A relatively unknown hero of the Indian freedom movement Jhalkari Bai was a Koli warrior who fought valiantly against the British Army as an ordinary member in Rani Laxmi Bai’s army.
As per local folklore once Jhalkari Bai disguised herself Rani Laxmi Bai to save her life. Jhalkari Bai had close resemblance with Laxmi Bai, so, the British Army was easily deceived. Ultimately Jhalkari Bai was Martyred on 4th April 1858. Even today people in Bundelkhand especially the Koli people celebrate 4th April as Shaheed Divas to remember her martyrdom.
Jhalakaribai was born to Moolchand and Dhaniyabai on 22 November 1830 in Bhojla village near Jhansi. As a rural girl, her tasks mostly included chores around the household. However, at a very early age, she is said to have exhibited exceptional strength of will. Local folklore tells of several legendary acts of bravery. People were reportedly amazed when they learnt 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.
After the death of her mother when she was very young, her father raised her. Consistent with the social conditions of the era, she lacked formal education but was trained in horseback riding and the use of weaponry.
She married Puran kori, a soldier from the artillery unit of Rani Laxmibai’s army, who introduced her to the Rani. Jhalkaribai bore an uncanny resemblance to Laxmibai and because of this, she was inducted into the women’s wing of the army.
In the queen’s army, she quickly rose in the ranks and began commanding her own army. During the Rebellion of 1857, General Hugh Rose attacked Jhansi with a large army. The Queen valiantly faced the army with 4000 of her troops in her fort. She waited for relief from Peshwa Nana Sahib’s army camping at Kalpi that did not come because Tantia Tope had already been defeated by General Rose. Meanwhile, Dulha Ju, in charge of one of the gates of the fort, had made a pact with English and opened the doors of Jhansi for the British forces. When the British rushed the fort, Laxmibai, on the advice of her courtier, escaped through another gate amidst the chaos of heavy fighting and casualties. 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 the Rani’s army renewed advantage.
While this act of sacrifice and courage is what she is most well known for another little-acknowledged fact remains that 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.
The image of Jhalakari Bai has gained prominence in North India in recent years. The sociopolitical importance of the story of Jhalakari Bai has been recognized. The movement to establish Bundelkhand as a separate state used the legend of Jhalakari Bai to create the Bundeli identity. The Government of India’s Post and Telegraph Department has issued a postal stamp depicting Jhalakari Bai.
The Dalit castes of North India have used her legend to glorify their communities; for example, the Koris consider her a brave woman warrior born in their caste and celebrate “Jhalakari Bai Jayanti” (birth anniversary) to create a sense of pride among themselves.
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 Jhalakari Bai as Koli and an extraordinary soldier in Laxmibai’s army. Ram Chandra Heran’s Bundeli novel Maati, published in the same year, depicted her as “chivalrous and a valiant martyr”. The first biography of Jhalakari Bai was written in 1964 by Bhawani Shankar Visharad, with the help of Varma’s novel and his research from the oral narratives of Koli communities living in the vicinity of Jhansi.
Efforts have been made to place Jhalakari Bai at an equal footing of Laxmibai. Since the 1990s, the story of Jhalakari Bai 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 social situation.
President Ramnath Kovind unveiled the statue of Jhalkari Bai at Guru Tegh Bahadur Complex in Bhopal