Friday, November 06, 2015

Deepika Vs Madhuri


The music channels are full of the  “Deewani Mastani” song. It takes one back Madhuri Dixit’s so many kg ghagra kothawali dance in Devdas.  Pet obsession?
Chitpavan women would never be caught in public watching such a performance, as Priyanka Chopra is seen, with perhaps the most authentic expressions crossing her face as she looks on at the interplay between Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.
Deepika, in  her pale gold avatar in a net outfit reminiscent of flamenco dancers, with many  co-dancers, seems to inhabit the same Madhuri  space.  She dances in a huge ornate space, more European than Peshwai in design.  
Peshwai architecture was noted for its long, perhaps narrow halls and tall distinctively fluted and carved wooden columns based on stone to prevent damp and  insect damage --- all topped with intricately carved wood ceilings and all polished black in color.  Noted examples are the Mastani resurrected palace at the world renowned Kelkar Museum in Pune and the Wada of Nana Fadnis at Wai.
Yes, the setting has a beauty of its own.    But the historical references?
Despite considerable ‘authenticity’assurances from the production company, Mastani is apparently being depicted as a dancing girl – from Persia!!   or Spain? It sticks to an old myth of  a courtesan, not Baji Rao's legally married second  wife. The marriage  is accepted by the present day Peshwa family and Kashibai’s descendants, after later day research brought out the facts of Mastani's origins.

Mastani was a kshtriya princess from Bundelkhand, a daughter of  one of the noted kings of his time and the chief proponent of the Pranami Panth.   Maharaj Chhatrasaal gave  her a dowry 5 lakhs lugda choli with 500 gold mohurs, plus a jagir of one third of his estate to Bajirao plus one third share in the mines of diamonds and emeralds at Panna.  
Such a handsome dowry for a dancing girl?   When all that he sent to Maharajswami Shahu as war reparations for Bajirao's rescue mission was a sum of 1.25 lakhs?   
Yes, Mastani used to dance … in her Krishna bhakti (hence the name Mastani.)  and for her husband Baji Rao. The only time she danced for the family was when she had performed at the Janmasthami that Kashibai organized in their apartments.  Baji Rao's secretary came in to get signatures, saw her dance and spoke about it, germinating that myth.   The other time  she directed the little girls of the family for a dance at Ganesh utsav.
At the Kelkar museum recreation of her palace chamber, a prominent display is that of her tanpura and her Bal Krishna. Would such a  devout princess stand up in public to sing main deewani mastani hogayi etc etc.   no dignity or class?

The book on which the film is purportedly based, was first written in the 1970s before any research had happened. The author went by the prevailing myths of the time.  Those dancing girl myths were created at the instance of Kashibai's grandson and Raghunath Rao's son, later known as Baji Rao II who lost the Peshwai to the British.  He was trying to ensure he got the Peshwai and not Mastani’s grandson, Ali Bahadur who was favored because he was the replica of Baji Rao I both physically but also administratively and emotionally and therefore popular.  Ali Bahadur was later sent off as the Nawab of Banda. In his absence all these stories were created and circulated and the Bakhars edited to remove Mastani by Krishna Sohni.


11 comments:

Shilpa Madkar said...

Madame, you seem to have undertaken massive research before the publication of your literary work titled Mastani, a subject very close to your heart. With reference to your book Mastani, could you please quote the literary references in order to clarity the following points for me?

1. Meeting and interaction between Kashibai and Mastani
2. Kashibai leading the hate campaign against Mastani stemming from her jealousy
3. Matrugaman-Nana's incest

In the absence of credible written records from the period I wonder how you derived these incredible inferences. I am curious and would much appreciate it if you shed light on the same.

Shilpa Madkar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kusum Choppra said...

