Rani of Jhansi

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Khub lade mardani, woh hai Jhansi wali Rani

These immortal lines by the Hindi poet Subadhra Kumari Chauhan, sum up one of the most fascinating woman in Indian history. A woman whose name has come to symbolize courage, independence and honor. A legend in her lifetime, Manikarnika,  better known as the Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmibai. Bundelkhand a region lying between the Indo-Gangetic plain and the Vindhyas, marked by hills, valleys, sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops. A region known for it’s harsh climate, aridity and barren spaces, an environment that has produced some of the hardiest warriors and rulers of India. The Chandela Rajputs who built the stunning temples at Khajuraho, Rudra Pratap Singh, who founded the princely state of Orcha, and is famous for the magnificient buildings.  Veer Chhatrasal who defied the Mughals, and carved out an independent state. In modern times, the hockey wizard Dhyan Chand,  the great Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt, prominent Hindi movie lyricist Indeevar, novelist Vrindavan Lal Verma, all hailed from here.It was to such an illustrious lineage that the Rani of Jhansi, belonged to. Among the pantheon of greats of the 1857 revolt, she was one of the major leaders, and regarded as the greatest danger too by the British.

This woman who would defy the British, and become a byword for courage and honor, was born as Manikarnika on November 19, 1828 into a Marathi Brahmin family in Varanasi to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathi Sapre. Her father worked for the Peshwa of Bithoor, who bought her up like his own daughter, called her Chabili. She was educated at home, and more independent in childhood than others of her age. She  learnt horse riding, archery, sword fighting as well as mallkhamb, growing up with her childhood friends  Tatya Tope, and Nana Sahib, who happened to be her cousin too. She loved horse riding, and it’s believed that sbe once managed to beat Nana Sahib himself, on her horse. No mean feat as Nana Sahib was regarded as one of the finest horse men then. Sarangi, Pavan, Badal were her favorite horses, and it’s believed she rode Badal during her escape from Jhansi.

Flag of Jhansi

Jhansi originally was the stronghold of the Chandela rulers and was called Balwant Nagar. Losing it’s prominence, it however recovered it’s past glory under Raja Bir Singh Deo of Orchha, who also constructed the famous fort there. When Baji Rao rescued Veer Chhatrasal from the Mughals, Jhansi was one of the territories given to him as a mark of gratitude.  The city developed under the Peshwa rule, and Naro Shanker the Subedar, extended the fort, built many other structures too. The Newalkar clan played a crucial role in governing Jhansi, including revenue collection, as well as the temples there.

At the age of 13, Manikarnika was married to Gangadhar Rao Newalkar , the Maharaja of Jhansi in whose court her father worked and she was given the name of Lakshmibai.  The Maharaja was known for his statesman like qualities, a wise administrator and had a fine library of Sanskrit manuscripts. When their 4 month old son Damodar Rao, died, the Maharaja adopted his cousin’s son, Anand Rao, whom he named after his own son.  As per Hindu tradition, Damodar Rao was the legal heir, however the British refused to accept him as one.Gangadhar Rao, requested Lakshmibai to take care of Damodar Rao, when he passed away, and the adoption was done in presence of a lawyer.

Lord Dalhousie however refused to accept Damodar Rao’s accession as per Doctrine of Lapse, and decided to seize Jhansi.Basically the Doctrine of Lapse was signed between East India Company and Princely States. As per this if the ruler of a princely state died without a natural heir, the East India Company cud annex it.Satara was the first princely state to be annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse this way. The British authorities confiscated the state jewels of Jhansi in March 1854 and she was asked to leave the fort and move to Rani Mahal. She  was however not willing to give up Jhansi, assembled a volunteer Army, and strengthened the defenses. Women were also given military training under Lakshmibai, and soon many other warriors gathered under her. Ghulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Moti Bai, Dewan Raghunath Singh, Jawahar Singh were those who rallied behind Jhansi Lakshmibai.

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Bhavani Cannon

In the meantime, the Great Revolt broke out in May 1857, beginning with Meerut, however Jhansi remained distant from the turmoil initially. However in June 1857, rebels of the 12th Bengal Native Infantry captured the fort, and massacred around 40 to 60 European officials along with their families. Even though she insisted that her forces were not guilty of the massacre, the British did not believe it, with an army doctor, Thomas Lowe accusing her “as the young rani upon whose head rested the blood of the slain”. Also Jhansi was attacked by by Orcha and Datla, the Company’s allies, whose main aim was to take over the kingdom and divide it. She appealed to the British for aid against the attacks by Orcha and Datia, however they did not respond. Lord Dalhousie felt that Lakshmibai was involved in the massacre, and refused to help her out.

