The legend of Jhalkari Bai, the look alike of Rani Laxmibai (22 November 1830- 1858)

‘Khoob ladi Mardaani woh toh Jhansi wali rani thi’

These lines uttered in praise of Rani Laxmibai still send courageous goosebumps among masses even today. Rani Laxmibai’s firm stand against British in 1857 war of independence not only awakened the masses from slumber, but also changed the course of history. Though Rani Laxmibai breathed her last while fighting with British, the 1857 war of independence was continued by Tatya Tope.

There are some speculations by historians who claim that it was not the real Laxmibai who fought with British. It was her doppelganger, a body double or a look alike. No one knows how much truth is in the statements made by the historians. According to historical sources, there was a female Indian soldier ‘Jhalkari Bai’ recruited in Rani Laxmibai’s army. It is been said that Jhalkari Bai was quite similar to Rani Laxmibai in terms of appearance. In simple words, Jhalkari Bai was the mirror image of Rani Laxmibai. Equally courageous as the queen, Jhalkari was born on 22nd November 1830 in Bhojla village near Jhansi. Jhalkari Bai was deprived of motherly affection in childhood due to the untimely death of her mother. It was her father Sadoba Singh who brought her up with love and care, encouraging her to train in horse riding and sword fights. Legends say that Jhalkari had killed a leopard with just a stick.

As she grew young, she got married to Puran Singh, a soldier from Rani Laxmibai’s army. This gave an opportunity to Jhalkari to enroll in Rani Laxmibai’s army. It was Puran Singh who formally introduced Rani to Jhalkari. Both were quite similar in terms of appearance. Her resemblance to Rani Laxmibai gave her an advantage to get recruited in women’s wing of army. At several instances, Jhalkari disguised herself as Rani Laxmibai and confused the British army. It was hard for British army to identify whether it was the real Rani Laxmibai or it was her body double. It was Jhalkari who helped Queen Laxmibai to escape from fort safely.

During the 1857 rebellion, Jhansi was attacked by large army of British under the command of General Hugh Rose. Despite giving a tough resistance to the large British army, Rani Laxmibai didn’t receive any military support from Peshwa Nana Sahib. The capture of Tatya Tope was another setback for Rani Laxmibai. In midst of this tense situation, Jhalkari Bai and the women army helped Rani Laxmibai escape through Bhanderi gate. To trick the enemy’s army, Jhalkari Bai disguised herself as Queen Rani Laxmibai and arrived in British camp. This action not only helped the real Rani Laxmibai escape safely but also left the British army puzzled till they finally realized it was Jhalkari Bai, the female soldier in Laxmibai’s army.

It is been said that Jhalkari Bai was hanged to death by British in 1858. Though the 1857 war of independence was a discouraging defeat for Indians, but Rani Laxmibai’s courage had given a tough fight to the alien rule. Rani Laxmibai died fighting with the British army on the battlefield while her comrade Jhalkari Bai was brutally given the death sentence. Sadly, Jhalkari Bai’s legend is unaware to the young masses. Her story is yet to find the light of the day. For historians, Jhalkari Bai was just a soldier in Rani Laxmibai’s army. The history may be label her as a body double or a look alike of Rani Laxmibai, but Jhalkari Bai has made her presence felt with her courageous feat. She was no less than Joan of Arc.

The story of Jhalkari Bai was narrated to me by my friend during a discussion on historical events. It was this story of Jhalkari Bai that triggered an interest to research on the unsung warrior of 1857. I hope that this article will be a justifying tribute to Jhalkari Bai the unsung hero of 1857.