Jhansi ki Rani: The Queen of the Rebellion
Hello everyone! So I realized that in previous years, I almost always start off an article apologizing because I haven’t written an article in so long. This time, however, I’m doing well! So it seem odd to not have to start off with an apology, but let’s plunge ahead! Fun fact about this article: this is the first article associated with a future podcast episode! So, this article will be a short version on what we’re going to presenting in the podcast, also excluding opinions and analysis! We already have the show notes written up, so hopefully that episode will be released soon, along with retroactively releasing podcasts on older episodes! So that’s something fun to look forward to!
So, this article has actually been in the works for a little over a year. The inspiration came when I was sitting with my grandmother watching tv. Like any good Indian nani (maternal grandmother), she was watching Indian dramas, and this particular one happened to be about a female child, rebelling against the very foundations of Indian culture and tradition. I was pleasantly surprised by this drama as nobody randomly fell off a cliff or got amnesia in an entire episode, as usually happens with Indian dramas. Upon further research, I learned this drama was based off the true story of Jhansi ki Rani (Queen of Jhansi) (Here‘s  information on the drama, if anyone is interested). And thus began my research into this awesome female historical figure.
Jhansi ki Rani, who will be lovingly referred to as “Rani” for the rest of the article, is a huge historical figure in India. She is known for having largely assisted what is known as the first Indian independence movement, which was almost 100 years before the official Independence movement in the 1940s. Today, poems, songs and legends of her still exist as a testament to the strength of the Indian Will, as well as an inspirational character.
Rani was born 1827 in the city of Benares, under the name Manakarnika, although her childhood nickname was Manu. Her parents worked under the Raja Baji Rao II in Maharashtra, but they were all forced to move to Bithur. During this time, Rani built a very close relationship Nana Sahib, who was the oldest son of the Raja. Unfortunately, Manu’s mother died when she was 4 years old, which left her father to single-handedly raise her for the next 10 years, during which time, he unusually did not remarry. In her childhood, Rani was known to have an incredibly feisty and independent personality, having taught herself martial arts, reading and writing.
At the age of 15, Rani was married to Maharaja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi. At this point, she took on the name Lakshmibai, deriving her name from the Goddess Lakshmi that the Jhansi royal family was incredibly fond of. Unfortunately for the royal couple, they had great difficulty producing an heir, and when they finally did 9 years into their marriage, the baby died at 3 months of age. The Maharaja, who was already very old, was close to dying so the couple adopted a distant 5 year old cousin – Anand Rao – who became known as Damodar. The Raja died very soon after the adoption, which resulted in the British annexing the state of Jhansi in April on 1857. After the Maharaja’s death, the British refused to allow the Rani to continue to rule. At this point, Rani was only 26.
In early May, a large fire broke out in the city of Meerut. The cause of this was rumors that the British had been tricking the Indian soldiers (who were mainly Hindu and Muslim) into biting into cow and pig fat, which is a huge taboo to respectively both religions. This caused a riot to broke, and eventually, this riot spread through India at roughly the size of present day Scandinavia in matter of days. This set the stage for what is now known as the First War of Indian Independence on 1857. To this day, there is still a considerable amount of argument about whether the Rani was helping the British or not. What we know for sure is that while the British were dealing with the riots taking place all over the country, Rani was managing Jhansi on her own and even putting down minor rebellions.
Completely unrelated, major fighting broke out in Jhansi in early May. Despite Rani trying to help and asking for British troops from afar to come assist, every British person was brutally murdered in Jhansi, after a 3 day siege of the fort. Rani continued to rule but on March 23rd, the British back-up finally came, demanding that Rani give up the throne, which she then refused to do. A war soon started against the British, with Rani personally leading her troops into battle and commanding the front lines. Unfortunately, Rani’s numbers were no match against the trained British forces, that had top-of-the-line artillery and weapons. Rani is said to have jumped over the walls of the Jhansi fort, with her son tied to her back, leading her troops into a retreat towards her allies – her childhood friend Nana Sahib, and a man named Tatia Tope.
As the British rejoiced, Rani and company decided to use this opportunity to take over another town, Gwalior, from the British. By the time the British troops from Jhansi had arrived, Rani and company had completely taken over the town. Eventually, the British pushed out Rani and company from Gwalior. In the retreat, her father was captured and hung several days later. Also during the escape, Rani was attempting to lead her troops to retreat, when she was caught off-guard by a British and cut-down. However, due to the fact that she was wearing man’s clothing, the soldier didn’t recognize her and left her for dead. Her followers soon came to her aid, and as she was dying, asked that she be cremated immediately after her death, as she feared the British would try to gain possession of her body. She died on June 18, 1858, and the British officially took Gwalior 3 days later. Rani’s comrades survived however, and Rao Sahib and Tatia Tope continued to lead guerilla attacks until they too were captured and executed. Nana Sahib, on the other hand, somehow managed to escape and disappeared, becoming his own legend.