No reference to Jhansi can ever be complete, without the mention of the famous Ranee (Queen) of Jhansi the valiant queen who fought and became a leading light for the rebellious fighters of the sepoy movement in India of 1857.
Jhansi is in the territory of what is famously called Bundelkhand. It is broken hilly country, rising to heights of 3000 feet, fertile area, but mostly forests especially at the time of the Ranee.
Bundelkhand’s history is warlike and traditionally its people are very brave, independent in spirit and the area is home to various warrior clans, who were very instrumental in acting as a buffer for the attacks from the north, for the Hindu Deccan kingdoms, especially from the Afghans and later Muslims, until in the later years it was finally annexed to the Mughal empire. Until the 9th century, the area was predominantly, under the Rajputs. A famous forerunner in the area, around the 12th century, to the Ranee of Jhansi, was Ranee Durgavati who repelled three Muslim attacks but died fighting in the last fight on the battlefield.
Nearby to Jhansi are also the famous mines of Maharajpur, Rajpur, Kimera, and Gadasia which have been famous in the past centuries for their diamond mines, and a very large one dug from the mine was kept in the fort of Kalinjar among the treasures of Raja Himmat Bahadur. Much later on, during the reign of the mighty Mughals, specifically during the third Mughal Emperor Akbar’s reign the diamond mines of Panna produced diamonds to the amount of a lakh of Rupees of the time, annually, and were a considerable source of revenue and employment, but presently in recent times, they have not been too profitable.
Early Bundela History
The people of this Bundelkhand area represent various races who have settled in this area over centuries. The Bundelas – the race who gave the name to the surrounding country – still maintain their dignity as chieftains, by disdaining to cultivate the soil, although by no means conspicuous for lofty sentiments of honor, pride, or morality.
Past travelers, centuries ago have recorded on their travels in mid-India & also about Datia and Jhansi & recorded that the inhabitants are a stout and handsome race of men, well off and contented. The major prevailing religion in Bundelkhand is Hinduism, as in the past also, although Buddhism & Islam held sway from time to time also. The earliest dynasty recorded, to have ruled in Bundelkhand were the Garhwas, who were succeeded by the Parihars; but unfortunately not much is known of either, except in local folklore poems and songs.
About A.D. 8oo the Parihar dynasty, are said to have been ousted by the Chandels, and Dangha Varma, chief of the Chandel Rajputs, appears to have established the earliest paramount power in Bundelkhand, trying to unite most of the local chieftains, towards the close of the 10th century A.D. Under his dynasty the area attained its greatest splendor in the early part of the 11th century, when its raja, whose dominions extended from the River Jumna to the Narbadda river, marched at the head of 36,000 horse and 45,000 foot, with 640 elephants, to oppose the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni.
In 1182 the Chandel dynasty was overthrown by Prithvi Raj, the romantic and brave ruler of Ajmer and Delhi, who is immortalized in Indian folklore as the one who amongst other things opposed Mahmud of Ghaznavi 17 times, and prevented the Muslim invaders from entering into Hindustan, but after him, the country remained in ruinous anarchy until the close of the 14th century, when the Bundelas, a spurious offshoot of the Garhwa tribe of Rajputs, established themselves on the right bank of the Jumna river.
One of them took possession of Orcha by treacherously poisoning its chief. His successor succeeded in further extending the Bundelas state, but he is represented to have been a notorious plunderer, and his character is further stained by the assassination of the celebrated Abul Fazl, the prime minister and historian of Akbar, the third Mughal Ruler.
Jajhar Singh, the third Bundela chief, unsuccessfully revolted against the court of Delhi, and his territory, & became incorporated for a short time, with the Mughal Empire. The struggles of the Bundelas for independence resulted in the withdrawal of the royal troops, and the admission of several petty states as feudatories of the empire on condition of military service. Towards the end of the Mughal dynasty the Bundelas, especially under Champat Rai and his famous son – Chhatar Sal, offered a successful resistance to the efforts of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
On the occasion of a Mahommedan invasion in 1732, Chhatar Sal asked and obtained the assistance of the Mahratta Peshwa, whom he adopted as his son, also giving him a third of his dominions for the Peshwas support against the Mughals.
The Mahrattas gradually extended their influence over Bundelkhand, especially around the Third Battle of Panipat, and in 1792 the Peshwa was acknowledged as the lord paramount of the country.
The Mahratta power was, however, on the decline; the flight of the Peshwa from his capital Poona to Bassein before the British arms changed the aspect of affairs and by the treaty concluded between the Peshwa and the British government, the districts of Banda and Hamirpur were transferred to the latter.
Two chiefs then held the ceded districts, Himmat Bahadur, the leader of the Sanyasis, who promoted the views of the British, and Shamsher, who made common cause with the Mahrattas. In September 1803, the united forces of the English and Himmat Bahadur compelled Shamsher to retreat with his army. In 1809 Ajaigarh was besieged by a British force, and again three years later Kalinjar was besieged and taken after a heavy loss.
This photo shows the main side of the fort & road leading to the main Jhansi fort gate, most other famous gates are now not useable or sealed up.
The flag pole atop the round parapet on left is supposed to be the point from where the Ranee of Jhansi jumped off from the fort, with her adopted son Damodar tied to her back on her favorite horse, to escape the storming British soldiers. The horse died around 500 yards on left from where the photo is taken and is commemorated, with a huge statue of the Ranee on the horse. As a historical recollection nowadays, on the fort ramparts, they have the light and sound shows, depicting the Life of the Ranee.
In 1817, by the treaty of Poona, the British government acquired from the Peshwa all his rights, interests, and pretensions, feudal, territorial, or pecuniary, in Bundelkhand. In carrying out the provisions of the treaty, an assurance was given by the British government that the rights of those interested in the transfer should be scrupulously respected and the host of petty native principalities in the province is the best proof of the sincerity and good faith, with which this clause has been carried out. During the mutiny of 1857, however, many of the chiefs rose against the British, the Rani of Jhansi being a notable example. The main reason for the Jhansi Ranee to Mutiny against the later British was, the British not honoring this particular clause made around 1820 with the local Bundella chiefs and which had sidetracked her rights to rule Jhansi.
In 1615 the fort of Jhansi was built, on a steep-sided rock, by the Raja of Orcha, a neighbouring kingdom about 6 km from Jhansi. Oral tradition recorded that a visiting prince, on requesting the Orcha Raja if he could see the new fort being built from the Orcha fort ramparts, was replied – Jhain is “like a shadow”, and it became the name of the new fort and later the township, that developed around it.
As earlier recorded, around the 17th century Aurangzeb the Mughal ruler, was on a quest to Islamise Hindoostaan (India), and Chatra Saal a famous leader of Bundelkhand fought against the Imperial Mughal army of Aurangzeb, defeated them, and captured the generals.
Aurangzebs attention however being drawn more to the Deccan, specially the new growing Mahratha kingdom south, developing under Chatrapati Shivaji, left the Bundelkhand area alone, and on his death in 1707, the area remained independent. Around 1733 the Marathas were handed over parts of Chatrasals kingdom including Jhansi as gratitude when an ageing Chatra sal requested the Peshwa military assistance against the Moslem ruler of Allahabad.
In 1759, when a rebellion broke out, it was sternly put down by a Mahratta general Raghunath Rao, and the Peshwas made him ruler of Jhansi, which seat became hereditary. After subsequent rulers in 1818 the Peshwas seat of power in Poona, was totally taken over by the British, and the then local Jhansi ruler joined the British on his own accord. A treaty signed between the British and Jhansi rulers accepted their sovereignty and hereditary rights to the Jhansi throne. In 1825 when a rebellion broke out in Central India the British were caught unawares and the Jhansi ruler of the time, Ramachandra, supported the British in subduing the rebellion.
For the support provided, the then Governor-General Lord William Bentick made a special visit to Jhansi and conferred the title of Maharaja on the ruler, who also begged the British to be allowed to fly the Union Jack on the Jhansi fort. Ramachandra, a simple-minded person, also assisted the British in the Burma war, with large sums of money approximately Rs 70,000, which left the treasury in a bad shape, as Ramchandra refused to accept repayment from the British, and the people and neighboring chiefs of Jhansi were not very happy, as the state treasury was bankrupted. In 1835 on his death, his uncle who succeeded him was not much useful and he died three years later, to be succeeded by his brother Gangadhar Rao, who proved to be an able administrator and a Prince of considerable dignity, foresight, and resolution. He was instrumental in controlling the local chieftains around Jhansi, suppressed Thuggee in the area, and also by able administration earned the respect of the British agents.
