Nana Phadnavis (February 12, 1742 – March 13, 1800), born Balaji Janardan Bhanu, was an influential minister and statesman of the Maratha Empire during the Peshwa administration in Pune, India. James Grant Duff states that he was called “the Marattha Machiavelli” by the Europeans.
Balaji Janardan Bhanu was born in a Chitpavan Brahmin family in Satara in 1742 and was nicknamed ‘Nana’. His grandfather Balaji Mahadaji Bhanu had migrated from a village called Velas near Shrivardhan during the days of the First Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath Bhat. The Bhats and the Bhanus had family relations and very good friendship. The two families had respectively inherited the ‘Mahajan’ or village-head positions of the towns of Velas and Shrivardhan. Balaji Mahadji had once saved the Peshwa from a murderous plot by the Mughals.
The Peshwa therefore recommended Chattrapati Shahu to award the title of Phadnavis (one of the Ashtapradhan) on Bhanu. Later, when the Peshwa became the de facto head of state, Phadnavis became the main minister who held key portfolios of Administration and Finance for the Maratha Empire during Peshwa regime.
Nana was the grandson of Balaji Mahadji Bhanu and had inherited his grandfather’s name keeping up with the tradition. The Peshwa treated him like family and extended the same facilities of education and diplomatic training as his sons, Vishwasrao, Madhavrao and Narayanrao. He continued to be the Phadnavis or the finance minister for the Peshwa.
In 1761, Nana escaped to Pune from the Third Battle of Panipat and rose to great heights becoming a leading personage directing the affairs of the Maratha Confederacy, although he was never a soldier himself. This was a period of political instability as one Peshwa was rapidly succeeded by another, and there were many controversial transfers of power. Nana Phadnavis played a pivotal role in holding the Maratha Confederacy together in the midst of internal dissension and the growing power of the British East India Company.
Nana’s administrative, diplomatic and financial skills brought prosperity to the Maratha Empire and his management of external affairs kept the Maratha Empire away from the thrust of the British East India Company. He displayed his best warfare skills in various battles won by Maratha forces against the Nizam of Hyderabad, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the English Army.
Rear entrance to Nana Phadanvis’ house (Nana phadanvis wada) which is still preserved today in the same condition as when Nana built it in 1780. Location: Menawali, Wai T.SATARA
After the assassination of Peshwa Narayanrao in 1773, Nana Phadnavis managed the affairs of the state with the help of a twelve member regency council known as the Barbhai council. The council was Nana’s mastermind plan to protect, Madhavrao II, son of Narayanrao, borne posthumously,to Gangabai, the widow of Narayanrao from the Peshwa family’s internal conflicts. The Barbhai Council was an alliance of influential Sardars (Generals) led by Nana. Other members of the council were Haripant Phadke, Moroba Phadnis, Sakarambapu Bokil, Trimbakraomama Pethe, Mahadji Shinde, Tukojirao Holkar, Phaltankar, Bhagwanrao Pratinidhi, Maloji Ghorpade, Sardar Raste and Babuji Naik. During this time the Maratha Empire although weakened by the Panipat war of 1761, was still significant in size with a number of vassal states under a treaty of protection who recognized the Peshwa as the supreme power in the region..
Nana died at Pune on the 13th of March 1800, just before Peshwa Baji Rao II placed himself in the hands of the British, provoking the Second Anglo-Maratha War that began the breakup of the Maratha confederacy. In an extant letter to the Peshwa, the Marquess Wellesley describes him thus: “The able minister of your state, whose upright principles and honourable views and whose zeal for the welfare and prosperity both of the dominions of his own immediate superiors and of other powers were so justly celebrated.”
The Nana Phadnavis Wada is a large six-quadrangled, perimeter-protected wada. This construction was completed circa. 1780.
Bhavan Rao Trymbak Pant-Pratinidhi of Aundh and Raghunath Ghanshyam Mantri (Satara) bestowed the village of Menavali to Nana Phadnavis in December 1768.
Nana Phadnavis settled the village and built himself the Wada with the ghat on the river Krishna and the two temples, one dedicated to Lord Vishnu and another to Meneshwar (मेणेश्वर) Lord Shiva.
Originally, simple stone steps descending into a river, ghats evolved into an elaborate arrangement of terraces with separate areas for different activities, such as bathing, washing, filling water and performing religious rites. Temples were traditionally built on ghats.
The Peshwa-era saw architectural combinations of a Wada-type residence, a Ghat on a water-body and a Temple.
The Nana Phadnavis wada on the bank of the river Krishna at Menavali, is one of the very rare places where such a combination is preserved intact.
Nana, being the Peshwas’ “Phadnavis” transcribed and maintained their documents of accounts and administrative letters in the ancient “Modi” script. These documents, known as the famous “Menavli Daptar” were preserved in this Wada at Menavali.
After Nana Phadnavis died in 1800, the Peshwa Bajirao-II, confiscated the Wada.
The British General Wellesley (brother of Lord Wellesley), Duke of Wellington returned the property to the Nana’s wife Jeeubai on 25 March 1804.
After her death, Sir Bartle Frere (governor of Bombay) handed over the property to Nana’s descendants. The Nana Phadnavis Wada today remains with his descendants. Having split the major part of his properties between themselves, the Wada is still owned jointly by them all.
There is a dark musty, narrow, steep staircase concealed in the metre-thick wall to the floor above. The staircase was at once secret and easily secured, admitting only one person at a time into Nana Phadnavis’s darbar hall. Nana Phadnavis’s reception “darbar” hall has an attached bedroom with a teakwood bedstead. The teakwood bedstead is an intricately carved four-poster. The floor is swept with clay and cowdung.
Wadas are systems of open courtyards of increasing security. Nana’s corridors on the upper floor are lined with teak-wood lattice work. A concealed escape stairway in the wall leads out of the Wada. Descending the stone steps leads to the ghat on the river Krishna.
The film crew of the Bollywood movie Swades, once camped at the ghat to shoot some footage. The crew cleaned and painted the old stone walls of the ghat and the temples.
On descending the steps and turning right, one sees a peaceful and rather drab view of Pandavgarh in the distance.
Nana Phadnavis constructed two temples on the Krishna ghat, when he built his wada. One temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The other to Meneshwar (मेणेश्वर) Lord Shiva.
The bell house of the Meneshwar temple houses a six hundred and fifty kilogram bell. This bell was captured by Bajirao-1’s brother Chimaji Appa, from a cathedral in the Portuguese fort at Bassein. Dated 1707, the five-alloy bell bears a bas-relief of Mary carrying the infant Jesus Christ cast into it.
An ancient tree, with a massive coniform trunk has a platform constructed around it as old as the Wada itself. This tree featured in the Bollywood movie Swades. In the movie, the village elders hold a Panchayat on the stone platform around this tree.
Several Bollywood movies have been shot, using the wada as an exotic location, notably, Yudh (Jackie Shroff/Tina Munim), Mrutyudand (Madhuri Dixit), Goonj Uthi Shahnai, Jis Desh Me Ganga Rahata Hai (Govinda), Ganga-jal (Ajay Devgan), Sarja (Ajinkya Deo) and Swades (Shahrukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi).