The Story of Bajirao Mastani: An Epic Love Tragedy
Who was Bajirao?
Bajirao was a Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the fourth Maratha emperor, Chhatrapati Shahu Raje Bhonsle. As a general, he led his troops in over 41 battles and never lost a war. Through these battles, he expanded the Maratha empire into the north and strengthened its hold over its territories.
He was raised a Brahmin (the priestly class), and so was expected to perform priestly duties when he grew up. But recognizing his abilities early, emperor Shahu Maharaj made him Peshwa after the death of his father. He was just 20 years old at the time. He then made this extraordinary opportunity count by expanding the Maratha empire with the help of some valiant fighting, smart strategy, and inspiring leadership.
Who was Mastani?
Mastani was the daughter of a Hindu king, Maharaja Chhatrasal Bundela, and a Muslim court dancer, Ruhaani Bai. She was trained in politics, martial arts, household work, and was known to be extremely beautiful. Like her mother, she became a dancer.
How They Came Together
Mastani’s father, Maharaja Chhatrasal’s kingdom was once under threat. To protect his family and kingdom, he called Bajirao for help, who then came and saved them. Feeling indebted for this enormous favor, Mastani’s father gifted him his daughter. Bajirao fell in love with Mastani almost immediately, and in spite of being married to Kashibai, married her and took her in as his second wife.
The Turning Point
Bajirao’s mother, Radhabai, and the Brahmin community in his kingdom were infuriated at this — Mastani was a half-Muslim and a court dancer. How could she live in the same house as Bajirao’s wife Kashibai, they wondered.
Sometime later, both Kashibai and Mastani gave birth just a few months apart. While everyone was happy for Kashibai, Mastani’s son was not accepted by the Brahmin community and was raised a Muslim — they named him Shamsher Bahadur.
Soon, another tragedy struck — the death of Kashibai’s son at a young age. So while Kashibai was coping with the loss of her child, Mastani was becoming more and more influential in the kingdom. This infuriated her. And it didn’t help seeing Mastani’s young, able boy.
Bajirao’s family used Kashibai’s brewing anger and turned her against Mastani. Together they plotted several ways to kill her. After these attempts failed, Bajirao’s brother asked her to go into exile. She refused. Then, Bajirao’s son Balaji put her under house arrest, as this seemed like the best way to keep her away. This happened when Bajirao was out on a military campaign.
After Bajirao got back, he created a separate room in the palace for Mastani to live in — it was called Mastani Mahal. She lived here for a while, but Bajirao’s family relented with their anger and hatred towards her. Bajirao then built a separate residence for Mastani.
Over time, news broke out that Bajirao had died of a fever — many say it was a heatstroke — during a military campaign in Khargon, near Indore. This crushed Mastani, as she immediately committed suicide by consuming poison. Kashibai then took it upon herself to raise Mastani’s six-year-old son Shamsher Bahadur.