According to the records of Sir William Sleeman, a British resident at the Jhansi court at that time, the city had 60,000 people and was celebrated for the manufacture of carpets, crafts, and jewelry. The business was encouraged and conducted safely. There was general peace after a long time and people were content. However, Gangadhar Rao did not have any children and his first wife Ramabai died childlessly.
He was very interested in directing theatre plays and arts and did not marry again for a long time.
In 1842 the aged Peshwa Baji Rao II, now living in Bithoor sent word to Gangadhar Rao, recommending a fine girl for his wife. This was the future Ranee of Jhansi – daughter of Moropant Tambe and his wife Bhagirathi. Moropant was a wise and brave Maharatha who had made a mark in the Peshwas court,
but at that time lived in Benaras. A daughter was born and named Manakarnika, one of the names of the Holy Ganges River, lovingly called Manu and bought up in a very liberal manner, for the times, by her father. He taught her sword fighting, kite flying, racing, rifle and pistol shooting, horse riding, reading, and administrative work. It is said, the mostly un-lettered sepoys who fought the 1857 war, in later years, saw heavenly support on the Ranee, as of one, born in the lap of the holy river Ganges.
A lot of stories of her determination as a child are recorded in Bundelkhand folklores. Her mother a beautiful woman was instrumental in inculcating in her the religious fervor noted in later years. Benaras at that time was a high center of learning, the manufacture of silk shawls, and a world-renowned market for garments, and a prosperous center of trade.
Later on, Moropant moved to Bithoor, to be with the exiled Peshwa and his court. Here a young Manu came in contact with three other youngsters her age, who later-on were leaders of the Indian mutiny of 1857. So Nana Saheb, Rao Sahib, Tatya Tope, and Manu became friends for life. Due to her vivacious nature, aggressive attitude for learning and her wit, her boldness, she was fondly called “Chhabeli” (Quick-witted/tomboyish) by the elderly Peshwa.
In 1842 on marrying Gangadhar Rao, Manu and her father moved to Jhansi. The wedding took place with great pomp and fanfare. Her name was changed to Lakshmibai (also spelt Laxmibai), as was the tradition in those days. In 1851 after a visit to Benaras with her husband the queen gave birth to a boy and there was much rejoicing in the city, people celebrated and lots of sweets and alms were distributed to the poor. Finally, the ruler of Jhansi had a future king and the dynasty would continue
However the child died in three months and there was great despair. The king was desperate for a male heir, and knew the consequence of this, as the British were annexing all princely states on the merest pretexts. The maharaja became sick and suffered a lot. However before he died he adopted a child, in the presence of the towns gentry and the British agents, in a lavish ceremony. He had willed the Queen Lakshmibai to be “Malika” or Crown regent to the young Damodar, the adopted son, which was also accepted by the resident British agent . Two days later on 21 November 1853 he died, believing the British would keep their promise to his adopted son and his queen.
Under normal circumstances it would not have been an issue, but Lord Dalhousie the newly appointed Governor General was on a quest of mass annexation of all Indian territories in the country. His doctrine of Lapse, of annexing kingdoms, with no male heir, was a precursor to the famous mutiny, where thousands of lives were lost. This was a major cause of concern for the young widow of Gangadhar, who realized how precarious the situation was. The Hindu childless widow of the time was a pariah, looked down upon, and almost resented for even being alive, by the society of the time.
However Ranee Lakshmibai was a strong person who wanted to look after Jhansi as a regent for the young Damodhar, her adopted son. Immediately on taking over the rule, she gave up purdah, (practice of keeping face covered and not meeting people one to one) a startling idea at the time, and mingled freely with her subjects, shrewdly maintaining purdah with the British however. She lived a simple, devout, disciplined life, maintained strict religious practice and prayer. Various petitions were strongly sent by her to the British espousing the case of her state to remain sovereign, but under British rule.
However, on the 27th of February 1854 the Governor-General rejected the Ranee’s pleas not to annex the state. The seat was hereditary as per the earlier agreement with the British. The Jhansi throne had never been a gift to the Jhansi rulers by the British. When the news was relayed to her by the British agent, she was very upset & angry, but controlled herself with great difficulty, & spoke the now-famous lines in a loud and melodious “Meri Jhansi nahin dungi” – I will not give up my Jhansi.
Major Ellis the British agent now suddenly made in charge of Jhansi, in these circumstances, was fully respectful of the Ranee and assured her his full support for her. But the Ranees main worry was her subject’s well being. There was much gloom in the city that day and shops remained closed in protest. The Ranee was very distressed, thousands of people went bare foot and bare headed to the palace, a Hindu mark of grief. Moropant Tambe persuaded them to go back home as the Ranee would find a way out. Hearing of this the Ranee stopped weeping and regained courage, touched by her subjects show of concern. After consulting her ministers she sent a mission to London also, to plead her case which was not much successful. Much time and money was spent on this mission.
She had to leave her palace and for 3 years took residence as allocated by the British, outside the fort area. She bade her time, coming close to her subjects, all the more. The general feeling in the population was that their beloved Ranee and Jhansi were given a bad deal and resentment towards the British started. According to reports of the time, the Ranee was of medium height, wheatish complexioned, and handsome looking, her attire was more liberal than ordinary for the time, and she wore minimal jewelry. She carried a small pearl-encrusted pistol in her cummerbund and had a sword with her also.
The British rule on Jhansi had severe economic drawbacks. Jhansi was very famous for its carpets, brass works, carved furniture etc. The Maharaja’s army was disbanded and only a few hundred strong army was retained, the Indian administrators were replaced by a few British men and trade and business suffered badly. With the disappearance of the native court, the local tradesmen, handloom, business people, soldiers all disappeared. The British became richer and the locals poorer.
The scene was ripe for a rebellion. Local trades were replaced by British goods from Manchester and transported in huge quantities by the new Indian railways.
The disbanded soldiers became a burden with no other work, on their farming families, already burdened by heavy taxes. For example, on annexing the Nawabs state of Oudh, (Modern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and parts of Bengal) an army of 60,000 men was disbanded. The Christian missionaries were also very keen to convert en-masse and this upset the sentimentalities of the traditional Hindus and Muslims alike. When the rumor for the greased Enfield rifle cartridges spread, it was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.
This was the introduction of the new Enfield modern rifles issued to the army, where instead of pouring the gunpowder into the gun muzzle, and hammering a ball, and firing the gun with a flintlock action, the cartridge was loaded into the gun, ready to fire. However it was rumored, the cartridge was greased in cow and pig’s tallow (fat), which was a big taboo for the Hindus and Muslims respectively and very much against their faith and religion. The army sepoys enquired of their officers, about the fat greased cartridges but were rebuffed and so they retaliated. The army garrison in Meerut on 10 May 1857 mutinied against their officers, under the supposed leadership of Mangal Pandey, they freed the imprisoned comrades and marched to Delhi. Before this, the natives had been passing information to all rebel posts and people with sympathetic support to their cause, with “rotis” the Indian flatbread.
The political situation at the time was tumultuous. There were very few British officers and soldiers in control of the huge Indian sepoys. The British East India Company had become a powerful army, from being traders and was bent on conquering India and looting the riches. This was the time when the East India Company had grown too rich and strong and the British were becoming more political rulers, pitting princes against each other & supporting one against the other with military strength. The general population was in unrest, the traditional zamindars were being replaced by District Collectors and economic hardship was felt by the common men, due to high taxes. Laws were made in London for Indian people, mostly by people who did not have any idea of Indian customs, traditions, hierarchy, etc.
When the mutiny broke out in central India, Calcutta, and Punjab, at that time major British garrisons were cut off from each other. South of India and even Bombay and Madras did not rise to the rebel’s cause at all and the mutiny was more a northern Indian issue.
The rulers of the Gwalior state, however, remained very pro-British and it is rightly argued, that had that state joined the rebel cause earlier, things may have turned otherwise. This is also recorded in correspondence and reports later by the British. However it is a debatable issue, seeing that the mutiny was not really having any strong visionary leadership and was never a national issue really, but more a localized attack with the sepoys fighting in isolation all over, rather than nationally as one body. In most places the sepoys themselves resorted to looting, harassing the general population and especially the local rulers, moneylenders, and traders, and even The Last Mughal Emperor in Delhi and the Jhansi Ranee were not spared by these mutineers. It was a case of ordinary uneducated soldier men, suddenly becoming powerful, with most not knowing what and how to do things at all. Many an opportunity was lost by them due to poor leaders, isolated attacks, and no war game plans. The mutineers had large numbers and great amounts of ammunition than the British.
At the time, Jhansi was surrounded all around by rebellious sepoys in the north, but peaceful on the south front. However the British in Jhansi stationed there did not realize the gravity of the local army’s angst and kept things normal. But the sepoys in Jhansi also rebelled and killed almost all their officers and women and children of European descent. The Ranee though not involved in this massacre was blamed by the British high command in Calcutta, contrary to reports from local Europeans & the resident British agent in Jhansi. The High command in Calcutta saw it as a political excuse to annex Jhansi, to British rule.
