Mastani by Kusum Choppra

No this is not the movie review. This is a book review that the movie is probably based on (I am hoping so at least). However, my motivation behind buying and finishing this book has definitely rooted from the buzz created by the latest Bhansali epic drama which is releasing today.  A beautiful, warrior princess madly in love with Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I or more popularly known as the Black Prince. Mastani earned my deepest admiration in no time. And before I knew it, I was googling madly, hoping to find and gather the complete history of perhaps one of the most remarkable woman of Indian history who has been sent into the oblivion quite deliberately.

Mastani by Kusum Choppra is probably the only available book that throws some light on the tragic tale of the Bundella Princess and Peshwa. Kusum Choppra has been researching about the history and legends about Bajirao and Mastani for past two decades and this book is a fruit of that extensive effort. The book is not a boring history non-fiction though. The author rather took the route of imagination in order to fashion a riveting saga of love, jealousy, politics and betrayal. But do not mistake the events as fictional. Indeed there was a beautiful, brave, warrior princess from Bundelkhand (MadhyaPradesh) who married Peshwa Bajirao I and their love story ended tragically owing to petty jealousy and nearsightedness of the Peshwa household that also had a great impact on Indian political scenario for the next centuries. In fact, if the stupid Peshwa family had not been so intimidated by Mastani and not so hell bent on the separation of Mastani and Peshwa, India would have been a differently structured country; both from political and religious aspects.

Ms. Choppra nullified several myths and misconception in her book which had been deliberately spread by the Peshwa family and the uptight school of Brahmin historians only in a desperate attempt to deny this remarkable woman’s impact on the life of Peshwa Bajirao I. Even Wikipedia provides painfully wrong and misguiding information about Mastani. Well, Wikipedia is infamous for its horrendous incorrectness anyway, so I am not giving it much importance.

Mastani Kunwarsa was the daughter of Maharaja Chhatrasal of Bundelkhand; the daughter of his lawfully wedded wife who came from a Muslim royal family. She was very much of a Hindu woman who practiced Pranami faith. Pranami was a popular religious sect of that time that combined Hindu and Muslim faiths. Reader, we are talking about a India long time before our preacher of non-violence, father of the nation came into existence. India was a truly secular nation then, except the orthodox Brahmin sect. But when did Brahmin do anything useful for the society anyway except causing mayhem for their limited personal gain? Mastani was married off to Peshwa Bajirao I at the age of fourteen as an act of truce between the Bundela and the Maratha. Mind you reader, Mastani was NOT a dancing girl who was the mistress of Peshwa. She was the lawfully wedded wife and a princess. In fact the prosperity of the Peshwa family that took place after the wedding was due to the constant flow of wealth from Bundelkhand to Pune.

Bajirao’s first wife Kashibai was an incredibly stupid woman who was intimidated by the beauty and the intelligence of Mastani. Not only was she responsible for the untimely death of Rao and his Mastani, the Peshwa clan would be heading for the inevitable fall within the next century due to her stupidity. And history took sweet revenge when fruits came out of Kashibai’s jealous stricken, poisonous womb dragged the glorious Peshwa name into mud.

Mastani was the true companion of Bajirao who never knew what love was until he met his Mastani. It says that, Rao was a Brahmin by Dharma and a Kshatriya by Karma. He lived his life in the battlefield. Mastani brought solace and peace into his turbulent, lonely life. Mastani was not only his partner in bed, but she was his great advisor and the most loyal companion to the battlefield also. They were soul mates. But the Maratha society and Rao’s own family never let them live in peace. They condemned him for marrying a ‘Musalmani’. Although, Mastani was very much of a Hindu by birth. They spread filthy gossips in order to belittle Mastani which did not stop even after her death.

Bajirao and Mastani died in 1740 when the Peshwa was about forty years of age and Mastani twenty five.  (Wiki says Mastani was one year older than Rau! Talk about sacrilege.) Mastani was pregnant when she died (read 'was deliberately driven to death'). After the demise of Mastani and Rao, Gopikabai, daughter in law of Rao from his first marriage, took Mastani’s only child Krishnasinh aka Shamsher Bahadur under her protection. Renaming Krishnasinh as Shamsher Bahadur was another despicable strategy of Rao's mother Radhabai and wife Kashibai to deprive him of his Chitpavan Peshwa heritage. Legend says, Krishnasinh was a spitting image of his father and way more efficient a warrior and a human being than Kashibai's incompetent sons. Some says, Kashibai raised him after his parents' death. But that is not true. Kashibai despised Mastani and anything related to her. She wanted to abandon and deprive the child. But Gopikabai, wife of Rao’s son Nanasahib did not let that happen. Gopikabai was a student of Mastani and later she showed great strength of character that only resembled of Mastani.
The book starts with the battle between Maharaja Chhatrasal and Banghash Khan where the Maharaja would have to seek help from Peshwa Bajirao I later. This would end with the marriage between Mastani and Rau. The book ends with the death of a broken hearted, sick Rau suffering from withdrawal symptoms - a situation deliberately created by Rao's evil mother Radhabai and a sexually frustrated, more evil brother Chimaji Appa and Rao's stupid, evil first wife Kashibai. Soon after Rao's death, Mastani took her last breath and left to join Rao in another world. A love story that remained unfinished. Mastani was with her second child that time.

275 years later, the great love saga of the forgotten Princess and her Black Prince is being relived on the celluloid. I sincerely hope Bhansali did not twist the history in his movie. That would be a great impertinence to the memory of Mastani. And she has already faced a great deal of humiliation during her lifetime as well as posthumously.


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