Queen’s Battle to Death

Who has not heard of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi?

The last few lines of one of the most recited poetry in Hindi literature composed by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan on the life of Rani Lakshmibai are here below. During my school days, I’ve sung it too with rousing feelings of patriotism.

Bundele harbolon ke munh hamane suni kahaani thi,
Khoob ladi mardaani woh to Jhansi waali raani thi.

A rough translation of it is:

“This story we heard from the mouths of Bundel bards
Like a man she fought, she was the Queen of Jhansi.”

And that is what I recalled when I had my taxi stop at the Jhansi Fort while on my way to explore Orchha, the twin city of Datia.

Most of us are aware of the historical facts on the popular Rani Lakshmibai. Since I like to dwell on it, let me briefly put a few of my thoughts here.

Queen Lakshmibai was affectionately called Manu when small. Having lost her mother at age 4, her father encouraged her with martial training, including riding, fencing and shooting when she was still a child. Probably her father envisioned her becoming the queen and accordingly educated her so.

Manu married Raja Gangadhar Rao Niwalkar at a young age and became the Queen of Jhansi. As was customary in those days to change name after marriage, she was thereafter known as Lakshmibai. It is said that she gave birth to a son, but the child died a few months after birth. Shortly, Gangadhar Rao fell very ill and he grudgingly relented only a day before his death to adopt a distant relative, a boy named Damodhar Rao.

To ensure that the British would not be able to contest the adoption, the Rani had it witnessed by the local British representatives. If I have my history right, upon the Maharaja’s death, the British-Indian authorities refused to recognize the adopted child as the next prince, sought to disgrace the Queen and moved to take control. They confiscated the state jewels and deducted her husband’s debts from her annual pension. She was required to leave Jhansi Fort for the Rani Mahal, another palace nearby that I visited in Jhansi town.

So this post is mainly about the Jhansi Fort, the fort that played a major role during the first war of Indian Independence in 1857.

The Jhansi Fort is synonymous with the great revolt of 1857 which many refer to as the first war of India’s independence. It is a beautiful fort built on the Bangra hilltop by Raja Bir Singh Deo of Orchha in 1613. The Fort was later on passed into the hands of Rani Lakshmibai, the Queen of the Maratha-ruled princely state of Jhansi and she made it her residence.

As soon as I set my eyes on the Fort, I was transported back to history and thought of the heroism of the young Queen who lost her life in the battlefield. Everytime I think of Rani Lakshmibai, my heart goes out to the young Queen. She had to face so many difficulties during her short life. To cite a few:

  • at losing her mother when she was just 4 years old,
  • at being widowed at a young age,
  • at the death of her only biological child,
  • at the blow dealt to her by the British on the secession case of her infant adopted son who did not receive his inheritance,
  • at the lack of support from neighboring rulers,
  • at the capture and execution of her father, Moropant Tambe, by hanging at the hands of the enemies,
  • at how torn she must have felt to remain loyal to the British out of helplessness under the circumstances while wanting to support the rebels when the Mutiny erupted, and
  • above all, at how the society of those days must have looked down upon her for being a childless widow.

Whether it was defending the invading armies of the Orchha and Datia rulers in 1857, or getting no support from neighboring Gwalior, or fighting off the British army in 1858, the young Queen’s life was a constant struggle. Historians state that though originally she continued to serve her British masters faithfully, it was only when she was faced with the impending likelihood of execution that the Queen then revolted against them.

I can’t stop from sharing a little more on the sad history of events that took place during the last few years of the Queen’s life.

In 1858, on suspicion that the Queen was aiding the mutineers, the British attacked the Jhansi Fort and after weeks of conflict, they laid siege and finally succeeded in the annexation of Jhansi. However, the Queen managed to escape along with her son and covering several kilometres in a few hours, took refuge in Kalpi.


