji’s attack, Khan left Pune!

The attack reconfirmed Shivaji’s leadership skills in terms of great planning and leading from front in adverse situation.