The sepoys then marched over to the Ranee and demanded her support to go to Delhi. Overpowered by sheer numbers, not having any body guard and armed support she diplomatically kept herself aloof helped some British women escape and stayed neutral. After a few days the sepoys decided to leave Jhansi and march to Delhi, as was happening from most parts of north India, and forced the Rani to give them a large sum of money and horses etc. The Rani was quiet happy to see them go as they had been terrorizing the local civilians and looting the city. She soon called upon her populace to keep things under control and appointed key people to look after the police, army, treasury etc as there were no British left to do so.
She then informed the British resident in nearby Sagar, Major Erskine in early June of the state of affairs in Jhansi. The Major thanked the Rani and requested her to govern Jhansi till a replacement was sent forth. However his superiors in Calcutta thought otherwise. There seems to have been some serious communication problems at this time, as can be expected in such uncertain times. However the Rani soon realized that the British were not keen on keeping their word and so on requests from her subjects and Ministers she started to prepare for a fight with the British.
She is recorded to have been the most unorthodox ruler in India, ever seen. No class distinction was made on grounds of religion, colour or caste, and appointments were made on merit to Hindus and Muslims alike. Most of her army generals were Muslims of Afghan origin.
Soon on taking the throne she was challenged by one Sadasheo Rao to the throne of Jhansi, but in two different skirmishes he was defeated and later imprisoned. Then the Princes of Datia and Pihari, thinking of the Ranee as women, came forward to wrest Jhansi from the Rani, but were defeated crushingly. Later a formidable attack was raised by Larhi Bai, Ranee of Orcha, under a huge army, but they too were defeated. All these victories proved to be a great morale booster to the Jhansi army and civilians and raised the Ranees image in their eyes.
In other parts of north India there was huge turmoil. The rebellion had spread like wildfire all over northern India. Delhi had been under the sepoys control for months and an almost 80 year old Mughal monarch – Bahadur Shah Zaffar, was forced to be their titular head, much against his own wishes, but some records suggest under pressure from his Begum. However on 22 September the British attacked Delhi and even thought the sepoys outnumbered and resisted for a while, the British forces soon captured Delhi, imprisoned the Last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, and effectively soon the Mutiny of 1857 was literally crushed. However Lucknow, Cawnpore and some other strongholds held on for a few more months.
But by early 1858 the British had captured Delhi, cleared up the State of Oudh and so they turned their attention to Central India. When war with the British became imminent the Ranee asked for volunteers and 14000 men and women volunteered to support her, in Jhansi on the first day.
Spurned on by their success in northern India, the East India Company directors, being very vary of the Ranee and her prowess, created a separate command to campaign against Jhansi from the safe Bombay base. Such was the awe of the Ranee. It is recorded that a special army train was sent out from Bombay for the fight against Jhansi.
Sir Hugh Rose a seasoned veteran army commander of vast Middle Eastern experiences was called in to head what was a newly formed Central India Field Force. He was a proven campaigner who had been a very successful army leader of vast strategic experiences and success. On 19 September 1857 after landing in Bombay he got down to the task of meticulous preparation against Jhansi.
In early December he arrived at Indore, the advanced base camp and took over command. After a brief rest he captured Sehore and Rahatgur forts, strategically controlled by Rohillas and Bundellas. Soon he reached Sagar, about 125 kms from Jhansi, where he made his final preparation for the battle against Jhansi, by replenishing his food supply, ammunition and all commodities and was amply supplied so, by a Parsee shopkeeper in Sagar, who are recorded by British reports to have charged the British heavily also.
In fact a special military railway supply train was established for his campaigns support. The local terrain was very harsh for the British army, the local inhabitants were most uncooperative towards the British and above all the summer of 1858 proved to be, ne of the hottest ever recorded, which were all challenges for Sir Hugh Rose. A few local Rajas around Jhansi also put up resistance against the British to support the Ranee.
However early morning of 20 March 1858, he finally reached Jhansi. The Ranee of Jhansi was also getting ready with her fortification, making more ammunition and training her soldiers and even a unit of women warriors was formed She also appealed for assistance from Tatya Tope, her childhood friend, as he was close by in Kalpi with a huge army.
He had early success against the pro British local rulers, in the area, however he was very badly upstaged by a very small British army strategically managed by Sir Hugh Rose himself. This was when the attack on the Jhansi fort had already begun by the British and the Jhansi forces were fighting a lonely battle with no support from anyone.
The spirit of the Jhansi army which had sky rocketed on seeing Tatya Tope’s forces, close to Jhansi, were crashed to the ground on seeing their rout by the British in a single encounter. In fact a small number of approximately 1500 British soldiers defeated a 20,000 strong Indian army within half a day or so & secured a huge cache of badly required arms and ammunition also while this was going on, the British and Jhansi forces were gunning each other heavily, day and night. Around the 24th March 1858 more British Brigades had joined Sir Hugh Rose and the Jhansi city was surrounded.
Tatya Tope was defeated around end March, in what is recorded as the Battle of the Betwa. (a local river )This was a decisive battle for the Indian sepoys, as it turned the tables badly on them, leaving the Ranee all alone in Central India and depending only on her local supporters. This defeat also demoralized the Jhansi army and suddenly Sir Hugh Rose became a General of unimaginable deeds, for with 1500 men he routed Tatya Tope’s army of over 20,000 men in a swift encounter.
The Ranee thought badly disheartened, kept her forces morale & spirits up, with a stirring speech enforcing them not to loose courage, reminding them that in the last few days they had already been fighting the British without the Peshwas army anyway. The British who had come to an end of their ammunition, were suddenly replenished from the arsenal of Tatya Tope’s defeated army, and spurred by success the British General stormed Jhansi on 3 April 1858.
Jhansi, as part of Bundelkhand, was ruled for many centuries by the Bundelas, the Rajputana Rajputs & other warlike tribes, who forged a style of governance, attire, language, food, etc suitable to the regions extreme climate. This dress sense can still be seen in some of the interior villages of Bundelkhand, on special occasions like their weddings, etc even today.
However it is recorded by local historians that the British gained entrance to the weakened Jhansi fort due to treachery of a local chieftain who was guarding the Orcha Gate. He informed the British of the weakest spot to assault. With great difficulty the British did climb the ramparts of the fort and when the Ranee was awakened and told the south side guns were silent, she surveyed the scene with her binoculars, saw the British army soldiers in her fort and led the devoted 1500 Afghan and Arab soldiers and fell on the British with such ferocity the British had to retreat and break up ranks to survive.
A fierce battle ensued with the Ranee on her white charger, in the midst of it. Although the enemy had been checked they were not dislodged, the Ranee being outnumbered, and on advise from an old veteran, reluctantly retreated. From behind walls and houses, the British were still attacking the Ranee’s forces. Houses were set on fire, animals were running amuck and shrieks of children and women filled the air. In the palace, the Ranee was very perturbed and wanted to fight to the death, but the old veteran again persuaded her to stay calm and not to just give up her life.
For two days the British slowly and steadily inched forward, destroying houses as they moved forward, burning them down. The Jhansi civilians were defending their homes, men were being killed by the British in front of their families and it became evident the Ranee had to leave or be captured. Before departing she distributed money and gold to her faithful followers and urged them to go into town and save themselves. Then with a very small group of her most faithful soldiers she dashed out of the palace, farewelled by her loyal subjects in the fort and rode out, through the fighting and the cordon of soldiers surrounding the fort. The escape was so audacious that no one believed she had escaped, and General Rose was furious and sent a posse of soldiers to capture her, but though seen by the British soldiers, the Ranee escaped.
It is alleged that just on finishing her meal at a place called Banda, a Lieutenant Dowker, in charge of the chase party, surprised her and her followers, a brief skirmish followed in which the Ranee herself dislodged the Lieutenant and would have killed him, but he was saved by one of his cavalryman. In this confusion, the Ranee and her followers escaped and reached Rao Saheb Peshwas camp in Kalpi, a distance of over 100 miles.
Meanwhile the Battle for Jhansi was over by the evening of 4 April 1858. By all accounts the city and fort were systematically looted, burnt and destroyed. The men were hanged to make an example and the local people were shot at point blank range. There was plundering and houses were set on fire. Whole colonies burned and the oppressive heat and thirst felt was horrible, in the searing heat. Women and children threw themselves in to the wells to escape death, but as they surfaced for air, the British soldiers shot their bobbing heads.
