One of the Indian survivors of the siege and massacre of Jhansi was a Hindu priest, Vishnu Bhatt Godse. His account was published some 50 years after the events though actually written somewhat earlier. He wrote in Marathi, and there has been at least one recent Hindi translation, but I have yet to see an English translation. What follows are three longish extracts from his account, and a shorter one describing what would seem to be a very austere lifestyle. They are taken from D. V. Tahmankar's book, The Ranee of Jhansi, and are his translation, I assume.
Several incidents reported by Godse are hearsay, he did not witness them himself. Further, incidents that read as general happenings may in fact have occurred once only. This is not to detract from the value of his account, but is just a restatement that hearsay evidence has to be treated as such. Further when reading his account, it must also be borne in mind that he was quite likely writing from a 40-50 year old memory.
Krishna Balakrishnanhas sent me some notes on the more interesting parts of Godse's account and I have added those in square brackets.
I have inserted some text which is not strictly a translation from Godse or which is needed to bridge a gap in the narrative and this is italicised and in square brackets.
[Moropant Tambe started worrying about finding a groom for his daughter when she was about 12 years of age. KB]
[The King is portrayed as a very strict fellow, never giving his new queen any freedom, practically locking her up in the women's quarters. She was quite disappointed in her life as a queen. KB]
[Interestingly, Godse makes no mention about the son who was supposed to have been born and died in infancy. KB]
[The description of the Rani's daily routine after her husband's death is, I think, slightly different from the one in Mahasweta Devi's book and what is mentioned somewhere on your site. Apparently she started her day early and practiced sword-fighting, horse riding and other exercises till 7-8. Then she had breakfast followed by sleep for an hour or a very lengthy bath. Then religious rituals, especially as atonement for not cutting her hair in widowhood. She had lunch at 12. Then other work/sleep/distribution of gifts to the poor. She used to hold court at 3pm, sometimes dressed as a man. In terms of ornaments, she wore only golden bangles, pearl necklace and a diamond ring on her hand. KB]
She rose as early as three in the morning, and after the usual ablutions devoted herself to meditation until eight. Then for three hours she supervised the work in the political and military offices; when it was finished she distributed alms to the neeedy and distressed. She took her meal at midday and wrote 1,100 names of Rama before again appearing in the court at three. The afternoon was devoted to the administration of the various departments of justice, revenue and accounts which lasted till sunset. The remaining hours of the evening were spent in listening to readings from the religious books. Then she went to sleep after a bath and a simple dinner.
[The Rani used to like reading and writing, to the extent that sometimes in court she used to write out her own orders. She could be very strict and firm in her rulings and punishments and godse even mentions that at times she did not hesitate to whip the criminals herself. KB]
[For her temple visits, at times she used a palanquin or else rode horseback. When in her palanquin, 2-4 of her lady assistants used to walk/run beside it. When on horseback, the only people who accompanied her were the cavalry including the Vilayati cavalry. This used to be in the evenings and while returning, torches used to be lit while travelling in a palanquin, whereas, while on horseback they used to ride back in the darkness. KB]
[With the news of the approach of Rose's forces, and the lack of respone to her letter to Hamilton on Jan 1st 1858]
Lakshmibai decided to defend Jhansi and immediately took up the work of repairing and strengthening the city walls. She enlisted in her army as many men as volunteered to join and placed them in position. The bastions and turrets were now manned day and night; big guns were ready to fire at a moment's notice. Lalu Bakshi (a seasoned gunner and expert in explosives) was put in charge of munition manufacture, with the responsibility of hastening output. Hundreds of tons of rice and grain were roasted and stored for for ready distribution to the poor. Large quantities of flour, ghee and sugar and other eatables were stocked for the troops and citizens. All available silver was sent to the mint to be melted down and turned into currency. The priests and holy men offered prayers and invoked victory for Lakshmibai's armies; special messengers were sent to Rao Saheb and Tatya Tope asking them for help. In this way, the brave woman, undaunted by the oncoming storm and with great calmness and forethought, went about organising the defence of the city.
