ON November 19, 1835 a girl was born in Varanasi to Moropant Tambe and his wife Bhagirathi. She was named Manu, who was deprived of her mother’s love following the latter’s death when Manu was barely four years old. Her father Moropant was invited by Peshwa Bajirao II to his court in Bithur, near Kanpur. Here Manubai got the opportunity to learn horse riding, sword wielding, archery while being trained with Nanasaheb, son of the Peshwa. As Manubai was talented, she took no time in acquiring skill in wielding all kinds of weapons. At the age of 13, she was married to King Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi and came to be addressed as Rani Lakshmibai.
When she became16 years old, she gave birth to a son who died soon after birth. Distressed at the loss of his son, King Gangadhar Rao too passed away in November 1853. At this, Lakshmibai adopted Damadar Rao as her son.
Meanwhile, the British sensing that this was the ideal time to take control of Jhansi announced that Governor General Lord Dalhousie would annex Jhansi into the British kingdom. But Rani Lakshmibai bravely confronted this announcement and warned the British, “I will not give my Jhansi.”
To subjugate the adjoining kingdoms of Satara, Nagpur, Udaipur, Jaitpur, Bamore, Sambalpur, Awadh and other small kingdoms, the pension of the Delhi ruler and kings and nawabs was either stopped or curtailed by the British and soon their kingdoms were annexed by the British.
Under the leadership of Lakshmibai, Nanasaheb and Tatya Tope, it was decided to launch a mutiny in 1857. From 16 March 1857 to June of the same year, efforts and arrangements were made to launch the agitation. Along with the men’s army, a battalion of women too was constituted and trained. Lakshmibai appointed Dewan Raghunath Singh as the leader of her army. Ghous Mohammed was made in-charge of the cannons and Bhau Bakshi was appointed his deputy. Burhanuddin and Moti Bai were appointed spies and the leadership of the women’s battalion was handed over to her friend and patron, Jhalkaribai. Special cannons were readied. Two more battles had to be fought prior to the mutiny – one with Gangadhar Rao’s relation Sadashiv Rao who had attacked Jhansi with the support of Gwalior’s ruler and announced himself as the king. Lakshmibai confronted him and made him a prisoner in Jhansi fort. The second battle was fought against Orchcha’s Dewan Nathe Khan who attacked Jhansi with an army of 20,000 troops and occupied Barua Lake and laid siege to Jhansi fort. But ultimately he had to run for his life against Rani Lakshmibai’s troops.
Subsequently the most fierce and last battle was fought with the British when Brigadier Stewart and Hugh Rose laid siege to Jhansi on March 12, 1858. The battle lasted 12 days but traitors like Ilhaju Bundela and Ali Bahadur opened the Orchcha gate of the Jhansi fort to the British troops.
In this battle, though King Mardan Singh of Banpur and Nawab of Banda came to Lakshmibai’s rescue, defeat stared in the face for Lakshmibai as the British troops started large-scale massacre of her troops. Though on April 1, 1858, Rao Saheb of Kalpi sent an army of 20,000 troops, it was too late as the battle had slipped from Lakshmibai’s hands. Lakshmibai escaped while her troops battled with the British troops. Jhalkaribai, the queen’s special leader, donned the queen’s turban and offered herself to the British so that they would stop the war and Lakshmibai would get enough time to escape far away.
But Hugh Rose was cunning. He chased Lakshmibai who reached Gwalior from Kalpi and occupied the throne. But the British attacked Gwalior too. A fierce battle ensued and the queen’s troops were defeated. Lakshmibai’s horse escaped along with her, but stopped near a seasonal stream. The horse got hit and the queen too was hit by a bullet in her ribs. A fierce attack by a British soldier on her forehead and shoulder gravely injured Lakshmibai who issued instructions that she be given Gangajal by the sage Gangadas before she breathed her last. She was laid to rest on a bed of grass and cremated.
Hugh Rose commented on her sacrifice, “In the whole world, the Queen of Jhansi was the greatest and able warrior. Though encased in velvet gloves, her fingers were as strong as steel.”