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Sunday, December 5, 2010

WARRIOR-DURGA, RANI LAXMI BAI
OF JHANSI

V. SUNDARAM I.A.S


RANI LAKSHMIBAI OF JHANSI (1835-1858)

According to the Hindu Calendar, today, the 4th of December 2010 (Saturday) is the 175nd Jayanthi of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. To quote the inspiring words of Sri Rajiv K. Saxena:

“The story of Laxmi Bai, (born Nov.19, 1835) the Queen of Jhansi is unparalleled in the history of India. She was only 18 years old when her husband Gangadhar Rao, the King of Jhansi died. As the first born male child of Rani had died, the couple was childless. They adopted a child whom the English East India Company Government under Lord Dalhousie refused to accept as the legal heir to the throne of Jhansi. Instead the English offered her a pension of Rs. 60,000 per year and ordered her to leave the fort of Jhansi. Rani however refused and decided to fight for her rights. She raised a volunteer army where both men and women were recruited. In March 1858, English army laid siege to the fort of Jhansi and took Jhansi after fighting for two weeks. Rani escaped in the guise of a man with a few of her supporters, riding a horse with her son tied behind her back and a sword in her hand. She regrouped her forces in Kalpi, about 100 miles from Jhansi and advanced into Gwalior. Three weeks later on June 18, 1858 she was martyred by bullets of the English army in a combat battle. Super human courage, convictions and valour displayed by such a young girl in nineteenth century India who came forward to take on the English army in armed combat and to lay down her life fighting for her rights, became a source of inspiration for generations of Indians in their fight for independence.”

Lakshmi bai, The Rani (Queen) of Jhansi was one of the leading figures in the First War for Indian Independence and a radiant symbol of resistance to British rule in India. She has gone down in Indian history as a legendary figure, the firebrand who started the Indian armed revolution against British Colonialism and inaugurated the glorious struggle Indian independence.

Originally named Manikarnika at birth (nicknamed Manu), she was born on 19 November 1835 at Kashi (Varanasi) to a Maharashtrian brahmin family Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathibai Tambe. She lost her mother at the age of four. She was educated at home. Her father Moropant Tambe worked at the court of Peshwa at Bithur and then travelled to the court of Raja Bal Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi, when Manu was thirteen years old. She was married to Gangadhar Rao, the Raja of Jhansi, at the age of fourteen and was given the new name 'Lakshmi Bai'. Because of her father's influence at court, Rani Lakshmi Bai had more independence than most women, who were normally restricted to the zenana. She studied self-defense, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own private army out of her female friends at court.

Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a son in 1851. However this infant died when he was about four months old. After the death of their son, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Damodar Rao. However, it is said that her husband the Raja never recovered from his son's death, and the Raja of Jhansi died on 21 November 1853 of a broken heart. Since Anand Rao was an adopted son and not biologically related to the Raja, the East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, was able to impose the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Damodar Rao’s claim to the throne. Lord Dalhousie then annexed Jhansi, saying that the throne had become "lapsed" and thus put Jhansi under his “protection”. In March 1854, the Rani was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace at the Jhansi fort.


"The Fort, Jhansi," a gelatin silver photo, c.1900; *"Mutiny Memorial, Jhansi"*


When the First War of Indian Independence broke out in 1857, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi seized the opportunity to rise in rebellion against British colonial and imperial rule. When the British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi on 23 March 1858, Rani Laxmibai with her faithful warriors decided not to surrender. The fighting continued for about two weeks. Shelling on Jhansi was very fierce. In the Jhansi army women were also carrying ammunition and were supplying food to the soldiers. The Rani rallied her troops around her and fought fiercely against the British. Meanwhile an army of 20,000, headed by the nationalist leader Tatya Tope, came to relieve Jhansi and to take Lakshmi Bai to freedom. However, the British, though numbering only 1,540 in the field were better trained and disciplined than the “raw recruits,” of Tatya Tope and these inexperienced soldiers turned back and fled shortly after the British began to attack on the 31st March 1858. Rani Lakshmi Bai’s forces could not hold out and three days later the British were able to breach the city walls and capture the city. Yet Lakshmi Bai escaped over the wall at night and fled from her city, surrounded by her guards, many of whom were from her female military corps.

Along with the young Damodar Rao, the Rani decamped to Kalpi, near Gwalior, along with her forces where she joined the other nationalist forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The combined nationalist forces of Rani and Tatya Tope occupied the strategic fort at Gwalior. The Rani donned warrior's clothes and rode into battle to save Gwalior Fort However on the second day of fighting in Kotah-Ki-Serai near Phool Bagh area of Gwalior against the English colonial forces (8th Hussars) led by Sir Hugh Rose on 17 June 1858, the Rani of Jhansi succumbed to her wounds. The British captured Gwalior three days later.

The Rani of Jhansi had taken care to see that her trusted bodyguards took planned advance action to cremate her dead body even before the English colonial troops had reached the scene of her death. Thus she prevented the English colonial troops from getting possession of her body and thus saw to it that Sir Hugh Rose, the English General and his colonial forces, were denied the political opportunity of defiling, desecrating and later hanging her body in public with the sole intention of humiliating her family and her beloved subjects.

Her father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao, was given a pension of Rs 200 a month by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his royal inheritance. This little boy who had been adopted as the future Ruler of Jhansi and who had escaped from the city with Rani Lakshmibai on horseback, lived on until 1936. He died without his title and with few possessions.

General Hugh Rose

In his Final Report of the Battle for Gwalior, General Hugh Rose (was known as Sir Hugh Rose) commented that the Rani “remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance and had been the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders”.

THE STORMING OF JHANSI



LIEUTENANT BONUS, SUPPORTED BY ONLY ONE MAN, MOUNTED A DOUBLE LADDER OF BAMBOO, AND FOR SOME TIME WAS HACKING, THRUSTING, AND PARRYING BLOWS, UNTIL A REBEL WITH HIS CLUBBED RIFLE HURLED HIM TO THE GROUND. ALTHOUGH HE HAD A REVOLVER IN HIS LEFT HAND HE WAS SO BUSILY ENGAGED THAT HE FORGOT TO USE IT.



In a prophetic statement in the 1878 book ‘The History of the Indian Mutiny’, Colonel Malleson said “...her countrymen will always believe that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion; that her cause was a righteous cause; ..... To them she will always be a heroine.”



Rani Lakshmi Bai became a national heroine and was seen as the epitome of female bravery in India. When Subhas Chandra Bose formed the Indian National Army and created the first female batallion, he named it after the Rani of Jhansi. THE RANI WAS MEMORIALIZED IN BRONZE STATUES AT BOTH JHANSI AND GWALIOR, BOTH OF WHICH PORTRAY HER ON HORSEBACK.


BRONZE STATUE OF RANI OF JHANSI AT JHANSI



Indian poetess Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote an inspiring great poem on Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi in the Veer Ras style. This is an emotionally charged poem describing the life of Rani Lakshmi Bai. The poem is one of the most recited and sung poems in Hindi literature. Today it is a part of the school curriculum in several parts of India and every child studying Hindi has to chant this inspiring poem.



POSTAGE STAMP OF SUBHADRA KUMARI CHAUHAN



I am quoting below a few stanzas from the great poem of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan.







I am giving below the English Transliteration of the above Hindi verses, together with their meanings in English.

16 English Transliteration of Verse 16 of the Poem

To bhi Rani maar kaat kar chalti bani sainya key paar,
kintu saamney naala aaya, tha woh sankat visham apaar,
ghoda adaa, naya ghoda tha, itney mein aa gaye avaar,
Rani ek, shatru bahuterey, honey lagey vaar-par-var


Ghayal hokar giri Sinhni, isey veer gati paani thi,
Bundeley Harbolon key munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi.

