HomeOPEDRani Laxmibai – the warrior queen of Jhansi

Rani Laxmibai – the warrior queen of Jhansi

By: Amit Kumar Bhowmik


Mumbai: In the seventh standard in school, at Sherwood (Nainital), where I was a boarder, Santosh Salve, who taught us Hindi, made us memorize the poem: ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ (Queen of Jhansi) by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, egged on with sharp raps on our knuckles with a wooden ruler. Decades later, I can even now remember some of the stanzas. I have always been inspired by Rani Laxmibai.

Rani Laxmibai was born, in Varanasi (Kashi), as ‘Manikarnika Tambe’ on November 19, 1828 in a Maharashtrian Karhade Brahmin family to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathi (nee Sapre). Laxmibai’s mother died when she was four years old. Her father worked for Peshwa   Bajirao II of Bithoor District. She was educated at home. She could read and write.

She was also trained in shooting, horse-manship, fencing and the ‘malla -khamba’. According to Vishnu Bhatt Godse, the Rani would exercise at weight-lifting, wrestling and steeple-chasing before breakfast. An intelligent and simply-dressed woman, she ruled in a business-like manner. Vishnu Bhatt Godse, a Hindu priest, was one of the survivors of the siege and massacre of Jhansi.

His account was published about 50 years after the events, although, actually, it was written much earlier. He wrote in Marathi, Thereafter, there has been at least one new Hindi translation.  I have   read an English version, published quite recently, which made a compelling reading. At least, to me!  (‘1857: The Real Story of the Great Uprising’. Rs.289 from Amazon).

In May 1852, Manikarnika was married off to Gangadharrao Newalkar the Maharaja of Jhansi, who was much older than her. She was then named as ‘Laxmibai’.  In 1851, Laxmibai, gave birth to her son, Damodarrao, who died four months later. The couple later adopted Gangadharrao’s cousin, who was renamed, ‘Damodarrao’.

The procedure of adoption was carried out in the presence of a British officer. It was agreed that Laxmibai and Gangadharrao would continue to occupy the palace as Maharaja and Maharani and Damodarrao Rao would also be bestowed all honours and dignity as befitting a prince.

However, in   November 1853, after the   death of the Maharaja, the British East India Company, applied the ‘Doctrine of Lapses,’ which was, first perpetrated by Lord Dalhousie in the late 1840s. which prohibited a Hindu Ruler without a natural heir from adopting a successor and, after the Ruler died or abdicated, his lands were annexed by the British East India Company. 

As per this policy, Damodarrao’s claim to the throne was rejected since he was the adopted son of the Maharaja and Rani and the Company would automatically take over the kingdom. In March 1854, Laxmibai was given Rs.60,000 as an annual pension and she asked to leave her palace.

On May 10, 1857, the Indian Sepoys Rebellion began in Meerut. When this news   reached Jhansi, Laxmibai increased her protection and she conducted a ‘Haldi Kumkum’ ceremony to convince her subjects that the British were cowards and that there was no need to fear them. In June, mutineers from the 12th Bengal Native Infantry seized Jhansi’s   main fort.

They persuaded the British troops to lay down their arms, with the solemn promise that no harm would come to them, But the ‘sepoys’   broke their word and massacred the British officers, for which the British East India Company held Laxmibai culpable. This group of renegades, in fact, also plundered jewellery, ornaments and gold ‘Mohurs’ from   Laxmibai! They held her to ransom. She had no option but to give in to their avarice, as, otherwise they threatened to blow up her palace.

Under Hugh Rose, the British East India Company’s forces had begun their counter-offensive in Bundelkhand by January 1858. Advancing from Mhow, Rose captured ‘Sauger ‘(now Sagar) in February and then turned towards Jhansi in March. The Company’s forces, consisting mostly of   Indians, surrounded the fort of Jhansi and a fierce battle raged.

Offering stiff resistance to the invading armed forces, Laxmibai did not surrender, even after her troops were overwhelmed and the rescuing army of Tatya Tope, another rebel leader, was defeated at the Battle of Betwa.  Laxmibai managed to escape from the fort with a small contingent of   her palace guards She headed east-wards, where other dissenters joined her.

