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OpIndia Ground Report from Nashik: Govt has no idea how a Dargah popped up inside 18th-century Sarkarwada of Peshwas, Hindu activists call it illegal encroachment

In the city of Nashik, known as ‘Mini Maharashtra’, which is famous for its rich cultural heritage, there is an 18th-century-old historical monument that once served as the administrative headquarters of the Peshwas. The monument ‘Sarkarwada’, located in the heart of the city in Saraf Bazaar, old Nashik area is drawing attention these days after a few members associated with a local Hindu group objected to the presence of ‘Sayyed Shah Vali Baba Dargah’ in the premises.

Rushikesh Dapse (Bapu), who says he is a common citizen of Nashik but is a social activist associated with a local Hindu organization, claims that the Dargah in the Sarkarwada, which was once home to Peshwas, is an ‘illegal encroachment’ and that it shall be removed as it represents the wrong history of the Peshwas. “There is no reference to the Sayyed Shah Vali Baba in the history of Sarkarwada or the Peshwas. He was in no way associated with Peshwas. Our Maratha leaders fought against the Mughals and how they must have allowed a Dargah to be built inside their home? This Dargah was never part of the Sarkarwada and was constructed later. It is illegal encroachment as the government also has no documents about the claimed religious place,” Bapu said putting up his point initially.

New City Survey map shows Dargah’s separate entrance

Team OpIndia travelled to Nashik to verify the incident and accessed the old blueprint and the current blueprint of the Sarkarwada. The documents clearly show that the Dargah was not a part of the Sarkarwada which was built in the 18th century. The ‘Sayyed Shah Vali Baba Dargah’ where even some Hindus come to pray, was built in the later years and has been given a separate entrance in recent years. However, the State Archaeology Department stated that the Dargah is old and was not shown in the city survey map earlier. “It has been shown now,” it said.

Current blueprint (L) and Old blueprint (R) of the Sarkarwada accessed by OpIndia

The Dargah is clean and is open for worship for specific official hours in the day. No Muslim trust or organization controls the Dargah. It is part of the Sarkarwada and is protected by the State Archaeology Department since the year 1995.

History of the 18-century-old Sarkarwada

As per the historical records, the Sarkarwada was built by a Peshwa Sardar named Ranganath Odhekar and was later taken over by Raghobadada Peshwa. It is also believed that Gopikabai Peshwe, the Peshwin of the Maratha Empire used to visit the Wada and control the Maratha administration from there. Later, after the defeat of Peshwas in the year 1818, the Sarkarwada was taken over by the Britishers who also used the palace to continue British administrative business from there. Hence, the name ‘Sarkarwada’.

Today, the Sarkarwada hosts a Regional Antiques Museum and the office of the Assistant Director of State Archaeology. However, the left side of the property is officially occupied by the ‘Sayyed Shah Vali Baba Dargah’, the inception of which is a big question.

Dargah located in the left portion of the Sarkarwada property

‘Dargah is illegal, people organize Sandals in Baba’s name,’ says Hindu activist Dapse

Bapu, while talking to OpIndia said that most of the worshippers who offer prayers at the Dargah are Hindus and that nobody knows who Sayyed Shah Vali Baba is and how was he connected to Peshwas. “We have been staying in this city, in the Saraf Bazaar area for generations now. Mine is the fourth generation. This Dargah is believed to be old. But in recent times, people have begun organizing Sandal processions (religious fairs) in the name of Baba. Nobody knows about the Baba or the Dargah, not even the archaeology department. Nobody knows when and why the Dargah was established. Amid this, isn’t organizing religious fairs and processions and allowing worship at the location reflecting the wrong history of Peshwas? Peshwas had nothing to do with this Sayyed Shah Vali Baba. In fact, Marathas fought against the Muslims. But the coming generations might think that Peshwas were the worshippers of the Sayyed Shah Vali Baba, which is untrue,” he said.

‘No documents,’ confirms State Archaeology Department in RTI response

He also said that a few members of his organization filed an RTI to seek information about the Dargah from the State Archaeology Department but to no avail. The RTI filed in the name of one Kailash Deshmukh, was responded to by the Director of State Archaeology saying that there are no documents regarding the existence of the Dargah. “The entire property of the Sarkarwada was declared as the archaeological site in the year 1995. The Dargah also, being part of the property from before 1995, is protected under the law. As per the archaeological norms, any property attached to the archaeological site since its official declaration ought to be protected under the law. It cannot be separated, removed, or expanded. It has to be protected as it is. The department has no documents regarding the Dargah. Also, the department has no idea when the Dargah was established,” the RTI response read.

RTI response copy obtained by OpIndia

Bapu Dapse has also sent official letters to several political leaders including Dy CM Devendra Fadnavis, Cultural Affairs Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, and Director Department of Archaeology and Museums Tejas Garge demanding strict action against the Dargah, but the letters have not yet been communicated. “The Dargah at the Sarkarwada in Nashik is an example of illegal encroachment. There are no documents about the Dargah. No historian and no govt officer have any official document which proves the inception of Dargah. Also, the Peshwa history reflects no connection with the Sayyed Shah Vali Baba. The Dargah shall be removed or strict action against it shall be taken,” the letter written by Dapse reads.

The letter also states that the encroachment in the Peshwekalin Sarkarwada has hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus.

