May 11, 2008

Jhansi, and India's Joan of Arc


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."

Those are 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. During my school days, I’ve sung it too with rousing feelings of patriotism.



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.

Jhansi is approximately 25 kms from Datia, and about 100 kms from Gwalior. To the uninitiated, on the map of Central India, there is the southern part of Uttar Pradesh jutting into the northern part of Madhya Pradesh and in between that tiny protruding area of UP is where Jhansi is located. It was nice to see my phone popping up continuous messages of ‘Welcome to Uttar Pradesh’ and ‘Welcome to Madhya Pradesh’ alternatively while on that short road journey, and the signboards on road checkposts affirming same.


Who is the Queen of Jhansi?

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 so educated her accordingly.

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 Damodar 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.



An poignant account of a meeting between the Rani and her lawyer, John Lang, are recounted in his book, Wanderings in India, published in 1861.



In my next, I shall write and post more pictures of the Jhansi Fort, the fort that played a major role during the first war of Indian Independence in 1857.

22 comments:

Iona said...

Informative read!

Iona said...

Looking forward to your promised post & picts of Jhansi fort, always been fascinated by Rani of Jhansi….

AJEYA RAO said...

Very nice. The story of Jhansi ki rani always makes me go visit this place.

Bendtherulz said...

Your post reminded me of our school days when we use to read this poem. Good informative read -looking forward to Orcha (as even I have to touch that part) -I have heard monsoon are the best months to visit MP -Mandu/Orcha....!
May be this year ......!!

anoop said...

thanks for commenting. you maintain a good travel blog too.

M.KATE said...

Wonderful reading, so informative and thorough. tks a lot, and just came back from Cambodia, drop by if free :)

indicaspecies said...

Iona,

Thank you for your comment.

Forts are fascinating and yes, of Jhansi's especially because of the brave Rani. I shall write more shortly. Lately, it's been pretty hectic at work. :)

indicaspecies said...

Ajeya,

Thank you. It's at a convenient location and I hope you get a chance. :)

indicaspecies said...

BTR,

Thanks. The poetry reminded me too of my school days (CBSE, you?) :)

I spent just a day and a night in Orchha so its not gonna be much, but let me see what I can come up with. Btw, I was in Orchha in December (2007) and weather-wise, it was cool and pleasant then. Hope you have a good trip. :)

indicaspecies said...

Anoop,

Welcome aboard, and thank you for your comment. Wow, you've got lovely pictures. :)

indicaspecies said...

Kate,

How nice of you to say that. And Cambodia, cool! I've been to Phnom-Penh but couldn't make it right up to Angkor Wat unfortunately. I'll pass by your blog shortly, thanks. :)

backpakker said...

great post Celine..you know, it kinda sounds silly but when I was young, I rather fancied myself to be like Jhansi Rani..ironically, have never been there ..
lakshmi

Merisi said...

Incredibly beautiful and what history! I cannot thank you enough for sharing all this with us, you put a tremendous amount of work in there, I appreciate that very much.

Indrani said...

gave me goose bumps reading those lines... How we sang those songs in our school days.
now a days i don't hear them much. wonder where they have vanished. thanks for this Celine.

indicaspecies said...

Lakshmi,

Thank you. I do not think dreams of a little girl are silly, and I'm glad that the post brought back those memories. :)

indicaspecies said...

Merisi,

Appreciation such as this makes it worthwhile to put up such posts. Thank you very much. :)

I hope you pass by again to read more on the history as the part to follow is touching, and sad! Hope I'll be able to get the right words to convey the feeling.

indicaspecies said...

Indrani,

Pleasure. Yea, those poems to arouse loyalty do give those feelings. :)

Jess22Rani said...

I really thought the Rani Lakshmibai story was interesting, because we had to do an assignment on her and i never thought i would of liked it but i guess u never no. Now i feel like checking out India, it sounds so interesting with tales of Queens and kings and many stories about India. I love the temples and everything in India they look amazing! THNX for the photos i wanted to see what Jhansi looked like

Jess22Rani said...

Sorry for posting another but i read some of your comments and i was just thinking that the history of places allways seems to make me want to go there, just like when i went to Egypt it was AWESOME! i bet India is the same, Egypt had soooo many details on History it was the most fun i had in the world
i recommend everyone to go there to! the people are so friendly and kind, at every restaurant they give u loads of bread and dip before your meal and they give you free drinks some times to. P.S don't drink the tap water in Egypt it will make you sick!

indicaspecies said...

Jess22Rani:

Egypt is one place I hope to go to someday.:)

Thank you for your visit here and your nice comment. I hope you get an opportunity to visit India, and reach Jhansi too!

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