Life story of the Rani of Jhansi

  • By Saurav Basu
  • November 2007
  • 93924 views

The Greatest of her Age

The Rani has her place secure in history….she has no Waterloo or Austerlitz to her credit, there was not much for her to do in administration, she did not rule a great state, and yet among all her contemporary rulers and colleagues in arms she stands shoulder high….she is the shining star of India”, writes Tahmankar.

The Rani signifies the watershed in the foregoing of an old age and the heralding of a new Indian order, the onset of the Indian renaissance. It would be unjust to portray her as only a military fighter. She was a fighter, blessed with a never say never attitude so rare to the Indian psyche, not only militarily but also in other spheres of life. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth but had humble beginnings. Yet it was her dogged belief in her destiny and abilities alike that paved the way for future glory.

As a nonconforming atypical woman, she refused to be chained to meaningless mores of the time and broke free of them. In her role as a daughter, a wife, and the ruler. she stands out as the perfect archetype. In an age, where Indian sultans and maharajahs were rooted to decadent lifestyles, and represented the effete oriental despot, absolutely nonchalant of their people, she emerged as a visionary leader, sympathetic and tremendously sensitive to the cause of her people.

She realized her duty to uphold the natural aspirations of her people, and in all her dealings she displays a supreme sense of justice pervading her outlook. Her selflessness was a byproduct of her inherent democratic ethos. She was also not unaware of her social obligations. She emerged as a reformer, for she debunked caste snobbery by setting sound examples herself and also recognizes the need for the upliftment of woman of the nation.

As a Brahmin widow, she overthrew the yoke of tradition by setting aside obligatory Purdah. She realized the need to give her fellow women a sense of identity, so that they can be emancipated of the sheer weight of helplessness besieging them. A hundred years ago Swami Vivekananda had opined that in the modern era, Indian women need to be trained in self defense exercises; ”See how grand was the Rani of Jhansi…” were his words.

R C Majumdar remarks “History shows that genuine national movements have seldom failed to throw up a leader…. unfortunately no such leader arose in India during the great outbreak of 1857-8…”

Yet, the Rani must be considered a class apart from the other leaders of the revolt. If any, it was she who came to being a national leader, for she could successfully galvanize soldiers and leaders of different castes, communities and religions. If it was not so late in the day, and if she had been at the vanguard of the revolt, she could actually have ended up being an all India leader. While many of the other leaders lacked any moral conscience and massacred British women and children alike, she in the heat of the battle did not forego her dharmic obligations at any point of time. She could empathize the British loss due to the massacre of Jhansi as evident in her letters is ample proof of her magnanimity.

While the leaders of the revolt, who fled from the battlefield or transformed into traitors like Bahadur Shah who actively conspired with the British[26] in the hour of reckoning, it was only the Rani who attained martyrdom in the field of battle and in doing so, immortalized herself in the pages of Indian History…Even british writers had to acknowledge the fact. As Malleson wrote “Whatever her faults in British eyes may have been her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country

But perhaps the greatest tribute came from none other than her arch adversary, General Rose himself “The Rani of Jhansi was the bravest and best military leader of the rebels

In modern India, some of her critics have suggested that she joined the revolt for personal reasons. Her critics are seemingly ignorant that history abounds with several instances of great careers being scripted out of grievous personal wrongs meted out to them. No better example is there than that of Mahatma Gandhi, who believed in himself as a loyal British citizen for the better half of the 1st world war.

The Rani has often been compared to the Joan of Arc, however it must be remembered that the latter’s chief inspiration was not her people but the celestial voices she heard in her head. The Rani though highly religious never claimed to be guided by any supernatural powers.

Lakshmibai personified her country’s urges and aspirations, hopes and fears, passions and hatred. She was neither the originator of the mutiny nor fought until the last phase, amongst its leaders. Yet, through sheer grit and an inexorable determination, it was she who transformed her half military, half feudal revolt as far as was historically possible into India’s first war of independence. Her conscious objective while being limited to regaining sovereignty of her land, in the final analysis definitely acquired what we today call patriotism. To fight the British, had become her dharma.