There is a legend of a spot at the Fort that is said to remind of the extremely heroic feat of the Queen when she, in the guise of a man, jumped from an edge of the Fort to her waiting horse several feet below, with her adopted son tightly strapped to her back.

In Kalpi, the Queen was received as a great warrior together with a very small group of her most faithful soldiers who escaped along with her. From there, three months later, with the help of the Nawab of Banda and others, the Queen lead a successful attack on the British fortress at Gwalior that was under the control of General Hugh Rose.

The Queen was determined to secure Jhansi from British annexation throughout her life. She proclaimed her decision on not giving up Jhansi and went to the extent of establishing links with various revolutionaries and also with her childhood friend, Tatya Tope (also called Tantia). In one of her meetings with Tatya Tope, she is said to have mentioned that Jhansi will set an example of free India. The more I read about the Queen, the more I am convinced that her intention was not limited to territorial aspirations but that she had a vision and foresight for India’s freedom.


Lord Dalhousie, the colonial administrator in India in between 1812-1860, who was on a quest for mass annexation of all Indian territories decided to annex Jhansi. Under his Doctrine of Lapse several lives were lost. Throughout the uprising, the Queen had to fight another private battle to secure the rights of her adopted son who was deprived of his kingdom by the British authorities.

In the final days, Tatya Tope had hopes of support for the Peshwa from Gwalior, however, it was not to be so as it is reported that the Scindia army had a secret alliance with the British. In the losing battle with the British at Gwalior, days of fierce hand to hand fighting ensued in which thousands of soldiers were killed. It is written that on the last day on the battlefield in Gwalior she rode on her horse as the defiant leader of the defense, dressed as a man, using her sword. She was in the thick of battle when a British Army soldier threw his sword at her, killing the Queen on June 18, 1858.

The Queen will always be remembered for her words: Meri Jhansi nahin dungi meaning, I will not give up my Jhansi.

The Queen’s heroism became a beacon for the upcoming generations of freedom fighters. She is considered a martyr and iconic figure whose example set in motion the freedom struggle that consequently rid the subcontinent of its colonial rule.

The Queen of Jhansi will always be regarded as an epitome of bravery in India because of her wisdom, courage, sacrifice and progressive views on women’s empowerment in 19th century India.

Jhansi is very well connected to major cities across India by direct train links. Situated at a strategic location where the NS and EW National Highways intersect with each other, I took the NH 75 connecting Jhansi from Gwalior, 98 kms away. Datia is about 30 kms, Orchha 20 kms and Khajuraho is 175 kms away. There is regular bus service to Jhansi from Jaipur, Agra and Gwalior. The nearest operational airport to Jhansi is Gwalior, 98 kms away. Jhansi has an airport, but is not operational for civil flights as it is a base of Army Aviation. A new airport is in the pipeline which would enable excellent connectivity with major metros and other important cities.

This post has been previously published in my blog here.

25 Comments

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Celine – after disappearing for a a long time , you come back and give us a History lesson :), probably preparing us for Aug, 15 which is not too far away.

    Very good narration, it would be much easier for school kids to read this and understand all about Rani. Great Job.

    Be around.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Celine,

    Hats off to you. You have come up with yet another magnificent post on the Bundela history. I fully agree with Nandan that with your lucid and vivid description, well supported by some excellent pictures, even a child would understand the history of that period.

    Your post almost transported me to that golden era. It was virtually being there watching the valour and heroics of the great Rani of Jhansi.

    Simply splendid.

    Look forward to your next post.

  • Celine says:

    Nandan,

    Thank you. :)
    I haven’t disappeared but have been around. My comments on and off on ghumakkar can vouch for that.

    Travels are not just about journey, it also includes the destination, and sometimes writing about what one finds at the destination is equally fun – never mind if it is a lesson for kids or adults on history, politics, or sociology.

