Not for nothing was Lakshmi Bai, the legendary Rani of Jhansi, immortalized by the famous poetess Subhadra Kumari Chouhan in her epic nationalistic verse, Khoob Ladi Mardani Woh Toh Jhansi Wali Rani Thi (What a brave warrior he was; she was the Queen of Jhansi!)
Every school-goer in the Hindi heartland of India knows this epic poem by heart. It forms part of their curriculum.
And there would hardly be anyone in India who does not know about the valour of Rani Lakshmi Bai and her extraordinary exploits against the British Raj during India’s First War of Independence in 1857.
Much has been written about the noble queen in history books, but very little is known about the feisty young girl named Manikarnika and her life before she became the Rani of Jhansi. Recently, Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut also made a feature film about the great queen.
Following the death of her husband, Maharaja of Jhansi, Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the then British Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, refused to recognize the King’s adopted son as his heir, and annexed Jhansi under his policy of the “Doctrine of the Lapse”. Meanwhile, Lakshmi Bai was proclaimed as Regent of Jhansi, which she ably ruled on behalf of her minor, adopted son.
When Dalhousie persisted with his illegal annexation, the 22-year-old queen refused to surrender Jhansi to the British. Lakshmi bai gathered her forces and rose in the revolt against the British, and joined the escalating popular rebellion of 1857.
Joining the uprising against the British, she rapidly organized her troops and assumed charge of the rebels in the Bundelkhand region.
Under General Hugh Rose, the East India Company’s forces begun to retaliate. They surrounded the Jhansi fort, waging a fierce battle. Offering stiff resistance to the invading forces, Lakshmi Bai did not surrender even after the rescuing army of Maratha leader Tantia Tope, another rebel leader, was defeated in the Battle of Betwa.
She managed to escape from the fort with a small force of palace guards and headed eastward, where other rebels joined her. Lakshmi Bai and Tope then mounted a successful assault on the fort of Gwalior, held by the Scindias.
After taking Gwalior, Lakshmi Bai marched to the east to confront a British counter-attack led by Rose. Dressed as a man, she fought a fierce battle and was killed in war.
For demonstrating her exceptional bravery, the valiant queen became an iconic figure of India’s First War of Independence and chose martyrdom instead of surrendering to the British.
Such is her legacy that even today, two-an-a-half centuries later, young girls in the country are encouraged with her examples of fearlessness and gallantry.