This article was written by Shivangi.
Mastani Bai was born on 29 August 1699 at Mau Sahaniya, Bundelkhand (a province in present-day central India) to Maharaja Chhatrasal (the Bundela Rajput ruler of Bundelkhand) and his Persian wife, Ruhani Bai Begum. Maharaja Chhatrasal followed Pranami Sampraday, a Hindu community based on bhakti worship of Lord Krishna and teachings of Islam. Mastani was considered to be beautiful and brave. She was skilled in arts, literature and warfare. She was a strategist both on the field and at home, and she would regularly help her father in formulating strategies and policies. She was also trained in close combat.
In 1719, Muhammad Shah ‘Rangeela’ became the Mughal emperor. His prime minister Qamaruddin Khan (who later on became the first Nizam – hereditary ruler – of the state of Hyderabad) was opposed to Mastani’s father Chhatrasal and considered him to be a thorn in the Mughal empire. He had spent all his life fighting the Mughals, right from the time of Emperor Aurangzeb, and he had managed to take away his ancestral lands from the Emperor. On his advice, the Emperor Mohammad Shah ordered the Mughal governor of Allahabad Mohammed Khan Bangash to march against Chhatrasal – leading to the Bangash Bundela war, which was fought between 1720 and 1729. In desperation, Chhatrasal appealed to Maratha Peshwa Bajirao (the prime minister of the Maratha Empire) for help. The Peshwa happened to be quite close at Devgadh near Nagpur (in the present-day state of Maharashtra in western India). Bajirao and troops reached Bundelkhand on 12 March 1729 and defeated Bangash.
A few days later, Bangash signed the terms of the surrender. A grateful Chhatrasal declared that henceforth he would consider Bajirao like his own son and bestowed one-third of his Kingdom on him along with 33 lakh gold coins and a gold mine. He also gave the hand of his daughter Mastani to Bajirao. Bajirao was already married to Kashibai (the daughter of a Maratha nobleman) with whom he had a very good relationship. He also belonged to an orthodox Chitpavan Brahmin family (a sub-caste of Brahmins) which did not practise polygamy. Nevertheless, he accepted the hand of Mastani out of regard for Chhatrasal.
In Pune, which was the seat of Peshwai (the office of the Peshwa – Prime Minister) his marriage was not accepted. His mother Radha bai, an austere widow, had a strict hold over the affairs of the household and the Peshwai. She managed it along with Chimmaji Appa, the younger brother of Bajirao. She faced constant pressure from orthodox Brahmin priests about this second marriage of Bajirao, and also that it was to a woman who followed Muslim customs. Mastani followed her father’s adopted community, which allowed her to offer namaz (daily prayers offered by Muslims) and also to observe Hindu rituals and practices. Due to the family’s intolerance of Mastani, Bajirao had to build a separate residence for Mastani in 1734, which was some distance away from his official residence.
Malicious rumours began to be circulated in Pune, about Mastani being a daughter of Maharaja Chhatrasal with a court dancer and that she was a Muslim and not a Hindu and that she actually was not his daughter but herself a dancer in his court. People were not familiar with the community she followed nor its practices. Mastani bore a son who was named Krishna Rao at birth, and he was born within a few months of Bajirao’s first wife Kashibai also delivering a son. However, as he was born of a half Muslim mother, the priest refused to conduct the various ceremonies performed for the newborn. The boy was later renamed Shamsher Bahadur (a way to convey that the Peshwa house recognised his mother as a Muslim, by giving him a Muslim name).
Bajirao was the seventh Peshwa (Prime Minister) of the Maratha empire, and he would lead military campaigns for the Maratha rulers. His younger brother Chimnaji Appa was also actively involved in planning those campaigns. In his twenty years of military service, he had never lost a battle. After her wedding to Bajirao, Mastani would accompany him on his military expeditions. She was a constant support to her husband. Her beauty, love, military expertise and strategies were highly valuable companions to Bajirao. However, back in Pune, rumours around Mastani refused to die. Her mother-in-law Radha Bai would not have the prestige of the Peshwa household be ruined, and she planned to keep Mastani away from the Peshwa, and she also refused to allow her to accompany him on further military campaigns. Mastani thus stayed back with her son.
In Raverkhedi (in present-day Khargone, in Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India) Bajirao received the news of Mastani being imprisoned. It broke his heart that his brother Chimnaji Appa and his elder son had done this, and it affected him greatly. He remembered how Mastani had given him inspiration during his campaigns. Her presence had been a source of excitement for him. A feeling of loss of overpowered him, and he started drinking heavily. Soon after, he fell ill with a fever and never recovered. After receiving the news of Bajirao’s death, Mastani too left this world – heartbroken. Some say she took her own life by consuming poison.
In the end, their love was sacrificed at the altar of society and religion. She died in Pabal, Pune at the age of 40 in 1740. She was also buried in Pabal. Her son was just 6 years old and was taken in by Kashibai, her husband’s first wife. Upon reaching adulthood, he was given his father’s lands, received as dowry from Maharaja Chhatrasal. He and his army fought alongside the Peshwa army in the third battle of Panipat between the Maratha and the Afghans (the army of Ahmad Shah Abdali, an Invader from Afghanistan). He was wounded in the battle and died a few days later.