For quite some time, till January 1858, Jhansi was relatively at peace, compared to the rest of the North, which was in complete turmoil. She used the time to strengthen the defenses of her fort, setting up a foundry to cast cannon on the walls, and assembled an army that included feudatories of Jhansi too. When the British troops led by Sir Hugh Rose attacked Jhansi on March 23, 1858, she had no hesitation in plunging into the revolt.

“We fight for independence. In the words of Lord Krishna, we will if we are victorious, enjoy the fruits of victory”

Sir Hugh Rose demanded the surrender of Jhansi, else it would be destroyed on refusal. The bombardment of the fort began on March 24, 1858, however the people of Jhansi fought back valiantly, under the leadership of Lakshmibai. She  proved to be a true leader, rallying her troops, moving from one defense to another, keeping up the morale of people. The women’s unit raised by Lakshmibai was also active supplying arms and food to the soldiers.

In the meantime Lakshmibai made an appeal to Tatya Tope, who rushed to her defence with a force of 20,000. However his men were no match for the better trained, better equipped British forces, who defeated them on the field  on March 31, 1858. By April 2, it was decided to breach the walls, 4 columns of the British assaulted the fort’s defenses at various points. Jhansi could no longer hold out, and the British finally  managed to break the siege, and enter the fort. 2 columns of the British entered the city and advanced towards the palace, however they were met with resistance at every corner. The residents of Jhansi engaged in continuous street to street fighting with the British soldiers and stubbornly resisted them. The Rani’s advisers asked her to leave the fort, as resistance was futile by now, and join either Nana Sahib or Tantia Tope.

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Rani Laxmibai managed to escape from Jhansi with Damodar Rao on horseback,and left to Kalpi, where she met Tatya Tope. Her adopted son strapped to her back, on the horse back, Lakshmibai jumped at this point to escape the British. She was escorted by her commandant Khuda Baksh, and her loyal warriors Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh.

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Memorial dedicated to her trusted lieutnants Ghulam Gaus Khan, Motibai and Khudabaksh.

The British attacked Kalpi on May 22, 1858, defeating the Indian forces, forcing her to flee along with Tatya Tope to Gwalior. The Scindia ruler had fled to Agra, with his forces switching to the rebels,  and Gwalior was occupied by Lakshmibai and Tatya Tope, with not much opposition. The Fort was now under the rebels ,who proclaimed Nana Sahib as the Peshwa of a renewed Maratha dominion. However other rebel leaders did not heed the Rani’s call to come together against the British, and soon enough General Hugh Rose, once again attacked Gwalior, after taking Morar.

June 18, 1858

The final battle began at Kotah Ki Serai near Gwalior’s Phool Bagh, when Captain Clement Walker-Heneage, led the 8th Hussar’s against Lakshmibai’s forces. It was a total rout, as the Hussar’s charged into the Indian forces, slaughtering around 5000 on one single day. As they charged right up to the Phool Bagh encampment, Lakshmibai rode into the battle, putting on a sawar’s uniform, her final one against the British forces. She fought bravely till the end, wounded first by a sabre, and as she sat bleeding on the ground, one of the Hussar’s killed her with his carbine. One of the greatest warriors of the 1857 Revolt, was no more, a true heroine’s life came to an end.Gwalior was captured after 3 days, by the British, Lakshmibai was cremated somewhere near by the local people.

Whatever her faults in British eyes may have been, her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country, We cannot forget her contribution for India- Col George Malleson in History of the Indian Mutiny.

The best tribute to Lakshmibai was paid by Sir Hugh Rose who called her the most dangerous of all the Rebel leaders. Her memorial is located in Gwalior’s Phool Bagh area, where she fell fighting to the last. Lakshmibai’s sacrifice did not go in vain, she would inspire and motivate a whole generation of freedom fighters. When Netaji Subash Chandra Bose raised the Indian National Army, he named the women’s unit in honor of Rani of Jhansi.

बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी, खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।

About Ratnakar Sadasyula

I am a 40 year old Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books, Quizzing and politics. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Seeking to write my own book one day.
This entry was posted in 1857 Revolt, Rani of Jhansi. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rani of Jhansi

  1. Pingback: Rao Tula Ram | History Under Your Feet

  2. Hair raising! Nicely written

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