Rani Lakshmi Bai (1835-1858)
JHANSI KI RANI was the great heroine of the First War of Indian freedom movement. She is known as a great patriot and one of the most important freedom fighters during the First War of Independence which is sometimes simply called “Mutiny” or the “Great Upheaval”. Though she fought primarily for her own kingdom, the fact is that she refused to bow her head before the mighty, cruel and crafty British empire.
She became a widow at the tender age of 18 and lived only till 22, yet she has inspired many and is still a living legend. She was the greatest symbol of patriotism, self-respect and heroism. Her life is a thrilling story of womanliness, courage, adventure, deathless patriotism and martyrdom. In her tender body there was a lion’s spirit.
She was born on 13th November, 1835. Her father’s name was Morapant and her mother’s name was Bhagirathi. In her childhood, Lakshmi Bai was called Manu. As a child, she grew up in the company of Nana Sahib who was the son of the Peshwa Bajirao and who, too, like her, later became renowned for his bravery and his refusal to bow before British cruelty and high-handedness. The young Manu, unfortunately lost her mother when she was only four. The eEADntire duty of bringing up the daughter fell on her father. Along with formal education, she acquired great skill in sword fighting, horse riding and shooting. It was in the company of Nana that Manu got the training to become a brave and skilled soldier.
Manu later became the wife of Gangadhar Rao, Maharaj of Jhansi, in 1842. From then on she was known as Maharani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi.
In 1851, Maharani Lakshmi Bai bore a son but her fate was cruel and she lost her child within three months. The Maharaja passed away on the 21st November, 1853. As Gangadhar became seriously ill, the couple adopted a son, Damodar because, they had no son of their own.
Soon, Gangadhar died. After his death, Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor General, who was following the Doctrine of Lapse, refused to accept Damodar as heir to Gangadhar’s throne.
The British government claimed that they did not recognise the right of the adopted boy. Thus, they tried to buy off the Rani, however, she stated: “No. impossible! I shall not surrender my Jhansi!” It did not take her long to realise how difficult it was for the small state of Jhansi to oppose the British when even the Peshwas and Kings of Delhi had bowed down to the British demands. The Rani’s battle now was against the British who had cunningly taken her kingdom from her.
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After the British took over her government, her daily routine changed. Every morning from 4 am to 8 am were set apart for bathing, worship, meditation and prayer. From 8 am to 11 am she would go out for a horse ride, practice shooting and practice swordsmanship and shooting with the reins held in her teeth. Thereafter, she would bathe again, feed the hungry, give alms to the poor and then have food; then she rested for a while. After that she would chant the Ramayana. She would then exercise lightly in the evening. Later she would go through some religious books and hear religious sermons. Then she worshiped her chosen deity and had supper. All things were done methodically, according to her strict timetable. Such a dedicated and devoted woman was Rani Lakshmi Bai!
All these disciplined and training patterns came in use during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. On May 9, 1857, British officers were shot and prison inmates were released by the rebellions Indian soldiers. The rebelling nationalist soldiers marched to Delhi and received a warm welcome from the citizens. The aged ex emperor, Bahadur Shah, was reinstated to the Mughal throne and Delhi became the nationalist soldiers’ headquarters. Later, they seized Lucknow and Satara and pushed the British soldiers southwards to Jhansi. The British approached Rani Lakshmi Bai for refuge but the Rani refused, saying that she could not betray her fellow Indians. The British army was totally uprooted and the nationalist soldiers returned to Delhi.
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The British, however, were shrewd politicians and highly organised. Their soldiers were better equipped and better trained. They recaptured Delhi on September 2, 1857 with the help of their Indian allies. All but three of the independent states surrendered and their rulers became British puppets.
The three exceptions were:
The Rani of Jhansi, Tantia Tope and Rao Sahib Peshwa. These three swore that
they would jointly fight the British until their last breath.Rani of Jhansi warned her people that the British would soon come back. The
people of Jhansi unanimously supported their queen and assured her that they
would lay down their lives to defend Jhansi. On March 25, 1858, the British attacked Jhansi with a huge army equipped with powerful cannons. With the help
of traitors, they entered the fort at night in overwhelming numbers. Rani Lakshmi
Bai went underground and the British were disappointed when they captured the
fort. To take out their wrath, they burnt the excellent state library, ransacked the
palace and shot Rani Lakshmi Bai’s followers.
Rani Lakshmi Bai escaped to Rao Sahib Peshwa’s camp at Kalpi. The British
heard of this and prepared to attack Kalpi. Rani Lakshmi Bai was worried that
Rao Sahib Peshwa had left himself open to attack from the rear and suggested a
change in his battle formations. Rao Sahib Peshwa did not think any woman could
teach him how to wage war and ignored her suggestions. As a result, Kalpi fell
into the hands of the British on May 24, 1858. The rebels then sought shelter at
the Gwalior fort. The king of Gwalior was not willing to give up his fort without a
fight as he was afraid of the British. But the soldiers laid down their arms in
respect for the Rani of Jhansi. Thus, the rebels entered Gwalior without a fight.
The British wasted no time in attacking Gwalior. Sir Hugh Rose attacked
Gwalior on 17th March, 1858. The next day’s battle was the Rani’s last. The
British army had encircled her and her men.
There was no escape, blood was flowing, darkness was approaching. In
British army was pursuing her. After a great struggle the Rani died muttering
quotes from the Bhagvad Gita. It was the fiercest, bloodiest battle ever fought on
Indian soil. Lakshmi Bai’s courage, strength and ability as she valiantly fought the
British army’s vastly superior forces, are remembered even to this day. She died
fighting and Gwalior was captured. Tantia Tope was hanged and Rao Sahib
When she went to war and took up arms, she was the very embodiment of the
War Goddess Kali. She was beautiful and frail. But her radiance made men
diffident. She was young in years, but her decisions were mature. Rani was such
a confident and dominant woman! A lesson is to be learnt by all of us from her
experiences! The words of the British General, Sir Hugh Rose who fought against
the Maharani several times and was defeated time and time again stated: “Of the
mutineers, the bravest and the greatest commander was the Rani.
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