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 Bajirao Mastani is an upcoming historical romance film produced, composed and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Image from Limitless (http://lmt-lss.com)

Will the real Mastani please stand up.

In the country known for its arranged marriages, love stories like those of Peshwa Bajirao I and Mastani, have transfixed the risk-averse wannabe romantics. What makes this fascinating love story even more mast or intriguing is the identity of the lovely damsel, Mastani.  Was Mastani a Muslim dancing girl in love with Chitapavan brahmin Bajirao I?

No, says Kusum Choppra in her book, Mastani. She was a Kshtrani, a princess from Bundelkhand, daughter of  Maharaj Chhatrasaal Bundela who was the chief propagator of the Pranami faith that sought to bring together Islam and Hinduism.

“It was because of this, the fact that she was a Krishna bakht who would be so magan in aradhana that she would get up and dance and kept both vrats and roza, sang bhajans and offered namaaz,  that her enemies made her out to be a muslim dancing girl.  As a matter of fact, she was a princess trained in all the martial arts, politics and diplomacy, all the household and beauty aids and an intelligence agent  par excellence, apart from being proficient in music and dance. Perhaps being beautiful on top of all that was her tragedy,” says Kusum Choppra whose bookMastani’ came out in 2012 after years of research.

Mastani is one of the most misunderstood characters in our history. Heroine of one of the greatest love stories in history , she was victim of severe character assassination, put down as a ‘muslim dancing girl whom Baji Rao was enamoured with. She was his legally married second wife whose dowry made him a wealthy jagirdar and owner of one third of the fabulous Panna mines, apart from a secure route to Delhi according to Kusum Choppra’s book.

There is mystery surrounding Baji Rao Peshwa’s and Mastani’s death as well.  Baji Rao is believed to have died of the effects of a heat stroke.  Kusum Choppra contends that what most people don’t know is that those symptoms are identical to those suffered by a person suffering from alcohol withdrawl.  and Baji Rao ‘s mother had taken a vow from him to give up alcohol, in order that Mastani be released from house arrest and sent to him.

That physical suffering was aggravated by the emotional truama of being separated from his love and from a sense of betrayal by his entire family conspiring to keep Mastani from him.  Finally when word came to him that Mastani was no more, he died on April 28, 1740.

The traditional myth has Mastani dying when she hears that Baji Rao is no more.  But on the basis of Kusum Choppra’s painstaking research, she came to the conclusion that Mastani died before Baji Rao. Her death being kept a secret until all the ceremonies in the Peshwa household were over by March 1740 and only then was the news allowed to reach Baji Rao  who had stayed away from all the ceremonies in protest against  his mother’s refusal to allow Krishnasinh (Baji Rao and Mastani’s son)  to have his thread ceremony along with those of his younger half brothers (Baji Rao’s youngest sons from first wife Kashi bai).  Although Mastani was ‘suppposed to be ‘ under house arrest in the Shanivar Vada itself, she was absent from the ceremonies.

The story of Mastani has been overshadowed by politics and myths.

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In  Bajirao Mastani  the upcoming historical romance film produced, composed and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali which story of Mastani are we going to be told?  Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone portray the main protagonists, while Priyanka Chopra plays Bajirao’s first wife. Bajirao Mastani is scheduled to be release on 18 December 2015.

Ritu Marwah has pursued theater, writing, marketing, startup management, raising children, coaching debate and hiking. Ritu has a master’s degree in business and worked in London for the Tata group for ten years. Ritu is social media editor at India Currents.

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