  • Celine says:

    Ram,

    I thank you for your kind words and generous compliments. I’m delighted that you enjoyed this post. :)

  • bikerdude says:

    History lesson indeed… a thorough one of the life and death of Jhansi ki Raani…

  • Celine says:

    Manish dude,

    So you see only history in this post?
    I guess it’s time to change my profession then..haha!

  • Cuckoo says:

    Oh dear,
    Such a lovely post, equally supported with some excellent photos. Looks like this fort is still in good shape. Your photos made it possible.

    And I agree with others, I was transported to my school days singing that couplet.. “khoob ladi mardaani… “. :D

  • Celine says:

    Cuckoo,
    Thank you very much. Delighted that you enjoyed it.:)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Khoob ladee mardani woh tow Jhansi waali raani thi.

    Reciting it again and again, brings back those wonderful years of life. Very well written & very well photographed post Celine. In my much talked about trip to Orchha, I had been to Jhansi Fort and her Palace. I looked from the place where it was written that Rani Jhansi jumped from here with her adopted Son on her back on her horse. The only thing that came to my mind – was it possible! It was such a steep slope that if it indeed was the case, it shows how brave she was.

    I enjoyed this post also because of excellant research you have done on the subject and also because there is so much to write about her, still you managed to cut it short with almost all the main part of her life.

    “She was called the Man among men” – If the other revolutionaries of 1857 were as visionary as she was, we might have got rid of Britishers in 1857 itself.

    Have you seen the room of Rani Jhansi in her Palace ? I wondered as that room was painted in dark red. Red is a color of festivity and anger too. So I was little surprised with that. I wished, like many others, I had seen her in person. A widow still so committed in empowering ladies in fort to learn Martial arts and promoted them to learn new war techniques.

    There is recently a book on her life (though a fictitous one and a controversial one too), in which the author talked about love affair between her and a Britisher.

    Tantya Tope – He didn’t die in 1857. I remember he ran off to Nepal and after that its known what happened to that great warrior.

    Beautiful photographs – First one seems as if a spear has been thrown into the walls of the fort declaring independence or a thermometer is there in the wall, measuring the teamperature of these walls that once boiled with the declaration of freedom.

  • sameer sharma says:

    Nicely written post.

    Let me add that Lakshmibai was born in our own bana banaya ras banaras near assi ghat. Her name was manikarnika and there is a ghat in her name. I visited her birthplace last november and I remember standing in the verandah of the house with wind whispering these lines in my ears BUNDELE HARBOLO KE MUKH …….”.

    It was a soul touching experince (like visiting a place with high importance in history and having that urge to be a part of the history itself but of course the dimesion of time does not allow that!!) to come so close to maharani who lives in our hearts for her bravery and courage.

    Well done.

  • Celine says:

    Manish,

    First of all apologies for the delay in responding to you as I was on a trip to Garhwal and that meant a few treks that included the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund.

    Thank you for your kind words and I am glad you liked this post and the photographs.

    Yes, I remember well the spot that the Rani jumped from is pretty steep and it is not surprising if one does not want to believe it. Since there is no evidence that she did jump, I have written that it is a legend. However, we certainly do not have any reason to underestimate the courage and bravery of the Rani.

    The matter regarding Tatya Tope’s end is a controversial issue and no one has been able to present actual facts about his last days.

    I do not recall seeing the Rani’s room and you have made an intriguing observation of the red colour. Thank you for an interesting comment Manish.:)

  • Celine says:

    Sameer,

    Thank you for the kind words on this post.

    I can very well understand the nature of your feelings when you were at the birthplace of little Manu (Manikarnika). The brave Rani will forever reign in our hearts. Thank you for sharing your beautiful feelings. :)

  • Hello Celine,
    This post is a ready reckoner on the Rani’ Life. Thanks for a beautifully worded post full of breathtaking snaps.

    So you have been to VOF and Hemkunt Sahab. Please share with us your experiences.