On March 23,1858, Rose demanded that the Rani surrender Jhansi. He ominously warned   her that if she refused, the city would be completely   destroyed. Laxmibai refused.  Instead, she proclaimed that: “We fight for independence. In the words of Lord Krishna, we will be reaping the fruits if we are victorious. If we are defeated and killed in the battle- field, we shall surely earn eternal glory and salvation.”

On March 24, the British forces began bombarding Jhansi. Laxmibai appealed for help to her child-hood friend, Tatya Tope, who responded by dispatching more than 20,000 soldiers to fight against the British Army. However, they failed to relieve Jhansi. As the devastation continued, Laxmibai with her son, escaped from the fort on her loyal horse, ‘Badal’, who died from exhaustion. But he had carried Laxmibai and her son to safety.

During this time, she was escorted by her security detail:  Khuda Bakhsh, Basharat Ali (Commandant), Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan, Raghunath Singh and Dewan Jawahar Singh. She left for Kapli   secretly, with just a handful of body-guards, and joined the additional rebel forces, including Tatya Tope. On May 22, 1858, the British forces attacked Kapli, defeating the rebels.

Laxmibai, Tatya Tope and Rao Sahib fled from Kapli to Gwalior. The three of them joined the Indian revolutionary forces defending the city. They wanted to occupy the Gwalior Fort due to its strategic importance. The mutineers marched into the city, without facing any opposition. They proclaimed Nana Sahib as Peshwa of the Maratha dominion and Rao Sahib as his Governor.  Laxmibai was, however, not able to persuade other rebel leaders to defend the fort and, thus, on June 16,1858, the British forces made a successful assault on Gwalior.

Disunity, bribery, dishonesty, corruption and spinelessness have plagued us since the times the first invaders looted and ruled our country! With just a small number of disciplined and brutal combatants; through intrigue, greed and deception, we have always willingly grovelled before the intruders; be it Alexander, the Moguls (who were, actually, Turks), French, Portuguese, British… and, even now, extremist, pseudo-intellectuals and blatantly anti-National elements, with foreign loyalties.

On June 17, in Kotah -ki- Serai near the Phool Bagh of Gwalior, the British forces charged the rebels, who were commanded by Laxmibai.  The British killed more than 5000 of the insurgents. Laxmibai was unhorsed. She was badly injured.

There are two versions of her death. Some say that she lay bleeding profusely by the road-side, when she recognized a soldier who was fighting on the British side. She shot at him. He returned fire, killing her instantly.

However, another account is that she was dressed as a male cavalry leader and was mortally wounded. Laxmibai did not want the British   to capture and desecrate her body. She   instructed a hermit to burn it, which he did, when she succumbed a short while later. Rani Laxmibai, the valiant Queen of Jhansi, died on June 18, 1858. She was just 22 years old!


After the death of his mother, Laxmibai, Damodarrao and his followers were on the run. They, finally, surrendered to the British. Damodarrao was brought to Indore by the British Agent, Richard Shakespeare, who appointed Munshi Dharmanayan as the young prince’s guardian and teacher.  Damodar was allowed to retain only seven of his retinue. He was granted an annual pension of Rs.10,000.  Damodar Rao married twice. He had a son, Lakshmanrao.

After   Damodarrao’s death in 1906, Lakshmanrao stopped receiving his father’s pension. He then became a free-lance typist in the Court – house of Indore and led a life of penury. The family adopted the surname ‘Jhansiwale’, after the land of their ancestors. Attempts to recognize them as the legal heirs of Jhansi were rejected by the British Empire. 

In   1957, the Government of Uttar Pradesh awarded Lakshmanrao with a small monetary consideration, at a function to commemorate 100 years of India’s First War of Independence -1857. Lakshmanrao had two children: Krishnarao and Chandrakantrao.

The family lived a normal middle-class life; away from the limelight, for a long time. Recently, in 2015, the family were invited as Chief Guests at the Jhansi Jan Mahotsav. Arunrao and Krishnarao Jhansiwale were felicitated during the ceremony. Arunrao’s son Yogesh Jhansiwale works as a soft-ware engineer in Nagpur.

About the Author: Amit Kumar Bhowmik is a Pune-based lawyer. He can be contacted on email:  amitbhowmik1@gmail.com


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