Hi Shilpa,
Sorry for the delay in replying as I was a bit busy with other commitments. Hope you will forgive me.
About the Kashibai - Mastani interaction, let us just remember that Kashibai had grown up from childhood, playing with her husband Bajirao and never dreamt that he would one day bring in such a stunning beauty into their lives, whose dowry was to become the life blood of the Peshwai to boot!
Obviously she would try to keep herself unto the mark to maintain her position as Mrs. Bajirao. Unfortunately for her, Mastani was not only as well trained as her, but also beautiful and intelligent too. That gave her an edge that Kashibai tried to gain with her early association since childhood. Let us also remember that between 1731 when the family shifted into the Shanivar Wada at Pune and till Bajirao's death in 1740, Mastani bore him only one son, Krishnasinh in January 1734, and Kashibai 4, of whom only two survived, both born after Krishnasinh.
Obviously in a large political household, there would many lips whispering many things into very many ears, which would bear influence on minds, especially one threatened by the fear that the Peshwai might slip out of her son's grasp into that of his half brother who was the Zerox of Bajirao himself, Mastani's son, renamed Shamsher Bahadur.
A dance face-off between Kashibai and Mastani was not likely to happen as Kashibai had, after a long earlier illness, developed a slight limp.

Regarding the matrugaman episode, you will find it referred to in very many renderings of Bajirao's life, both historical and social. Since Mastani's name was edited out of the Bakhars around 1800, there is not historical material as such, so the focus shifts to what are called secondary sources, books written in that period of later by different persons, diaries, commentaries etc etc.
Just as the conservative historians accepted the dancing girl myth after the editing of the Bakhar, they also agreed to depict not he matrugaman episode as an instance of Nana Saheb's total nubile and naive reliance on the machinations of his uncle Chimaji appa, in order to discredit Mastani in the eyes of Bajirao.
My observation is that Nana was neither nubile nor naive. He had been unto lot of stunts earlier too. He was a grown up, as old as Mastani was, @25 years old, whose wife's Godh Bharai for their first child had just been held then. Even if the suggestion came from someone else, is it not incumbent for the person to reflect on what they are doing, when and especially in the light of family relations -- more so in an important political sphere like the honor of the Peshwai itself?

Kusum Choppra

Shilpa Madkar said...

Dear Ms Choppra,

Thank you for your reply. You have been a journalist yourself so I hope you will accept my rather long response which is based on references from the works of writers like G S Sardesai,V G Dighe, Jaswantlal Mehta,Kincaid and Parasnis,Grant Duff and Stewart Gordon.There is no evidence of Matrugaman by Nanasaheb nor the ill treatment of Mastani by Kashibai in any of these though there is agreement among all writers about Peshwa Bajirao’s regard for Mastani, his strife against his family over his relationship with her and the fact that she bore him a male child named Samsher Bahadur in 1734.

Peshwa Bajirao’s family opposed Mastani in principle. Bajirao was a Chitpavan Brahmin by birth. Chitpavans Brahmins of the 18th century were an endogamous community. Unlike Kshatriya Rajputs who maintained several wives and concubines, a Chitpavan couple remained monogamous for life. There was no question of remarriage if the wife was living. Remarriage would happen only if the first wife failed to produce an heir. Bajirao was married to Kashibai for nearly two decades before the Bundelkhand campaign and she gave him four sons of whom only two, Balaji Ballal and Raghunathrao, survived. Balaji Ballal aka Nanasaheb was born in 1720, nearly a decade before the arrival of Mastani in Shaniwar Wada.

Mastani was the offspring of the Bundela Rajput Chhatrasal by his Persian origin Muslim partner Ruhaanibai. It was true that Bajirao gained monetarily from his association with Chhatrasal but that was because he put his sword to his disposal. Bajirao was a warrior; his income came from acquisitions from the successful campaigns during his career spanning two decades. He lived most of his life on the field under canvas and died similarly. However he took care to provide for Mastani’s comfort and pleasure by building her luxurious residences including the Mastani Mahal from the monies he got from Chhatrasal. However due to his numerous campaigns he was severely in debt, it took his family a decade to repay the creditors after his death.

History does not record any edifice constructed and named for Kashibai. It is not surprising that there are no records or verified paintings of Mastani or even Kashibai because it was not custom to do so. Bajirao chose to take Mastani along on his campaigns and she rode next to him. The other women of the Peshwa household lived veiled lives by remaining in the Gosha.