[From Smyth's Rebellious Ranee: the British forces under Rose have arrived outside of Jhansi and are surrounding the town.]
A rider came to the city gates and delivered a letter addessed to the Ranee. It was taken to her by the Prime Minister and soon the whole council was summoned to consider a reply. The letter said, that Lakshmibai should go and meet the captain accompanied by her Prime Minister, Lakshmanrao, Lalu Bakshi, Moropant Tambe, and five other Ministers who were mentioned by name. No one else must accompany the Ranee, nor must she have an armed escort. She must meet the captain within two days and not later.
[Smyth continues: After discussing this with her Ministers a letter was written to the effect that the Rani herself, being a woman, could not go, but that the Prime Minister, accompanied by an armed escort could go. They could accept this or not as they liked.]
[2nd April, the day after the defeat of Tatya Tope's force at Betwa]
The British gunners did their damnedest that night. Their red hot balls came over the city and fort like rains in the autumn. No one could get a wink of sleep.
The Ranee girded her sword and went personally to supervise the counter-fire. She rewarded the gunners handsomely and they reopened the silenced guns. Now the British concentrated their heavy fire on the royal palace and one shell fell right on top of the special apartment reserved for the Ganesh festival. It was a spacious hall beautifully furnished with Lucknow glass, chandeliers and precious works of art. The shell shattered all the glass which made a strangely sweet smell as it broke and fell in heaps. The shrapnel killed four people and severely wounded nine.
That day the enemy never stopped pouring fire on us. Hundreds of shells fell on the palace roof but did not do much damage. The masonry work withstood the attack admirably. The heavy shells, some of them about twenty pounds in weight, would make a superficial dent on the terrace but nothing more. It is remarkable that although the palace walls looked like a sieve there was hardly a crack in them.
When the fire became too intense I joined the sixty four men and women who were taking shelter in a comparatively safe room on the lower floor of the palace. There was hardly any standing room there and the atmosphere became oppressive with heat and perspiration. It became difficult to breathe as still more men and women began to push themselves in.
Just then the Ranee's gunners mocking at death as it were, reopened their fire and killed the men behind the British guns. Their aiming for the enemy target must have proved deadly accurate as Sir Hugh's guns soon stopped shelling the palace and we could come out and breathe again freely.
[Godse says that according to spies the british had spent about 2-2.5 lakh rupees worth of cannonballs and were finally running out of ammunition and so the seige would be lifted soon. After receiving this information the Rani went to sleep thinking that the battle is soon to be over. But she is woken up with news of the southern cannon falling silent and the british mounting a charge to try and scale the fort walls. KB]
[Godse describes what he saw from the 6th floor of the palace in the fort: Dawn was just about breaking, and there were thousands of labourers with hay/straw bales on their head, and British soldiers behind them. They climbed on top of the fort wall and started throwing the straw bales one on top of the other, forming a sort of stairs, down which the british soldiers started descending. KB]
[The Rani's escape from the fort is far from the smooth escape portrayed in the other books. According to Godse, the British got to know about it just as she was getting out of the fort and there was complete mayhem. The British fired at the group, but without knowing where the Rani was. Lakshmibai shot at the british with her gun and fled as fast as possible on her horse. Many were killed in that brief battle and those who survived fled in the darkness in different directions.
The Rani escaped with only one of her female attendants by her side on another horse. The British gave up the chase thinking the Rani must have been killed in the battle, but when morning came they realised that all the dead were regular cavalry and not the Rani. In the early morning the Rani took a break at one of the villages on the way so that her son could get some food. After that they rode on without stopping to Kalpi.
The Rani did not inform Rao Saheb of her arrival at Kalpi as she arrived very late in the night. Next morning while they were preparing to meet the King, she realized that her periods were beginning. This depressed her much since in spite of all her efforts, the very fact of being a woman was disrupting all her plans. Besides she did not have any clothes, nor any money to buy any. But apparently Rao Saheb got to know about the situation and send Tatya Tope to get everything that the Rani would need. (No idea how Godse seems to have this kind of privileged information! especially since he was still in Jhansi) KB]
The 4th April was the massacre (bijan) day and everyone thought that he was standing on the edge of a graveyard.
