Sprinkled with small houses on either side of the narrow lanes, Chaaskaman paints an idyllic village scene — a farmer working his land with his pair of bulls; a shepherd and his flock of sheep; girls at a handpump busy filling water. However, the village, which is situated 70 km away from Pune, houses a structure in the heart of the village that stands out not only because of its impressive size but also the history associated with it. This is where Kashibai, the first wife of Bajirao Peshwa I, was born and raised. While Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s recent release, Bajirao Mastani, explores the lesser-known love story of the Marathi warrior, a longer look into history reveals that there was more to Kashibai, other than being a devoted wife who struggled to accept her husband’s relationship with Mastani.
Kashibai’s father, Mahadji Krishna Joshi, was originally from Talsure village in Ratnagiri and later shifted to Chaaskaman. The descendants of Kashibai’s brother, Krushnarao Joshi, still live in this village in the 300-year-old fort-like haveli where Kashibai was born. Weather-beaten in some places, the old massive house still stands strong.
Lakshmikant Chaskar Joshi, from 11th generation descendant of Krushnarao, says that once an owner of 300 acres of land, Mahadji was a wealthy sahukar (moneylender) as well as the subedar of the Maratha empire in Kalyan, a factor which he claims, played a strong role in the alliance of Bajirao and Kashibai. They were married in 1711, when Bajirao was 11 years and Kashibai, only eight.
The haveli in Chaaskaman, built in the wada style, is spread across nearly two acres and still has the delivery room where Kashibai, fondly called Laadubai, was born. “The newborn and the mother stayed in the same room for four months to keep away from infection,” says Smita Chaskar Joshi, the younger daughter-in-law of the Joshi family. Today, the delivery room is used as a store room.
Every weekend, the house and family is visited by tourists who are keen to see Bajirao’s sasural. A book, Sahali Ek Divasyachya Parisaraat Punyachya, by PK Ghanekar, that acts as a travel guide for the places one can visit in and around Pune, lists the house as a tourist spot.
According to historian Pandurang Balkawade, Kashibai was quiet and soft-spoken. “Historical documents suggest that Bajirao treated her with love and respect. She was ready to accept Mastani but couldn’t go against her mother-in-law Radhabai and brother-in-law Chimaji Appa. Besides, 18th century women did not have a say in important matters and Kashibai was no exception,” he says.
Balkawade adds though the society of that era was male-dominated and sati-pratha was rampant, a few strong and talented women did step out of the house. “Women like Tarabai, Ahilyabai Holkar, Umabai Dabhade ruled and fought battles just like their male counterparts,” he says.
Pune-based Mahendra Peshwa, the ninth descendant of Bajirao Peshwa, says, “Mostly, male members of the family were out on the battlefield. Kashibai controlled the day-to-day running of the empire, especially of Poona. And it was possible because of her social nature. After the death of Mastani, she made sure that her son, Shamsher Bahadur, got his initial weapon training at Shaniwarwada, and took care of his overall well-being.”
Mahendra says that after the death of Bajirao, Kashibai immersed herself in religious activities. “When she returned from a pilgrimage to Rameshwar in July 1747, she suggested to her brother that a temple like the one in Rameshwar should be built in Chaaskamaan also. The brother instantly began the work on Laadubai’s suggestion,” he says. The temple was built in 1749.
Situated over a kilometre away from the haveli, the Someshwar Temple stands tall. Spread across an area of 1.5 acre, the specialty of the temple is a tall structure called the Deepmala, upon which 256 diyas can be placed at a time. “On Tripurari Poornima, the whole family visits the temple. The Deepmala and the entire temple is then lit up with diyas,” says Swati Chaskar Joshi, the elder daughter-in-law.
Nobody from the Joshi family has seen Bajirao Mastani as yet. They feel the songs, Pinga and Malhari, are not in sync with history. “Back then, if a woman wanted to speak to a man, she would have to speak from the room itself, and not step out. It would not have been possible for Kashibai to dance the way her character does in the film,” says Smita.