Mastani, a woman of legendary beauty and lineage was the second wife of the powerful Peshwa Bajirao and the love of his life. 16th and 17th AD was the time when Pune was a bastion of the mighty Peshwas.
Mastani was the second wife of the Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I. She is said to have been a beautiful and brave woman, skilled in arts, literature, and warfare.She had been dearly loved by Peshwa Bajirao but always neglected by his mother and his brother.
It was during this period that the city was in its full glory. According to a theory, Mastani – who was a daughter of Maharaja of Chhatrasal and Persian born Ruhaani Bai – came down to Puneto take refuge under the able wings of Bajirao Peshwa. Peshwa was said to have gotten completely besotted with the beauty and warrior skills of the beautiful Persian princess, Mastani and therefore married her, much to the chagrin of the orthodox Brahmins of that period.
There are many legends associated with Mastani. One of the most well-known is that Mastani was the daughter of Bundela Rajput leader Maharaja Chhatrasal (1649–1731), the founder of Panna State in Bundelkhand province. When a Mughal officer from Allahabad, the Pathan Mohammad Khan Bangash, invaded Chhattrasal’s kingdom during 1727-28, Chhattrasal sent a secret message, seeking help, from Bajirao I, who happened to be on a military campaign in the vicinity of Bundelkhand. Bajirao came to the rescue of Chhatrasal. In gratitude, Chattrasal gave Bajirao his daughter Mastani, and a third of his kingdom, including Jhansi, Sagar and Kalpi as well as 33 lakh gold coins to Bajirao. He also gifted a Diamond mine to Bajirao in marriage to Mastani along with handful of villages.
However, sources vary on this context. According to the second view of Chhatrasal, she was the daughter of Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizam, defeated by Chhatrasal in 1698, was advised by his wife to marry his daughter to Chhatrasal to foster friendly relations with the Bundelas who had become the most dominant power in Central India.
However, the most accepted and conclusive version is that she was the daughter of Chhatrasal with his Persian Muslim wife Ruhaani Bai. Mastani is often referred to as Bajirao’s concubine or mistress. However, she was his lawfully wedded wife.
Mastani was skilled in horse-riding, spear-throwing and swordsmanship and a talented dancer and singer. She accompanied Bajirao on his military campaigns. Bajirao’s first wife, Kashibai, and Mastani bore sons to Bajirao within a few months of each other. Kashibai’s child was named Raghunathrao and Mastani’s child was named Shamsher Bahadur.
Bajirao bestowed the Jagir of Banda on Shamsher (Peshwa). The son fought on the side of the Marathas in the third Battle of Panipat in 1761 against Ahmed Shah Abdali and is said to have been killed in the battle.
Bajirao’s love for his half-Muslim wife Mastani, and neglect of Kashibai angered his mother, Radhabai. In deference to Radhabai, Bajirao’s brother, Chimnaji Appa, tried to send Mastani into exile. Bajirao’s son, Balaji, also tried to coerce Mastani into leaving his father, but she refused. Enraged by her growing influence on Bajirao, and Bajirao’s neglect of Kashibai, Balaji had Mastani placed under house arrest for a time, while Bajirao was on military campaign.
Mastani lived for some time with Bajirao at his palace of Shaniwar Wada in the city of Pune. The palace’s north-east corner held Mastani Mahal and had its own external doorway called Mastani Darwaza. Because of his family’s intolerance of Mastani, Bajirao later built a separate residence for Mastani at Kothrud in 1734, some distance away from Shaniwar Wada. The site still exists at the Mrutyunjay temple on Karve road. The palace at Kothrud was dismantled and parts of this are displayed at a special section of Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum. Court records (Bakhars) during Bajirao’s regime specifically never included any reference to her. Historians have determined that the paintings of Mastani in both Raja Kelkar Museum and Wai museum are not authentic.
Mastani is believed to be a skilled horse-rider and a warrior. She also assisted Bajirao Peshwa in running the day to day course of courts.
According to a local folklore, the lake near Dive Village, on Pune-Saswad Road, was funded by Mastani to fulfill water requirements of nearby villages.
In April 1740, while Bajirao was inspecting his lands at Khargon, he suddenly became ill from fever (possibly heat stroke) and died. Kashibai, Chimnaji Appa and Balaji (Nanasaheb) came to Khargon. Bajirao’s mortal remains were consigned to flames on 28 April 1740, at Raver Khed on the banks of the Narmada River. Mastani died at Pabal Village near Pune, soon afterwards.
It is not known if she committed suicide or died of shock after hearing the news of her husband’s death. One folk tradition claims that she committed suicide by sati.
Mastani’s grave is in Pabal and is called Mastani’s samadhi or mazaar.