Rani Lakshmibai, famously known as ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, was one of the leading warriors in India’s First
War of Independence, which was fought in 1857.Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi was the queen of the
princely state of Jhansi in North India currently present in Jhansi district in Uttar Pradesh, India. Born in
November 19, 1835, Kashi, India—died June 17, 1858, Kotah-ki-Serai, near Gwalior. She was one of the
leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and became a symbol of resistance to the British Raj for
Her father was Moropant Tambe and her mother Bhagirathi Sapre (Bhagirathi Bai).She was named
Manikarnika and was nicknamed Manu. Her struggles in life started at the age of four, when her mother
Her father worked for a court Peshwa of Bithoor district who brought up Manikarnika like his own
daughter.The Peshwa called her “Chhabili”, which means “playful”. Lakshmi Bai had an unusual
upbringing for a Brahman girl. Growing up with the boys in the peshwa’s court.She was educated at
home and was more independent in her childhood than others of her age; her studies included shooting,
horsemanship, fencing and mallakhamba with her childhood friends Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope.she
was trained in martial arts and became proficient in sword fighting and riding.
She married the maharaja of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao in May 1842 and was afterwards called Lakshmibai
(or Laxmibai) in honour of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.She gave birth to a boy, later named Damodar
Rao, in 1851, who died after four months.
Later, they adopted Anand Rao, the son of Raja Gangadhar Rao’s cousin, and renamed him Damodar Rao. After the death of Raja in November 1853, the British East India Company, under Governor- General Lord Dalhousie, applied the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. As Damodar Rao was an adopted son, he was declined the throne of Jhansi and the British company annexed the state of Jhansi to its territories through deceit.
When she was informed of this she cried out “I shall not surrender my Jhansi” (Mein meri Jhansi nahi
In March 1854, she was ordered to leave the Jhansi fort with an annual pension of sixty thousand rupees
and move to the Rani Mahal in Jhansi. But she was persistent on protecting the throne of Jhansi for her
She was determined not to leave her empire of Jhansi and strengthened its defenses. She assembled a
volunteer army where women were also given military training. Her forces were joined by warriors such
as Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Khuda Baksh, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai,
Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh.
On 10 May 1857 the Indian Rebellion started in Meerut. When news of the fighting reached Jhansi, the
Rani asked the British political officer, Captain Alexander Skene, for permission to raise a body of armed
men for her own protection; Skene agreed to this.The city was relatively calm in the midst of the regional
unrest, but the Rani conducted a Haldi Kumkum ceremony with pomp in front of all the women of Jhansi to provide assurance to her subjects, in the summer of 1857 and to convince them that the British were cowards and not to be afraid of them.
Until this point, Lakshmibai was reluctant to rebel against the British. In June 1857, rebels of the 12th
Bengal Native Infantry seized the fort containing the treasure and magazine, and after persuading the
British to lay down their arms by promising them no harm, broke their word and massacred 40 to 60
European officers of the garrison along with their wives and children.
Four days after the massacre the sepoys left Jhansi, having obtained a large sum of money from the
Rani, and having threatened to blow up the palace where she lived. Following this, as the only source of
authority in the city the Rani felt obliged to assume the administration and wrote to Major Erskine,
commissioner of the Saugor division explaining the events which had led her to do so. On 2 July Erskine
wrote in reply that he requested her to “manage the District for the British Government” until the arrival of
a British Superintendent.The Rani’s forces defeated an attempt by the mutineers to assert the claim to
the throne of a rival prince who was captured and imprisoned. There was then an invasion of Jhansi by
the forces of Company allies Orchha and Datia; their intention however was to divide Jhansi between
themselves. The Rani appealed to the British for aid but it was now believed by the governor-general that
she was responsible for the massacre and no reply was received. She set up a foundry to cast cannon to
be used on the walls of the fort and assembled forces including some from former feudatories of Jhansi
and elements of the mutineers which were able to defeat the invaders in August 1857. Her intention at
this time was still to hold Jhansi on behalf of the British.
From August 1857 to January 1858 Jhansi under the Rani’s rule was at peace. The British had
announced that troops would be sent there to maintain control but the fact that none arrived
strengthened the position of a party of her advisers who wanted independence from British rule. When
the British forces finally arrived in March they found it well-defended and the fort had heavy guns which
could fire over the town and nearby countryside. Sir Hugh Rose, commanding the British forces,
demanded the surrender of the city; if this was refused it would be destroyed. After due deliberation the
Rani issued a proclamation: “We fight for independence. In the words of Lord Krishna, we will if we are
victorious, enjoy the fruits of victory, if defeated and killed on the field of battle, we shall surely earn
eternal glory and salvation.”She defended Jhansi against British troops when Sir Hugh Rose besieged
Jhansi on 23 March 1858.
