By Bhudeb Chakrabarti
The extract from the poem ‘Jhansi Ki Rani‘ by Subhadrakumari Chauhan, is an ode to the valiant queen of Jhansi, who had challenged the British to defend her Kingdom and became a leading figure in India’s First War of Independence against the British rule.
Here’s a look into the life of the brave queen, a legendary figure in India’s history, whose name is synonymous with patriotism and heroism.
Manikarnika was born into a Maratha family at Varanasi in 1828. After the early death of her mother, she was brought up by the Peshwa Baji Rao II of Bithoor (near Kanpur).
Lovingly called ‘Chhabili’, Manikarnika was educated at home and trained in archery, sword fighting, horsemanship and battle craft, along with Nana Sahib the adopted son of the Peshwa Baji Rao II, and Tatya Tope who was also brought up by the Peshwa .
At the age of fourteen, Manikarnika was married to the Raja of the Maratha Kingdom of Jhansi in the rugged Bundelkhand region of North Central India and renamed as Lakshmibai.
Raja met an untimely death in 1853, but before he died he adopted a son to be his successor. Rani Lakshmibai, a widow now, accepted the full responsibility to rule Jhansi till their adopted son became an adult.
Lord Dalhousie, however, had other designs.
He annexed the Jhansi State citing the ’Doctrine of Lapse’. Rani was just sanctioned a paltry pension, from which they also deducted the supposed debts of the Raja. With her Kingdom forcibly taken away, Rani felt humiliated, and she resolved to take on the British in the direct confrontation.
Jhansi was a very well maintained walled town with its Fort and the Palace on a hill. A Cantonment under the charge of Captain Dunlop was deployed by The British East India Company to keep law and order. When the news of revolt of the Indian soldiers of the British East India Company, in other parts of India reached Jhansi, the Indian troops of the Jhansi Cantonment also took up arms against the British, killing Captain Dunlop and his British troops.
Rani Lakshmibai ascended the throne of Jhansi in 1857 and regained her Kingdom. She made all necessary fortifications to defend her Kingdom, against the anticipated attack from the British, who held her responsible for the death of the British troops.
Sir Hugh Rose, the British General, reached Jhansi in March 1858 with a large force and launched fierce artillery fire on the walled town of Jhansi.
Shelling out fireballs from strategically placed canons at the Jhansi Fort. the troops of Rani Lakshmibai defended Jhansi. The women of Jhansi took active part in the heroic defence. The fighting continued for two weeks and Rani’s forces could not hold out against the British. Rani Lakshmibai lost a large number of her troops, and subsequently she left the Fort on her horse with a few follwers. The British Force occupied the Jhansi town and mercilessly killed the residents.
The British Cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Boucher was now on the hot chase of Rani Lakshmibai who raced toward the next destination. The British Cavalry was so thoroughly defeated by Rani Lakshmibai that they gave up the chase. Eventually Tatya Tope arrived there and guarded the Rani from further British assaults.
On Reaching Kunch, Rani Lakshmibai, Tatya Tope, and Rao Sahib the second adopted son of the Peshwa, marshalled troops to stall the British advance. Sir Hugh Rose reached there and immediately launched attack on Rani’s defence. In the face of the fierce British attack Rani retreated. Sir Hugh Rose swooned several times on his horseback where the Rani moved ahead with a lightning speed.
At last, Rani Lakshmibai reached Kalpi hoping to gain support of the Rajput kings, but they disappointed her. The combined British contingents attacked Kalpi making it difficult for her to hold the Fort.
Rani Lakshmibai moved along with Rao Sahib towards Gwalior. When she reached Gwalior, Scindia, who was a British ally, attacked them with his soldiers but they were defeated by the Rani’s force. Tatya Tope had also succeeded in winning over the people of Gwalior, who turned against the Scindia. Scindia, himself fled towards Agra. The Rani paid salary to the victorious troops from Scindia’s treasury and rewarded the residents of Gwalior.
When Sir Hugh Rose got the message about the fall of Gwalior to the Rani of Jhansi, he advanced with a large force to Gwalior. Making preparations to face the British Force in the open battlefield of Gwalior, the Rani clad in her battle armour on horseback went round the battle formations and motivated the soldiers.
In her final Battle of Gwalior, Rani led her troops from the front riding her steed and wielding her raised sword. The Rani’s soldiers could not cope up with the sustained attack of the numerically stronger enemy equipped with superior firepower and conceded defeat. The Rani of Jhansi was shot at and was also hit on the shoulder. The Rani of Jhansi fought gallantly despite the injuries sustained by her till the last.
Rani Lakshmibai, the brave Queen of Jhansi, laid down her life on the battle field of Gwalior on 17 June 1858, fighting for the freedom of her kingdom.
The patriotic queen became a national symbol of resistance to British rule.
- Jhansir Rani(Prose) –Rabindranath Tagore
- Jhansi Ki Rani ( Poetry) –Subhadrakumari Chauhan
This article is contributed by Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Dy IG (Retd) CRPF. He has commanded several Operational and Administrative functions in the force and has imparted training to gazetted officers of CRPF and other central & state police forces.
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