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JHALKARI BAI (?-1890)


Jhalkari Bai was a lieutenant of Lakshmibai of Jhansi (q.v.) and helped her in her campaign against the British. She was a Dalit girl from a poor family in a village near Jhansi. Legend has it that she encountered a tiger while collecting firewood in the jungle and killed it with her axe. She married a man called Pooran Kori who was a solider in the Jhansi army, and through this connection she was introduced to the palace. Her bravery and spirit came to the notice of Lakshmibai who took her in and trained her for the Durga Dal, or elite troupe of women soldiers who aided Lakshmibai in her campaigns. Many of the women of the Durga Dal, such as Mandar, Sundari Bai, Mundari Bai and Moti Bai, became famous in their own right and celebrated in the folk songs and rasos of the region. These women, mostly from surrounding villages, were trained in swordfighting, horsemanship, and the use of artillery and firearms. Jhalkari Bai had a striking physical resemblance to Lakshmibai. When the fall of Jhansi was imminent, this gave Lakshmibai an idea. Lakshmibai escaped from the fort and fled in secret to Kalpi, while Jhalkari Bai dressed up in her clothes and conducted the final campaign. Her husband was killed in the final offensive, and she was captured and forced to surrender in May 1858. She conducted herself like a queen, and General Hugh Rose was delighted to have captured the dreaded Lakshmibai. When Rose asked her what should be done with her, she is said to have shouted, ‘Hang me!’ Rose was deeply impressed with her bravery, but on prolonged questioning he began to doubt her identity. Finally he realized he had been duped, but by then he was so impressed with her that he let Jhalkari Bai go.

Jhalkari Bai’s story has provided matter for many poems and books. Brinadban Lal Verma’s 1975 novel, Jhansi ki Rani, is the prime source for material on her for later works. These include a ballad called Virangana Jhalkari by Biharilal Harit (1995), and a play titled Jhalkari Bai Natak (1990) by Mata Prasad, a Dalit scholar.
 
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