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A Great Hindu Warrior and Lover of a Muslim Girl: Baji Rao I ( 1700-1740)

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters


Situation Before Birth of Baji Rao

In the 17th century, the Muslim empire (the Moguls) was omnipotent. Emperor Aurangzeb was at his zenith. He was an intolerant emperor and this attitude cost him dearly. He imposed the Jizziya tax on Hindus and destroyed temples by the dozen. Local Hindus had no choice but to revolt against him. The Sikhs in Punjab under Guru Gobind Singh and in the west Raja Shivaji began a fight against the imperial rule. Towards the end of his rule, Aurangzeb realized the futility of his actions and became pensive. In his campaigns in the Deccan, he did not raze any temple. This change in attitude was in large measure, after receiving an open letter from Guru Gobind called the "Zafarnama." After reading this letter the emperor was a much-mellowed man. The "Zafarnama" is part of the "Dasam Granth"and can be read. Towards the end of his reign, the Mughal empire was greatly weakened and when Aurangzeb died in 1707, the gates were opened for the empire to disintegrate.

Shivaji the Hindu warrior King had died in 1680 and a successor was needed to carry forward the torch of the Hindus. This was to come in the form of Baji Rao, who was born in 1700. Baji Rao was a Brahmin, but from childhood, he displayed great acumen as a warrior and administrator. With the passing away of Aurangzeb, the Marathas asserted themselves and became a force to reckon in the Deccan and Western India.

The Mahratta rulers were, however, weak individuals and power passed to the prime ministers. They were hereditary and were known as the Peshwas. The real rulers of this Hindu Mahratta empire were the Peshwas. Baji Rao after the death of his father was anointed as the Peshwa in 1720. This was the start of a glorious period in Indian history and Baji Rao's name is now bracketed as one of the greatest Hindu warriors of all time.

Marriage and Conquest

In 1719, Baji Rao married a Brahmin girl selected by his mother. Her name was Kashibai and she bore him 2 sons. After becoming Peshwa in 1720, Baji Rao embarked on military conquest of the Mughal territories. He defeated the Nizam and forced him to sign on the dotted line. He also decimated the Mughal army.

The star of Baji Rao was on the ascendence and entire India heard about Baji Rao. He defeated the Portuguese and won their respect. Baji Rao was on his way to consolidating Hindu rule.


Mastani and Baji Rao

When Baji Rao was consolidating his power, one of the Hindu kings in the Deccan was Raja Chattrasal. He had a Muslim Iranian concubine. As is well known Iranian women have great beauty and are very fair, so her daughter from the King named Mastani was exceedingly beautiful and fair. She was an Iranian and was brought up as a Muslim. Baji Rao saw her in a forest and was smitten by her.

Mastani was an adept horse rider and could handle weapons. This trait along with her beauty and courage made put her a class apart from other princesses. She was a skilled warrior. She was also fond of hunting and could throw a spear some distance. Baji Rao confided his feelings to his mother who opposed the union. She was aghast that her son wanted to marry a non-Hindu and that to a Muslim girl.

Baji Rao decided to go ahead and proposed to Raja Chattrasal, who readily gave his consent. Mastani also gave her consent to marry a Hindu. When Baji Rao broke the news that he was planning to marry Mastani, a near revolt broke out in court and almost all opposed Baji Rao. His wife and mother also opposed this union, but Baji Rao had made up his mind and he went ahead with the marriage.

Most of the court officials backed down at the threat of Baji Rao to go away and they agreed to the wedding of Baji Rao with Mastani. Thus a beautiful Muslim princess of Iranian blood became the wife of the Hindu Baji Rao. After the wedding, Baji Rao took Mastani everywhere with him and she accompanied him to the battlefield as well as for hunts and trysts in lonely forests. The wedding acted like an elixir to Baji Rao and he became a greater warrior. In battle after battle, his opponents were worsted and soon he had built up a formidable empire in Central India. The Muslim rulers, as well as the Mughals, were defeated and Baji Rao ushered in a golden age of Hindu rule.

Baji Rao had one son from Mastani. Baji Rao wanted him to wear the sacred thread of a Brahmin, but court officials opposed it. Baji Rao could not oppose this dissent and the boy Shamsher Bahadur was brought up as a Muslim. He died fighting bravely at the 3rd Battle of Panipat in 1761. His son, Ali Bahadur lived on to become the ruler of Bundelkhand( part of the empire controlled by Baji Rao).

Mastani loved Baji Rao with intense passion. She could not bear the death of Baji Rao and died almost immediately. Some historians opine she committed Sati, while others say she took the poison from a ring with her. Whatever way she died is immaterial, but the bigger fact is the love of a Muslim girl for a Hindu.

Still from the film "Mastani" depicting the love of the Muslim princess and Hindu qarrior

Still from the film "Mastani" depicting the love of the Muslim princess and Hindu qarrior


Contribution of Baji Rao

Baji Rao is the most famous of the 9 Peshwas. He is credited with the idea of setting up a “Hindu Pad Padshahi" (Hindu Empire). He largely succeeded and the writ of the Peshwas ran through entire India in the 18th century.

Baji Rao in all fought 41 battles and never lost a single one of them. Field Marshal Montgomery in his History of Warfare affirmed this fact. Baji Rao was an outstanding cavalry leader who was loved by his troops. Under his leadership, the Marathas defeated the Mughals, Portuguese, Nizam, and the Siddis. He brought the concept of mobility into the Hindu army and relied more on the horse than the elephant. This by itself was a revolutionary step.

Baji Rao died at the young age of 39 in 1740 when he was on his way with an army of 100,000 towards Delhi. He died at Khargone and later a memorial called the Chatri and a Shiva temple was built there. Baji died from a short illness, but he left behind an image of a great lover and warrior; perhaps the greatest of them all in the 18th century. Nobody later matched Baji Rao and the empire disintegrated after his death with the arrival of the English.