Jhansi was one of the richest cities in India at the time and the loot collected was in millions of pounds. Looting was systematically done by the victorious army and it is said the Hyderabad, Madras, and Bombay army units were actually allocated different days to go for the looting.
Meanwhile the Ranee reached the Peshwas camp at Kalpi, just past midnight and in the morning had a verbal confrontation with her childhood friend Rao Saheb, who was the Peshwa now. However the Peshwa calmed her and praised her valiant effort against the English. The Ranee asked for an army to lead and to fight the English again.
A military march past was organized. The Ranee soon noticed that most people in the army march past were not trained soldiers but the hangers on like cooks and ancillary units of backup people, Although a large army, it was not as disciplined and trained as the Ranee wanted and she later on started to train the soldiers. However there was not much time and also the Rani realized the various factions and egos amongst the rebel leaders.
Meanwhile around 25 April 1858, General Rose left Jhansi to attack Kalpi. The Rani prepared a plan tactfully and presented it to the rebel leaders, who did not take it seriously. Soon General Rose attacked the fort, entered it and the rebel army was on the run again. Tatya Tope abandoned his army, under the pretext of visiting his parents.
Rani Lakshmibai though disheartened that her plan was not put to action, still kept hopes. Bitter quarrels flared up within the rebel army, each blaming the other. Morale was at a low and most of the Peshwas soldiers had fled or were in hiding in the forests. Miraculously the Nawab of Banda arrived with 2000 cavalry and this new backup fused enthusiasm amongst the demoralized army and the retreating soldiers came back.
The summer heat was taking its toll heavily on the European soldiers. Kalpi fort situated on a high rock was well protected with the ravines of the Jamuna River. General Hugh Rose devised some very meticulous planned strategies and almost defeated the enemy.
The Peshwa and the Banda Nawab were ready to retreat, when the Ranee urged them not to and headed straight for the thickest battle ground and fell on the British so furiously, the British withdrew.
However the camel corp. of the British under General Rose himself created damage to the rebels and the Peshwa retreated to Kalpi, and without proper backup support, it forced the winning Ranee to withdraw also.
With this withdrawal, all was literally lost for the rebels; the British entered Kalpi easily and captured a huge armory of the rebel’s ammunition and guns. The rebel cause was as good as lost, in central India.
The rebel leaders all retreated to a place called Gopalpur, but with hardly any ammunition, a demoralized army, no fortress, food, and no support they were at wit’s end.
However a plan was decided to take the fort of Gwalior, as a last resort, a plan so desperate it was audacious. Tatya Tope had connections in Gwalior, of trust and he set off immediately to scout the situation out. He soon reported back that if the Peshwa entered Gwalior there would be support for him. However the Gwalior states Prime minister was a British stooge and when the Peshwa not wanting a confrontation sent a letter to Gwalior for assistance, the Scindia Maharaja wanted to impress his British masters and marched out with his army and fired on the Peshwas army, which shocked them all, specially Tatya Tope who had been promised support from the Gwalior army seniors, only a day or so ago
However, the Ranee with 200 men fell upon the Gwalior army. The soldiers, already in two minds gave up on seeing the Ranee. The Maharaja just escaped back to Gwalior and fled to Agra, to the British camp. The Peshwa entered Gwalior triumphantly and held a darbar that evening. Festivities are said to have kept going for over a fortnight. The Ranee was much perturbed by all this and finally, she confronted & scolded the Peshwa, who could not get the gist of the matter and had wasted precious time in merriment instead of getting ready for the battle with the British which was eminent.
Thus once again the rebels lost precious time doing nothing. They had a huge well trained army, guns, cannons, ammunition and everything they had lost at Kalpi. The Ranees plea fell on deaf ears, and she retreated to wait and watch. In the meantime General Rose cancelled his holiday leave and returned to attack Gwalior. As before, he scouted the area, and camped at Morar near Gwalior around the 16th of June 1858.
Tatya Tope now approached the Ranee for advice and she furiously told him what she thought of Rao Saheb. However she was prepared to fight the English. With her men and the Gwalior contingent she attacked the British lines with ferocity and scattered them.
It is alleged; the Ranee was holding her horse’s reins in her mouth and fighting with swords in each hand, an art she used to practice regularly in Jhansi. She was in the thick of battle, when she fell from a shot from a carbine, mortally wounded while trying to attack the 8th Hussars who had just joined the battle.
One of her faithful servants carried her away to the rear. Her 200 faithful soldiers fought to the last men and women, that day. There are very many conflicting accounts of what happened next. The British accounts of two senior officers contradict each other and most probably are hearsay of the time.
The local Indian account states that she was wounded in the skirmish that day. She died on the second day of the four day battle of Gwalior, fighting the Hussars, near dusk time.
On being injured her faithful, a Muslim lady and others who never left her side, took her away to the monastery of a nearby Hindu ascetic, Baba Gangadas, who sensing the end was near, poured some holy Ganges water into her parched lips, she opened her eyes and asked for her adopted son Damodar, felt him lovingly, gave her pearl necklace to be distributed to her loyal followers and breathed her last.
Fearing the Hussars and British army and mockery that may follow of the brave Ranees dead body, the followers and saint decided to carry out her last rites and she was religiously burnt amongst chartings of the Vedic rhymes.
With the passing away of the Ranee Lakshmibai of Jhansi, the mutiny lost its total appeal, the rebels dispersed almost immediately, Gwalior and also Jhansi was handed over to the Scindia family and the British declared the mutiny officially as over.
The bravest warrior of the Indian Mutiny was no more, but she left an example for generations to follow.
Tatya Tope survived and harassed the British for a few years, carrying guerrilla warfare most successfully. However, he was betrayed by a loyal friend and hanged on 18 April 1859, in Sipri and he entered the annals of Indian freedom fighters with a smile on his face. Rao saheb took sanyas (renouncement of the world) wandered around north India for four years and was caught in Punjab by a British spy; court tried again and hanged at Bithoor on 20 August 1862. A few local skirmishes kept harassing the British in central India for a few years, but the main thrust of the Indian War of Independence 1857 or call it the Sepoys revolt of 1857, effectively ended with the death of Maharani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.
Summarization of the 1857 Revolt / Mutiny or Freedom fight of India
On studying the action of the sepoys during the uprising of 1857 we may normally quote the following main reasons as causes for failure of the Indian Mutiny:
Lack of centralized planning and leadership amongst the sepoys, was probably the major cause of failure. Lack of men power control led to indiscipline, which led to looting, plundering and harassment of the general populace, the very people they were supposed to have freed and liberated. The disgruntled populace then, not only not support the sepoys, but also wished they were not there, in most cases.
No battle plans or action or scouting of enemy ranks and lines done, during battle times also, which resulted in many an opportunity to have defeated the British being lost, especially in Delhi, Kalpi, Gwalior, and even Jhansi. Thus a disciplined British army though very less in numbers had major success over huge Indian rebel numbers.
The mistrust of rebel leaders on one another, lack of foresight and easy living of most had its toll also and except for isolated cases, success was not achieved.
The greased cartridge issue was more religious, then political, both for Hindus and Muslims and bought them fiercely together against the British of the time, success capitalization of this situation, could not be achieved on this point, probably due to lack of leadership.
Lack of proper communication facilities amongst the Indian rebels, as against the telegraphic message channels of the British command, the communication was still person to person by physical travel and pigeon couriers etc.
Over confidence of the Indian rebels on themselves and under estimating their British officers.
The British idea of divide and rule worked wonders for them, as they baited many a rebel to pass on vital information of enemy positions and details which assisted the British tremendously, up to the point that even fort gates were opened for the British to enter, literally unopposed.
The cruelty of the Sepoys to humiliate, murder the European women and children, and later harassment of the Indian business community, general looting of the populace, did not adhere kindly to the general populace. Although the British did similar mass slaughters, of the rebel men, even the women and children were not spared. But the ruling power of the time was British and history was so written to tarnish the sepoy movement, while the cause was primarily East India Company’s personnel’s greed.
There was a popular little lyric which is well known in the area, which goes as follows;
Jhansi gali ki fasi Datia gale ka haar
(Jhansi is a noose on the neck, while Datia is a garland). This lyric must have probably circulated after the huge massacre in Jhansi by the British
Datia is very close to Jhansi & there was, as is now also a very active interaction between the people of Jhansi and Datia. The local rulers of the two principalities fought battles against, and alongside, each other, during the course of history. Unfortunately for the Jhansi ki, Rani the rulers of Datia did not offer the support sought at the time of her battle against the British in 1857/58
The painting records a local wedding, probably some local ruler. Note the finery of the clothing and the lavish decorations in the background. Note the painters detail to facial expression, the dresses & other finer details.
