India's warrior queen didn't back down from the British

Lakshmi Bai, the "rani of Jhansi," fought back against Britain's plan to annex her kingdom in the 1850s and became an icon of freedom in India.

Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi, on horseback. 19th-century color engraving, Kolkata
ALAMY/ACI

There is something of the Cinderella story to Lakshmi Bai, a commoner who rose to become rani (queen) of Jhansi, a princely state in mid-19th century India. Most fairy tales would end there, but in Lakshmi Bai’s case it was just the beginning of a remarkable life as a warrior queen.

After becoming regent in her mid-20s in 1853, she would find herself at the heart of the Indian Rebellion that broke out in 1857, now known by many historians as India’s First War of Independence. Ultimately, she would lead thousands of infantry and cavalry troops into battle against the British, reportedly fighting with a sword in each hand and her horse’s reins between her teeth.

History and myth are inseparable in her story. In the end, Lakshmi Bai, the rani of Jhansi, would lose her kingdom and die in battle but become an inspiring symbol to the anti-colonial struggle that culminated in Indian independence 90 years later.

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