Jhalkaribai was a woman soldier who played a significant role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. She served in the women’s army of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and eventually rose to the position of a prominent advisor to the Rani Lakshmibai.
When the Siege of Jhansi was at the peak, she disguised herself as the queen and fought on her behalf. It allowed the Queen to escape safely out of the fort.
Over centuries, the legend of Jhalkaribai remains in the memory of the people of Bundelkhand. Her heroism in fighting the East India Company army to protect the Queen continues to be praised in various Bundeli folklores.
Jhalakaribai was born on 22 November 1830 to Sadova Singh and Jamunadevi in Bhojla village near Jhansi.
At a very early age, she is said to have shown extraordinary strength of will. Local folklore speaks of numerous legendary acts of bravery.
People were amazed when they discovered that when a tiger from the jungle tried to attack young Jhalkari, she stood her ground and killed the tiger with only an axe. She reportedly once killed a leopard in the forest with a stick she used to herd cattle.
Her father raised her after the death of her mother when she was very young. Due to the social conditions of the era, she lacked formal education but was trained in horseback riding and the use of weaponry.
She married Puran Koli, a soldier from the artillery unit of Rani Laxmibai’s army, who introduced her to the Rani. Jhalkaribai showed an incredible likeness to Laxmibai and because of this, she was recruited into the women’s wing of the army.
Courage in battles
In the queen’s army, she quickly rose in the ranks and began commanding her army.
General Hugh Rose attacked Jhansi with a large army during the Rebellion of 1857. The Queen bravely faced the army with 14000 of her troops in her fort. She waited for relief from Peshwa Nana Sahib‘s army camping at Kalpi. But, they did not come as Tatya Tope had already been defeated by General Hugh Rose.
Meanwhile, in charge of one of the gates of the fort Dulha Ju had made a pact with the English and opened the doors of Jhansi for the British forces. When the British rushed the fort, on the advice of her courtier, Laxmibai escaped through Bhanderi gate with her son and attendants to Kalpi.
Upon hearing of Laxmibai’s escape, as Laxmibai told Jhalkaribai set out for General Rose’s camp in disguise and declared herself to be the Queen. This led to confusion that continued for a whole day and gave Rani’s army renewed advantage.
She was a close confidante and advisor to the queen playing a key role she played in the analysis and strategizing of the battle itself, alongside Laxmibai.
In North India, the image of Jhalakaribai has gained prominence in recent years. The sociopolitical importance of the story of Jhalkaribai has been recognized.
The death anniversary of Jhalkaribai is also celebrated as Shahid Diwas (Martyr Day) by various Koli organizations.
The Government of India’s Post and Telegraph Department has issued a postal stamp depicting Jhalkaribai.
The Archaeological Survey of India is setting up a museum at Panch Mahal, a five-story building located inside the Jhansi Fort in remembrance of Jhalkaribai.
She is referred to in the novel Jhansi ki Rani written in 1951 by B. L. Varma, who created a subplot in his novel about Jhalkaribai. He addressed Jhalkaribai as Koli and an extraordinary soldier in Laxmibai’s army.
Ram Chandra Heran Bundeli’s novel Maati, published in the same year, depicted her as “chivalrous and a valiant martyr”.
The first biography of Jhalkaribai was written in 1964 by Bhawani Shankar Visharad, with the help of Varma’s novel and his research from the oral narratives of Kori communities living in the region of Jhansi.
Efforts have been made to place Jhalkaribai at an equal footing to Laxmibai. Since the 1990s, the story of Jhalkaribai has begun to model a fierce form of Koli womanhood, has acquired a political dimension, and her image is being reconstructed with the demands of the social situation.
President Ramnath Kovind revealed the statue of Jhalkari Bai at Guru Tegh Bahadur Complex in Bhopal on 10 November 2017.
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