On the 190th birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai, the queen of Jhansi, let us remember and honour one of the bravest Indian women. ‘Rani Lakshmi Bai’ is an epitome of bravery and courage. Born to a Maratha family, all the books and history lessons have taught us she is remembered for being ferocious and brave in every sense since childhood.
Jhansi ki Rani was one of the leading figures of the Rebellion of 1857. For Indian nationalists, she became an icon for the freedom struggle against the British Raj for Indian. November 19, the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai, is celebrated as Martyr's Day in Jhansi to honour the lives lost in the Rebellion of 1857. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi was born under a different name -- Manikarnika Tambe. Interestingly, the Queen of Jhansi was not in fact born in Jhansi; she took birth in Kashi (now Varanasi).
She lost her mother at the age of four and was raised in an unconventional way by her father who worked as an advisor in the court of Peshwa. Brought up in an environment that was more independent compared to others, she was educated in shooting, horsemanship, and fencing. She was called 'chabbili' by the Peshwa, which means 'playful'. The Peshwa brought her up like his own daughter.
She was nicknamed Manu and was rechristened as Lakshmibai in honour of Goddess Lakshmi on her wedding day in 1834. Rani Laxmibai married her husband, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar of Jhansi, at just 14. In 1851, she gave birth to a baby boy, named Damodar Rao. Unfortunately, he died when he was just 4 months old. Rani Lakshmi Bai and the Maharaja later adopted the son of the Maharaja's cousin, who was then named Anand Rao. They renamed him, Damodar Rao. Soon after they adopted Anand, Maharaja died due to an illness in 1853. Rani Lakshmibai was just 18 at that time.
After the Maharaja's death Under Doctrine of Lapse, the British wanted to annex Jhansi. According to this, any princely state under the direct or indirect (as a vassal) control of the East India Company where the ruler did not have a legal male heir would be annexed by the company. As per this, any adopted son of the Indian ruler could not be proclaimed as heir to the kingdom. This challenged the Indian ruler's long-held authority to appoint an heir of their choice. So, due to the Doctrine of Lapse, Britishers did not accept Damodar Rao as the legal heir. Displeased by the injustice, Rani Lakshmibai even appealed to a court in London which discarded her case.
May 1857 marked the advent of the Indian Rebellion, which commenced in Meerut. When news of the struggle reached Jhansi, the Rani asked British political officer, Captain Alexander Skene, for permission to raise a body of armed men for her own protection—and he agreed. Until January 1858, Jhansi was at peace under Rani Laxmibai's rule. When the British forces finally arrived in March they found it well-defended—she defended Jhansi when Sir Hugh Rose, Commander-in-chief for the British Raj in India, besieged the state.
After putting up a tough fight, on April 2, the Rani withdrew from the palace on a horse, with Damodar Rao on her back and fled. The escort included Tatya Tope and warrior Gulam Gaus Khan (played by Danny Denzongpa in the film), who mounted a successful assault on the city fortress of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. Just before her escape, Laxmibai told Jhalkaribai (played by Ankita Lokhande in Manikarnika) to set out for General Rose's camp in disguise and declare herself to be the Queen. This led to confusion that continued for a whole day, which gave the Rani's army renewed advantage.
Rani Lakshmibai was determined to not give up on the Dominion of Jhansi and hence started assembling an army of rebellions, including women. She was supported by Tantia Tope and Nana Sahib. Lakshmibai gave a great fight to the British as the siege of Jhansi lasted for about two weeks. After a fierce war, when the British army entered Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai, tied her son Damodar Rao to her back and fought bravely using two swords in both her hands. She escaped to Kalpi and was accompanied by other rebellions. She then departed to Gwalior and a fierce battle was fought between the British and Lakshmibai's army. She died on June 17, 1958, martyring her life for India's freedom.
Perched inside the Fort of Jhansi, Rani Jhansi Museum, as its name suggests, is dedicated to the Queen. The museum is home to some of the weapons used by Rani Lakshmibai and her fellow combatants throughout the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. It houses a collection of archaeological remains of the period between the 9th and 12th centuries AD.