The story of Rani Lakshmibai began in 1828 in the village of Varanasi. The daughter of Bhagirathi Sapre and Moropant Tambe she was named ‘Manikarnika’, affectionately shortened to Manu. She would eventually become a living legend and one of India’s greatest heroes.
Today she is popularly known as ‘Jhansi ki Rani’, the noblewoman who rode into battle with a sword in each hand and her infant son tied to her back to defend her people.
After the death of her mother, Manikarnika was brought up by her father and raised in the court of Peshwa of Bithoor, her father’s place of employment. At that time gender roles were clearly defined and most young girls received only traditional training regarding household chores and domestic responsibility.
In contrast, Manikarnika grew up learning horseback riding, fencing and shooting alongside Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope, her childhood friends. Her superior education was considered out of the norm for women at that time.
Manikarnika was wed to the Raja of Jhansi in 1842 and was thereafter called the Rani of Jhansi. In 1851, her son, the heir of Jhansi was born. Sadly, the child died a short four months later. With the lack of an heir, the king and queen of Jhansi adopted the child of the king’s cousin. Since India was at this point governed by the British government the adoption was officiated by a representative of the British government.
However, things soon took a turn for the worse when the Maharaja suddenly fell ill and died in 1853. The British government, during this time, in an effort to consolidate their power, implemented the Doctrine of Lapse. According to this law, the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie declared that adopted children could not succeed their parents or lay claim to their throne.
Rani Lakshmibai was outraged by this statement. Her son Damodar Rao, under this new doctrine, could not inherit the dead king’s kingdom and the land would instead fall under the control of the British.
The British followed this announcement by confiscating the state of Jhansi’s royal jewels, asking the Rani of Jhansi to vacate the premises and leaving her with nothing but Rs. 60,000 pension. Lakshmibai, knowing she could not fight the British, moved to a smaller fort popularly known as the Rani Mahal.