May 18, 2008

Queen's Battle to Death

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 Vir 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.


If you have read my previous post on Jhansi, and India's Joan of Arc, you would understand my sentiments on why 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 thousands of 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.

47 comments:

david mcmahon said...

I studied this in history classes, Celine, but you have given the story a wonderful dimension. Thank you

And thank you for the lovely comment you just left on my blog, too.

Mridula said...

Such a wonderful post and images Celine. I live so nearby. Have to make it one day soon.

Alok said...

Wonderful ! The post is full of information with some great pictures … And you have summed up the history of ‘Jhansi ki Rani’ in the last para.

indicaspecies said...

David,

Thank you. Interesting that you studied Indian history but then of course, you are a Calcutta/Darjeeling boy. :)

I studied this bit in school too, but after making a trip to the Fort and subsequently reading more on the history of the Fort and the events that took place in and around it, the feeling is different!!

indicaspecies said...

Mridula,

Thank you. I am delighted my post inspires you to pay a visit to Jhansi. :)

indicaspecies said...

Alok,

Thank you for your generous compliments.:)

Cuckoo said...

Hmmmmm...
Trying to judge which is more beautiful... your story or your pictures.

You know what I mean. :-)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Celine,

Good blog here.Will comeback to read more and comment in detail

Zhu said...

I didn't know Lord Dalhousie was a colonial administrator in India! We have so many "Dalhousie streets" in Canada, I lived in one for a while and didn't even know who was the guy!

Lots of history here... sounds like French history a bit, with the drama.

Interesting, given that I don't know much about India!

AJEYA RAO said...

NIce Post. Are you traveling now?

indicaspecies said...

Cuckoo,

Hmmmm, thank you.:)
Jhansi waali Rani ki kahani.. recounted my style. ;)

indicaspecies said...

Shrinidhi,

Thank you and most welcome always. :)

indicaspecies said...

Zhu,

Thank you for your interesting comment.

There's more information and drama one can get to read on Jhansi Queen, but I have tried to adhere to facts here as much as possible. :)

The same Dalhousie was also the Governor-General of Canada before being posted to India. His childhood was spent with his parents in Canada. He is associated with these words: "Oh, for a dictator, and his return for one hour!"

indicaspecies said...

Ajeya,

Thank you. Zindagi ek safar hai...
For now, I am still in the desert kingdom, but have plans to head to the mountains again in a few months.:)

backpakker said...

One of your best posts celine..reading it made me proud that in our legacy, we have some wonderful brave women who have battled all odds ..a great tribute the Rani .Thanks
lakshmi

indicaspecies said...

Lakshmi,

This time, instead of saying thank you, I'll give you the biggest compliment I can think of by saying, Namesake. :)

Nandan Jha said...

lakshmi-bai sharath :).

lot of history but no guided tour of fort or is that in some other post. You must have read a lot to write all this and thats really really commendable. Setting a context is not an easy task but your lucid writing makes it so much readable. Go on Celine.

"Khoob ladi mardaani wo to
jhansi waali raani thee"

indicaspecies said...

Nandan,

Rani Sharath!! Are you gonna provide her with a couple of swords for each hand? Horse reins can be controlled between teeth..haha!

There is not much to write about the guided tours, other than point out queen's palace, temple, stables, jumping point, "phansi ghar", dungeons, canon, so and so's grave etc. It's all so evident in the pictures. There may be another post or two.

Yes, you've rightly guessed, I did read quite a bit on this part of history and thoroughly enjoyed it. The challenge was to write it with feelings in my own words in a condensed form.

Thank you for your encouraging comments. :)

backpakker said...

celine , nandan..

I feel royal already ...thanks..Till now I thought i was Shantala devi, searching for the Hoysala trails :)
I dont think I need a sword..isnt the pen mightier :)
lakshmi

indicaspecies said...

Lakshmi,

All that I can say in response is:

AMEN. :)

Indrani said...

Oh! Very touching post Celine. Well written, She was my childhood heroine. Why childhood, even today she is. Thanks for reminding all those forgotten lessons.

M.KATE said...

thanks for taking me to this dreamy journey, always love history and nothing like a story of a heroine

happy week my friend :0

Ram said...

Celine,

On the outset, a great piece of reksearch. Thanks for doing all this hard work and sharing it with us.

Right from my childhood, we have been hearing the poem "Khoob ladi mardani, woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi". Who would not be proud of the heroics of this brave woman !!.
With so much wrong done to her (both by destiny and the other rulers of the time) and with very little support from the neighbouring states, fighting the highly organised British army would have been an enormous task. Still she fought and fought skillfully and bravely.

