Rani Lakshmibai – The Great Patriot
Rani Laxmibai or Rani Lakshmibai was born on November 19th 1828 in the holy place of Varanasi, then Banaras/Kashi to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathi Bai.
Her parents were Brahmins of Maharashtrian origin. She bore the name ‘Manikarnika’ after her birth and was nicknamed ‘Manu’.
Kashi was an affluent city, famous for its silk and shawls and also for the attainment of moksha.
Its ghats and River Ganga created a sacred ambience but little Manu was far from being docile even after being grown up in such an environment.
She was an embodiment of determination, courage and stubbornness right from her childhood. She was among the front ranked leaders waging the Revolt of 1857 and served as the symbol of resistance to the British Rule.
Even though she didn’t prove to be victorious in her conquest against the Britishers but she remained as the beacon of inspiration for the next generation of freedom fighters.
Early Life of Rani Lakshmi Bai
The little girl ‘Manu’ suffered a grieve bereavement at the loss of her mother just at the age of 4.
Her father then, decided to move to Bithur and took up the work of supervising worship at the sacred shrines of Peshwa Bajirao II.
Peshwa was living in exile at Bithur forced upon him by the British Raj along with her three adopted sons, Nanaji his chosen heir.
Manikarnika grew up with Nana Sahib and Tantya Tope, his father a noble at the court of Peshwa.
She grew up learning archery, sword-fight, horsemanship, fencing and shooting with them whom she fondly used to call as her brothers.
Peshwa was too fond of the incredible aura emanating from little ‘Manu’ and used to address her as ‘Chabili’ meaning ‘playful’.
Though a girl, Manu didn’t use to play with toys, she instead preferred playing games with the boys.
She was fearless and courageous, unlike other girls of her age and was strong both mentally and physically. Her personality trait included aspects of never admitting defeat and encountering difficulties even in the gravest situations.
She was an ardent fan of the might of Shivaji, Nana Sahib used to narrate to her the stories of valour and vigour of Shivaji, little Manu had always wanted to emulate the vigour and valour of the imminent leaders for the freedom of her country.
There are many examples of her exemplary courage at a tender age. Once Nana Sahib and Manu went for horse-riding in the evening. Nana’s horse sped up and went ahead of Manu’s.
Manu also unbridled the horse and raced it ahead of Nana. When Nana tried to speed his horse up, he fell from the horse and started bleeding.
Seeing this, Manu brought her horse back, tended to Nana’s wound and brought him back upon the horse to the palace.
When Nana’s wound was examined, it was a very deep cut and could have been proved fatal if hadn’t been attended on time. Such was her presence of mind even at a small age.
On Manu’s continued insistence to go to the jungle with Nana while he was still recuperating, Peshwa arranged for an elephant.
Manu came running shouting, ‘I too want to ride the elephant’ but none was paying heed to her words.
She was stopped by her own father who said, ‘Child it’s not in your destiny to ride an elephant’ to which she profusely said, ‘No father, you’ll see I will have ten elephants to ride’. Seeing the little girl’s determination, Moropant embraced her.
As Manu was growing up, her father began to be worried about her marriage. When she was fourteen, Peshwa and Moropant invited Tatya Dikshit, who was an astrologer and had contacts, to look for a suitable groom.
Tatya was dumbstruck on seeing Manu’s horoscope and he declared that she is destined to be a queen. Manu was returning to the palace with Bala Saheb and Tatya had a conversation with the girl.
She said, gleefully, ‘Of which state whill I be the queen of, as tyranny of Britishers is such who have captured all the states’.
Tatya too was impressed with the patriotic zeal and fervour that Manu possessed at a very young age. When Tatya took leave of Moropant, he had already decided Manu’s marriage with the King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao, in his head.
Fate of Jhansi
The town of Jhansi is about two hundred and fifty miles, south of Delhi. It is in the state of Uttar Pradesh and on the border of Madhya Pradesh.
This region is known as Bundelkhand and it had been long known to be oppressed by foreign invasions.
For years, Bundelkhand had countered the attacks from Afghan invaders and threw them back but later accepted defeat when annexed by the Mughals.