According to Parasnis (Marathyanche Parakram) due to Bajirao’s timely assistance against the invasion by Bangash Chhatrasal bequeathed him land that yielded 33 lakhs, including Kalpi, Sagar, Jhansi, Sironj and Hardenagar. To cement his alliance with Bajirao he also presented him Mastani. A khanda marriage was performed; the validity of which was questioned by Bajirao’s mother Radhabai, the matriarch of the Peshwa household. Brahmins in Maharashtra did not practise exogamous dola marriages such as those performed by Kachwaha Rajputs when they sent their daughters to Mughal harems for political reasons. Brahmin matches were and still are arranged by the parents and solemnised with their blessings.

If a husband disrespects the covenant of a monogamous marriage by taking another spouse when the first is living it naturally leads to resentment. How was Kashibai, who had given her husband an heir, supposed to react when Bajirao began neglecting her after Mastani entered his life? All records state that Bajirao was besotted with Mastani, so there was no question of Kashi trying to compete with her. Each woman had her own virtues.

Shilpa Madkar said...

Radhabai supported Kashibai’s cause because she practically brought her up when Kashi stepped over their threshold as a child bride. Radhabai had herself endured the pain of her husband’s infidelity. Which wife would appreciate having to share her husband’s affection? Even in a polygamous marriage among Muslims the husband seeks the first wife’s permission to remarry.

I agree with your point that there was insecurity about succession after Samsher Bahadur was born. Radhabai was witness to the civil war in Maharashtra. Along with the bloody battles for succession among Mughal princes she also watched Shahu’s struggle with Tarabai for the Maratha throne. In her lifetime the Maratha Empire became fragmented: the North was held by Scindia Holkar, east by Bhonsle, west by Dabhade and Gaekwad and South by Fateh-Singh Bhonsle and Peshwa Bajirao. Without Shahu acting as a stabilising force there would be complete chaos. Bajirao had numerous other political adversaries and in such a volatile climate Radhabai’s fears for her son’s well being and about his succession were understandable. Shahu made the Peshwa’s position hereditary when he appointed Bajirao successor to his father Balaji Vishwanath after his death.

It does not take great deliberation to see why Bajirao faced opposition from his family and from his contemporaries. He invited a royal reprimand from Shahu because he breached etiquette by taking Mastani instead of Kashibai to Satara when he went to pay his respect to the throne. As Bajirao was born a Brahmin neither the Marathas nor the British accorded Mastani the status of his legitimate wife. Besides his obsession for Mastani Bajirao’s unorthodox lifestyle extended to the partaking of meat and liquor, the consumption of which was taboo for his ilk during that period. In time his rebellion against his mother and brother grew. Ultimately he drank himself to his own detriment, a major contributory factor to his early demise.

Records indicate that Samsher Bahadur was brought up under the care of Kashibai and Radhabai and his upbringing and military training matched that of the other sons of Bajirao.The Brahmin priests refused to invest in him the sacred thread because he was born to Mastani whose mother had been Muslim. Hinduism did not accept converts in the 18th century.(Kincaid and Parasnis). Nevertheless as per his father’s decree he succeeded the dominion of Banda and Kalpi. He even fought and fell along with the Marathas in the Third Battle of Panipat. Would he have done so if he resented Radhabai and Kashibai?

Shilpa Madkar said...

Bajirao Peshwa died in died in April 1740 while his first grandson Vishwasrao was born on 7th March 1741. Mastani herself died soon after Bajirao. How then, did she witness the Godh Bharai of Gopikabai?

Shilpa Madkar said...

The post of Peshwa became hereditary after Bajirao Peshwa succeeded his father Balaji Vishwanath. Point to be noted is he was the elder son, and his younger brother Chimaji remained subordinate to him during his lifetime and let Balaji Ballal, the elder son of Bajirao succeed him. Again because Balaji was older than the younger brothers Raghunath, Janardan and Samsher. Balaji's first born son Vishwasrao died in the Third battle of Panipat and he was succeeded by the younger brother Madhavrao instead of Raghunathrao, his uncle who was older and more experienced. Madhavrao died issueless at the age of 27 and his wife Ramabai immolated herself in his pyre.Again Raghunathrao, the second surviving son of Bajirao was sidelined and the Peshwai passed on to the young Narayanrao, the younger brother of Madhavrao. After the murder of Narayanrao Nana Phadnavis acted as regent to Narayanrao's infant son Sawai Madhavrao, according to the Treaty of Salbai.

