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Jhansi And The Jhansi Fort

by Nilutpal Gogoi
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JHANSI: The region now identified as Jhansi has mention in ancient Hindu texts variously as ‘Chedi Rashtra’ or ‘Chedi Desa’, and ‘Jejak bhukti’; and subsequently as Bundelkhand and as Shankargarh during the reign of the Bundelas with Orchha as their capital. Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Bundelkhand’, it was earlier also known as Balwant Nagar. The region came into sharp focus during the reign of the Marathas when its queen, the valiant Rani Lakshmi Bai, single-handedly with her followers waged ferocious battles against the more well-equipped British force during 1857. This revolt of the queen and several other rulers against the foreign yoke is known as the First War of Indian Independence. She ultimately died fighting to the last in the Gwalior Fort. You can also take a tour of the splendid Samthar Fort located 66 km from Jhansi reflects the grandeur and valor of the Gujjars who ruled the region during the 17th and the 18th centuries.

Rani-Lakshmi-Bai

Now a metropolitan area of the North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the city of Jhansi is located 292 km from Lucknow, the capital of UP; and 415 km from Delhi, the national capital.

Timings: The shopping malls remain open from 10 am till 11 pm. The government offices function from 10 am till 8 pm six days a week, from Monday to Saturday.

The significant tourist destination spots in Jhansi are the Jhansi Fort, Rani Mahal and the Jhansi Museum. Let’s take a quick tour of the sites:

The Jhansi Fort: Orchha Bundela King Bir Singh Deo had the Jhansi Fort constructed to boost the security of his kingdom in AD 1613. Located atop Bangra, a rocky hill in Shankargarh, the elevated rock rises out of the surrounding plain region. The structure having a commanding presence over the surrounding area was considered one of the most formidable and impregnable the citadels of India. It is today situated within the larger metropolitan area of Jhansi. The fort remains open for tourists from 6 O’clock in the morning to 6 O’clock in the evening.

The Jhansi Fort

Architecture and structure: The fortress is spread over 15 acres of land. Its total length is 312 m and its width is 225 m. A very sturdy barricade with 22 bastions shields the structure on all sides, wide moats protects the fort on two sides. The British reconstructed one of the eastern bastions and also added an extra floor as the original structure had got destroyed.

The Jhansi Fort

The walls of the Old City had two types of entrance points: the darwazas (doors) and the khirkis (large windows). Of the 10 main darwazas, the following eight still have wooden doors: the Khanderao Gate, the Datia Gate, the Unnao Gate, the Orchha Gate, the Baragaon Gate, the Lakshmi Gate, the Sagar Gate, and the Sainyar Gate. Of the other two, the Bhander gate is totally closed. Tourists are allowed entry into the fort through the Jharna Gate. You would be able to see the breach caused by British artillery during the 1858 siege on the fortress wall between the Jharna Gate and the Sainyar Gate. The four khirkis (alphabetical order) in the old city fort walls are the Alighol-ki-Khirki, the Ganpatgir-ki-Khirki, the Sagar Khirki, and the Sujan khanki Khirki.

battle The Jhansi Fort

Tourist spots: The citadel complex has undergone several additions in the forms of structures at various points of time. Therefore, on the basis of these expansions, the sprawling compound of the Jhansi Fort can be sub-divided into three sections, namely the Baradari portion, the Shankergarh portion, and the section comprising the Panch Mahal. Some of the principal structures within the Jhansi Fort complex in an alphabetical order are Baradari, Bhawani Shankar; the execution tower; Ganesh Mandir; the large water reservoir known as the Kadak Bijli Toup; the Kal kothari; the Khuda Baksh; the Moti Bai; the Panch Mahal; the Rani Jhansi Garden; the Siva Mandir; and the Mazar of Gulam Gaus Khan. The term ‘Mazar’ refers to a particular revered place where are placed the mortal remains of a Muslim saintly person; devotees of all religions pay their obeisance there seeking blessings and fulfillment of their wishes. Besides these there is also the 18th century Maha Lakshmi Temple dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is situated beyond the Lakshmi ‘Darwaza’ near the Lakshmi Tal (lake or pond). On its banks is also located the Chattri or Samadhi (memorial) of Maharaja Gangadhar Rao. His queen Maharani Lakshmi Bai constructed it after his death.

The Jhansi Fort

There are also two museums — the Rani Mahal and the Jhansi Museum — within the Fort complex. The Rani Mahal preserves exquisite sculptures of the 9th to the 12th centuries. This was the palace of Rani Lakshmi Bai. Multi colored paintings decorate its walls and ceilings. It is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The Jhansi Museum or the Government Museum is a rich repository of local antiques including arms and armaments; copper, gold and silver coins; manuscripts, paintings and sculptures of the bygone royal period.  These collections provide us a splendid spectacle of the glorious heritage of Jhansi in particular and Buldelkhand in general. The Museum has a treasure-trove of rare collections of statues and terracotta dating back to the Gupta period as well as the dresses, photographs, weapons and photographs of the much later Chandela Dynasty. Another section that attracts tourists is the armament section that plays host to the wide variety of arsenals and weaponry of the Bundelas, Chandelas and that of the British era in India. You would feel tremendously excited to view the weapons of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and many more that were used during the Second War of Indian Independence (dubbed as the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ by many western historians) of 1857. Located in the heart of Jhansi city, the site of the museum is indeed quite picturesque.

fort wall

You can also take time off to visit the other lovely parks nearby. The city auditorium known as the Deen Dayal Sabhaghar and the beautiful Vrindavan Lal Verma Park are situated at one corner of the Government Museum. Around the area are also situated the following: the Lakshmi Bai Park from where you can have a splendid glimpse of the Jhansi Fort; and the Vrindavan Lal Verma Park. And, as you make your way to the Fort, you would come across the ‘Mutiny Memorial’ — the cenotaph dedicated to the martyrs of the First War of Indian Independence of 1857 — amidst a small park. The mutiny has been depicted with statues that were modeled from scrap metals!