  • Celine says:

    Hi Rajeev,

    That’s a heart warming compliment, thank you.
    Sharing my thoughts and pictures has been my pleasure.:)

  • Saurabh says:

    Celine:

    While searching the web for Jhansi and Jhansi Fort, I came across your post. It evoked memories. I grew up with the fort constantly in the background. I was born in Jhansi and spent my childhood there. When I was a child, the fort loomed above our rooftop. In the summers we used to sleep on the roof, in winters fly kites on the rooftop; the fort was always there solid and comforting.

    Have you read Vrindavan Lal Varma’s “Jhansi Ki Rani.” His imagery brings the fort alive.

    Thanks for a beautiful post. I have not been to Jhansi for many a decade. Your post wants me to return.Do you have any pictures of the fort from the City side?

    Saurabh

  • Celine says:

    Saurabh,

    Two things have kept me busy the past few days: one, the holiday season of Christmas and secondly, preparation for some exams that I’ve to answer starting in a couple of weeks.

    I have not read the book referred to but now would like to. I shall go through my archived photographs of Jhansi and respond to you at my earliest convenience. In the meantime, I’m delighted to know that my post evoked such good memories in you and I enjoyed reading about the good times that you spent in Jhansi. Thank you for a lovely comment.

  • Saurabh says:

    Celine:

    This time the apology for late replying is all mine. I just, over the New Year’s break, went through my once a year move from Hong Kong to Florida. Now that I am back in God’s (or Dubya’s) own country, perhaps I will have more time to sit by the Bay and plot my next trip to Injah – and specifically to Jhansi and Bundelkhand.

    As I mentioned in my last e-mail, even though I grew up in Jhansi, I have not been back there since the mid 1970s. Even the last trip, after a hiatus of 20 years, was a hurried one-night affair on the way to Khajuraho. But our old ancestral home still stands, though now occupied by only three people. A house that used to resonate with the joy and laughter of upwards of 50 children, grandchildren, and great grand children, from what I hear, now sits desolate and empty. Perhaps a good place for a heritage hotel. As a kid, even though I grew up in the Jhansi Civil Lines, I remember making trips into the old city to visit my grandfather, to our old home, and to places like Panchkuyian with him, for hot milk with Rabri.

    I will look forward to your archived photos, if you find any. My e-mail address is saurabh33037@yahoo.com

  • kshemendra Sharma says:

    their is alot of details in places like datia, kalpi, khania dhana, sewdha to explore. one should visit them too. good post. nice to join your group.

  • Celine says:

    Thank you for your kind comment.
    I have visited Datia among the places you have mentioned.
    Hope to get an opportunity to explore the rest another time.

  • R K Garg says:

    It is irony of this country that those who were responsible for killings of our freedom fighters are now rulers of this country. Sindhia of Gwalior are one amongst such. History is very clear on the role of Sindhias during our first freedom fight in 1857. They showed their loyalty to British and helped them in crushing this. Today their heirs are ruling this country. Where are heirs of Tantiya, Bajirao, Laxmibai and other freedom fighters who laid down their lives in fighting the foreign agressors.

  • Himanshu says:

    thanks for nice picture

  • vikas pathak says:

    i have heard it from my childhood and the story of rani lakshmi by is as inspirational for any one who believe his work rather than nod his head in front of any one /.
    the life of rani lakshmibay is much aware as geeta karm theory. i salute his bravery.

  • vibha says:

    Hello Celine,

    I have always been in awe of Rani Laxmibai. Therefore, thanks for the beautiful account of her life with vivid pictures of the post.

    A teleseries with the same name is running on the TV now-a-days. They started off well but like almost all other series, the quality and the honesty of the narration has gone down. Rani Laxmibai’s real life was far more happenning than her life on screen.

    Cheers,
    Vibha

  • Upma Nayyar says:

    Rani Lakshmi Bai is still alive in our hearts.

  • Upma Nayyar says:

    Wishing u a very very sweet Happy Birthday in advance.

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