16    Meaning of Verse 16 of the Poem

Though Rani was deeply wounded,
still she was fighting and had managed to get through the British army,
But she got stuck because a sewerage canal was there on the other end
and she was in deep trouble,
Her horse got stuck there - the horse was untrained,
in the mean time, the British soldiers, riding on their horses reached there.
Rani was all alone while enemies were numerous
who were attacking her with their sword from all sides,
Rani, who was fighting like a lioness, succumbed to the wounds and fell down. She had to achieve a glorious death in war (Martyrdom).
From the mouths of the Bandelas and the Harbolas (Religious singers of Bandelkhand), we heard the tale of the courage of the Queen of Jhansi relating how gallantly she fought like a man against the British intruders: such was the Queen of Jhansi.

17 English Transliteration of Verse 17 of the Poem

Rani gayee sidhaar chita ab uski divya sawaari thi,
mila tej se tej, tej ki woh sachchi adhikaari thi,
abhi umr kul teis ki thi, manuj nahin avtaari thi,
humko jeevit karney aayee ban Swatantrata-naree thi,


dikha gayee path, sikha gayee humko jo seekh sikhani thi,
Bundeley Harbolon key munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi.


17 Meaning of Verse 17 of the Poem

Rani was martyred in the battlefield.
Her departed soul was then riding a divine vehicle,
moving towards heavens
the Light of her divine soul met with the divine light in the heavens,
she was the real heir of divinity,
She was only thirty years of age.
She was not a human; rather she was divine spirit (a holy being),
Who did come, in the gesture of a female freedom fighter,
to give us a respectable life of light and freedom ,
She showed us the path of freedom, and taught us the lesson of courage,
she taught us what we might have learned.
From the mouths of the Bandelas and the Harbolas (Religious singers of Bandelkhand),
we heard the tale of the courage of the Queen of Jhansi relating how gallantly she fought like a man against the British intruders: such was the Queen of Jhansi.

18     English Transliteration of Verse 18 of the Poem
Jao Rani yaad Rakhengey yeh krutagna Bharatwasi,

yeh tera balidaan jagavega Swatantrata avinasi,
hovey chup itihaas, lagey sachchai ko chahey phansi,
ho madmaati vijay, mitaa dey golon sey chahey Jhansi.

Tera Smarak tu hi hogi, tu khud amit nishaani thi,

Bundeley Harbolon key munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi.


18    Meaning of Verse 18 of the Poem

The people of India will remember this debt of yours (O! Rani Laxmaibai), may you be blessed, dear Rani,

Your this life sacrifice will awake an indestructible soul of freedom in the people,
History may be made silent or if truth is hanged or killed,
or if the drinkers become victorious or if they destroy jhansi with cannonballs,
You, by yourself be the memorial of Rani (queen of Jhansi)
because you had been an eternal token of courage.
From the mouths of the Bandelas and the Harbolas (Religious singers of Bandelkhand), we heard the tale of the courage of the Queen of Jhansi relating how gallantly she fought like a man against the British intruders: such was the Queen of Jhansi.


The above poem by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan on the Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi is a fitting tribute to a young and extremely brave queen, one of India's many heroines. I learnt the following bracing refrain from the above poem in Hindi when I was studying in the 5th Standard in the Harcourt Butler Higher Secondary School in Shimla, 59 years ago in 1951.

Budele harbolon ke munh hamney suni kahani thi
Khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali rani thi


“From the mouths of the Bundelas and the Harbolas we have heard the story. Bravely she fought as a man, she was the Queen of Jhansi”

The brave saga of war waged by Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi against the English East India Company in 1858 brings to my mind the heroic battle fought by Queen Boadecia against the colonizing Romans in England in AD 60.

EQUESTRIAN STATUE OF QUEEN BOADICEA IN ENGLAND

Boadicea was born into a royal family around 26 A.D. She married Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, a tribe located in what is now Norfolk, England. Prasutagus was a client-king, meaning he ruled under the auspices of the Romans, who had probably put him on the throne in return for his assistance when they invaded England in 43 AD.

Upon Prasutagus's death around the year 59 AD, the kingdom passed into the hands of the Romans. The king had hoped the Romans would allow his two teenage daughters to keep half of his property, but instead the Romans took over completely. When Boadicea complained, she was publicly flogged and forced to watch as her daughters were raped.

