Rani Lakshmi Bai or the Queen of Jhansi holds a vital presence in Indian history as one of the few leaders who became the forerunners of the revolt of 1857 — what came to be known as the first war of Independence in India.
Born on November 19, 1835, in the Kashi region of the Kingdom of Kashi Benaras, she had a unique childhood as compared to the women of her times. With her selfless contributions towards the Indian freedom movement and resistance against the British regime, she became an embodiment of the ideals of women empowerment and bravery.
Defying the stifling rules of the patriarchal culture that shrouded Indian society, she was well versed in the art of combat and war strategy. From a young age, she was surrounded by the boys in the court of Peshwa ruler Baji Rao II and it impacted her life tremendously.
Her education began at home, and being the daughter of a warrior in the King’s army, she was taught not only to read and write but master skills such as swordplay, shooting, horsemanship and was also trained in several forms of martial arts.
Before being recognised as the ‘Joan of Arc’ of India, she was married to the ruler of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao Newalkar. But at the time of the King’s death, the couple did not have a natural-born heir to the throne. While the King did adopt a son shortly before his death in accordance with Hindu law, the British authorities refused to acknowledge him as a legitimate heir to the throne of Jhansi.
It was then that Rani Lakshmi Bai’s first act of defiance against British rule emerged. She refused to cede the kingdom to the foreign authorities and ascertained herself as the reigning regent in place of her adopted son —a minor at the time.
At the mere age of 22, she joined the uprising against British rule and became the only woman leader to lead an army against the British troops during the 1857 mutiny. During the battle, she hastily coordinated her troops and assumed charge of the rebels in the Bundelkhand region.
In a fierce battle that raged thereafter, Rani Lakshmi Bai held her fort against the crackdown of the British army. She refused to surrender even when her army was overwhelmed by the mounting numbers of war casualties. Eventually, the Kingdom of Jhansi was secured and she, along with her surviving army, moved east to confront a British contingent in Morar.
It was during this confrontation that Rani Lakshmi Bai was defeated. She endured and stood her ground against the enormous number of troops but succumbed to the fatal injuries she received during the skirmish.
Rani Lakshmi Bai is still an exemplar of courage and bravery, especially among young girls. Disregarding all of society’s biased expectations, she became a symbol of nationalism in the country and came to be known as the woman who changed the course of history through her vigour, honour, and patriotism.
Here are 8 facts you might not know about Rani Lakshmi Bai:
- Rani Lakshmi Bai came to be known as Lakshmi only after she was married to the ruler of Jhansi. At birth, she was named Manikarnika Tambe and was lovingly called ‘Manu’.
- Manikarnika was a bubbly and cheerful child during her days in the court of Baji Rao II. She was even dubbed as ‘Chhabili’ or playful by the Peshwa.
- Rani Lakshmi Bai shared a close friendship with Nana Saheb and Tatya Tope, two of the leaders that led the revolt of 1857 against the British rule along with her. It is rumoured that they were friends since childhood and even took lessons together.
- Rani Lakshmi Bai grew up without a mother figure in her life as her birth mother died when she was merely four years old. She was raised by her father, Moropant Tambe, who worked in the court of Baji Rao II, the Peshwa of Bithoor.
- Rani Lakshmi Bai was married off to the ruler of Jhansi, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, at the age of seven. Though, their marriage was not consummated until she was 14 years of age.
- In 1851, Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a boy who was titled as the heir to the throne of Jhansi. He was named Damodar Rao. But her firstborn could not survive infancy and unfortunately passed away when he was just four months old.
- She became the ruler of Jhansi at only 18 years of age when she rejected the Doctrine of Lapse imposed on the Kingdom by the British authorities and named herself the reigning regent as a placeholder for her toddler son.
- It is said that even on the verge of death, her contempt for the British regime was so strong that she did not want them to capture her body. Therefore, she commanded a hermit to burn it and it was only later when she received a proper cremation by a few locals.