The first thing I asked my kind host, Mandavgane, was how we were going to evade the massacring party. He assured me that in a building opposite his house were big built-in nitches (bandas) where one could hide safely. They were dark and not a breath of fresh air could be had, but we must go into them if we valued our lives.
I offered my evening prayers, ate a meal and went upstairs to see the condition of the city. And what a sight I saw! it looked like a vast burning ground. Fires were blazing everywhere and although it was night I could see far enough. In the lanes and streets people were crying pitifully, hugging the corpses of their dear ones; others were wandering, searching for food while the cattle were running, mad with thirst. All the houses in Halwaipura were on fire, their flames reaching the skies, and as no one was attempting to put them out other houses were catching fire too. I became sick and my head began to go round and round. The fear of being killed kept me awake.
[Early next morning after prayers Godse and his friends go to the bandas after nearly being killed. They squeeze into the already full bandas and remain there the rest of the day.]
No sooner had we got into the banda than we heard hundreds of gunshots which meant that so many lives were being taken by the soldiers. How cruel and ruthless were these white soldiers I thought; they were killing people for crimes they had not committed.
[That evening the troops leave for the night and Godse leaves his hiding place. He learns of the fate of his friend's neighbours, the Karkare family.]
The old man of 60-65 years of age and his son were killed and the women were crying all day with the bodies in front of them. They requested us to help them and perform the last rites and cremate the bodies. We were all hungry and it was getting late but we performed the cremation ceremony in the courtyard and then bought the women with us and passed the night uneasily.
Remembering the dreadful experience of the previous morning we decided to take our places in the shelter before the night was out. This was the third and final day of the bijan and many more men were killed than in the previous two days.
A Brahmin family who maintained a sacrificial fire were our neighbours. The head of the family had just finished his daily religious worship of the fire when two white soldiers accompanied by four Indian sepoys forced an entry. The whites went straight into the room reserved for the sacred fire which was covered, according to the religious custom, with wicker work. the whites kicked the baskets and saw heaps of ashes under them. They suspected that the Brahmins had hidden valuables in the ashes and so put in their hands to pull them out. As to be expected their hands were burnt and they were so infuriated they instantly killed the Brahmin, his brother and his son. In all they killed eleven people in that house and took away whatever little gold and silver they could lay their hands on before they moved on to the next house.
For this last day's work of butchery the English soldier bought to bear all his vigour, thoroughness and skill and exhibited to the full his primitive instincts. He was determined to see that nobody escaped his death-dealing attention.
Not only did the English soldiers kill those who happened to come in their way, but they broke into houses and hunted out people hidden in barns, rafters and obscure, dark corners. They explored the inmost recesses of temples and filled them with dead bodies of priests and worshippers. They took the greatest toll in the weavers' locality where they killed some women also. At the sight of white soldiers some people tried to hide in haystacks (in their courtyards) but the pitiless demons did not leave them alone there. They set the haystacks on fire and hundreds were burnt alive.
If anybody jumped into a well the European soldiers hauled him out and then killed him, or they would shoot him through the head as soon as ho bobbed out of the water for breath. Many women who clung to their husbands in utter desperation fell by the bullet that killed their husbands.
[The British soldiers were permitted to loot the more valuable property, jewelry, gold, silver, money, but were instructed to leave ordinary goods. They looted the houses of all including the rani's palace where they destroyed furniture and works of art. The state library was wrecked with those manuscripts that had survived a shell, being destroyed for the sake of the bindings.]
When the killing was over the Madras Contingent was given permission to loot the people's utensils, such as pots and pans, water jugs, eating plates of brass and copper, in fact anything which was made of metal. These Indian looters took away even hinges and bolts on doors and windows.
The second day was allotted to the Indian Contingent of the Hyderabad Regiment. They took away clothing of every description. Whether it was of rich silk or cotton they just bundled it up and carried it away on elephants. They collected beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, carpets - anything and everything that came from a weaver's loom or tailor's shop. They found their biggest and richest haul in the wealthy merchants' houses and stores.
