Bajirao I was anointed as the Peshwa of the Maratha empire at the age of 20. Over the next 20 years, he would go on to fight 41 battles to keep his empire intact. The most significant thing about Bajirao is that he won all the battles he fought.
Though his military exploits and achievements are fascinating, what is even more intriguing is his love for Mastani – the daughter of a Bendeli king.
Popular tales sing paeans to their love, which unfortunately ended in tragedy. It is said that Bajirao and Mastani loved each other more than themselves.
Mastani was the second wife of Bajirao. The daughter of King of Bundelkhand Chhtrasal and his Muslim wife, Mastani was of exquisite beauty.
In December 1728, Mohammad Khan Bangash of the Mughals planned an attack on Bundelkhand. Chhatrasal wrote a letter to Bajirao seeking assistance against the invading Bangash.
Soon after getting the letter from Chhatrasal, Bajirao rushed with his army to help him. Bangash lost the war and was imprisoned. He was later released on condition that he would never ever invade Bundelkhand.
Extremely grateful for the help, Chhatrashal divided his empire into three parts and gifted one part to Bajirao. This part included Jhansi, Sagar and Kalpi.
It was after the battle against Bangash that Chhatrasal offered the hand of his daughter Mastani to Bajirao.
Bajirao took Mastani as the second wife. (His first wife was Kashibai.) He was attracted by the many talents of Mastani. Besides being really pretty and graceful, Mastani was an expert in horse riding, sword fighting, religious studies, war affairs, poetry, dance and music.
Her unbound traits made Mastani Bajirao’s beloved. It is even believed that she fought alongside Bajirao in several military expeditions.
Mastani bore Bajirao a son, but the local Brahmin community declined to accept the boy as a rightful heir to the Maratha empire because Mastani was half-Muslim. They even spread rumours that Mastani was not the daughter of Chhatrasal but only a dancer of his court.
Kashibai was not against Bajirao marrying Mastani. In those times, it was the second marriage of a king was not looked down upon.
But things soured between Kashibai and Mastani when the former’s child died at a very young age. On one side Kashibai was recovering from the grief of losing her son, on the other hand Mastani was becoming gradually influential in the Empire.
This distressed Kashibai. Some historian believe that Kashibai grew jealous of Mastani’s young boy.
Many attempts were made to separate Bajirao and Mastani. In 1734, Bajirao built a separate residence for Mastani at Kothrud. This place still exists next to Mrityunjaya Temple on Karve Road.
On April 28, 1740, Bajirao died due to the poor health at the age of 39. Mastani also did not live long after Bajirao’s demise and passed away soon.
There is no written document on how Mastani died. The popular belief is that she consumed poison after hearing the news about Bajirao’s demise. Some say that Mastani jumped into Bajirao’s funeral pyre and committed sati.
Many historians believe that Mastani was victim of grievous character assassination. She was portrayed a ‘dancer’ by some accounts. Though she was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, the society of the time forced her into tragic circumstances because of her religion.