This painting shows the Fort of Jhansi. This painting is in the museum at Jhansi and would be around 1840 .Shows the hillock, the fort is erected on and some local traders of the time. Note the wooden staff or spear in the hands of the turbaned person in centre.
All three men have distinctive headgear, a compulsory feature in those days. My view is that this is the side facing the “Sahar” city area of today, the main gate of present-day would be hidden behind at the left side.
Painting of founding Raja of Orcha, Maharaja Rudrapratap Judev, a popular principality near to Jhansi.
The place still retains its rustic charm, a lovely fort and palace, and a 5-star resort hotel at the foot of the mountain fort.
Every Tuesday they have a mass prayer session in the local temple, attended by loyal devotees.
These statues are probably around the sixth century and are found around the Bundelkhand area especially near Mhaoba. The Buddhist influence is heavy in the architecture of the time.
Some more Interesting Facts on Jhansi Rulers
Rani of Jhansi’s Descendants:
The Tragic Tale of Damodar Rao, Rani’s Adopted Son
Thursday, September 03, 2009 12:36 AM
Adapted from report by Akshay Chavan on the net
“Khoob ladi mardani vah to Jhansiwali Rani thi”
With these words by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi has been immortalized in history and she lives on in popular imagination.
Manikarnika Tambe, a daughter of a priest in court of Peshwa Bajirao at Bithoor married Raja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi and became Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. The Raja died soon after and the British annexed the state under the infamous “Doctrine of Lapse”. Aggrieved by this, Rani Laxmibai joined the rebels in 1857 and was martyred in the struggle and immortal in history.
But what became of her son, the baby whom she tied to her back in the battlefield?
What happened to her son?
Did he survive or did he not?
Was he captured by the British?
Was he tortured?
A popular image of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi
There were only questions and more questions. Unfortunately, there are no answers in our Government textbooks or official “Sarkari” histories.
This is, until now, till I came across a Marathi book by veteran writer Y.N Kelkar called “Itihasachya Sahali” or “Voyages in History” published in 1959.
In this book, I came across a fascinating article narrating the experiences of Damodar rao, Rani Lakshmibai’s adopted son based on his memoirs narrating his tragic childhood experiences. It gives a fascinating insight into the lives of 1857 rebels and travails that they went through. Some of the memories brought tears to my eyes.
Unfortunately, my English translation of the same does not bring out the same emotions as in Marathi. But it does answers all the questions that you wanted to know as to what happened after to Rani of Jhansi’s unfortunate son. It is an extremely sad and poignant tale which I shall narrate in Damodar Rao’s own words. In his memoirs, Damodar Rao Newalkar, adopted son of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and heir to the Jhansi throne narrates – “I was born on 15th November 1849 in Jhansi in a collateral branch of the ruling Newalkar dynasty. On my birth, the court astrologers looked at the stars and prophesized that I had a “Raj Yog” or destined to become a king. And how tragically true this prophesy turned out to be!
Shankargarh fort at Jhansi, where young Anand Rao was adopted by Rani Lakshmibai and named Damodar Rao. After a young age of three, I was adopted by Maharaja Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi. An application was sent to the East India Company’s representative in Bundelkand to recognize my adoption, but my adoptive father died soon after before a confirmation could be received. After this, my adoptive mother, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi sent a representation to Lord Dalhousie in Calcutta to recognize me as an heir to the throne but this appeal was rejected.
The British East India Company declared that the kingdom of Jhansi would be annexed under the doctrine of lapse and that my mother, Rani Laxmibai would get an annual pension of Rs 5000. In addition Masaheb (Rani Laxmibai) would also inherit all the personal property of my father including the palaces and jewellery. Lord Dalhousie decided that I could inherit these personal assets of my late father but not the kingdom. In addition, there were 7 lakh rupees in the treasury in the name of my late father. When Masaheb requested for the same, she was informed that the British Govt would be hold this money in trust till I reached majority and then, it would be handed over to me.
In 1857, my fate changed for worse. My mother never forgave the British for the annexation of our kingdom and she raised a banner of revolt along with the entire populace of Jhansi. Unfortunately, we lost Jhansi due to treachery and had to flee to Gwalior. In the battle in Gwalior, Masaheb became a martyr. My attendants would tell be that she carried me on her back on the battlefield. I was too young to remember this. After Masaheb’s death, I remained in Gwalior for the next 3 days.
Of Masaheb’s confidants, only 60 had survived the battle. Nanekhan Risaldar, a Maratha named Ganpatrao, Raghunath Singh and Ramchadrarao Deshmukh took me under their guardianship and with 22 horses and 60 camels, we broke away from the camp of Raosaheb, brother of Peshwa Nanasaheb of Bithur, and decided to find our own way out. We fled along the inhospitable terrain, jungles, and ravines and fled towards the direction of Chanderi in Bundelkhand.
No village on the way was willing to take pity and help us due to the fear of reprisals by the British. Since a refuge in any of the villages was virtually impossible, we took shelter in a dense forest by the edge of the river.
Due to the lack of any camping equipment, we had to sleep under the open skies. During the scorching heat of the summer, we would have to sleep inside the deep forest amidst the trees. Our skin would burn due to the heat. We had no food and hence had to survive on fruits and berries found in the forest.
Fortunately, Mother Nature took pity on us and we never slept hungry in the forest. We were afraid of going to nearby villages for help as there were British soldiers roving everywhere hunting for the rebels. Only in extreme emergencies would our men venture out, with life in their hands and get required provisions from local villages.
This went on till the end of summer. As monsoon began, things went from bad to worse. All forest paths would be flooded making it impossible for us to move. Remembering those terrible days sends shiver down my spine. Fortunately god finally took pity on us. A local village headman informed us that as the British has set up a camp at Lalitpur, he could not help us directly but if we moved to a secret location in the forest as suggested by him, he would provide us with provisions over there.
On the advice of Naik Raghunath Singh, we broke our camp and started living at different locations in small groups of 10 to avoid any suspicion. We reached an agreement with that local village headman that we would give him Rs.500 every month plus 9 horses and 4 camels and in return, he would supply us with required provisions and keep us informed about British movements. At this time, we were around 11 people.
Betwa river, also known as “Vetravati” on whose banks, young Damodar Rao and his followers took refuge in the deep forest. As agreed, we went to live in a cave by a steep cliff. Below the cliff was the Vetravati river. There was a temple of Mahadev nearby too. River Vetravati ran with a great force and there was a large and lovely waterfall.
Around us, there were several lakes and ponds. The sheer pristine beauty of the place made us forget some of our sorrows. In this way, we spent as two whole years as wanderers and fugitives. During these years, I was unwell the whole time. In the month of Bhadrapad, my conditioned worsened. My retainers were worried if I would even survive the ordeal. They begged the village headman to send someone to treat me.
Even the village headman was shocked to see my pitiable and delicate state. He soon got a local doctor or a “vaid” who happened to be his uncle to treat me in secrecy. As I recovered from my illness, another problem arose.
While fleeing Gwalior, we had around Rs. 60,000 with us which by now had been fully exhausted. Now, with no money to pay, the headman rudely asked us to leave and we had no choice but to comply. We gave the headman Rs.200 and asked for the return of our horses. That charlatan returned only 3 horses and informed us that others had died! We left as a group of 12 however, on our way further, we were joined by another batch of followers that had left earlier and soon became 24. We soon reached the village of Shipri-Kolaras in the Gwalior state. The locals there recognized us as rebels and put us all under arrest. We were in local jail for 3 days. Then under and escort of 10 horsemen and 25 sepoys, we were sent to the Political Agent at Jhalrapatan.
As our horses had been confiscated, we had to walk for days. My men could not bear to see my plight and carried me on their back by turns. Most of my mother’s men who had survived had taken asylum in Jhalrapatan. There was a Political agency nearby managed by a Poltical Agent named Mr. Flink. One of my mother’s risaldar named Nanhekhan was working at this political agency. He was a trusted aide of Mt Flink. He went to Mr Flink and said “ Late Ranisaheb of Jhansi had a son who is now just 9-10 year old. After she died in the battlefield, that little child had to live in the forest like an animal. His trusted followers have looked after him with care. What is the fault of this innocent child? What has he ever done against the British Raj? Please spare that child and entire Hindustan shall shower blessings on you”.
The spectacular Gagron Fort at Jhalawar, whose kind ruler, Raja Prithvi Singh gave great help to young Damodar Rao. Mr Flink was a kind man. He sent a message to the Political Agent at Indore, Col Sir Richard Shakespeare, to which Colonel replied “If Rani of Jhansi’s son surrenders willingly, I shall see that his affairs are settled”. Mr Flink asked Nanhekhan to take me to Indore. On the way we met Raja Prithvisingh of Jhalrapatan. He had great respect for masaheb and he treated me very well & promised that he would put in a good word for me with the resident at Ajmer. We were kept in prison for near Jhalrapatan for around 3 months. We had no money till then and so I was forced to sell the two bracelets or “todas” of 32 tolas each which belonged to late Masaheb.
