Wadas – Exploring the Traditional Houses of Maharashtra


Wadas Traditional Houses of Maharashtra
Image – Wikimedia

Wadas are a treasured architectural legacy in Maharashtra, symbolizing the Marathas’ pride, religion, culture, customs, and stormy past. Wadas, a type of house in the past, are now being re-used and maintained as cultural and architectural heritage. 

The arrival of Mumbai, an international metropolis and home to one of the world’s largest film industries, has greatly influenced the people of Maharashtra. The inhabitants of the state are flamboyant, and they are known to spend lavishly to keep up with the current fashion trends. At the same time, Maharashtra folklore has not totally lost its traditions; they are adapting to changing circumstances while still conserving its forefathers’ legacy. Maharashtra’s people have a rich cultural heritage and beliefs, which are reflected in their religious traditions and architecture.

Maharashtra is well-known for its caverns and rock-cut structures. In the 2nd century BC, Buddhist monks pioneered the formation of these spectacular caverns in search of a tranquil and peaceful setting for meditation. Later, Hindu cave temples at Ellora and Ajanta were regarded as the best masterpieces of human art by UNESCO in 1983. Some of India’s earliest wall murals composed of natural ingredients may be seen here. Even though sculptures of the time are thought to be stiff and unmoving, the famous rock-cut caves have several distinct design elements, such as craving techniques, motifs, and depictions of various postures.

The state may be recognised as a fast-paced state, but it also maintains heritage values in its building styles, particularly in temples and the Wada Housing housing type. Wada is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Vata,’ which signifies a plot of ground suitable for building a dwelling. The traditional ‘Wada’ dwelling featured residences of many families or simply one family that lived there. It is commonly used to describe a courtyard home mansion. This House form belonged to both the governing classes and commoners. This type is historically, culturally, and economically significant. Despite differences in size, scale, and economic standing, all wadas have some basic aspects and traits.

Elements in Wada

Traditional houses of Maharashtra - Elements in Wada
Image – Wikimedia

The roots of history and a rich cultural legacy are wrapped in the minor aspects of these constructions, which showcase the beauty, sense of style, and inventiveness of individuals who made it possible. The soul of the Maratha empire may still be found in the structures constructed during their reign. Various cultural aspects, including rituals and religion, had an impact on architectural design and layout. The shape and design evolved from their everyday activities and the places required to carry them out.

  • Osari:It is the verandah or transition space. It is a semi-open place for activities, such as a hallway or a spill out space.
  • Dewadi: It is a verandah for guards
  • Sadrecha Sopa: Verandah area utilised for administrative tasks that is open to the courtyard, commonly in the first or centre courtyard.
  • Kacheri:The administrative department is located in the first or central courtyard.
  • Khalbhatkhana: As known as the Negotiation Room, it was a semi-public area where talks and choices were made.
  • Diwankhana: It has a large living room with a large hall for formal gatherings. It is to be built close above Osari and Dewadi.
  • Majghar: The middle chamber. The private area is separated from the public area by this section. It is mostly used by women and family members. It’s a private room.
  • Devghar: A Prayer Room. 
  • Tijory : The Treasury.
  • Gotha: A cow-pen in a house’s backyard.
  • Swayampak Ghar : The Kitchen. 
  • Kothar: A Storeroom. 

The Evolution of Wada Architecture

The Wadas of the Maratha and Peshwa periods, on the other hand, depict the era’s turmoil and customs. Some are gorgeous, while others are quiet, isolated structures on river banks. Wadas, the classic dwelling type of Maratha architecture, originated during the reign of the Peshwas. Its design was a hybrid of Mughal, Rajasthani, and Gujarati elements blended with indigenous building skills. This house design handles air and light, resulting in excellent ventilation of both, and it also addresses security or privacy issues owing to the structure’s façade. Wadas are a type of residential building that first appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1730, the notion was born during the Peshwa period. The garhis (fortified palaces) featured minimal facades, decoration, and openings, but the wadas’ facades had apertures in every structural bay, as well as highly ornate openings. Topography and climatology also had a part since, depending on the rainfall, people utilised flat roofs in certain locations and sloping roofs in others.

The appearance of the wada was also influenced by social factors such as caste and occupation. Whereas the facades of the trading community were highly ornamented, the facades of the Brahmin were plainer and simpler.

  1. Wadas are planned in accordance with the local meteorological conditions.
  2. In general, the layout is linear.
  3. They are two or three-story rectangular houses with a courtyard in the centre and rooms around them.
  4. They are two or three-story rectangular residences with a courtyard in the centre and rooms around them.
  5. The first courtyard is designated as a public place for social gatherings, while the second courtyard is reserved for ladies-only rooms.
  6. A well is also located within one of the courtyards of the wadas.
  7. The main staircase for the owners led from the courtyard, while the servants’ stairway was buried between walls and could not be seen.
  8. The three courts of the wada were used in distinct ways: the first court was used for social gatherings, leading to chambers accessed by visitors.
    The second court was utilised for the ‘Kacheri’ office and was exclusively accessible to officials.
    The third court was for private use, particularly by the ladies of the house, and included the kitchen, storeroom, and the balantini kholi (delivery room). It also included the tulsi vrindavan herb for religious purposes.

Dimensions of Wada

Traditional houses of Maharashtra - Dimensions Of Wada
Image – Wikimedia

The spaces adhered to the structural grid. These structural system measurements were determined by the sort of wood available.
All of the dimensions of these homes are multiples of the khann unit bays. Different styles of doors represent the owner’s wealth and social standing. The wealthier the family, the more ornamented the door, whereas the modest doors belonged to a middle-class family.


Traditional houses of Maharashtra - Windows
Image – Wikimedia

There were two types of windows: half windows and complete windows. Depending on the weather and the role of the window panels, half windows had four opening panels, two above and two below. The entire windows featured two panes and were created with desires.


Traditional houses of Maharashtra - Brackets
Shaniwar Wada, Pune/ Poona –  Shankar s. / Flickr

The brackets represent the beam’s final features. These elements were influenced by Asian motifs of dragons and lotus, or were influenced by family and ancestry.

Wall Niches

Traditional houses of Maharashtra - Wall Niches
Image – Wikimedia

It is a feature from the 18th century. It was designed to house candles or diyas, which shield the light from the wind.

Wadas have come a long way since their inception, and while not all of them have survived, these beautifully designed and decorated houses have become an important part of Maratha architecture. The wadas are distinguished from other typologies in India by their unique planning based on a square grid pattern. Though, in today’s scenario, we see a decrease and deterioration of Wadas in Maharashtra maps as they have been erected for years and can no longer withstand the changes occurring around them. Many of the restored wadas are utilised as shrines or museums, but just a handful are liveable. The wadas played an essential part in establishing Maharashtra’s architectural map since the cravings and decorating were not only established but also inspired by Indo-Saracenic, Chinese, and Rajasthani architectural styles. Dhepe Wada, Shaniwar Wada, Nana Wada, Kesari Wada, Vishrambaug Wada, Raste Wada, Bhor Rajwada, Purandare Wada in Pune, Sarkar Wada at Nashik, and  Juna Wada, Gaikwad Wada in Kolhapur are a few noteworthy Wadas that have withstood the test of time and are utilised in movie sets often.

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