Infuriated, Queen Boadicea became the leader of a violent uprising against Roman rule. But the Romans quickly put down the rebellion by defeating the undisciplined Britons in a ferocious battle (the exact site of which is uncertain). According to one account, Boadicea then killed herself with poison so she would not fall into Roman hands. Boadicea's name means "victorious," or Victoria. During the Victorian Age she came to be viewed as a heroic symbol of Britain.


Very much like the poem by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan on Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800) composed an Ode dedicated to Queen Boadicea. It was published in 1782. I am presenting below this Ode:

BOADICEA: AN ODE

WHEN the British warrior queen,
Bleeding from the Roman rods,
Sought, with an indignant mien,
Counsel of her country's gods,

Sage beneath a spreading oak
Sat the Druid, hoary chief;
Ev'ry burning word he spoke
Full of rage, and full of grief.

Princess! if our aged eyes
Weep upon thy matchless wrongs,
'Tis because resentment ties
All the terrors of our tongues.

"Rome shall perish—write that word
In the blood that she has spilt;
Perish, hopeless and abhorr'd,
Deep in ruin as in guilt.

Rome, for empire far renown'd,
Tramples on a thousand states;
Soon her pride shall kiss the ground—
Hark! the Gaul is at her gates!

Other Romans shall arise,
Heedless of a soldier's name;
Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize—
Harmony the path to fame.

Then the progeny that springs
From the forests of our land,
Arm'd with thunder, clad with wings,
Shall a wider world command.

Regions Cæsar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway,
Where his eagles never flew,
None invincible as they.

Such the bard's prophetic words,
Pregnant with celestial fire,
Bending, as he swept the chords
Of his sweet but awful lyre.

She, with all a monarch's pride,
Felt them in her bosom glow;
Rush'd to battle, fought, and died;
Dying, hurl'd them at the foe.

Ruffians, pitiless as proud,
Heav'n awards the vengeance due;
Empire is on us bestow'd,
Shame and ruin wait for you.

When William Cowper paid his tribute to Queen Boadicea in 1782, the Roman Empire had been extinct for nearly one thousand five hundred years. When Subhadra Kumari Chauhan participated in India’s Freedom Movement in the 1920’s, she composed her poem on Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. The following verses inspired many freedom fighters in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, Bihar and the Central Provinces to brave the brutal Police lathi charges in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,

बूढ़े भारत में आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,

गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,

दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।

चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,

बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,

खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

The English translation of the above verses is given below:

The thrones shook and royalties scowled
Old India was re-invigorated with new youth
People realised the value of lost freedom
Everybody was determined to throw the foreigners out
The old sword glistened again in 1857
This story we heard from the mouths of Bundel bards
Like a man she fought, she was the Queen of Jhansi.


Just as the Roman Empire came to an end in 476 AD, the British Empire in India ended within 89 years of the martyrdom of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.

JAMES SHIRLEY

When I read about the unabashed arrogance of the Roman Emperors and the British Colonial Rulers in India between 1757 and 1947, I cannot help quoting the following timeless lines from the poem of James Shirley (1596-1666) titled ‘Death the Leveller’.


DEATH THE LEVELLER

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crookèd scythe and spade.


Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon Death's purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.



POSTSCRIPT

Letters of Rani of Jhansi 
After I had finished writing the above article on Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, one of friends invited my attention to the following two historic letters written in Hindi by Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.







The first letter was written in 1857 from Jhansi. I am presenting below the facsimile copy of this rare letter.



The second letter was written in 1858 from Kalpi. I am presenting below the facsimile copy of this letter.


(Reference: Source: "Bundelkhand Ka Vismrat vaibhav: Banpur" by Kailash Madavaiya, Pub. Manish Prakashan (author), 1978. The author has stated about one of these letters: " .. Even though the paper has become extremely fragile and in a few places the letters have dropped off, yet the descendants of Raja Mardan Singh of Banpur have trusted me to have it.")