There were the last remaining memories of her with me. And now they were lost. On 5th May 1860, we reached Indore cantonment. There I met the political agent, Sir Richard Shakespeare. I was placed under guardianship of a Kashmiri official called Munshi Dharmanarayan. I was allowed to keep only 7 followers and all others had to leave. I was allotted an annual pension of Rs. 10,000, which I had no option but to take as I was only a child then.”
This is where the memoir ends. Not much is known of what happened to Damodar Rao in his later life. What is known is that the British Govt refused to hand over to him the 7 lakh rupees which it held in ”trust” for him and had refused to hand it over to Rani Lakshmibai. Damodar Rao lived the rest of his days in penury begging the British govt to restore to him some of his rights without avail.
He married and settled down in Indore. In 1904, he had a son named Lakshman Rao. The sad and tragic life of Damodar Rao ended on 28th May 1906. He was 58 years old. His descendants still live in Indore. They use the name “Jhansiwale” after the land of their forebears. Damodar Rao, son of brave Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi lives on as a small footnote in the history of India and in the popular imagination as a little boy tied to a fearless heroine’s back. By Akshay Chavan.
Newalkars of Jhansi — The Prequel
By Akshay Chavan:
Sunday, March 07, 2010, 4:23 PM
We all know the tale of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Also, based on my previous article, the fate of her son Damodar Rao after she died. But what about the history of Jhansi state before Rani Lakshmibai? Again, sadly in our history books, this is a big black hole. There is very little awareness of the Newalkar dynasty of Jhansi and it’s past history. Here we look at the history of Jhansi state and Newalkar dynasty before Manukarnika Tambe became Rani Lakshmibai Newalkar of Jhansi.
The family tree of the Newalkar dynasty of Jhansi (Created by and copyright owner, Mr Abhijit Malwade, Mumbai)
- The state of Jhansi
In heart of India lies Bundelkhand “The land of the Bundelas”. Once upon a time, it was divided into several kingdoms, the most important of them was Jhansi. Territorially, it was not a very large state. It lay on the southern foot hills of vindhyas. To its north was Gwalior and Samthar state, on the east lay Dhasan river and the state of Hammirpur. To south lay Lalitpur parganas and Orchha state and to west lay Datia and parts Gwalior state. It was 4,986 sq miles in area and had a population of around 9 lakhs. It comprised of 2140 villages. The main rivers were vetravati (Chambal) and dhasan. The main town was Jhansi which had a strong fort. It was in possession of Raja Chhatrasal . Peshwa Bajirao came to the aid of Raja Chhatrasal against the mughal subedar. In gratitude, Raja Chhatrasal declared Bajirao to be his son and gave territory worth one crore as gift to the Marathas. It came to be known as Maratha Bundelkhand.
Peshwa Bajirao divided the territories which he had received into 3 parts or subas with a subedar (governor) to administer them. First part was given to Sardar Govindpant Bundele . It comprised of Jalaun, Sagar, Gurserai etc. Second part was given to Ali Bahadur, son of Bajirao from his love Mastani. This comprised of Banda, Kalpi etc. The smallest part which comprised of Jhansi was given to a minor official named Naro Shankar Motiwale.
The Parola fort in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, ancestral home of the Newalkar family.
In 1756, a revolt of local Gosavi raja forced the Maratha subedar to flee Jhansi. Peshwa appointed a brave warrior named Raghunath Hari Newalkar to Jhansi to quell the revolt. He quelled the revolt and re-established Peshwa’s rule in Jhansi. As a reward, he was made the subedar of Jhansi. On becoming the subedar, Raghunath Hari maintained a large army to maintain control over the local Bundela rajas.
- Raghunathrao Newalkar:
The Founder of Jhansi state
The founder of the Newalkar dynasty was Raghunathrao who was a village headman of Pavas in Rajapur district of Konkan in Maharashtra. He had two sons first Khanderao and second, Damodar Pant. Damodar Pant Newalkar had three sons, Raghopant, Sadashiv Pant and Hari Pant. All the three sons were brave fearless warriors. The Peshwas were so impressed with them that they soon rose to a high position in the army of Malharrao Holkar. As a result of their valour, the Newalkar family was given the village of Parole in Maharashtra as a jagir. Raghopant died in the battlefield. Sadashiv Pant and Hari Pant’s son Lakshmanrao looked after the jagir in Parole. The Hari Pant’s second son was Raghunath Hari, who had been sent by Peshwa to Jhansi to quell the rebellion there and then given the governorship of Jhansi as a reward.
Fascinating Fact: Raghunath Hari Newalkar was the first Indian royal who could read, write and speak in English!
Raghunath Hari was a brave and kind warrior. He was known all over Bundelkhand for his valour and chivalry. He died in 1796 and was succeeded by his brother Shivraobhau. He too was a brave warrior. In his time, Peshwa Bajirao II was the ruler in Pune and Maratha civil war broke out. The Newalkars were subedars or governors of Jhansi on behalf of the Peshwas and hence had to send administrative reports and taxes to Pune every year. However, talking advantage of the confusion, Shivraobhau stopped the practice and declared the quasi independence of Jhansi state.
- Shivraobhau Newalkar: Rani of Jhansi’s Father in law.
It was during the reign of Shivraobhau that the British first came to Jhansi. The British wanted to increase their influence in Bundelkhand. Most of the Bundela rajas were under the suzerainty of the Subedar of Jhansi. Hence, the British felt that it was better if they became friends with the ruler of Jhansi. On 18th November 1803, Shivraobhau and the British signed a treaty of friendship.
It was this treaty which helped British expand their influence in Bundelkhand. Jhansi and the British signed a second treaty of Friendship on 6th February 1804 as per which Jhansi took and undertaking that it would not enter into relations with any foreign power. Shivraobhau maintained good relations with the British. In a letter to the Board of Directors of the British East India Company, the then Governor General Lord Wellesely makes a favorable mention of Jhansi ruler as a valuable “ally of the British”.
Shivraobhau ruled Jhansi for around 18 years. He suddenly fell ill in 1814. Realising that he will not survive long, he handed over the reins of kingdom of Jhansi to his grandson Ramchandrarao and retired to the banks of Ganges as a sadhu. He died soon after.
Shivraobhau had three sons, Krishna rao, Raghunath rao and Gangadhar rao. Krishna rao died young in 1811 and was succeeded by his son Ramchandrarao. Since Ramchandrarao was a minor, the kingdom was ruled by his mother Sakhubai as regent along with the old loyal Dewan Gopalraobhau.
- Sakhubai: The villainous queen of Jhansi
Ramchandrarao was Rani Sakhubai’s only son but she was a cruel and a wicked queen. She wanted to destroy her own son and take over the reins of the kingdom. She made many attempts to kill her own son Ramchandrarao! Having failed in most of these, she hatched a diabolical plan. Ramchandrarao was fond of swimming in the Laxmi Talav (Lake) on outskirts of Jhansi city. Rani Sakhubai had sharp spears placed in the very spot where Ramchandrarao swam every day. Fortunately, Lalu Kadolkar, a loyal servant of the Raja saved him in a nick of time. A furious Rani Sakhubai sent mercenaries and had the loyal servant hacked to pieces! Shocked by this action of his own mother, Ramchandrarao had Rani Sakhubai imprisoned for life. Overcome by remorse, Rani Sakhubai swallowed a diamond and killed herself, bringing an end to tragic chapter in history of Jhansi.
The Lakshmi Tal at Jhansi , is where Queen Sakhubai tried to kill her own son.
- Ramchandrarao Newalkar
The British signed a new treaty with Ramchandra Rao to establish their rights. According to this treaty, the British, in recognition of services rendered by Shiv Rao Bhau , gave his grandson, Ram Chandra Rao the state of Jhansi to carry forward his heritage and lineage. This historical treaty was signed on 17.11.1817 at Sipri on which Gopal Rao , the confidante minister of Ram Chandra Rao signed on his behalf.
Ramchandra Rao had friendly relations with British throughout. He helped the British at Kalpi to defeat a brave rebellious Maratha Nana Pant for which Lord William Bentinck thanked Jhansi for his timely help. Lord Bentinck organised a court function to felicitate Ram Chandra Rao and conferred titles of Maharajadhiraj and Fidwi-i-Badshah-Jan-Jane-Hindostan on Ramchandra Rao.
