Rani Jhansi (Lakshimibai of Jhansi) was born 19 November 1828 in Kakshi, which is modern-day Varanasi. She was originally named Mannikarnika, or Manu. Her mother Bhagirathibai was cultured and educated, while her father was a Brahmin named Moropanth.
Bhagirathibai died when Manu was only four years old, so her father took raised her alone. Moropanth also worked for a district peshwa (kind of like a prime minister), who treated Manu as a daughter and educated her in many more traditionally male arts, such as horseback riding, sword fighting, archery, and target shooting with a rifle.
Manu was officially married to Raja Gangadhar Rao in 1842 at the temple of Ganesh in Jhansi. They renamed the young new queen Lakshmibai. Several years later, she gave birth to a son, but he died when he was only a few months old.
In the presence of the appropriate British official, Rani Jhansi and Raja Gangadhar then adopted the son of a cousin, whom they renamed Damodar Rao after their dead son. The official was given a letter stating that upon his death, Jhansi was to be given to his queen for her lifetime and to Damodar as heir afterwards.
In 1853, just a day after the adoption, Gangadhar died, and the British East India Company, then under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, rejected their adopted son Damodar as a legal heir. The British intended to use this excuse to swallow up Jhansi, just as they had so many other principalities. They proposed an annuity for Lakshmibai and ordered her to vacate the palace and fort.
Naturally, the new widow was humiliated and saddened, but she kept her head down, even as she organised resistance among the people of Jhansi. Men and women of all castes and religions prepared for a battle of resistance under the brave leadership of their queen. Even some of the city's women were given military training or bravely prepared to deliver ammunition and supplies during the fighting.
When the soldiers came, the people of Jhansi didn’t hold back. Their fierce queen led them into battle, determined not to surrender. They fought against their oppressors for two weeks. But in the end, it was hopeless. The British had more resources and trained soldiers at their disposal and so could coolly afford to keep pouring in whatever was needed. As Rani Jhansi inspected the city’s defenses, she eventually had to acknowledge that her people, for all their bravery, could not win. Jhansi fell, and the British entered the city.
Dressed as man, Lakshmibai strapped Damodar to her back and fought her way out with a sword in the midst of a handful of faithful warriors. They made it to Kelpi, where they were later joined by other troops. Rani Jhansi kept fighting as the years went on, but she died on 18 June 1858 during the fighting at Gwalior. And although she left the sphere of women to lead men into battle, she is known as a pativrata and it is said that she “carried her purdah with her,” thus keeping her honor.
The fighting continued beyond her death. But just a couple of years later, Damodar Rao surrendered himself to a British official and was allotted a small pension and a mere seven retainers. The warrior queen’s fight for her son’s kingdom had ended.