Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi

Savarkar and the Rani's Photo

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Sometime ago Ram Rahman sent me an image which was possibly a photo of the Rani. It had come from a book, The Indian War of Independence, by V.D. Savarkar published in 1909.

Then recently (beginning of 2007) Krishna Balakrishnan wrote to me regarding this photo and after some discussion as to whether it really was the Rani, and what were the chances of there being a photographer in Jhansi between the death of Gangadhar Rao and the siege of Jhansi, and so on, he set about locating a copy of Savarkar's book and found that it did not contain the photo. With commendable perseverance, Krishna worked his way through all the editions available and was finally able to solve the mystery when he found an edition with the photo and this explanatory text:-

"The picture on the left, shown as that of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi is in fact, not her picture, but that of Sultan Jehan Begum of Bhopal. This was among the pictures that were till then being represented abroad as the Rani's and hence the mistake."

Savarkar had presumably also been misled.

There are two Sultan Jahan Begums of Bhopal, mother and daughter and it isn't obvious, to me at least, which one is meant. Both were widows and there is good to be said of both:-

Shah Jahan Begum, Begum of Bhopal (1838-1901)

Quoting from the above British Library page:-
Shah-Jahan Begum was known for commencing the construction of the Taj-ul-Masjid mosque in Bhopal and for other public work projects like subsidising the cost of a railway to be constructed between Hoshangabad and Bhopal. In 1872 she was created a Grand commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India.

And according to Wikipedia she "...made sizable donations towards the building of a mosque at Woking, Surrey in the UK. She also contributed generously towards the founding of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, which developed into the Aligarh Muslim University."
Sultan Jahan Begum, Begum of Bhopal (1858-1930)

Quoting from the above British Library page:
Sultan Jahan Begum was a reformer and did much to advance the position of women and education in Bhopal. Though her main legacy is public health, by adopting widespread inoculation and vaccination, improving sanitation, hygiene and the water supply. In 1904 she recieved the Grand Commander of the Indian Empire and the Grand Commander of the Star of India in 1910.

I'm sure it is coincidence that she was born at about the same time as the Rani was dying.

It's regrettable that the photo is not of the Rani but I must confess that when I first saw the photo I was disappointed that it did not show someone looking more like that other Rani, her of Mukherjee. A shallow response, rendered even less laudable by the character and achievements of the Rani herself and which ever of the two Begums the photo actually shows.

My thanks to Ram Rhaman for bringing the photo to my attention and to Krishna Balakrishnan for his research and sheer doggedness.

As a bonus, Krishna (yet more gratitude!) also scanned some of the illustrations from this edition of Savarkar's book:-

  • Page 1 The supposed photo of the Rani.
  • Page 2 showing a photo of the Bhandeer Gate, the Rani's Dagger, her seal, 2 of her cannon and a stylised portrait of Gangadhar Rao.
  • Page 3 A stylised portrait of the Rani by a court painter before Gangadhar died. Note that the text stating that he died when she was 18 is incorrect, she was more like 25 or 26 at the time. And again, one has to ask if this is really the Rani?
  • Page 4 A painting of the Rani charging a British battery

Last modified: 2007-05-05 17:25:57.000000000