Finally, in her martyrdom, she served as a living inspiration for millions of Indians in the freedom struggle as she became the mascot for Indian nationalism. The journey of a thousand miles can only begin with a single step. In her fearlessness, she gave hope and courage to all those Indians who aspired for a free Indian nation. Thus, she is not to be judged by her participation in the Indian revolt, but by the greater work, she made possible, for it is a fact that she was the only one amongst all leaders of the revolt who could successfully capture the imagination of succeeding generation of Indians as well. This is instantiated in the poem of Subhadri Kumari Chauhan which is known to almost all children of India “We had heard the story from old Harbolo; how valiantly she fought, our Rani of Jhansi….”  

Thus, the relevance of her legend remains undiminished in the context of modern India as she can be identified the world has ever seen.

Editor – We visited Jhansi in October 2008. You must visit the fort and the local museum. She was cremated at Gwalior.

Also see

REFERENCES:

  • 1. Raj of the Rani, Tapti Roy Page 1
  • 2. The Ranee of Jhansi, D V Tahmankar Page 13
  • 3. Raj of the Rani, Page 26
  • 4. The Ranee of Jhansi, D V Tahmankar, Page 23
  • 5. The Rani of Jhansi-study of female heroism in India by Joyce Lebra Chapman, 69
  • 6. Raj of the Rani, Tapti Roy, Page 10
  • 7. 1857, Surendranath Sen Page 265
  • 8. The Ranee of Jhansi, D V Tahmankar, Page 40-41
  • 9. Ibid, Page 44
  • 10. Interview with Mahendra Lal Verma (in Raj of the Rani)
  • 11. The Ranee of Jhansi, D V Tahmankar, Page 54
  • 12. Sepoy Mutiny and the revolt of 1857, R C Majumdar
  • 13. Our Bones are Scattered, Andrew Ward
  • 14. Raj of the Rani, Tapti Roy, Page 100
  • 15. 1857, Surendranath Sen, Page 270
  • 16. History of the freedom movement, Volume 1, R C Majumdar, page 146
  • 17. History of the Sepoy War, Kaye, Vol.1, Page 91
  • 18. History of the Indian Mutiny, Forrest, Volume 3, Page 282
  • 19. The Indian Mutiny, Saul David, 2002
  • 20. Freedom struggle in Uttar Pradesh, S.A.A Rizvi and M.L. Bhargava, Vol 3, Page 47
  • 21. The Ranee of Jhansi, D V Tahmankar, Page 97
  • 22. Bhagavad Geeta [if you win, you shall enjoy the world……if you die as a martyr, you will gain heaven…..therefore, fight o scion of the Bharatas]
  • 23. What Really Happened during the mutiny, day by day account, PJO Taylor, Page 19
  • 24. The Ranee of Jhansi, D V Tahmankar, Page 131
  • 25. What Really Happened during the mutiny, day by day account, PJO Taylor, Page 201
  • 26. History and Culture of the Indian People Volume IX [British Paramountcy and Indian Renaissance Part 1] page 566;

it was suspected by the sepoys, and now known with certainty, that while all this grim fight was going on; Bahadur Shah, the leader of the sepoys, his chief queen, sons and the most trusted advisor Hakim Ahsanulla were all conspiring with the English. The intrigues failed probably because the British realized that these people had really no power to do any good or ill to them, all effective authority being concentrated in the hands of the sepoys. But the treacherous intrigues and the conduct of the sepoys gives an inside view of the moral bankruptcy of the spirit behind the struggle against the British. While the British were of one mind pursuing, under able leadership and with a dogged determination; the common and glorious objective of capturing Delhi as the first step towards recovering their lost empire; the sepoys were fighting under the leadership of a traitor, without any clear goal or high moral idea inspired only by the hatred of the British and a desire to drive them away and save themselves”.

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