Lakshmibai, The Rani Queen of Jhansi 19 November 1835 – 17 June 1858 known as Jhansi Ki Rani, was the queen of the Maratha-ruled princely state of Jhansi, was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and a symbol of resistance to British rule in India. She has gone down in Indian history as a legendary figure, as India’s “Joan of Arc. she was called by the name Manikarnika. Affectionately, her family members called her Manu. At a tender age of four, she lost her mother. As a result, the responsibility of raising her fell upon her father. While pursuing studies, she also took formal training in martial arts, which included horse riding, shooting and fencing.
Originally named Manikarnika at birth nicknamed Manu , she was born on 19 November 1835 at Kashi Varanasi to a Maharashtrian Karhade Brahmin family from Dwadashi, District Satara. She lost her mother at the age of four. She was educated at home. Her father Moropant Tambey worked at the court of Peshwa Baji Rao II at Bithur and then travelled to the court of Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi, when Manu was thirteen years old. She was married to Gangadhar Rao, the Raja of Jhansi, at the age of 14.
During that period, Lord Dalhousie was the Governor General of British India. The adopted child was named Damodar Rao. As per the Hindu tradition, he was their legal heir. However, the British rulers refused to accept him as the legal heir. As per the Doctrine of Lapse, Lord Dalhousie decided to seize the state of Jhansi. Rani Lakshmibai went to a British lawyer and consulted him. Thereafter, she filed an appeal for the hearing of her case in London. But, her plea was rejected. The British authorities confiscated the state jewels. Also, an order was passed asking the Rani to leave Jhansi fort and move to the Rani Mahal in Jhansi. Laxmibai was firm about protecting the state of Jhansi.
After her marriage, she was given the name Lakshmi 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 defense, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own army out of her female friends at court.
Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a son in 1851, however this child died when he was about four months old. After the death of their son, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Damodar Rao. However, it is said that her husband the Raja never recovered from his son’s death, and he died on 21 November 1853 of a broken heart.
Because Damodar 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 rightful 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.
Rani Jhansi was determined not to give up Jhansi. She strengthened its defences and assembled a volunteer army. Women were also given military training. Rani’s forces were joined by warriors including Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Khuda Baksh, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh.
While this was happening in Jhansi, on May 10, 1857 the Sepoy (soldier) Mutiny of India started in Meerut. This would become the starting point for the rebellion against the British. It began after rumours were put about that the new bullet casings for their 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 civilians, including women, and children were killed by the sepoys. The British wanted to end the rebellion quickly.
Meanwhile, unrest began to spread throughout India and in May of 1857, the First War of Indian Independence 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.
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 23rd March 1858. Rani Jhansi 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 the 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 Damodar Rao, the Rani decamped to Kalpi along with her forces where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The Rani and Tatya Tope moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted to the rebel forces. They then occupied the strategic fort at Gwalior. However on the second day of fighting, on 18 June 1858, the Rani died.