I have also come across reference to a very rare letter in Persian sent by Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi to Lord Dalhousie on 21st November 1853, 4 years before the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. It was on that day her husband Gangadhar Rao, the Raja of Jhansi had died.
Alastair Lawson has written an interesting story about how this letter was discovered recently in the BBC News. I am presenting below the full text of Alistair Lawson’s article which speaks for itself.
Indian heroine's letter unearthed
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

A previously undiscovered letter written by one of India's best known female rebels against British colonial rule has been found by academics.



The letter was written by Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi, shortly before the Indian mutiny - or first war of independence - in 1857.

It has been found in London in the archives of the British Library.
The Rani of Jhansi has often been called the "Joan of Arc" of the Indian independence struggle.
Academics say the discovery of the letter is hugely significant, because so little historical evidence from the Rani of Jhansi's lifetime exists.

Fateful events.

"The letter is part of a collection of documents known as the Bowring Collection," said Deepika Ahlawat, research curator for the Victoria and Albert Museum's Maharaja exhibition currently being staged in London.


"The collection is named after Lewin Bentham Bowring, a civil servant working in India who gathered a remarkable collection of documents, photographs and ephemera relating to the maharajas."


The above letter is one of the few remaining artefacts from the Rani of Jhansi's life

The letter is written by the Rani of Jhansi to the Governor-General of the East India Company (EIC), Lord Dalhousie.



In it she describes the fateful events on the night her husband died.


"But under the Doctrine of Lapse then being imposed by the EIC, any Indian kingdom whose ruler died without an heir, or who was guilty of misrule - was subsumed into Company territory," explained Ms Ahlawat.


Fearing this doctrine, the Rani said that her husband adopted a suitable heir before his death by performing all the necessary rites for her adopted son, Damodar Rao Gangdhar, to be accepted as the next Raja of Jhansi. Lord Lord Dalhousie did not recognise the adoption and threatened to annex Jhansi, now in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

In 1857 the Rani joined the rebellion against the British and personally led her troops in battle. At one point she was captured by EIC troops but subsequently made a daring escape from a fort.



"All this made her the stuff of legend," said Ms Ahlawat. "According to some stories she died riding into battle against the British - another story says that she was shot while holding the ramparts of Gwalior Fort.


"Whatever the truth, the story of a female leader battling for her kingdom against the might of the EIC fired the nationalistic imagination when the contested history of 1857 came to be written.


"This letter written by an iconic talisman for the nationalist narrative in India, and her equestrian statue can be found in town squares all over the country."


The most important Equestrian Statues of Maharani Lakshmibai of Jhansi have been installed at Jhansi, Gwalior, Agra, Ghaziabad, Ahmedabad and Pune.


Equestrian statue of Jhansi Ki Rani (the Rani of Jhansi) in Chitralekha Park, Ahmedabad, India










The Rani of Jhansi, who died fighting the British in 1858; a modern statue in Jhansi



Swarna Jayanti Park, at Neeti Khand, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad.

Equestrian statue of Jhansi Ki Rani (the Rani of Jhansi) in Phul Bagh, Gwalior

 


Statue of Rani of Jhansi at Pune

 



STATUE OF RANI OF JHANSI AT AGRA


STAMP ISSUED ON RANI OF JHANSI
Issued in 1957 to mark the Centenary of Indian Mutiny


Conclusion: Lord Bacon wrote: “ Out of monuments, names, words, proverbs, traditions, private records and evidences, fragments of stories, passages of books and the like, we do save and recover somewhat from the deluge of time.” Animated by this spirit, I have presented the above story of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi---the Mahishasuramardhini of India.


There is nothing that solidifies and strengthens a nation like reading the nation’s history, whether that history is recorded in books, or embodied in customs, institutions, and monuments. God is in the facts of history as truly as HE is in the march of the seasons, the revolutions of the planets, or the architecture of the worlds. All history is but a romance, unless it is studied as an example. The impartiality of history is not that of the mirror, which merely reflects objects but of the judge who sees, listens and decides.

1 comment:

Bhagat said...

She lives on. Such individuals cannot be deleted from our minds just because they died, as their ideas remain everlasting and ever relevant to the human situation. Regardless of which century.... Thank you sharing this priceless information. Her letters are a real treat to read. Thank you.