We grew up on many stories about Bajirao Mastani where when one talked about Mastani with tongue in cheek, the name Mastani was a connotation for a courtesan, a woman so beautiful and delicate that when she ate ‘paan’ one could see the red juice passing down her throat. Near Pune there is a Mastani lake on the way to Saswad which is beautiful enough to be noticed from Dive ghats. And of course the famous milk shake with kulfi is called Mastani.
For me history changed while watching one of the promos before the big movie release of Bajirao Mastani, one of the scenes depict Mastani as the second wife of Bajirao. This was hard to digest and I thought maybe to dramatise and for cinematic appeal, a few facts were twisted by the filmmaker. When a few articles talking about Mastani appeared in social media, it raised my curiosity enough to browse her name online and find more about her. Many surprising facts were revealed. She was indeed lawfully wedded and the second wife of Bajirao I, not a courtesan but a Rajput princess from Bundelkhand born to Raja Chatrasal and his Persian muslim wife Ruhaani bai. Bajirao came to the King’s rescue when his kingdom was being invaded by the enemy. In gratitude the king gave Bajirao, a third part of his kingdom, diamond mine in Panna and Mastani was married to Bajirao.
Mastani was a skilled dancer and singer, she was equally skilled in swordsmanship and horse riding. She bore a son to Bajirao who was named Shamsher Bahadur. Mastani accompanied Bajirao on military campaigns. There are mentions about Mastani living in Shaniwarwada, the palatial residence of Bajirao with his first wife Kashibai. A corner of the Shaniwarwada where Mastani lived, had a separate entrance called Mastani darwaza. Bajirao later built a residence for Mastani, further from Shaniwarwada. Mastani’s influence on Bajirao, his love for Mastani and in turn his neglect of Kashibai, led to much intolerance of Mastani by Bajirao’s family. His mother Radhabai, brother Chimaji appa and elder son Balaji coerced Mastani to leave Bajirao in vain.
Historians and history students may have known this history of Bajirao Mastani, but thanks to the movie, history of Mastani was revealed and I will say it is still veiled because unfortunately, not much has been recorded about her, not many references are found. From what all we have learnt, henceforth we hope Mastani is not remembered as the concubine or mistress, we hope she is remembered as a Rajput princess, gets the much deserved respect as a skilled woman who fought for love and fought equally hard to be accepted by the society.