Cultural Mapping Pune

The Cultural Mapping Project - Pune

In 2016, Sahapedia created the only available medium in the world which gives an in-depth understanding about the Fort Kochi geography (, its history spanning centuries and its cultural diversity. In a span of 3 months, 150 plus tangible sites of interest were mapped across 30 communities, ranging from Malabari Jews and Arab descendants to Kutchi speaking Jains and Memons. Apart from videos of eminent persons and rare maps, the digital map includes Cultural Centres [theatres, museums, galleries], Heritage Sites [palaces, colonial buildings], Lifestyle [food, festivals], Places of Worship [churches, mosques, temples], Public Spaces [parks, markets, the beach] and Public Institutions [historic schools, hospitals].

Three years later, emerging from the success and learnings of the Fort Kochi project, Sahapedia is expanding its efforts in documentation through cultural mapping. We are marking this effort by mapping Pune, a city which has made distinct intellectual contributions, has deep cultural history and economic vitality.

In the next one year, we hope to create a user friendly interactive bi-lingual (Marathi & English) digital map of Pune city in collaborations with students, experts, practitioners and residents in the city that provides exhaustive reliable information for 20–25 themes and approx. 1200 sites across tangible, intangible, natural heritage of Pune. In addition, we hope this map will help become a one-point guidebook to access diverse cultural resources like festivals, places of worship, museums, cultural institutions, places for learning arts or volunteering with NGOs working in environmentally sustainable initiatives among others. Sahapedia currently holds 20+ collaborations for content in Pune with organisations and individuals who are deeply engaged on the ground in Pune regards education, media, cultural heritage, arts, history and natural heritage.

If you want to contribute your research/photographs/understanding about Pune city please fill this form 

Cultural mapping is defined as the process of recording, synthesising, and depicting resources, networks and patterns of usage. Resources includes:

  • Cultural property that includes the physical, or ‘tangible’ cultural heritage, generally, split into two groups of movable and immovable heritage. Immovable heritage includes buildings (which themselves may include installed art such as organs, stained glass windows, and frescos), large industrial installations or other historic places and monuments. Moveable heritage includes books, documents, moveable artworks, machines, clothing and other artefacts.
  • Intangible culture consists of non-physical aspects of a particular culture and includes the ways and means of behaviour in a society, and include social values and traditions, customs and practices, aesthetic and spiritual beliefs, artistic expression, language, and other aspects of human activity.

Cultural mapping is useful because it is a starting point for ensuring cultural vitality, one of the key elements of sustainability. Cultural mapping resources may be used by planners, policymakers and community members to strengthen local networks, encourage economic activities on the basis of cultural assets that also helps revitalise these cultural assets.

Over the last two decades, a number of organisations around the world have undertaken cultural mapping exercises. The modes employed for these exercises usually take the form of listing assets and publishing community resources—in the form of books, pamphlets, etc.—about the findings and recommendations. These resources are, in turn, used for identifying opportunities to generate or sustain livelihoods based on the community’s assets while also taking future needs into consideration.

With developments over the last decade in digital technology, however, it is possible to map cultural assets in a geographic format, and build this as a dynamic resource. If conducted using a geographic information system (GIS), for instance, cultural mapping lets users visualise, understand and critically analyse patterns and relationships between documented data points more easily. At Sahapedia, we think of cultural mapping as an important way to document, and perhaps eventually help sustain traditional knowledge systems that may otherwise be threatened due to factors such as rapid migration, the attractions of globally recognised knowledge forms, among others. Specifically, we are invested in this exercise because:

  1. India’s one billion plus population currently lives in 7,935 towns and over 475 urban agglomerations. According to UN report 2007, 41 per cent of Indian people will reside in cities by 2030. The rapid urbanisation trend is dramatically changing city landscapes and, therefore, its where the conservation of cultural heritage needs to be prioritised;
  2. Rapid urbanisation and migration is resulting in limited understanding and ownership of a city’s cultural space among residents, tourists and students;
  3. Cultural mapping is recognised by UNESCO as an important tool in sustaining the tangible, intangible and natural heritage of the world. But, the same has been rarely employed in the Indian context. Therefore, there is very limited peer-reviewed work regards processes and best practices for mapping cultural heritage in the Indian context;
  4. In India, financial allocations have been made for protecting cultural assets through Union government programmes like Smart City and Hriday and other state-specific culture-related interventions. However, most policies, so far, have not been too successful in achieving their intended vision due to the absence of cultural data which can be used across various domains like education, creative industries, tourism and urban planning;
  5. Need for revitalising cultural institutions/practitioners by strengthening local networks and bringing awareness of the works produced by them.

Pune is located 165 km south-east of Mumbai, Maharashtra, and is the largest city in India which is not a capital city. 1 A city that began as a small hamlet, is now a hub for manufacturing, software, sports, education, military, research, heritage and culture.