Ramchandrarao’s reign was of chaos and neglect. The revenue and power of Jhansi state shrunk considerably. Ramchandrarao fell ill and died in 1835 without an heir. His wife adopted her sister’s son Krishnarao but this adoption was declared as invalid. Therefore, Raghunathrao the uncle of Ramchandra Rao was placed on the Jhansi throne. But he proved to be incompetent and extravagant ruler. Thus, in 1837, British removed him and took the state directly under their control.
- Gangadhar Rao Newalkar: Rani Lakshmibai’s Husband
After Raghunath Raos’ death four names come up for the throne of Jhansi. Gangadhar Rao, Krishna Rao (Adopted son of Ramchandra Rao), Ali Bahadur and Maharani of Raghunath Rao. A commission was constituted to discuss the candidature headed by Mr.Spears of Gwalior State. After much consideration the commission recommended the name of Gangadhar Rao to the government which was accepted and thus Gangadhar became the ruler of Jhansi
However, it was stipulated that until he married, he will not have full rights over the kingdom. He was forced to maintain a subsidiary force and Jhansi had to pay for it. As a result, he was forced to cede territory worth Rs. 2,27,458.
The Rani Mahal at Jhansi, built by Raghunath Hari Newalkar. It was called Rani Mahal because Rani Lakshmibai lived there after the annexation of the kingdom.
After having restored the kingdom of Jhansi, the British government also restored to him, a sum of Rs 30 lakhs which had been confiscated earlier. Gangadhar rao, who was quiet extravagant, spent a lot of this money on acquiring trappings of princely power. He ordered various gold ornaments for his favourite elephant Siddabaksh. Despite his extravagance, he did strengthen and fortify the Jhansi army. Under his tenure, Jhansi army had 5000 soldiers. In addition, there were 2000 policemen, a cavalry of 500, a special force of 100 soldiers and 4 cannons.
In his personal life, Gangadhar Rao was extremely old fashioned and repressive. His first wife, Ramabai had died and then 1842, he married a 12 year old girl – Manikarnika Tambe as his second wife. As per the Marathi tradition, she was given a new name of Lakshmibai. He was 40 at that time. The marriage ceremony was performed at the Ganesh mandir. Gangadhar Rao had a son from Rani Lakshmibai but that child died very soon when he was only 4 months old. Overcome by grief, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao died on 21st November 1853. At that time, Rani Lakshmibai was only 18 years old. After Raja’s death, the British annexed Jhansi.
Famously Rani Lakshmibai said “Main meri Jhansi nahi doongi” and as they say, rest is history!
By Akshay Chavan
Indian Royalty, Maharajas and more……..
John Lang – Rani of Jhani’s Lawyer
Monday, March 07, 2011 12:49 AM
“Main Meri Jhansi Nahi Doongi” – the most famous words of India’s greatest patriots, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi when informed of the annexation of her kingdom. They have been immortalized in popular Indian lexicon and replayed in movies and plays through the centuries. We all have a mental picture of the Queen with her eyes burning red in anger tearing down her purdah in view of the fully durbar. Expressing her rage and anguish at the unjust decision of the British East India company unlawfully taking what belonged to her. We can’t but help emphasize with her , with her loss. While we as an audience in this historical drama may applaud the brave Rani and her words, what else do we know of this episode? Where did Rani utter these words and why? How did rest of the world get to know her famous words?
I think it is important for anyone to know the contexts in which there historic incidents are framed. I investigated extensively as to who was present when this incident occurred and what actually happened. My discovery was startling and interesting. It brings out a biography of a very interesting man, who can only be described as a true friend of India and Indians.
John Long, Australia’s first native novelist and a lawyer to Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi was one of the most extraordinary gentlemen of his age. In the high age of imperialism and colonialism, he was one of the few white men who stood up for the rights of the “natives”. John Lang was a friend and admirer of India and Indians at a time where “native Indians” were considered to be barbaric and had to be civilized. He lived and travelled extensively in India interacting with Indians. He earned the wrath of the ruling British class for his championing of the Indian cause.
As a mofussil lawyer, he helped protect the interests of his Indian clients against their haughty British rulers. It was due to his position as an honest lawyer that he was approached by Jhansi durbar to fight the adoption case of the Rani.
It was during his trip to Jhansi, in his meeting with Rani Lakshmibai, that she uttered the famous phrase “Mai Meri Jhansi Nahi Doongi”. I will not reveal more. Do read ahead to hear about the first-hand account of his trip to Jhansi in John Lang’s own words (which also is one of the best first-hand accounts of how the Rani actually looked like):
A trip to Jhansi and meeting the Rani:
This is an excerpt from the book “Wanderings in India”, published in 1861, which has the first-hand account of John Lang’s trip to Jhansi and his interactions with Rani Lakshmibai.
This is perhaps the only such account written in English, though extremely interesting and revealing.
Read on! –
“About a month after the order had gone forth for the annexation of the little province of Jhansi (in 1854), and previous to a wing of the 13th Native Infantry occupying the country, I received a letter in Persian, written upon “gold paper” from the Ranee begging me to pay her a visit. The letter was brought to me by two natives of rank. One had been the financial minister of the late Rajah. The other was the head vakeel (attorney) of the Ranee.
I was at Agra when I received the Ranee’s letter, and Agra is two days’ journey. Even as I travelled from Jhansi, I sympathized with the woman. The boy whom the Rajah had adopted was only six years old, and during his minority, that is to say, until he had attained his eighteenth year, the Ranee – so the Rajah willed – was to have been the Regent, and the boy’s guardian; and it is no small matter for a woman – a native woman of rank, too – to give up such a position and become a pensioner, even on Rs 60,000 year.
Let me detail the particulars of my journey to the residence of the Ranee of Jhansi. I got into my palanquin at dusk, and on the following morning, at daylight, arrived at Gwalior. The Rajah of Jhansi had a small house about a mile and a half from the cantonment, which was used as a halting-place, and thither I was taken by the minister and the vakeel who accompanied me.
At ten o’clock, after I had breakfasted and smoked my hookah, it was proposed that we “go on at once.” The day was very warm, but the Ranee had sent a large and comfortable palanquin carriage; in short, it was more like a small room than a carriage, fitted up as it was with every convenience, including even a punkah, which was pulled from the outside by a servant, who sat upon a foot-board. In the carriage, beside myself and the minister and vakeel, was a khansamah, or butler, who, with the apparatus between his knees, kept on cooling water, and wine, and beer, in order that, whenever I felt thirsty, I might be supplied at a moment’s notice.
This enormous carriage was drawn by a pair of horses of immense strength and swiftness. Each stood about seventeen hands high. The late Rajah had imported them from France at a cost of 1500l. The road was rather rough in many places, but, on the average, we got over it at the rate of about nine miles an hour.
At about two o’clock in the day we entered the Jhansi territory, having changed horses twice, and we had now some nine miles to drive. Hitherto we had been escorted only by four sowars (horsemen), but now our escort amounted to about fifty, each horseman carrying an immense spear, and dressed much in the same way as the Irregular Cavalry in the pay of the East India Company.
And along the road, at intervals of a few hundred yards, were horsemen drawn up, and as we passed, they joined the cavalcade; so that by the time we came in sight of the fortress — if those old weak walls, surmounted by some nine pieces of old ordnance of inferior caliber, deserved the name – the whole strength of the Jhansi cavalry was in attendance.
The carriage was driven to a place called ” the Rajah’s garden,” where I alighted and was conducted by the finance minister and the vakeel and other servants of the state, to a large tent, which was pitched beneath a clump of gigantic mango trees. The tent, which was that in which the late Rajah used to receive the civil and military officers of the British Government, was elegantly fitted up and carpeted; and at least a dozen domestic servants were ready to do my bidding.
I must not omit to mention that the companions or my journey – the minister and the vakeel – were both men of good ability and pleasing manners. They were, moreover, men of learning, so that my time upon the road had been beguiled very agreeably. The Ranee had consulted one of the many Brahmins who were supported by her as to the most propitious hour for me to come to the purdah behind which she sat; and the Brahmins had told her that it must be between the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon, which was then near her full; in other words, between half-past five and half-past six o’clock.
This important matter having been communicated to me, I expressed myself perfectly satisfied with the time of the appointment and ordered dinner accordingly. This done, the finance minister, after betraying some embarrassment, intimated that he wished to speak to me on a rather delicate subject, and that, with my permission, he would order all the menial servants in attendance on me, including my own sirdar-bearer (valet), to leave the tent and stand at a distance. I complied, of course, and presently found myself alone with only the “officials” (eight or nine in number) of the little native state of Jhansi.
What the finance minister wished to ask me was this – Would I consent to leave my shoes at the door when I entered the Ranee’s apartment? I inquired if the Governor-General’s agent did so.
