Rani Lakshmibai

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Laxmi Bai
Laxmi Bai

The Rani of Jhansi (c. 1828 – 17 June 1858), the queen of the Maratha-ruled princely state of Jhansi in North India, was one of the leading figures of the Indian rebellion of 1857, and a symbol of resistance to British raj British rule in India.

She was born at Varanasi, Kashi and died at Gwalior. Her childhood name was Manikarnika. She is sometimes referred to as the Boudicca of India.

Lakshmi Bai was a Maharashtrian born sometime around 1828 at Kashi (presently known as Varanasi). There is an alternate date of 19 November 1835 which was asserted by D.B. Parasnis in his biography of the Rani. However, no other credible historian agrees with this date and all the evidence points to 1828. The simplest and most direct evidence comes via John Lang. In his account of his meeting with the Rani in 1854, he mentions that her vakil said she was a woman of about 26 years.

Her father Moropanth Tambey was a Karhade Brahmin and her mother Bhagirathibai was cultured, intelligent and religious. Born Manikarnika, she was affectionately called Manu in her family. Manu lost her mother at the age of four, and responsibility of looking after the young girl fell to her father. She completed her education and martial training, which included horse riding, fencing, and shooting when she was still a child.

She was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao Niwalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi in 1842, and became the queen of Jhansi. After the marriage, she was given the name Lakshmi Bai. The ceremony of the marriage was performed at the Ganesh Mandir, the temple of Lord Ganesha situated in the old city of Jhansi. Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a son in 1851, but this child died when he was about four months old.

In 1853 Gangadhar Rao fell very ill and he was persuaded to adopt a child. To ensure that the British would not be able to contest the adoption, the Rani had it witnessed by the local British representatives. Maharaja Gangadhar Rao expired the following day, 21 November 1853.

Annexation

At that time, James Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie Lord Dalhousie was the Governor-General of India Governor General of British Raj British India. Though little Damodar Rao, adopted son of late Maharaja Gangadhar Rao and Rani Lakshmi Bai, was Maharaja’s heir and successor as per the Hindu tradition, the British rulers rejected Rani’s claim that Damodar Rao was their legal heir. Lord Dalhousie decided to annex the state of Jhansi under the Doctrine of Lapse.

The Rani then did the unprecedented, she sought the advice of a British Lawyer, John Lang, and appealed her case in London. Although these petitions were well-argued, they were ultimately rejected. The British Indian Authorities clearly sought to punish Rani for her presumptuous behavior. They confiscated the state Jewels and deducted her husband’s debts from her annual pension of Rs. 60,000, and she was also required to leave Jhansi fort for the Rani Mahal in Jhansi town. But Rani Lakshmi Bai was determined to defend Jhansi. She proclaimed her decision with the famous words: Main Apni Jhansi Nahin doongi (I will not give up my Jhansi).

The war

Jhansi became a center of the rebellion when the violence finally erupted.

Rani Lakshmi Bai started strengthening the defense of Jhansi and assembled a volunteer army. Women were also recruited and given military training. Rani was accompanied by her generals. Many from the local population volunteered for service in the army ranks, with the popular support for her cause on the rise.

In September and October 1857, the Rani led the successful defense of Jhansi from the invading armies of the neighboring rajas of Datia and Orchha.

In January of 1858, the British Army started its advance on Jhansi, and in March laid siege to the city. After two weeks of fighting the British captured the city, but the Rani escaped the city in the guise of a man, strapping her adopted son Damodar Rao closely on her back. She fled to Kalpi where she joined Tatya Tope.

It is during the battle for Gwalior that the Rani met her death on 17 June. During this battle, the Rani’s original horse was mortally wounded. He had to be replaced by a younger more energetic but less trained horse. During the battle, the Rani was trying to escape and two British officers followed her. The horse reached a cliff and not being trained could not surpass it. The British set upon her by surrounding her. As she was cornered, she knew there was only one option to take: jump off. But what would be of her son? She swiftly jumped off. A brahmin found her and he carefully took her in his ashram. She laid there unconscious for a moment then her last words were “Jai Hind!”, meaning victory to India. (In actual fact, most sources have the Rani being shot or run through with a saber. No mention of a cliff).

The British captured Gwalior three days later. In his report of the battle for Gwalior, General Rose commented that the Rani had been “the bravest and the best” of the rebels. Because of her unprecedented bravery, courage and wisdom, and her progressive views on women’s empowerment in 19th century India, and due to her sacrifices, she became an icon of Indian nationalist movement.

Epilogue

The fall of Jhansi and the death of Rani Lakshmibai was the last series of the resistance to British Raj under the Sepoy Mutiny. Its immediate effects included:

  • Due to her bravery, she became a nationalist and epitome of female bravery in India. When the Indian National Army created its first female unit, it was named after her.
  • Her father, Moropant Tambe, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi.
  • Her adopted son, Damodar Rao, was given a pension by the British Raj, although he never received his inheritance.
  • The administration of Undivided India passed on from the East India Company to the British crown.
  • The Rani was memorialized in Bronze statues at both Jhansi and Gwalior, both of which portray her in equestrian style.

    The literature on Jhansi Ki Rani

    • The Queen of Jhansi is an English translation of Jhansir Rani by Mahashweta Devi. This book is a fictional reconstruction of the life of Rani LaxmiBai and was originally published in Bangala, the year 1956, ISBN 81-7046-175-8.
    • Subhadra Kumari Chauhan created a famous heroic 1 in honor of Jhansi Ki Rani which is very popular in India.
    • Flashman in the Great Game – Two meetings between Harry Paget Flashman Flashman and the Rani are described in this historical fiction about the Indian Revolt by George MacDonald Fraser.

    References

    • Maajha Pravas by Vishnu Bhatt Godse.
    • Amar Balidani by Janki Sharan Verma
    • Zila Vikas Pustika, 1996–97, Jhansi
    • Meyer, Karl E., and Shareen Blair Brysac. Tournament of Shadows. Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999.

 

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