However, in 1759, a mutiny broke out and Raghuram Rao was made the ruler of Jhansi also of surrounding districts and given the sovereignty of Peshwa.
The position of Rao was made hereditary and the Subedars were made semi-monarchs of the independent Maratha confederacy along with parts of Indore, Baroda and Gwalior.
The throne bore down to Shivaram who suffered an attack from the Britishers.
He reckoned East India Company as an ally and Britishers as a result accepted Jhansi as an ‘independent sovereign state’ only with the condition that the heirs to the throne will be in blood related to the family.
The throne after formidable mishaps reached Gangadhar Rao. When Gangadhar assumed power, there was not enough revenue with the state and the governance was dented.
After he bore the throne, revenue systems were rejuvenated and good governance was established.
However, Gangadhar’s first wife died after three years of their marriage and both didn’t have a child. Gangadhar had deep feelings for his wife and he never remarried, devoting himself to the governance of Jhansi and into dramas that he loved watching and playing.
When Tatya narrated to Gangadhar of having found a suitable match for him, he after much reluctance gave in and got ready to marry Manu.
Manu was received with much pomp and show at Jhansi. The whole Jhansi rejoiced the coming of their queen and of getting an heir to their state soon.
Manikarnika was renamed LaxmiBai after the name of Goddess Mahalaxmi during their wedding that took place in May 1842.
Where most brides are known to be shy and timid during their wedding, the brave Queen of Jhansi ordered the priest to tie the knot with Maharaja carefully. Everyone present, was perplexed as well as amazed with her words and attitude.
At the palace, she was introduced to the mannerisms of queen, of the various rituals of worship, of preparing meals and the Maharaja took keen interest in his bride’s education.
She was subjected to the books at Royal Library of the Palace and she soon became an avid reader thereafter.
But she was most interested in reading ‘Geeta’ whenever she got time. Nonetheless, the duties of a queen didn’t sway her away from her hobbies of horse riding and swordsmanship.
She was fond of elephant riding too and never stepped out of the palace without a sword by her waist. Her taste of clothing was simple yet elegant, she used to wear silk sarees and minimal jewellery as her adornments.
Despite she being fourteen and Maharaja being forty, they both shared a loving and amicable relationship with each other.
Rani Lakshmibai gave birth to a son named Damodar Rao in 1851 who died four months later. Gangadhar adopted a son, Anand Rao who was his cousin’s son and he was renamed Damodar Rao on the day before Maharaja’s death.
The ailing Maharaja died in November 1853 and prior to his death the adoption was carried out.
The adoption was carried out in the presence of a British political officer and he was handed a letter instructing to treat the child with respect and to handover the rule of Jhansi to his widow for her lifetime.
The cunning Britishers under Lord Dalhousie, applied The Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Damodar Rao’s claim to the throne and annexing the state to its territories.
When Rani Lakshmibai was informed about this, she cried painfully, ‘I shall not surrender my Jhansi’.
She at once sort help from Peshwa Baji Rao and Tantia Tope who sent an army of 20,000 soldiers.
Howerver, Rani Lakshmibai wasn’t happy with their training but Peshwa was a man and he thought he knew more about wars than Rani Lakshmibai.
The Britshers attacked the city of Kalpi. Rani Lakshmibai was prepared to fight the enemy. She rode on the back of her horse, Badal at the speed of light and attacked, ‘Save yourself if you can!’, shouted the confident woman warrior.
The British soldiers were shocked to see her confidence, efficiency and speed with which she approached towards them in the battlefield.
The British soldiers got petrified. Rani Lakshmibai displayed her talent on the battlefield, she killed left and right anyone who came before her without any fear.
The British troops were being led by Sir Hughrose, who at once understood that it was difficult to defeat the Queen on the battlefield.
He immediately decided to go to the battlefield with camel riding soldiers. This strategy of his, scared the soldiers of Tantia Tope who began to flee from the battlefield.
Rani Lakshmibai tried to cheer them up and boost their morales but it was of no avail, her soldiers began to scatter leaving her unguarded in the battlefield.
