Lakshmi Bai, also known as the Rani of Jhansi (circa 1830 – 1858), was the rani, or queen, of the Indian princely state of Jhansi in northern India. She is best known as a leader of the Indian Mutiny against British rule in 1857-1858, during which she personally led troops and fought in the line of battle. Her exploits made her an Indian national heroine, a symbol of resistance to British rule, and a martyr for independence.
Born and raised in an upper-caste Brahman family, Lakshmi had an unusual upbringing for a girl of her class. Brought up among boys in a prince’s household, she was taught and became proficient in martial arts such as swordsmanship, shooting, and horseback riding. Upon coming of age, she was married to the maharaja, or princely ruler, of Jhansi.
The couple did not have children, but her husband adopted a child as his heir. Upon her husband’s death, the British employed legal chicanery, refused to recognize the adopted child as heir to Jhansi, and annexed that state to the territory of the East India Company. When informed of this, Lakshmi vowed “I shall not surrender my Jhansi!“, which became her war cry in the subsequent rebellion.
In 1857, Indian troops in British service mutinied, and their rebellion quickly spread throughout northern India. Lakshmi was declared regent of Jhansi, and governed on behalf of the underage heir. She raised troops and joined the rebels, and disgruntled natives from across Indian flocked to her standard to offer their support and fight under her command.
She led her forces in a series of successful engagements that asserted her command and consolidated her rule. Eventually, the British sent an army to recapture Jhansi. When they demanded her surrender, she responded with a proclamation stating: “We fight for independence. In the words of Lord Krishna, we will if we are victorious, enjoy the fruits of victory, if defeated and killed on the field of battle, we shall surely earn eternal glory and salvation.”
The British surrounded Jhansi, and a fierce battle ensued, during which Lakshmi Bai led her troops in offering stiff resistance. British heavy artillery eventually reduced her fortifications and breached the city walls. When Jhansi was about to fall, Lakshmi led a small force in a ferocious attack that cut its way to safety, fighting through the British siege lines with her child strapped to her back. She escaped, reached other rebel forces, and resumed the fight. She was finally killed in battle on June 17th, 1858, in an engagement against British cavalry.
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