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Rani Lakshmi Bai

Rani Lakshmi Bai (1835-1858)

Rani Lakshmi Bai, daughter of Moropant Balwant Rao Tambe and Bhagirathi Bai, was born at Kashi (Benares) on 16 November 1835, according to D. B. Parasnis, or possibly in 1827, according to S. N. Sen. She came of a Karhada Brahmin family of Satara district which had migrated to Kashi in 1819 with its patron Chimanji Appa, brother of Peshwa Baji Rao II.

Her mother died during her infancy and her father shifted to Bithur after the death of his patron. There she grew up in the political atmosphere of the Peshwa's household and came in close contact with Nana Sahib, Rao Sahib and Tatya Tope. Her original name was Manikarnika, but she was affectionately called Manu by her parents and Chhabili by the Peshwa. She received traditional education and learnt horse-riding and wielding of small arms. She was beautiful, highly intelligent, energetic and courageous.

After the marriage in 1842 with Maharaja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi, Manikarnika was named Lakshmi Bai. With her father she shifted to Jhansi where her talents blossomed fully. She developed a magnetic personality, high-spirited, resolute and domineering demeanour, generous disposition and administrative skill. Her only male child died in infancy and her husband expired prematurely on 21 November 1853, nominating her as Regent of his adopted son, Damodar Rao, aged five years.

As a widow, Lakshmi Bai became deeply religious and led a very simple and austere life. By efficient administration she endeared herself to her subjects. Lord Dalhousie, however, annexed Jhansi on the plea of lapse on 27 February 1854 despite her remonstrances and resentment
The Rani's resolve not to give up her Jhansi was of no avail. She had to quit the fort palace and retire on a small annual pension of Rs. 6000/-. Her appeals to the Governor-General and the Court of Directors to revoke the decision proved in-effective.

This unhappy treatment drove the Rani to rebellion in 1857. After the massacre of the British at Jokhan Bagh by the sepoys on 8 June and the departure of the Sepoys for Delhi, she assumed the reins of government, and met successfully by force the challenge posed to her authority by an impostor Sadashiv Rao and by the neighbouring pro-British states of Datia, Pihari and Orchha.

On being attacked by Sir Hugh Rose on 20 March 1858, she offered very stiff resistance for two weeks and ultimately escaped to Kalpi on horseback, with her son tied on her back, to prepare for another encounter in conjunction with Tatya Tope and Rao Sahib.

The combined forces were, however, routed by General Rose at the battles of Poonch and Kalpi. Lakshmi Bai then reached Gwalior and established the Peshwa's authority. At last, when Rose attacked Gwalior, she fought strubbornly to the finish, sword in both hands and the reins of the horse in her mouth, and died a glorious death in the thick of battle on 16 June. She was cremated in a nearby garden where a memorial was erected after independence in honour of her martyrdom.

By her matcheless heroic deeds Rani Lakshmi Bai made a mark in history. General Rose considered her as "the bravest and the best military leader of the rebels". In the Indian freedom struggle she has been compared with the British Boadicea and the French Joan of Arc and remains immortalized in ballads.

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