During his lifetime Bajirao had ensured that the tax revenue collected from the villages of Pabal, Tendur and Loni was used for the upkeep of Mastani. Bajirao also ensured that the dominion of Banda and Kalpi which were assigned to him earlier by Chhatrasal were to inherited by Samsher Bahadur, his son by Mastani. He did not leave anything specifically to his other surviving son Raghunathrao who was expected to be subordinate to Balaji Ballal, the older brother. This became a pet peeve of Raghunathrao. Samsher and Raghunathrao were born in the same year and were younger than Balaji, so how could the Peshwai have gone to either? In the title society of that time the norm for succession was such, father's title was inherited by his first born. We may argue about the merit of this practice but even now among royal families across the world this norm prevails.

The Peshwa Bakhars do not wax eloquent about any of the Peshwa wives, whether or not they were edited. If there are no references to Masatani neither are there vivid details about the lives of Radhabai,Kashibai, Gopikabai, Annapurnabai, etc. The Peshwa family did not recognise Mastani as a legitimate wife because she was a non Brahmin and her mother was a Muslim upastree of Chhatrasal. Nor was Raghunathrao's issue by his non Brahmin partner Radha considered legitimate. Such were the laws of succession prevailing in those times.

The Peshwa was Prime Minister of the ruling Maratha king, not a king himself. The Peshwas became de facto rulers because Bajirao, Balaji and Madhavrao I proved their valour in battle. Even subordinate brothers like Chimaji, Raghunathro, Sadashivrao and Samsher Bahadur fought in battle alongside the presiding Peshwa.

Kusum Choppra said...

Sorry Shipa dear, I cannot see the link between where we started and where this discussion is headed; apart from mere reiteration of the practices earlier prevalent in the Chitpavan Brahmin Bhat family, which have been recorded in presumably authentic sources.
Personally I think one needs to be rational in accepting healthy practices and weeding out others that cause unnecessary family heartburn as we move forward in time. That is the practice in more communities in India and around the world, than you and I can keep track off.
Since the present head of the Peshwa family has accepted Mastani as his legally wedded wife, (such as may be the legalities of marriage in those times), I think this controversy in unnecessary. You are welcome to meet me for a discussion, but the matter is closed here.

Kusum Choppra.

Shilpa Madkar said...

Dear Ms Choppra,

Yes, since the sensibilities of people from the 18th century were different from present day reality this discussion is moot. The reason I wrote back is that your painstakingly penned book makes very strong insinuations about a subject close to my heritage. Like you stated there are no reliable records for what may or may not have happened, so it is hardly fair to judge any person involved in the story based on assumptions, be it Bajirao, Kashibai or Mastani. History has concealed verifiable facts and until new resources are unearthed your guess is as good as mine. Thank you for your patience.

Kusum Choppra said...

Hey Mystery woman, Shilpa, since you cannot tell me about yourself, all I can say is that I did not set out to hurt you or anybody. Only to seek Justice for the woman named Mastani, which has become a mission. And my book is a historical novel. keyword: Novel.
All the best. Hope we meet someday.

Shilpa Madkar said...

Hi Ms Choppra,

You do have a way with words, it is evident from your writing. I am just a reader who likes to follow Maratha history, I wish there was more to tell! I understand that your book Mastani is a historical novel, but the fact that it borrows its context from history gives it the potential to alter how one perceives the events of the past. A bit like people concluding that Peshwa women performed lavni at will after watching the SLB film. There were socio-political reasons for Bajirao espousing Mastani as well as for the prejudice and opposition to the match- his brother, his mother and his opponents were not on the same page as him, it is as simple as that.

There is no dispute about Mastani being Chhatrasaal's daughter and Bajirao's parfait amour. High praise has been showered upon her for her dazzling beauty, wit and talent. Also there is no dispute about Bajirao being smitten by her. You admiration for Mastani has been communicated eloquently, there will be no dearth of her admirers because of your effort. In our times only Mastani has been written about unlike the other Peshwa women so justice is indeed served to her! Having put that into context, I finally rest my case! And wish you all the best too!