Rani Laxmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi (November 1835 – 17 June 1858) was the queen of the Maratha-ruled princely state of Jhansi, situated in the northern part of India. She was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and a symbol of resistance to the rule of the British East India Company in the subcontinent.
Her father worked at the Peshwa court of Bithoor and because of his influence at court Laxmibai had more independence than most women, who were normally restricted to the zenana. She studied self-defence, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own army out of her female friends at court.
Rani Laxmi Bai Facts
Rani Laxmi Bai was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar at the early age of 7 to the Maharaja of Jhansi in 1842, and thus became the queen of Jhansi. After their marriage, she was given the name Laxmi Bai. The Raja was very affectionate towards her.
She gave birth to a son, Damodar Rao, in 1851. However, the child died when he was about four months old. After his death, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Anand Rao. Anand Rao was the son of Gangadhar Rao’s cousin, and was later renamed Damodar Rao. It is said that the Gangadhar never recovered from his son’s death, and died on 21 November 1853. When the Maharaja died, Rani Laxmi Bai was just eighteen years old, but never lost her courage and took up the responsibility of protecting the interests of Jhansi.
Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India at that time, tried to take advantage of the misfortune of Jhansi to expand the British Empire. The British did not accept Damodar Rao, as the legal heir of Rani Laxmi Bai and her late husband. In March 1854 Rani of Jhansi was granted an annual pension of 60,000 and was ordered to leave the Jhansi fort. She was firm on the decision not to give up the dominion of Jhansi to the British.
For strengthening the defense of Jhansi Rani Laxmi bai assembled an army of rebellions, which also included women. For this great cause she was supported by brave warriors like Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Khuda Baksh, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh. She assembled 14,000 rebels and organized an army for the defence of the city.
Rani Laxmi Bai in 1857
On May 10, 1857 the Indian Rebellion started in Meerut. This began after the rumour that the new bullet casings for the Enfield rifles were coated with pork and beef fat and unrest began to spread throughout India. During this chaotic time, the British were forced to focus their attentions elsewhere, and Rani Laxmi Bai was essentially left to rule Jhansi alone, leading her troops swiftly and efficiently to quell skirmishes initiated by local princes.
Rani Laxmi Bai had always been hesitant about rebelling against the British. Her hesitation eventually came to an end when British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi on 23 March 1858. An army of 20,000, headed by Tatya Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi but failed to do so when his forces engaged with the British on 31 March. Three days later the besiegers were able to breach the walls and capture the city. The Rani escaped by night with her son, surrounded by her guards, many of them women.
Along with the young Damodar Rao, Rani Laxmi Bai decamped to Kalpi along with her troops, where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The two moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior and later occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on 17 June 1858, while battling in full warrior regalia against the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars in Kotah-ki Serai near the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she was killed at battle. The British captured Gwalior three days later. In the British report of the battle, General Sir Hugh Rose commented that the Rani, “remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance”, had been “the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders.”
Her father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao, fled with his mother’s aides. Rao was later given a pension by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his inheritance. Damodar Rao settled down in the city of Indore, and spent most of his life trying to convince the British to restore some of his rights. He and his descendants took on the last name Jhansiwale. He died on 28 May 1906, at the age of 58 years.
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