Sunday, February 19, 2017

Need for further Mastani research

Mastani was reputedly stunningly beautiful:
Had Mastani been such a stunning beauty, there would have been some genuine picture or painting of her. The two in the Kelkar and Wai museums have been denounced by historians as not depictions of Mastani herself. There are too many identification and cultural errors for these to be depictions of Mastani.
The innumerable anomalies in the story of Mastani as it is popularly told, stick out. Here was a Kshtriya maiden, daughter of the most powerful ruler of Central India of his times and a known upholder of his religion, supposedly "giving" his daughter from a minor "wife/mistress" to the Peshwa. If she was the daughter of a mistress, would not that be a calculated insult to the man who saved Chhatrasaal life and kingdom for him?
To assuage which Chhatrasaal agreed to give the Peshwa one third of his kingdom as well as war reparations of 2.25 lakhs? Against these reparations, Mastani's lugda choli, i.e. dowry alone was five lakhs!
When Mastani first arrived with Baji Rao, she was accepted in his Brahmin household. Despite having been brought up in the Pranami Panth, with its unique combination of rituals and customs, she was able to adjust in the Brahmin household surprisingly well. When Baji Rao built his Shaniwar Wada, there is a corner reserved for Mastani as Mastani Mahal the northeastern one!
During her pregnancy, she lived under the same roof as Baji Rao's mother, Radhabai and his first wife, Kashibai. So much so that when Mastani entered her final trimester and was big with child, Baji Rao slept with Kashibai, leaving her pregnant too. Both his wives delivered sons within months of each other in 1734.
Yes, I did say "wife". For the present day descendants of the Peshwas are on record acknowledging Mastani as the legally wedded (or whatever term may have been prevalent in that society in the 1730s) second wife of Peshwa Baji Rao I. Is it not significant that neither the king, Shahu Maharaj, nor Baji Rao's spiritual guru, Brahmendra Swami made any public denouncement of Mastani, which would have well been the case had she been the manipulative mistress that she was made out to be.
The social history of those times reveals that it was the return of Shahu from Mughal imprisonment that saw the introduction of many North Indian influences into Maratha social life. These included various festivals and Rajput practices, including dancing girls, wine and meat consumption; for all of which Mastani was blamed. Was it a parochial bias against a highly accomplished princess from Central India versus the rather simpler women of the Bhat Peshwa household?
Whatever be the case, records indicate that after Baji Rao escorted Kashibai on her Narmada yatra, it was the turn of his mother Radhabai to embark on her Varanasi yatra. On her way there, Rajput princes and rajas feted her. On her way back she made a stopover at Bundelkhand.
Question: Did she stay at Mastani's maika or with Govind Pant Bundela who was Baji Rao's agent there to collect his dues from the estate he inherited from Chhatrasaal?
What happened during that stopover that as soon as Radhabai returned to Pune, she embarked on a pogrom of vilification against Mastani and drew support from the Chitpavan Brahmins, citing the Mussalmani, wine and meat issue etc.?
This vilification campaign was eventually to sap Baji Rao; so much so that for the first time in his life, he ran a fever so high that it took his life!! Was that actually so for the famed cavalry general who had led his troops in numerous battles and never been ill a day?
And in the bargain, Mastani's also, although no historical records have been left of how, when and where she actually died.
Should this myth be accepted or probed since it came on the heels of Baji Rao's announcement to his ambitious brother Chimaji that he was considering shifting out of Pune and settling down with Mastani, closer to Delhi and his Bundelkhand estates.
If anyone can tell me anything that will throw light on these questions, I will be very obliged.


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