A Historic story of India for Children
By Prema Sastri
“I will never give up my Jhansi.” The young warrior sat astride a horse brandishing a sword, eyes flashing with determination. This would not have been unusual except that the warrior was a woman, she was Rani Jhansi Devi Lakshmi Bai, who has been compared to Boadicea-the warrior queen of England.
While other young girls learned to sing and sew, Lakshmi Bai practised fencing with seasoned soldiers. She shot at targets. She rode, wild and free. It was this love of freedom that made her fight so fiercely against the British during the first war of Indian Independence in 1857.
Lakshmi Bai was born in Benares to Moropanth Tambey and Bhagirati Bai, a simple Brahmin couple. She was named Manikarnika, and called Manu. Bhagirati died when Manu was four years old. Her father brought her up learning the martial arts like a boy, much to the chagrin of the women in the family.
When Manu grew up she married Raja Gangadhar Rao Niwalkar, the king of Jhansi. The simple girl became a queen. She was given the name of Lakshmi. Some years later the couple had a son. There was great jubilation in the country. Sadly, the child died after four months. The couple adopted a boy, with due legal procedures. Tragedy struck the next day. The ruler died, the British refused to recognise the adoption and decided to annex the state. They confiscated the crown jewels, reduced the queen’s pension and ordered her to leave the fort.
Rani Lakshmi Bai fought for her country. Men and women were recruited in the army, and fought side by side. Cries of freedom rent the air. After a terrible battle of two weeks Jhansi fell. Lakshmi Devi escaped by disguising herself as a man. She hid in tea shops and alleys, with her young son strapped on her back. Weary and disheartened she sought refuge in Kalpi. Here she met Tatya Tope another patriot. She gained courage. Together they organised a military force. The British marched on Gwalior. The queen resisted them, fighting with all her might. Unfortunately, her trained horse was killed. She had to change to a young colt. British soldiers encircled her, She rode to a cliff. The untrained horse could not make the leap. She jumped off and ran, but not before a British sabre had pierced her chest. A Brahmin found her unconscious, and took her to his ashram. Rani Jhansi Devi breathed her last with the words ‘Jai Hind’ – Victory to India – on her lips.
Shortly afterwards her father was caught and hanged. Rani Jhansi Devi's son, Damodar, was deprived of his kingdom. No power can deprive the queen of her glorious place in history.