Mastani was the dauhter of Maharaja Chhatrasal, the ruler of Bundelkhand, from his Muslim wife. She was skilled in warfare and is known to not only plan military strategies but also accompany her husband Bajirao in the battlefield. In early 18th century, the small state of Bundelkhand was run over by the Mughal army. Maharaja Chhatrasal, the ruler of this small kingdom, was taken prisoner along with his family. The man who came to their rescue was the Maratha prime minister Bajirao. The maharaja planned an escape, joined up with Bajirao (who was busy in war in the neighboring areas) who helped him take back his kingdom. The grateful Maharaja offered his daughter to the already married Bajirao along with a third of his kingdom (Chhabra). As a Hindu himself, religion played a great role in Bajirao’s private and public life but he was so impressed by the beauty and personality of Mastani that he married her despite of her religion. Thus their tale became a symbol of religious tolerance and unity in India. (Mastani, n.d.).
Skilled in horse-riding, spear-throwing and swordsmanship, Mastani used to accompany Bajirao on his military companies along with assisting him in the court activities. In spite of the close relation and strong love between Bajirao and Mastani, the first wife Kashibai treated Mastani with kindness and tolerance. Mastani faced great opposition from Bajirao’s mother and many influential families in his imperial city of Pune. She was imprisoned while Bajirao was out for a military campaign. On his return, Bajirao built a beautiful palace called Mastani Mahal at Kothrud near Pune to separate Mastani from his family (A mute testimony to a colourful age, 2000). A portion of this palace still exists at the Kelkar Museum in Pune as a reminder to this great romance of India. The couple also had a son in 1734 who, when out casted by the Hindu priests of Pune, was brought up as a Muslim and came to be known as Shamsher Bahadur.
In 1740, Bajirao became ill and died while being away from home and inspecting his lands. Mastani was not permitted to visit him on his deathbed or attend the funeral afterwards. She died shortly after him. Many believe that after Bajirao’s death she just did not have the will to live. Her son Shamsher was taken in by Kashibai who raised him as her own but did not force him her religion. His descendants became the Nawabs of Banda and ruled a large estate. The family still lives in India as a testimony to the love of Mastani and Bajirao.
The tale is a message of religious tolerance to this day. Mastani’s grave is a center of attention and respect for both Hindus and Muslims. Both communities took part in its restoration after some thieves had ruined it some time ago. Hence Bajirao’s Mastani is uniting Hindus and Muslims to this day.