Childhood & Early Life
She was born on November 19, 1828 in Kashi (present day Varanasi) to Moropanth Tambe, a court adviser, and his wife, Bhagirathi Sapre, an intelligent and religious lady. Her parents belonged to the Maharashtrian Brahmin community.
Her childhood name was Mannikarnika (Manu). She lost her mother at the age of four and the complete responsibility of young Manu fell on her father. She grew up with Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope—the three of them would eventually become active participants in India’s first war of independence.
Besides completing her education, she also received formal training in martial arts. She also learnt horse riding, target shooting and sword fighting.
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Accession & Reign
In 1842, she married Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, Maharaja of Jhansi, and was named as ‘Lakshmibai’. In 1851, they were blessed with a child, Damodar Rao, but he died when four months old.
Later, they adopted Anand Rao, the son of Raja Gangadhar Rao’s cousin, and renamed him Damodar Rao. After the death of Raja in November 1853, the British East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, applied the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. As Damodar Rao was an adopted son, he was declined the throne of Jhansi and the British company annexed the state of Jhansi to its territories through deceit.
In March 1854, she was ordered to leave the Jhansi fort with an annual pension of sixty thousand rupees and move to the Rani Mahal in Jhansi. But she was persistent on protecting the throne of Jhansi for her adopted son.
She was determined not to leave her empire of Jhansi and strengthened its defenses. She assembled a volunteer army where women were also given military training. Her forces were joined by warriors such as Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Khuda Baksh, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh.
On May 10, 1857, while she was assembling an army, the Sepoy (soldier) Mutiny of India, (India’s first war of independence) started in Meerut. During this rebellion many British civilians, including women and children were killed by the Indian soldiers. Meanwhile, the British troops were forced to focus their attention on ending the rebellion quickly and thus, she was left to rule her kingdom on behalf of the company.
In June 1857, few rebels of the 12th Bengal Native Infantry seized the Jhansi fort containing the treasure and murdered the European officers of the battalion along with their wives and children. Due to this, she assumed the administration of the city and wrote a letter to British superintendent explaining the events which led her to do so.
Under her reign, there occurred an invasion of Jhansi by the forces of British Company allies ‘Orchha’ and ‘Datia’; their intention was to divide Jhansi among themselves. She appealed to the British for help but received no response from them. Therefore, she assembled forces and defeated the invaders in August 1857.
During the period of August 1857-January 1858, Jhansi under her rule was at peace. But the non-arrival of British forces strengthened her party and encouraged Indian troops to fight for independence from British rule. When the company forces arrived and demanded her to surrender the city, she refused to hand it over and defended her kingdom. Thus, began the battle of Jhansi on March 23, 1858.
She, along with her troops, fought courageously for the kingdom of Jhansi but the British forces overpowered her army and she was forced to flee with her son to Kalpi, where she was joined by additional rebel forces, including Tatya Tope.
On May 22, 1858, the British forces attacked Kalpi and defeated the Indian troops again which forced the leaders, including Lakshmibai, to flee to Gwalior. The rebel army was able to occupy the Gwalior city without any opposition. A British attack on Gwalior was imminent but she was unable to persuade other leaders to prepare for it. On June 16, 1858, the British forces attacked the city where she was killed in a fierce battle.