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Bajirao, who succeeded his father Balaji Vishwanath, the first in the line of hereditary Peshwas or prime ministers of the Maratha Empire, remains a celebrated figure in history. His conquests are stuff that legends are made of — by some accounts, he fought 41 battles and is believed to have lost none — and so was his love life. Also Read - Picturesque Hill Stations in India You Must Not Miss Out on
His romance with Mastani, a courtesan, ruffled one too many feathers and had the Pune brahmins up in arms against him. For her part, Mastani was no ordinary woman either. By all accounts, she was not the one who subscribed to stereotypes — she rode a horse for one, almost a rarity for a woman of the time — and the reputation of her beauty had spread far and wide. Also Read - Best Hill Stations to Visit in South India During Monsoons
As the story of Bajirao and Mastani unfolds, it seems apt that we go back to the place where it all began — Pune — the city where Mastani and Bajirao’s love blossomed and the young Peshwa challenged the norms of society by daring to do what no ruler before him had done: fall in love with an outsider.
1. Shaniwar Wada:
Even though Raigad Fort was the capital of the Maratha Empire during Shivaji, the center of power slowly shifted to Pune after his death. Soon the city became the seat of the Maratha Empire and the Peshwas (Prime Ministers) became the de facto rulers of the state. The post became hereditary after Bajirao I (our hero) was anointed Peshwa by Shahu following the passing away of his father Balaji Vishwanath.
Between expanding the empire and romancing Mastani, Bajirao managed to find time to lay the foundation for what would eventually become his home — the majestic Shanivarwada. Known for its craftsmanship influenced by both Moghul and Maratha styles of architecture, Shaniwarwada’s construction began on January 10, 1730.
Bajirao announced the commencement of the construction with nothing more than a handful of mud from the nearby Lal Mahal. The spectacular building was completed in 1732 and housed several generations of Peshwas after Bajirao. The building saw much action and intrigue and also the tragic murder of the 18-year-old Narayan Rao Peshwa. Shaniwarwada remains Pune’s most recognizable landmark and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
2. Mastani Mahal
Supposed to be the daughter of Bundelkhand king Chhatrasal Bundela, Mastani was Bajirao’s second wife. Mastani did live with Bajirao in Shanivarwada for a while and entered the fortress through the Natakshala Gate, which eventually came to be called Mastani Darwaza since it was almost exclusively used by her. However, with Bajirao’s family’s reluctance to accept Mastani as their daughter-in-law, Bajirao constructed a separate residence for her at Kothrud, on the outskirts of Pune in 1734. While nothing of the residence, known as Mastani Mahal, exists, the Mrutyunjay Temple stands on the site where Bajirao and Mastani’s romance blossomed. However, not all is lost. The interiors of the palace were at some point dismantled and were reconstructed at the Raja Kelkar Museum.
3. Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum
Located at Shukrawar Peth, the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum houses one of the largest private collections in the country of the man after whom the museum has been named. While the museum itself offers a fascinating insight into the Maharashtrian culture and the everyday life in another era, it has an entire section dedicated to Pune’s envy, Mastani. Much after the Mastani Mahal was dismantled, the folks at the museum managed to re-assemble a part of it in the museum. The room displays paintings, chandeliers, music instruments, lamps and several other items that were once a part of the original Mastani Mahal.
4. Parvati Hill
Located at 2100 ft, Parvati Hill is one of the most scenic locations in Pune. The Parvati temple located on the hillock was built during the Peshwa rule and is a famous tourist attraction. There are five temples on Parvati Hill — Devdeveshwar temple (Shiva and Parvati), Kartikeya temple, Vitthal temple, Vishnu temple and Rama temple. These were all built under the rule of Bajirao’s son, Balaji Baji Rao.
About 60 km north of Pune, Pabal is a quaint village where you will find Mastani’s tomb. Some records state that Mastani committed suicide as she was unable to cope with Bajirao’s death. Her grave was in ruins till the state archaeology department restored it after miscreants dug it up in 2009. The 275-year-old tomb stands in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by doors and a wall. It is open for tourists to visit.