Soon, Kalpi was defeated despite Rani Lakshmibai’s display of immense courage on the battlefield.
Rani’s way to Veergati
Rani Laxmibai on having served defeat marched towards Gwalior to seek help from Raja Jayaji Scindia along with Rao Saheb, Nawab of Banda and a small troop of soldiers.
A dramatic turnaround of events took place there. When Peshwa Rao Saheb lamented before the King to help them in their battle against the British, Scindia curtly replied them with a ‘No’ as he was too loyal to the British.
But his troops were fed up by serving Britishers, they revolted in the court and decided to help Peshwa Baji Rao and Rani Lakshmibai for their battle against the alien rule.
Scindia having served a rebel from his own troops fled the state and Gwalior was taken over by Peshwa Rao Saheb. A coronation ceremony was organised to declare Rao Saheb as the new ruler of Gwalior.
Hearing of the coronation ceremony, Hughrose understood at once that the Queen in plotting against the British. He ordered his troops to march towards Gwalior at once.
Rani Lakshmibai when came to know of the Britishers approaching Gwalior commanded her troops with a roar, ‘The time has come, we must fight against the British.
Follow me warriors!’. She tied Damodar Rao at her back, wore a sonwar’s uniform and approached the battlefield, it was a sight to see. At Kotah-ki-Serai in Phool Bagh of Gwalior, took place the battle.
The battle was fierce and she once again fought with great might leaving everyone shocked with her valour, commandment and efficiency. She solemnly killed every British soldier that came her way. The battle was turning in her way until her luck turned against her.
She kept fighting until a bullet hit her. She turned back to see who had hit her like a coward, Rani immediately pounced on that British soldier and rolled his head down with a single stroke of her sword.
Her horse knew that she was wounded, he ran at a lightning speed but soon reached a gap separating the two plateaus.
Rani knew that the horse is exhausted and wounded, she tried to encourage the horse but of no avail. Soon, she was surrounded with troops of soldiers.
She being the ferocious woman didn’t surrender. Instead, she vowed to kill them all which she did ferociously.
She didn’t spare even a single soldier who surrounded her but while killing the last soldier, her balance broke off and she fell into the nullah. She knew that she’s gonna die and gave out a huge cry.
Her faithful servants took to her rescue and took her blood stained body to a nearby hut. Her soldiers sorted to cremate her lest her body be disrespected at the hands of British.
On 15th June, 1858, the great woman warrior breathed her last. The news of her death reached Hughrose but he wasn’t convinced.
He knew until the Rani is alive, anything can happen. It was after the news of burning of the Queen body in the sacred pyre that the Britishers breathed a sigh of relief for such was the terror and fear of Rani in their minds.
Gwalior was captured by the British and was given back to Scindia. Hughrose highly regarded Rani Lakshmibai, ‘She fought like a true warrior. Her courage is unparallel’.
Another officer supported his statements stating, ‘She was the only man in her army’. Today she is much celebrated heroic figure and an epitome of womanhood.
Her huge statue on a horse with a sword in one hand stands proudly at Jhansi, Gwalior and all over Madhya Pradesh.
A women’s unit of the Indian National Army was named, the ‘Rani of Jhansi regiment’.
Many universities like Laxmibai University of Physical Education in Gwalior, Maharani Laxmi Bai Medical College in Jhansi and Rani Laxmibai Central University of Agriculture in Jhansi have been devoted to her.
Many patriotic songs and poems have been devoted to her.
The most famous composition about her emotional trauma yet mental composure had been written by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan.
An emotionally charged description of Rani’s life is often taught in schools. Her valour can be quoted from the lines of the poem, ‘बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी, खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।’ that translates to, ‘How valiantly like a man fought she, The Rani of Jhansi, on every parapet a gun she set, Raining fire of hell, how valiantly fought she, How like a man and How well!’.
Many novels on her life have been crafted. The famous ones being, ‘Rebel Queen’, ‘Flashman in the Great Game’ and ‘Manu and the Queen of Glory’.
In 1957, the government issued two postage stamps as a remembrance and tribute the centenary of rebellion.