Birth name Manikarnika
Born 19 November 1835
Birthplace Kashi, Varanasi, India
Died 17 June 1858
Place of death Gwalior, India
Predecessor Rani Rama Bai
Successor British Raj
Consort to Jhansi Naresh Maharaj Gangadhar Rao Newalkar
Royal House Maratha Empire
Children Damodar Rao, Anand Ra
Originally named Manikarnika and nicknamed Manu, Lakshmibai was born at Kashi (Varanasi) to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathibai Tambe, a Maharashtrian couple. She lost her mother at the age of four. Her father worked at the Peshwa court of Bithoor; the Peshwa brought her up like his own daughter, and called her "Chhabili" for her light-heartedness. She was educated at home.
Because of her father's influence at court, Lakshmibai had more independence than most women, who were normally restricted to the zenana. She studied self-defence, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own army out of her female friends at court. Tatya Tope, who would later come to her rescue during the 1857 Rebellion, was her mentor.
Lakshmibai was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi, in 1842, and thus became the queen of Jhansi. After their marriage, she was given the name Lakshmibai. The Raja was very affectionate towards her. She gave birth to a son, Damodar Rao, in 1851. However, the child died when he was about four months old. After the death of their son, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Anand Rao. Anand Rao was the son of Gangadhar Rao's cousin, and was later renamed as Damodar Rao. However, it is said that the Raja of Jhansi never recovered from his son's death, and he died on 21 November 1853.
Because Damodar Rao was adopted, the British East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, applied the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Rao's claim to the throne and annexing the state to its territories. In March 1854, Lakshmibai was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace and the Jhansi fort.
India's First War of Independence (1857)
Up to this point, Lakshmibai had been hesitant to rebel against the British, and there is still some controversy over her role in the massacre of Company officials, their wives and children on 8 June 1857 at Jokhan Bagh. This was done to reduce her popularity amongst the countrymen and villagers. Her hesitation finally ended when British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi on 23 March 1858. An army of 20,000, headed by Tatya Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi but failed to do so when his forces engaged with the British on 31 March. Along with Sir Hugh Rose there was an Indian deserter who gave ideas to reduce the days of people inside fort. Three days later the besiegers were able to breach the walls and capture the city. The Rani escaped by night with her son, surrounded by her guards, many of them women.
Along with the young Anand Rao, the Rani decamped to Kalpi along with her troops, where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The two moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted the rebel forces. They then occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on 17 June 1858, while battling in full warrior regalia against the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars in Kotah-ki Serai near the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she was killed and someone burnt her. The British captured Gwalior three days later. In the British report of the battle, General Sir Hugh Rose was reported badly hurt and he commented that the Rani was "remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance" and had been "the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders".
However, the lack of a corpse to be convincingly identified as that of Lakshmibai convinced Captain Rheese that she had not actually perished in the battle for Gwalior, stating publicly that: "[the] Queen of Jhansi is alive!". It is believed her funeral was arranged on the same day near the spot where she was wounded. Lakshmibai was memorialized in bronze statues at Jhansi and Gwalior, both of which portray her on horseback. Other equestrian statues can be seen in Agra and Pune.
Her father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao (formerly known as Anand Rao), fled with his mother's aides. Rao was later given a pension by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his inheritance. Damodar Rao settled down in the city of Indore, and spent most of his life trying to convince the British to restore some of his rights. He and his descendants took on the last name Jhansiwale. He died on 28 May 1906, at the age of 58 years