The bombardment began on 24 March but was met by heavy return fire and the damaged defences were
repaired. The defenders sent appeals for help to Tantia Tope; an army of more than 20,000, headed by
Tantia Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi but they failed to do so when they fought the British on 31 March.
During the battle with Tantia Tope’s forces part of the British forces continued the siege and by 2 April it
was decided to launch an assault by a breach in the walls. Four columns assaulted the defence at
different points and those attempting to scale the walls came under heavy fire. Two other columns had
already entered the city and were approaching the palace together. Determined resistance was
encountered in every street and in every room of the palace. Street fighting continued into the following
day and no quarter was given, even to women and children. “No maudlin clemency was to mark the fall
of the city” wrote Thomas Lowe.The Rani withdrew from the palace to the fort and after taking counsel
decided that since resistance in the city was useless she must leave and join either Tantia Tope or Rao
Sahib (Nana Sahib’s nephew).
According to tradition with Damodar Rao on her back she jumped on her horse Badal from the fort; they
survived but the horse died.The Rani escaped in the night with her son, surrounded by guards.The escort included the warriors Khuda Bakhsh Basharat Ali (commandant), Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar
Singh.She decamped to Kalpi with a few guards, where she joined additional rebel forces, including Tantia Tope.They occupied the town of Kalpi and prepared to defend it. On 22 May British forces attacked Kalpi; the Indian forces were commanded by the Rani herself and were again defeated.
The leaders (the Rani of Jhansi, Tantia Tope, the Nawab of Banda, and Rao Sahib) fled once more.
They came to Gwalior and joined the Indian forces who now held the city (Maharaja Scindia having fled
to Agra from the battlefield at Morar). They moved on to Gwalior intending to occupy the strategic
Gwalior Fort and the rebel forces occupied the city without opposition. The rebels proclaimed Nana
Sahib as Peshwa of a revived Maratha dominion with Rao Sahib as his governor (subedar) in Gwalior.
The Rani was unsuccessful in trying to persuade the other rebel leaders to prepare to defend Gwalior
against a British attack which she expected would come soon. General Rose’s forces took Morar on 16
June and then made a successful attack on the city.
On 17 June in Kotah-ki-Serai near the Phool Bagh of Gwalior, a squadron of the 8th (King’s Royal Irish)
Hussars, under Captain Heneage, fought the large Indian force commanded by Rani Lakshmibai which
was trying to leave the area. The 8th Hussars charged into the Indian force, slaughtering 5,000 Indian
soldiers, including any Indian “over the age of 16”.They took two guns and continued the charge right
through the Phool Bagh encampment. In this engagement, according to an eyewitness account, Rani
Lakshmibai put on a sawar’s uniform and attacked one of the hussars; she was unhorsed and also
wounded, probably by his sabre. Shortly afterwards, as she sat bleeding by the roadside, she recognised
the soldier and fired at him with a pistol, whereupon he “dispatched the young lady with his carbine”.
According to another tradition Rani Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi, dressed as a cavalry leader, was
badly wounded; not wishing the British to capture her body, she told a hermit to burn it. After her death a
few local people cremated her body.
The British captured the city of Gwalior after three days. In the British report of this battle, Hugh Rose
commented that Rani Lakshmibai is “personable, clever and beautiful” and she is “the most dangerous of
all Indian leaders”. Rose reported that she had been buried “with great ceremony under a tamarind tree
under the Rock of Gwalior, where I saw her bones and ashes”. Her tomb is in the Phool Bagh area of
Gwalior. Twenty years after her death Colonel Malleson wrote in the History of the Indian Mutiny; vol. 3;
London, 1878 ‘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.’
The deeds of the valiant queen has inspired generations. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment, a women’s unit
of the Indian National Army; the Maharani Laxmi Bai Medical College in Jhansi; the Lakshmibai National
University of Physical Education in Gwalior; and Rani Lakshmi Bai Central Agricultural University in
Jhansi among others have been named in her honour.
“बुदेले हरबोलौ के मुॅह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खबू लड़ी मदाॅनी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी”
“From the bards of Bundela we have heard this story / She fought much valiantly, she was the queen of
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