On the third day came another Indian regiment and started collecting all variety of cereals - rice, wheat, maize, rye, lentils, etc. They had bought with them a team of bullocks and huge sacks which they filled with the contents of bins and jars in which the people had stored their food.
By the time the fourth day arrived the people in the city were completely denuded of everything they possessed. And yet the fourth day was given over as a time for general looting. Previously, as we have noted, the Indian soldiers could loot specified varieties of articles but on the last day they were given permission to take away anything they fancied, or could lay their hands on. they took away chairs, charpoys [string beds], bedsteads and even water wheels and ropes with which the people drew water from the wells. Not a single useful thing was left with the people.
The little store of provisions we had hidden underground by the gutter was all finished by the time the looting came to an end. We were all hungry, but, as there was nothing to eat, we drank plenty of water and went to sleep.
Thousands of scavengers were employed to clear the streets and fire-fighting pumps were fetched to put out the still burning houses in the Halwaipura area.
In the squares of the city the sepoys and soldiers collected hundreds of corpses in large heaps and covered them with wood, floorboards and anything that came handy and set them on fire. Now every square blazed with burning bodies and the city looked like one vast burning ground. By another order the people were given permission to take care of their dead, and those who could afford to give a ritual cremation took away the bodies of their relatives and friends, but the others were just thrown on the fire. It became difficult to breathe as the air stank with the odour od the burning human flesh and the stench of rotting animals in the streets. The carcasses of thousands of bullocks, camels, elephants, horses, dogs, cats, donkeys, buffaloes and cows were strewn all over the city. These were collected and removed to the outskirts of the city where a huge pit was dug into which they were all pushed and the pit covered with earth.
[Godse leaves Jhansi and later about 6kms from Kalpi, Godse and his companions made food under one of the trees near a village and go to sleep. (This incident is transcribed in Mahsweta Devi's book, but with some translation errors which seem apparent to me) In the early morning, they are woken by the sound of approaching cavalry. Godse says that there was a battle at Charkhari (he may have been refering to the battle of Koonch) and the rebel leaders were defeated. The Rani was returning with the defeated army to Kalpi. Godse and his friends went to a well to get a drink of water and bathe. Soon 4-5 horseriders came up to the well, and Godse recognized the Rani amongst them. The Rani was dressed like a Pathan and completely covered in dust and dirt. She was very thirsty, and dismounting asked the travellers who they were. Godse introduces themselves as Brahmins from Jhansi at which the Rani recognized him. Godse starts drawing water from the well, for the Rani, but she stops himi, saying that a learned Brahmin should not be drawing water for her. She draws water herself and drinks it from the clay vessel.
Then the Rani speaks to Godse and all that is transcribed in Mahasweta Devi's book. She says much in despair after the defeat in the latest battles and says there is soon to be another in Kalpi. She concludes saying she has no clue what sins she committed (in past births) so as to go through all this in this one, but consoles herself saying there is no escaping her pre-ordained destiny. With that, she gets back on her horse and continues her journey.
Rao Saheb and his group camped at the PhoolBagh palace. Then there was much discussion as to who would go and take over the palaces within the city since there was concern about ambush along the way. The Rani takes up the task and proceeds with 200 cavalrymen. When they reached the palaces some of the servants of the Bai Saheba of the Scindia family came forward and informed the Rani that the rear portion was still occupied by the Bai Saheba. (Occupied in the sense her possessions were locked up, she had already left). At this the Rani issued orders that no one was to break into the areas locked by the Bai Saheba. After the palaces were secured by the Rani message was sent to Tatya Tope and Rao Saheb that all was safe for them to proceed from PhoolBagh to the city palaces.
The Rani got shot first, she carried on, then a strong sword blow struck her on the forehead, and she collapsed on her horse. Tatya Tope guided her horse to safety. (In Joyce Lebra-Chapman's book it is Raghunath Singh who guides Lakshmibai's horse to safety.) After she died people burnt her body quickly. KB]