Thank you, Celine for this magnificent post. It has reminded me of "Anandmath" by Bankim Chand Chatterjee

Shantanu said...

A nice refresher course along with the wonderful pictures. BTW, you will have more soon, now that Sushmita Sen is producing (and acting in) a movie on Rani Laxmibai.

indicaspecies said...

Indrani,

Thank you for your comment. I hope she continues to inspire you positively. :)

indicaspecies said...

Kate,

Thank you for your comment. Have a great day. :)

indicaspecies said...

Ram,

The pleasure is mine. As always, you are generous with your compliments. Thank you very much. :)

indicaspecies said...

Shantanu,

Thank you. I think Sushmita would be a good choice to play that role and I'll be looking forward to the release of the movie. :)

San said...

I love stories of strong women. And your story of Queen of Jhansi is wonderful--such an amazing woman! As ever, the images as well as your words are exquisite.

I see David put this post in Post of the Day. MOST deserving. Congratulations, milady.

indicaspecies said...

San,

Bringer(!) of good news.
Thank you very much for your lovely words and am extremely delighted that you liked this post. :)

indicaspecies said...

David,

Thank you very much for the POTD Award, and the link up. With this you have paid a fitting tribute to the brave Queen of Jhansi. Thanks again, David. :)

Sandi McBride said...

What a beautiful history lesson, Celine...I have always felt a fascination for India and Great Britain, had the good fortune to live in England a few years, the misfortune of never visiting India...but the day is young, I may get there yet...I know what I want to see first. Congratulations on the mention in Post of the Day
Sandi

Iona said...

I was not much of a fan of history back in school....but u have made it interesting with your post...tks!

JDB said...

Nicely written!

indicaspecies said...

Sandi,

Welcome, and thank you very much for your nice comment. I do hope you get a chance to visit India someday.:)

indicaspecies said...

Iona,

Thank you. Glad I was able to get you interested.:)

indicaspecies said...

Jeevan,

Thank you.:)

priyank said...

Celine, although I knew this story, your narration mixed with the pictures was a rivetting account! It gave me goosebumps, esp the final comment about 'meri jhansi nahi doongi' or 'mi mazi zashi nahi denar' as I learnt it.

indicaspecies said...

Priyank,

Thanks for your kind words. I'm delighted that you liked this post.:)

Aditya said...

celine, do have a look at garhkundar and chanderi too the next time u come this way. i have some pics of these places and u can have a look..
http://picasaweb.google.com/aditymishr

rasika said...

hey its fab i really liked d info.....
thnks...........

Anonymous said...

Hi, Celine,
Very informative blog about less known freedom fighter Manikarnika alias Queen of Zhansi.

- Sunil

VKSS said...

Dear Ones

Sairam.The description indicates the Patriotism,Confidence and Valour of the Queen of Jhansi.At the same time it also brings out the selfishness and deceitful / betrayel nature of Indians.Perhaps the Wonderful Queen would not have noticed till the last moment.Or she is aware but unable to do anything Or she would have been compelled and succumed to the pressures of Mutineers.The samething continues even today amongst Indians even though Britishers have gone and Indian had obtained Independance.

Nothing can be done about the Indians at large so long the Politicians and other beurocrats and other prominet people do not chnage for the better and rules of governance are not changed and equality amongst people are brought in realistic terms.UNITY in Practice alone can bring good changes.

With Best Wishes and Prayers To Almighty

Dr.Vallioor Sridharan
12 06 10

indicaspecies said...

Aditya,
Thank you for the link, and the invitation for Garhkundar and Chanderi. Appreciated.


Rasika,
Thanks, and you are welcome anytime.


Sunil,
Thank you. Comments such as these make my day.

indicaspecies said...

Dr. Sridharan,

Thank you very much for going through my blog post and leaving behind a comment. Truly appreciated.

Leave alone equality and unity, isn't it pathetic that in this day and age, there is the issue on caste based politics, to say the least?

As you wrote perhaps "the Wonderful Queen would not have noticed" the betrayal till the last moment. Quite possible. That is why I say "why my heart goes out to the young Queen" as she "had to face so many difficulties during her short life." Nevertheless, through such adversity, the Queen's patriotism and courage is commendable.

Rupal said...

i dont wanna say anything "rani saheb aaj krutarth zalya astil"
khoob ladhi mardani
woh to zaansiwali rani thi

indicaspecies said...

Rupal,
Thank you for dropping by and leaving behind a few words.