Random Thoughts

Mastani, Shakuntala and Tipu Sultan

A New Look at Ancient Histories - 2

Continued from "Dwarka and the Aryans"

December 2015 saw most of India agog over a lavishly set movie, in which a princess storms into the headquarters of an ally and into his heart -- at a time when she and her bhabhi were actually storming the enemy camp to rescue her imprisoned brother. That did not count.

The evil Sasu relegates the princess to a kotha. The first wife delivers her son at her maika. When she brings him home, hero goes off to personally deliver his princess’ son.

Another historical mixup: Mastanibai’s son was born in January 1734 and Kashibai’s in August 1734, both under personal supervision of the Peshwa’s mother Radhabai.

The princess earns the ire of her saut, the Peshwa’s brother and their compatriot Chitpavan Brahmins, all rooting for his first wife.

Now the Chitpavan Brahmins have a curious history: Virtual anonymity until Balaji Vishwanath (Baji Rao’s father) left the Konkan and made his way into royal service. Once he was appointed Peshwa, his fellow Chitpavans flocked to Pune and its surroundings, taking up lucrative jobs and airs to go with them.

There is this old legend that Chitpavan means purified with fire i.e. they were washed ashore in a storm and were being cremated, but rose as if from death and were “chitpavan.” Another that Parshuram pushed back the sea to create a strip of land which was gifted to those survivors. Accepted for generations as the base for their superior airs, handsome unusual looks, large noses, tall foreheads, blue or grey eyes, lean frame and scholarly attitudes.

Recent research endorses the shipwrecked story; but also links the survivors’ descendants’ matching genes to the Mediterranean peoples, perhaps Jews? Plausible, as trading links are truly ancient.

The princess was amazing: proficient the arts of war, plus diplomacy, a command over politics and current affairs, virtually an intelligence officer, Peshwa Baji Rao’s favourite but Chitpavan bête noire.

These nuggets emerged in 25 years of dedicated research before writing what is now acknowledged as a biography of the real Mastani, neither muslim nor dancing girl, but intelligence officer and princess par excellence.

Research needs perseverance and an affinity for the object and for digging out history from sources other than those written by the victors to suit their purposes. Two recent examples:

Utkarsh Patel’s presentation of Shakuntala, not as the romantic weeping willow made popular by Kalidas’s poem; but as a strong willed woman with the guts to tick off the king in open court, as depicted in the original story in Vyas’ Mahabharat.

Perhaps the most serious contender looking at history through new prisms based on research is Dr. Bhagwandas Gidwani, mentioned last week for his monumental, “The Return of the Aryans.” His book “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” had inspired my Mastani research.

Gidwani’s book debunks the communal Tipu Sultan of “mindless little men of the future who call themselves historians...". Instead tutored by a mullah, a pandit and a Brahmin prime minister, Tipu vacillates between Fakir, Patriot and King, as the only other bulwark against the English, other than Brahmin-led Marathas; instead of Rajput Rajahs with their infighting history that let India down at every invasion since Time Immemorial.

Continued to "Where was Sita?" 


More by :  Kusum Choppra

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