HerStory Flashback is a series which will bring to life stories from the past; stories of women from different centuries who may not be around but who have left an indelible mark in history and are a source of inspiration for generations to follow. Stories that may have been lost in the vortex of time but nevertheless continue to inspire.
For the first in our series of awe inspiring women we travel back in time to the 19th century. Perhaps one of the most popular and heroic women warriors in the history of India is Rani Lakshmi Bai, the soldier queen who took on the might of theBritish Empire and was one of the leader’s of the Revolt of 1857.
From the Annals of History
Born as Manikarnika to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathi Sapre, she had received a different education from most girls her age. She was trained in warfare and since childhood was comfortable with a sword in hand.
Her claim to royalty came after her marriage to Raja Gangadhar Rao in 1842 who was the Maharaja of Jhansi. Before his death, Raja Gangadhar Rao adopted his nephew as his predecessor. However, in 1854 the British annexed Jhansi using the pretext of the Doctrine of Lapse. Lord Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse,
was a policy of annexation which in the absence of a natural or adopted heir was enforced. To top it all the competency of the heir to rule was decided by the British.With her husband dead and the British Empire refusing to recognise the supremacy of her adopted son, the Rani was in a spot. Had the British recognised her late husband’s heir they would have received her support but that was not to be.
With popular pressure mounting on Rani Lakshmi B ai, she joined hands with the other leaders of the revolt like Tantia Tope and Nana Saheb. She lost her life on 17 June, 1858 near the Phool Bagh of Gwalior while valiantly fighting a squadron under Captain Heneage.
Historian C. A. Kinkaid does not look upon her as a rebel. Instead he writes, “I prefer to think of her as a young and gallant lady, who, forced by events beyond her control, joined Nana Sahib and fell on the field of honour, fighting for a lost cause.”
Jhansi of Rani lives on
Rani Lakshmi Bai is a leader who has inspired generations of Indians. She has been the epitome of courage and valour. As a part of Indian textbooks she has been one among the popular leaders of the revolt often depicted in a soldier’s clothes astride a horse.
Perhaps that is why she still lives on and not in Jhansi or Gwalior or history textbooks but her popularity is to be found all across India. A Marine National Park in Andaman and Nicobar Islands is named after her.
She has found herself to be the subject of songs, movies and even statues. Even multiple colleges and universities are named after her. Her palace has now been converted into a museum. But the following lines from Jhansi ki Rani, a poem by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan is by far, according to me, the most beautiful rendition of her life in poetry.
सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में भी आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।
चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
Lessons to learn
Given that she had no women role models to follow, Rani Lakshmi Bai displayed exceptional qualities as a leader. Today we do not have a dearth of women leaders but still we refrain from taking the lead. Why can’t we be our own inspiration?
It is important to rise to the occasion and not be bogged down by the challenges in your path. Fight for what you believe in.
In the 1800’s there were very few women who were brought up like her. The education she received is commendable. Today a fair number of women have access to education, and it is essential that we make the most of the opportunities available to us.
Reference- Lakshmi Bai Rani of Jhansi by C. A. Kincaid, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1 (Apr., 1943), pp. 100-104