A local legend has it that the three villages of Kasarli, Kumbharli and Punewadi combined together to form the town of Pune by around the 7th century CE. 2 However, the earliest written reference to the city is in the form of copper-plate inscriptions from the 8th century CE 3 that refer to the city as ‘Punya Vishaya’. Through the last 1,000 years, the city has been known by many different names—Punaka Vishaya, Punyanagari, Punaka Desha, Punya wadi, Punawadi, Poona and now Pune. The city is also known by many epithets—Queen of the Deccan, Oxford of the East, Pensioner’s Paradise, City of Bridges, Cycle City, Cultural Capital of Maharashtra and Detroit of India!

The ‘old city’ or the ‘core’ city, as it’s known, comprises of 18 peths (wards). The oldest of them is Kasba Peth, dating back to the 13th century when it was part of a fort called Kille Hissar, built by Bariya Arab, a Tughlaq Sardar. Over time, the fortunes of this city rose and fell; famines occurred; and the city became wasted. A new chapter began in the history of Pune around 1636–37, when Shahji (a general in the court of Adilshah, sultan of Bijapur who inherited Pune) decided to send his wife Jijabai and their young son Shivaji to live in Pune. As the town became the center of administration, it started to grow again.

A second burst of growth came with the advent of the Peshwai. Under the Peshwas, the city prospered: newer peths were established, a water management system to bring water from the rivers to the doorstep was put in place, and the city developed its own ‘urban identity’. But two centuries of Pune’s pre-eminence came to an end in 1817 with the defeat of the Marathas at the hands of the British in the Battle of Khadki 4 . With the establishment of British rule, the city again grew in importance.

The British established a prominent military centre here leading to the formation of a distinct dual identity for the city—the native city and the military cantonment 5 . Today, Pune is the only city in India to have three cantonments. At one point in the 1860s, the city was briefly considered for being made the permanent capital of India because of its climate and proximity with Bombay.

Pune, believed to have originated on the banks of the Mutha River, and both the rivers that flow through the city, Mutha and Mula, have been mute witnesses to the ups and downs of the city. The floods on the river Mutha, in 1961, caused by incessant rain and a collapsing dam, changed the way the city grew in its aftermath. Till date, these two rivers are the major source of water for the district. The tekdis (hills) that dot the landscape are a host to a wide range of native flora and fauna. The city is and has been a home to many extraordinary freedom fighters, social reformers, thinkers, scholars, artistes, politicians, industrialists and educationalists.

Pune’s urban landscape today is a mix of various elements: modern buildings, traditional wadas, colonial structures and open spaces. At the same time, the signs of its glorious past survive, hidden or sometimes in plain sight—in the small alleys, the publication houses and institutions that retain the spirit of the national freedom movement, the old temples, the sabhas that have seen both natya sangeet and experimental theatre being performed, the talims (traditional gymnasiums), the paars (social spaces around trees)—and mostly in the memories of its oldest residents.

Sahapedia chose to document Pune because of its distinct cultural history and economic vitality. Apart from attracting industrial capital, this smart city is a hub of academic institutions which themselves are embedded in history for the knowledge and the alumni they have produced. Rapid development is bringing with it a new identity, and inward migration changing the population dynamic. Its diverse social and cultural milieu appeals to migrants from across the country and is home to various local and international communities. This adds another layer to the existing cultural heritage that the city boasts of. It is critical to capture the city’s unique and vibrant local culture and make it accessible to one and all. There is strong feasibility and need for documenting Pune because:

  1. A sizeable share of credible work recording Pune across its tangible, intangible and natural heritage by various scholars and cultural practitioners already exists but is scattered. The proposed online resource seeks to provide a single-window access to Pune’s multifaceted culture and history, and to engage viewers with its complexity through an engaging and comprehensive multimedia experience.
  2. Most work done so far has excluded certain geographies or communities, e.g. Pune cantonment, or migrant, marginalised and international communities which occupy 40 per cent of Pune city landscape.
  3. Pune houses people from all over India and the world who are interested in information and activities related to its cultural past and present thus making it an active consumer of cultural knowledge.
  4. Given the multiplicity of expressions of Pune’s heritage and its ever-changing landscape, the project of documenting and safeguarding this heritage is important for strengthening respect towards diverse traditions and identities, and to promote creativity.

  1. Paranjape, A. ‘Pune’s development – A strong need for lobbying!’ Amit Paranjape’s Blog,1 December, 2014. Accessed 30 September, 2019. need-for-lobbying/.
  2. Gazetteer Department, G. o. Gazetteers of the Bombay Presidency Vol. XVIII. Bombay: The Executive Editor and Secretary, (1885) 2006. Accessed 30 September, 2019.
  3. Jayamala Diddee, S. G. Pune: Queen Of The Deccan. Pune: INTACH Pune Chapter, 2013.
  4. Benninger, C. ‘Death and life of a great Indian city.’ Pune Mirror, Pune, July 24, 2010. Accessed 30 September, 2019. city/articleshow/32312809.cms.
  5. Jayamala Diddee, S. G. Pune: Queen Of The Deccan. Pune: INTACH Pune Chapter, 2013.