Kadak Bijli

Nomenclature:

The present name of the place has an interesting story connected with the fort. The popular belief is that one day Orchha Raja Bir Singh Deo was lounging at the rooftop of his palace with his friend, the Jaitpur Raja. In reply to a query from Raja Deo as to whether the new fort was identifiable from there, his friend scouted for the newly built fort and replied that it appeared jhain-si or as a blurred shadow or quite indistinct. In course of time, the place came to be known as ‘Jhansi’.

gateway

History:

The Bundelas commanded the Jhansi Fort for 25 years since its construction in AD 1613. They lost the citadel to the Mughals in AD 1738. The Mughals held sway over it for the next 100 years i.e. up to 1713. Since its inception, the fort has witnessed the rule of several dynasties. Thus, the fort was taken possession by the Marathas in 1729-30. Maratha chieftain Naru Shankar renamed the fort as Shankargarh after the Siva temple consecrated within the fort complex, and also carried out constructions and brought about changes on the body of the stronghold. He is also known as the founder of the Jhansi town whose circumference covered an area of 7.3 km. The main entrance of the Jhansi Fort and the city ramparts were built during the 68-year domain of Shiv Rao Bhau, a later Maratha chief, from AD 1786 to AD 1814.

Fort outsite

The singular rule of the Marathas over the Jhansi Fort stuck a roadblock in 1853 when Maratha ruler Raja Gangadhar Rao died without any natural offspring. The successor was Damodar Rao, the adopted son of the late Maratha ruler, under the regentship of the bereaved queen, Rani Lakshmi Bai. However, trouble started brewing when the British regime refused to recognize the successor of late Damodar Rao. What is more, the British raj also declared that the Jhansi State had automatically come under the jurisdiction of the British regime according to its infamous Doctrine of Lapse that was in circulation then. The discontented Bundella and Maratha chiefs protested against this illegal action of the British to annex Jhansi.

Fort view

Rani Lakshmi Bai picked up the gauntlet flung at her regency by the British. It culminated in her revolt which also got the support of many kings, princes and chiefs from across the country in AD 1857. She issued a proclamation on February 14, 1858, appealing all Indians to join her and fight against the British rule in the country. Maratha leader Nana Saheb and Raja Mardan Singh of Banpur gave her all possible support. The struggle got a fillip when Maratha firebrand leader Tantiya Tope joined the freedom fighters in the month of March 1858. After completing her meticulous preparations, Rani Lakshmi Bai valiantly commanded her forces from the Jhansi Fort. The British troops were under the command of Hugh Rose. The British artillery pounded the fort during the 17-day long siege. Still, they failed to make any dent on the thick and strong walls of the citadel. The Indian artillery also retaliated with resilience and vigor. Rani Lakshmi Bai personally led the Afghan battalions holding swords in both hands while controlling her horse with the reins in her mouth! The Indians fought valiantly against heavy odds, preferring death to surrender. The British forces ultimately overran the fort and the city as well.

fort relaxing

For the sake of the cause, her supporters convinced Rani Lakshmi Bai to flee with her adopted son Damodar Rao. Finally, she agreed and on the night of April 8, both escaped on a horse that was standing ready below the turret window through which they had come down from the fort. Enroute to Kalpi, Rani Lakshmi Bai had to again cross swords with her enemy forces. She advanced to Gwalior and captured the fortress there. It was from the Gwalior Fort that she continued her onslaughts on the British and even inflicted a number of defeats on them. Hugh Rose learnt from his defeats at her hands, and at last won the battle of Gwalior on June 19, 1858, and the very next day captured the fort. Rani Lakshmi Bai suffered serious injuries to which she succumbed. In accordance to her last wish that her body should not fall in the hands of the enemy, her mortal remains were cremated. It speaks volumes about Rani Lakshmi Bai that her excellent leadership kept the British generals revising their strategies against her from time to time. One of the finest accolades has come from her arch rival and British general Hugh Rose when he described Rani Lakshmi Bai as “the bravest and the best military leader of the rebels.” She has carved a niche for herself among the greatest women in world history and definitely a lofty position in Indian annals.

Water-Tank-Jhansi-Fort

Accommodation in Jhansi

Accommodation is not a problem in Jhansi as you can avail of the hotels in the three-star category and also the ones in the economy range. You can plan the detours from your hotel in Jhansi as it often becomes difficult accommodation in some of the locales without prior intimation in the State Government-run lodges. For instance, accommodation is limited in the tourist bungalows managed by the UPSTDC (Uttar Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation) at Chitrakoot, Deogarh, and Mahoba. In the UPSTDC-managed Yatri Niwas at Chitrakoot, you avail of group accommodation at customer-friendly ranges. The lodges are so dovetailed that you can go for cooking your own meal at the well-equipped kitchens. If you are of the adventurous type, you can also opt for the dharamshalas. Many of these lodges owned by charitable institutions or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), offer both food and accommodation at market prices.

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