Letter copy sent by Bapu Dapse to several political leaders obtained by OpIndia

Local shopkeepers in Saraf Bazaar see no problem with Dargah, claim, ‘mostly Hindus worship it’

Team OpIndia meanwhile talked to several other shopkeepers who have their businesses set up in the busy market of the Saraf Bazaar area. Many of these shopkeepers who are Hindus and wear a tilak on their forehead, offer prayers at the Dargah daily before starting their businesses. This part of their routine was observed by the team and noted as well.

One of the gold jewellers provided information on the condition of anonymity. He said that the Dargah is believed to be around 150 years old and nobody in the bazaar area has a problem with its existence. “This dargah is worshipped by Hindus mostly. Earlier the entry to this Dargah was from within the Sarkarwada but after the renovation, it was given a separate entrance and since then it has been under controversy. Many Hindu organizations are demanding its removal claiming that Peshwas had no connection with Sayyed Shah Vali Baba and they never built the Dargah. They claim that wrong history is being represented and that their sentiments are hurt by this. But nobody in the bazaar feels alike. In fact, most Hindus in the Saraf Bazaar, daily visit the Dargah and seek blessings,” he said.

On asking about the establishment of the Dargah, he said that nobody knows when it has been in the Sarkarwada but people have faith in that place. Giving more historical reference, he said, “After Peshwas, a Hindu ruler named Raje Bahadar ruled over the Wada. He had many Muslim sepoys in his army. It is said that he built this Dargah for his sepoys to worship. But nobody is sure about this. People also say that Peshwas might have built it themselves for their Muslim sepoys.” Notably, the old blueprint of the Sarkarwada (attached above) shows no existence of a Dargah during the 18th century.

Another shopkeeper who deals in perfumes reiterated on the condition of anonymity that a few Hindu people recently objected to the Sandal procession (religious fair) at the Dargah and raised saffron flags. He stated that the Hindu organizations claimed that Dargah at Peshwa’s Sarkarwada is illegal and organization of Sandal had hurt their religious sentiments. “We believe in religious unity and nobody in the Saraf Bazaar has a problem with the Drgah. These Hindu people are trying to create a religious divide in the society by raising this issue,” he alleged.

Notice displayed at the Sarkarwada reads that “Dargah is part of archaeological site and is protected by the State Archaeology department. No trust, no religious organization looks after the Dargah”

State Archaeology Department says Dargah cannot be removed as the site is protected

During the visit, team OpIndia also met the head of the State Archaeology Department, Nashik, Aarti Ale, who confirmed that the State Archaeology Department has no information about the Dargah. “The site is protected under the archaeological norms since the year 1995 and as per the norms the site has to be protected as it is. No removal, separation, or expansion can be allowed at the site,” she said.

She added that the department tried to search for the history of the Dargah but could not. “The Dargah is open to worship. Several people, mostly Hindus worship it. In recent years, some organizations have raised the issue of the Dargah’s history and its connection with the Peshwas, but we too have no clue about it. We have no documents and no papers regarding the Dargah,” Ale confirmed.

When asked about the demands put forth by the Hindu organizations, she said, “They want this Dargah to be removed. But it is in no way possible. It is part of the Sarkarwada and the entire property is protected under the Archelogy Department. We can’t do anything about it. In an extreme case, I can issue orders to close the Dargah for worshippers. But it can’t be removed,” she confirmed.

Bapu Dapse, who meanwhile reiterated that the Dargah is illegal encroachment of not only the Peshwa property but its history as well, demanded strict action against it. “There are no documents about the Dargah. Govt itself should take note of this and consider the matter at the earliest,” he stated.

Notably, a similar issue was reported from the Mahim coast area in Mumbai where an illegal Mazar has come up in recent years. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on March 23 employed bulldozers to demolish the illegal construction around the Mazar. This is after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray played a clip in his Gudi Padwa address and exposed that an ‘illegal dargah’ has come up off the Mahim coast in Mumbai. He demanded the removal of the illegal dargah and said that if it is not demolished immediately, then his party would construct a huge Ganpati temple at the same place.

The Mahim Dargah Trust however took cognizance of the incident and said that the ‘illegal dargah’ as alleged by Thackeray is 600 years old. “This place is 600 years old. It is not built recently as claimed by Thackeray. Basically, Hazrat Makdoom Ali Shah used to sit at this place and take lessons from Hazrat Khwaja Khizr Ali Shah. This is a historical place,” Suhail Khandwani, Trustee of Mahim Dargah was quoted as saying.

Reportedly, the BMC authorities razed down only the illegal structure around the Mazar and not the Mazar itself.

Illegal structures had also been built inside the Pratapgarh Fort where Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had killed Afzal Khan. The old grave has been over the years converted into a religious shrine by Islamic groups. Despite orders by the Bombay High Court, the Maharashtra government was hesitant to remove the illegal structures inside the important historical monument.

In November 2022, the Shinde government finally sent police and local administration to remove the illegal structures around the grave.

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Siddhi Somani
Siddhi Somani
Siddhi Somani is known for her satirical and factual hand in Economic, Social and Political writing. Having completed her post graduation in Journalism, she is pursuing her Masters in Politics. The author meanwhile is also exploring her hand in analytics and statistics. (Twitter- @sidis28)

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