Lakshmi Bai, the Rani (Queen) of Jhansi (c.19 November 1835 – 17 June 1858) known as Jhansi Ki Rani, or the queen of the Jhansi, was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and a symbol of resistance to British rule in India. She was the queen of the Peshwa-ruled princely state of Jhansi, which is situated in the northern part of India. She has gone down in Indian history as the firebrand who began the Indian Revolution against British Colonialism, and is one of the most famous women freedom fighters of India.
Originally named Manikarnika at birth (nicknamed Manu), she was born on 19 November 1835 at Kashi (Varanasi) to a Maharashtrian Marathi Karhade Brahmin family as the daughter of Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathibai Tambe. She was also known as Chhabili by the Peshwa of Bithur because of her jolly ways. She lost her mother at the age of four. She was educated at home. Her father Moropant Tambe worked at the court of Peshwa at Bithur. The Peshwa of Bithur brought her up like his own daughter. The younger daughter of Peshwa Bajirao, Prachi, was influenced by Laxmi Bai.
Because of her father’s influence at court, Rani Lakshmi Bai had more independence than most women, who were normally restricted to the zenana: She studied self defence, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own army out of her female friends at court. Shah Dawar was Rani Lakshmibai’s best friend.
Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a son (Damodar Rao) in 1851. However, the child died when he was about four months old. After the death of their son, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Damodar Rao (who was later formally renamed Anand Rao). Anand Rao was the son of Gangadhar Rao’s cousin. However, it is said that the Raja of Jhansi never recovered from his son’s death, and he died on 21 November 1853.
Because Anand Rao was adopted and not biologically related to the Raja, the East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, was able to install the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Rao’s claim to the throne. Dalhousie then annexed Jhansi, saying that the throne had become “lapsed” and thus put Jhansi under his “protection”. In March 1854, the Rani was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace at the Jhansi fort.
While this was happening in Jhansi, on the May 10, 1857 the Sepoy (soldier) Mutiny of India started in Meerut. This would become the starting point for the rebellion against the British.(though,the Vellore Mutiny was the first instance of a large-scale and violent mutiny by Indian sepoys against the British East India Company,) It began after rumours that the new bullet casings for the Lee Enfield rifles were coated with pork / beef fat, pigs being taboo to Muslims and cows sacred to Hindus and thus forbidden to eat. British commanders insisted on their use and started to discipline anyone who disobeyed. During this rebellion many British soldiers and officers of the East India Company were killed by the sepoys. The British wanted to end the rebellion quckily.
Meanwhile, unrest began to spread throughout India and, in May 1857, the Indian Mutiny erupted in numerous pockets across the northern subcontinent. During this chaotic time, the British were forced to focus their attentions elsewhere, and Lakshmi Bai was essentially left to rule Jhansi alone. During this time, her qualities were repeatedly demonstrated as she was able swiftly and efficiently to lead her troops against skirmishes breaking out in Jhansi. Through this leadership Lakshmi Bai was able to keep Jhansi relatively calm and peaceful in the midst of the Empire’s unrest.For example-The Rani conducted the haldi-kumkum ceremony with great pomp for all the women of Jhansi to provide assurance to her subjects and to convince them that Jhansi was under no threat of an attack.
Up to this point, she had been hesitant to rebel against the British, and there is still some controversy over her role in the massacre of the British HEIC officials and their wives and children on the 8th June 1857 at Jokhan Bagh. Her hesitation finally ended when British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi on 23 March 1858. Rani Laxmibai with her faithful warriors decided not to surrender. The fighting continued for about two weeks. Shelling on Jhansi was very fierce. In the Jhansi army, women were also carrying ammunition and were supplying food to the soldiers. Rani Lakshmi Bai was very active. She herself was inspecting the defense of the city. She rallied her troops around her and fought fiercely against the British. An army of 20,000, headed by the rebel leader Tatya Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi and to take Lakshmi Bai to freedom. However, the British, though numbering only 1,540 in the field so as not to break the siege, were better trained and disciplined than the “raw recruits,” and these inexperienced soldiers turned and fled shortly after the British began to attack on 31st March. Lakshmi Bai’s forces could not hold out and three days later the British were able to breach the city walls and capture the city. Yet Lakshmi Bai escaped over the wall at night and fled from her city, surrounded by her guards, many of whom were from her women’s military.
Along with the young Anand Rao, the Rani decamped to Kalpi along with her forces where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The Rani and Tantya Tope moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted the rebel forces. They then occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on the second day of fighting, on 18 June 1858, the Rani died.
She died on 17 June 1858 during the battle for Gwalior with 8th Hussars that took place in Kotah-Ki-Serai near Phool Bagh area of Gwalior. She donned warrior’s clothes and rode into battle to save Gwalior Fort, about 120 miles west of Lucknow in what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh. The British captured Gwalior three days later. In the report of the battle for Gwalior, General Hugh Rose commented that the Rani, “remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance”, had been “the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders”.
However, the lack of a corpse to be convincingly identified as the Rani convinced Captain Rheese of the so called “bravest” regiment that she had not actually perished in the battle for Gwalior, stating publicly that:”[the] Queen of Jhansi is alive!”. It is believed her funeral was arranged on the same day near the spot where she was wounded.
Because of her 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 the Indian independence movement. The Rani was memorialized in bronze statues at both Jhansi and Gwalior, both of which portray her on horseback.
Her father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao (formerly known as Anand Rao), fled with his mother’s aides. Rao was later given a pension by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his inheritance. Damodar Rao settled down in the city of Indore (Madhya Pradesh). He spent most of his life trying convince the British to restore some of his rights. He and his descendants took on the last name Jhansiwale. He died on May 28, 1906, aged 58.
Rani Lakshmi Bai became a national heroine and was seen as the epitome of female bravery in India. When Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army created its first female unit, it was named after her.
Indian poetess Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904–1948) wrote a poem titled Jhansi Ki Rani in the Veer Ras style about her, which is still recited by children in schools of contemporary India. Original Hindi text:
सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।
चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
The thrones shook and royalties scowled
Old India was re-invigorated with new youth
People realised the value of lost freedom
Everybody was determined to throw the foreigners out
The old sword glistened again in 1857
This story we heard from the mouths of Bundel bards
Like a man she fought, she was the Queen of Jhansi
In a prophetic statement in the 1878 book The History of the Indian Mutiny, Colonel Malleson said “…her countrymen will always believe that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion; that her cause was a righteous cause; ….. To them she will always be a heroine.”