I am tracing back to the period of almost 170 years back. Three cavaliers were riding their horses alongside the bank of the river Ganges (U.P.) at the dusk hour. Two of them were young males whereas the third one was a teenager girl. Suddenly one of the male-cavaliers overtook her. She exclaimed – ‘Oh ! You overtook me. Let me see how you remain ahead of me.’ She poked her horse a bit and within moments, she overtook her male companions.
These three youngsters were no ordinary people. The males were the sons of the ex-Peshwa of Bithur – Nana Saheb and Rao Saheb whereas the teenaged girl was the great amazon of the first war of Indian independence (1857) – Maharani Lakshmibaai. Today (17th June) is the date of her sacrifice for her motherland. The great patriotic lady had laid down her life in the war against the British army near Kalpi (M.P.) 159 years back from today, i.e., on 17th June, 1858 at the tender age of less than 23 years.This brave patriotic lady was born on 19th November (coincidentally Mrs. Indira Gandhi was also born on the same date) of the year 1835 at Banaras in the house of a poor Maharashtrian Brahmin, Moro Pant Tambe and her original name was Manikarnika. She was affectionately called Manu as well as Chhabili in her childhood. Her father was given shelter by the ex-Peshwa of Bithur, Bajirao-II who was himself living in exile, away from his state which had been usurped by the British. Destiny made that intelligent, erudite and courageous girl the bride of the king of Jhansi – Gangadhar Rao. The king, much older to her, allowed her not only to continue with her education but also to learn the handling of arms and fighting in battle. Rani, rechristened as Lakshmibaai after marriage, also learnt riding horse and elephant.
Her real trouble started when her son could not survive and the British (the East India Company) did not recognize her adopted son, Damodar as the heir of the throne after the demise of the king. Under the vitiated and motivated ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ propagated by Lord Dalhousie, the then governor general of the East India Company, the British used to usurp the princely states which did not have any male heir, upon the demise of the king. However Rani Lakshmibaai did not bow before the mighty British and declared her adopted son as the king of the state, i.e., Jhansi and started administering her state as the caretaker acting on behalf of the minor king.
The war of 1857 had started with the rebellion of the sepoys against the British army. The dethroned princes, the landlords whose land and estates had been snatched by the East India Company, the disgruntled soldiers, the starving peasants etc. all were joining hands to get better of the mighty British in a bid to get rid of the Company’s oppressive and exploitative rule. Rani also joined the combined forces and after having been forced to leave Jhansi, she captured Gwalior. She was a shrewd strategist and much more able than her male counterparts and had she been made the commander-in-chief of the combined forces, the final war might have been won. But the typical Indian patriarchal mentality did not allow the male warriors to accept a female as their commander-in-chief. The outcome was the expected one. The complacent male warriors did not pay attention to the Rani’s caveats and finally got defeated by the British.
In the final battle of her life, Rani Lakshmibaai fought the British armed forces tooth and nail with her handful of supporters and soldiers. She had tied her adopted son, Damodar on her back and was fighting like the goddess Durga. But the death of her horse forced her to ride a new horse which refused to cross the water-stream on the way. And the British army following Rani, caught up with her. She got badly wounded in the armed struggle and got her salvation in a nearby jungle.The great Hindi poetess – Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote an unforgettable poem in the praise of this immortal freedom-fighter – ‘Bundele Harbolon Ke Mukh Hamne Suni Kahaani Thi. Khoob Ladi Mardaani Woh To Jhansi Waali Rani Thi’. I pay my tribute to the great lady who became the inspiration for millions of freedom-fighters after her death and still her memory is a kindled candle for the patriots throughout not only India but also the world.
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