Who was Mastani? A Princess or Muslim Court Dancer
Curiosity about who Mastani was is on the rise as release of Bajirao Mastani is approaching. There are a few legends about Mastani. “Mastani is one of the most misunderstood characters in the history of India,” says author Kusum Chopra who has a book on this historical character to her fame. Historians are divided in their views about the origin, identity and personality of Mastani, who is portrayed by Deepika Padukone in Bajirao Mastani.
According to one group of historians, Mastani was a court dancer with an intellectual bent of mind. They compare her with Nur Jahan or Mehr-un-Nissa, chief consort of Emperor Jahangir and one of the most powerful women in the Mughal Era of India. Another group of historians opine that Mastani was a brave princess with knowledge of martial arts and politics. Some legends refer to her as a mere Muslim dancing girl.
Author Kusum Chopra, who has authored a novel about Mastani based on 25 years of research, says that Mastani is a victim of severe character assassination and she has been looked down upon as Muslim dancing girl by some biased historians. It may be that’s why Deepika’s Mastani dances in the court of Peshwa Bajirao in Sanjay Leel Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani.
As per the book by Kusum Chopra, Mastani was a daughter of Maharaj Chhatrasaal, a Bundela Rajput leader of Panna State in Bundelkhand. Her mother was Ruhani Bai, a Persian Muslim court dancer for the Nizams of Hyderabad. As her mother was a court dancer, Mastani is misunderstood and mistaken to be a court dancer.
Kusum Chopra claims that Mastani was a legitimate princess of Chhatrasaal and a legal wife of Bajirao. She was brought up with faith both in Hinduism and Islam. She was a devotee of Lord Krishna. She sang devotional hymns on one hand and offered Namaaz on the other. She often got into a trance while worshipping Lord Krishna.
She was trained in not only music and dance but also martial arts. She was sound in politics and diplomacy too. She knew fencing, horse riding and spear throwing. Even she accompanied Bajirao to battlefield a few times. Bajirao’s son Shamsher Bahadur, who Mastani bore to him, represented the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat against Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1761.
Mastani when married off to Peshwa Bajirao brought lots of wealth in form of dowry, which added to his property and power as well. Marriage with Mastani made him owner of one third of Chhatrasaal Kingdom and a diamond mine in Bundelkhand. He also got 33 lakh gold coins. If she were a mere dancing girl, it would not have been possible to bring lots of dowry with her.
When a Mughal chief invaded Chhatrasaal, Mastani’s father sought help from Peshwa Bajirao 1. As a token of gratitude, the King of Chhatrasaal married off Mastani to him. But Bajirao’s family never accepted her because of her material origin in the Muslim community. She was blamed for Bajirao’s negligence towards his first wife Kashibai. Even several efforts were made to exile Mastani from the Maratha kingdom. She was once put under house arrest for her growing influence on Bajirao.
His family was so intolerant about her that Bajirao had to build a separate residence for her in 1734. The palace for Mastani was dismantled after her death. The parts of the palace are display at Raja Kelker Museum. Bajirao’s mother Radhabai tried all possible means to keep Mastani away from the family as she was fond of Kashibai. Mastani died when her only son was 6 years old. Kashbai adopted the motherless child and reared him as one of her sons.
Let’s wait for the release of Bajirao Mastani to see if Sanjay Leela Bhansali has depicted Mastani as a princess of Chhatrasaal or a Muslim dancing girl, or if the portrayal of Mastani is inspired by his imagination.