He replied that the Governor-General’s agent had never had an interview with the Ranee; and that the late Rajah had never received any European gentleman in the private apartments of the palace, but in a room set apart for the purpose, or in the tent in which we were conversing.
I was in some difficulty, and scarcely knew what to say, for I had a few years previously declined to be presented to the King of Delhi, who insisted on Europeans taking off their shoes when they entered his presence.
The idea was repugnant to my mind and I said as much to the minister of the late Rajah of Jhansi; and I asked him whether he would attend a levee at the palace of the Queen of England, if informed that he must enter her Majesty’s presence with his head uncovered, as did all her subjects, from the lowest to the highest.
To this question he would not give me a direct answer, but remarked, “You may wear your hat, Sahib; the Ranee will not mind that. On the contrary, she will regard it as an additional mark of respect towards her.” Now this was what I did not want. My desire was that she should consider the wearing of my hat, supposing I consented to take off my shoes, as a species of compromise on her part as well as on my part.
But I was so amused with this bargaining, as it were, that I consented; giving them distinctly to understand, however, that it was to be considered not as a compliment to her rank and dignity, but to her sex, and her sex alone. That great point settled, I partook of a very sumptuous repast that was prepared for me, and waited patiently the setting of the sun or the rising of the moon, determined, however, that I would wear my hat – a black “wide-awake,” covered with a white turban.
The hour came, and the white elephant (an Albino, one of the very few in all India), bearing on his immense back a silver houdah, trimmed with red velvet, brought to the tent. I ascended the steps, which were also covered with red was velvet, and took my place.
The mahoot, or elephant-driver, was attired in the most gorgeous manner. The ministers of state, mounted on white Arabs, rode on either side of the elephant; the Jhansi cavalry lining the road to the palace, and thus forming an avenue. The palace was about half a mile distant from my encampment ground.
Ere long we arrived at the gates, at which the attendants on foot began to knock violently; A wicket was opened, and closed hastily. Information was then sent to the Ranee; and, after a delay of about ten minutes, the “hookum” (order) came to open the gates.
I entered on the elephant, and alighted in a court-yard. The evening was very warm, and I fancied that I should be suffocated by the crowd of natives (retainers) who flocked around me. Observing my discomfiture, the minister imperiously commanded them to “stand back!”
After another brief delay, I was asked to ascend a very narrow stone staircase, and on the landing was met by a native gentleman, who was some relative to the Ranee. He showed me first into one room and then into another. These rooms (six or seven), like all rooms of the kind, were unfurnished, save and except that the floors were carpeted; but from the ceiling punkahs and chandeliers were suspended, and on the walls were native pictures of Hindoo gods and goddesses, with here and there a large mirror. At length I was led to the door of a room, at which the native gentleman knocked. A female voice from within inquired, “Who is there?”
“Sahib,” was the reply. After another brief delay, thee door was opened by some unseen hand, and the native gentleman asked me to enter, informing me, at the same time, that he was about to leave me. A brief delay now occurred upon my part. It was with great difficulty that I could bring myself to take off my shoes.
At length, however, I accomplished it, and entered the apartment in “stocking feet.” In the centre of the room, which was richly carpeted, was an arm-chair of European manufacture, and around it were strewn garlands of flowers (Jhansi is famous for its beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers). At the end of the room was a purdah or curtain, and behind it people were talking.
I sat myself down in the arm-chair and instinctively took off my hat; but recollecting my resolve, I replaced it, and rather firmly – pulling it well down, so as completely to conceal my forehead. It was a foolish resolve, perhaps, on my part, for the hat kept the breeze of the punkah from cooling my temples.
I could hear female voices prevailing upon a child to “go to the Sahib,” and could hear the child objecting to do so. Eventually, he was “launched” into the room; and upon my speaking kindly to the child, he approached me – but very timidly.
His dress and the jewels on his person satisfied me that the child was the adopted son of the late Rajah and the rejected heir to the little throne of Jhansi. He was rather a pretty child, but very short for his, years and broad-shouldered – like most of the Mahratta children that I have seen.
Whilst I was speaking to the child, a shrill and discordant voice issued from behind the purdah, and I was informed that the boy was the Maharajah, who had just been despoiled of his rights by the Governor-General of India.
I fancied that the voice was that of some very old woman – some slave or enthusiastic retainer, perhaps; but the child had imagined that he was spoken to, replied, “Maharanee!” and thus I was told the error of my conclusion.
And now the Ranee, having invited me to come closer to the purdah, began to pour forth her grievances; and, whenever she paused, the women by whom she was surrounded, set up a sort of chorus – a series of melancholy ejaculations – such as ” Woe is me!” ” What oppression!” It reminded me somewhat of a scene in a Greek tragedy – comical as was the situation.
I had heard from the vakeel that the Ranee was a very handsome woman, of about six or seven and twenty years of age, and I was very curious indeed to get a glimpse of her; and whether it was by accident, or by design on the Ranee’s part, I know not, my curiosity was gratified. The curtain was drawn aside by the little boy, and I had a good view of the lady.
It was only for a moment, it is true still I saw her sufficiently to be able to describe her. She was a woman of about the middle size – rather stout, but not too stout. Her face must have been very handsome when she was younger, and even now had many charms – though, according to my idea of beauty, it was too round. The expression also was very good, and very intelligent.
The eyes were particularly fine, and the nose very delicately shaped. She was not very fair, though she was far from black. She had no ornaments, strange to say, upon her person, except a pair of gold ear-rings. Her dress was a plain white muslin, so fine in texture, and drawn about her in such a way, and so tightly, that the outline of her figure was plainly discernible – and a remarkably fine figure she had.
What spoilt her was her voice, which was something between a whine and a croak. When the purdah was drawn aside, she was, or affected to be, very much annoyed; I but, presently she laughed, and good-humouredly expressed a hope that, a sight of her had not lessened my sympathy with her sufferings nor prejudiced her cause.
“On the contrary,” I replied, “if the Governor-General could only be as fortunate as I have been and for even so brief a while, I feel quite sure that he would at once give Jhansi back again to be ruled by its beautiful Queen.”
She repaid this compliment, and the next ten minutes were devoted to an interchange of such matters. I told her that the whole world resounded with the praises of her beauty and the greatness of her intellect, and she told me that there was not a corner of the earth in which prayers for my welfare remained unsaid.
We then returned to the point – her “case.” I informed her, that the Governor-General had no power to restore the country, and recognize the claim of the adopted son, without a reference to England, and that the most prudent course for her to adopt would be to petition the throne, and meanwhile draw the pension of 6000l. a year, under protest that it was not to prejudice the right of the adopted son.
At first, she refused to do this, and rather energetically exclaimed: “Mera Jhansi Nahin dengee” (I will not give up my Jhansi).
I then pointed out to her, as delicately as possible, how futile would be any opposition; and told her, what was the truth, that a wing of a native regiment and some artillery were within three marches of the palace; and I further impressed upon her that the slightest opposition to its advance would destroy her every hope, and, in short, jeopardize her liberty.
I did this because she gave me to understand – and so did her attorney (and my impression is that they spoke the trutb) – that the people of Jhansi did not wish to be handed over to the East India Company’s rule.
It was past two o’clock that night before I left the palace, and here I took my departure, I had talked the lady into my way of thinking, except that she would not consent to draw any pension from the British Government.
On the following day I returned to Gwalior, en route to Agra. The Ranee presented me with an elephant, a camel, an Arab, a pair of greyhounds of great swiftness, a quantity of silks and stuffs (the production of Jhansi), and a pair of Indian shawls.
I accepted these things with great reluctance, but the financial minister entreated me to take them, insomuch as it would wound the Ranee’s feelings if I refused. The Ranee also presented me with a portrait of herself, taken by a native, a Hindoo.
The state of Jhansi was not restored to the rule of the Ranee, and we know that she afterwards rivaled that fiend Nana Sahib, whose “grievance” was identical with her own. The Government would not recognise Nana Sahib as the adopted son and heir or the Peishwah; the Ranee of Jhansi sought to be recognized as the Regent during the minority of the late Rajah’s adopted son and heir.”
Aftermath: John Lang was ruthlessly persecuted by British establishment for taking side of Indians in various court cases. He was even sentenced to imprisonment. Incidentally, in 1857, when the revolt broke out, John Lang was in England.
Sadly, when he returned to India in 1859, most of his Indian, as well as British friends, had died in the revolt, including Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. John Lang continued to be the editor of the newspaper The Mofussilite. He wrote the book “Wanderings in India” in 1861 describing his various experiences in India including Jhansi.
He died in Mussoorie in 1964 and is buried there. However, he will always be remembered for revealing to the world, Rani lakshmibai of Jhansi’s & the most famous words “Main Meri Jhansi Nahi Doongi”
By Akshay Chavan