- Manikarnika or Manu Bai is the maiden name of Rani Laxmibai. She was born in November 1828 at Varanasi to a family of Maharashtrian Brahmins.
- Her rise to the peak of Indian historical glory, however, begins only after she gets married to the Maharaja of Jhansi, Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar and is renamed Laxmibai.
- The legendary status attached to Laxmibai revolves around the 1857 revolt, in which she is known to have played a very active role. Popularly considered to be a turning point in the long history of British rule in India, the 1857 revolt is perhaps one of the most written about moments of modern Indian history.
- Heated debates have taken place over the years regarding whether it can be considered a case of sepoy mutiny or whether it marked the first phase of the Indian independence movement.
- Laxmibai’s role in this context emerges as pivotal, both because she was a native who actively coordinated efforts to defeat the British, and more so because she was a woman whose heroism was as usual peppered with elements of feminine honour.
- The decade preceding the 1857 revolt, the British had annexed a number of princely states as part of the policy of “lapse”.
- As per the policy, the British could take control over those states in which the ruler died without a natural heir.
- Jhansi was one such case in which the Maharaja had died and Rani Laxmibai was left with her adopted son Damodar Rao, who could not be enthroned on account of the British policy. The annexation of these states by the British was widely resented by the Indian rulers as is evident from the memoirs of Laxmibai.
- The Rani’s involvement in the 1857 revolt needs to be located in context of the annexation of Jhansi.
- Whether it was a case of nationalist uprising or that of a ruler protecting her territory has been debated by historians for years. Also, debated is the extent and nature of her role in the massacre of Englishmen.
- What is certain though, is the fact that from late March to June 1858, she was fiercely involved in battle in the forts of Jhansi, Kalpi and Gwalior, where she died fighting.