The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 9, 2000

Where Valour Speaks

Though not publicised as a tourist spot, Jhansi draws hordes of tourists every year. Over two lakh tourists visited the city last year. Most of these are foreigners, while a majority of the domestic tourists are from West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, writes M.P. Nathanael

A mere six hours rail journey from New Delhi towards Bhopal and I find myself at Jhansi railway station.

Since childhood I had read and heard about Jhansi — immortalised by the brave Rani Laxmibai. And now the moment had arrived for me fulfil my desire to visit this city of the brave and pious.

At the Regional Tourist office in the precincts of the UP Tourism Hotel Virangana, I meet the Regional Tourist Officer, Viresh Kumar. He informs me that if I had visited Jhansi just a few weeks earlier, I could have witnessed the Jhansi festival which is held in the first week of March every year. Yet, he comforts me that there is much to see in and around Jhansi and that I will not regret missing the festival.

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Life-size statue of Rani Laxmibai at Laxmibai Park.Though not publicised as a tourist spot, Jhansi draws hordes of tourists every year. According to Viresh, over 2 lakh tourists visited the city last year while about 5 lakh visited Jhansi during the Jhansi festival alone.

Most of the tourists are foreigners, while a majority of domestic tourists are from Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

The fort being the main attraction, I set off for the fort where I gain entry after paying a fee of just 25 paise. A word about the fort.

Bir Singh Deo, the ruler of Bundelkhand from 1606 to 1627 built as many as 52 forts and palaces in different parts of Bundelkhand region. Jhansi being strategically located, served as a gateway to the Bundelkhand region and hence Bir Singh Deo chose to construct a fort here. The fort was also meant to be the first line of defence for Orchha, then the capital of Bundelkhand, about 16 km south of Jhansi.

After Bir Singh Deo’s death in 1627, the Mughals invaded the fort and held it till Chatrasal drove them out of the Bundelkhand region and established his suzerainty. He made Panna his capital.

An attempt by the Mughal General Mohammed Khan Bangash to overthrow Chatrasal was foiled when Bajirao of Poona came to the latter’s rescue by sending his troops. As a token of gratitude, Chatrasal gave one third of Bundelkhand region to Bajirao. Since Jhansi fell into that part, the town came under Maratha rule.

For eleven years from 1731, Jhansi was ruled by Anupgiri, a Gossain of local origin who was appointed as a nominee of the Bundelas. To him goes the credit for carrying out several improvements in the city and fort. He beautified the Laxmital Lake and constructed a city around it. Naru Shanker, the first Maratha Governor who took over the the reins of the city in 1742 made further improvements.

Raja Gangadhar Rao, who married Laxmibai was enthroned, was a popular ruler. After his death, his young widow came to power in 1854. Four years later, British troops invaded the fort and kept it under their control till 1947 when the Indian Army took over. Since 1985, the fort has been under the management of the Archaelogical Survey of India.

Rani Mahal at JhansiClose to the entrance of the fort is a massive canon, which was the biggest in the fort, and was operated by one Gulam Gaus Khan during the days of Laxmibai. A board in Hindi near the canon reads Kadak Bijli Thope, meaning the canon that thunders. Another canon in the fort known as Bhawani Shankar Thope was operated by a woman, Moti Bai.

The graves of Ghulam Gaus Khan, the Chief of Cavalry, and of Moti Bai who lost their lives fighting the British are a mute testimony not only to their valour but also to communal amity.

Close by is the Panch Mahal, so called on account of its five storeys, where Laxmibai used to reside with Raja Gangadhar Rao. Soon after his death, she shifted to Rani Mahal, not far from the fort.

Across the Mahal is the spot from where Rani Laxmibai astride her horse jumped from the fort alongwith her foster son, on being surrounded by British troops and rode to Kalpi.

Going towards one end of the fort, I climb a few steps to get a good view of Jhansi town from the ramparts of the fort. The National Flag flutters on the same flag post on which the Union Jack used to fly during the British rule. In one corner of the fort is the Kal Kotri, or death cell, in which freedom fighters who were considered dangerous were imprisoned. These cells are dark, dingy and damp.

Nearby is the spot, where those awarded death penalty were hanged to death.

Of the two temples within the fort, the Ganesh Mandir is near the fort’s entrance while the Shiv Mandir, which Rani Laxmibai visited every day, is some distance away.

Coming out of the fort, I head towards Rani Mahal, not far from the fort. Constructed during the latter half of 18th century, this palace of Rani Laxmibai has a quadrangular courtyard with a small well and two fountains.

Faded paintings of flowers, black bucks, peacocks and other birds, can still be seen on the wood-panelled roof and walls of the darbar hall.

St Jude’s shrine Broken sculptures from Dudhai Chandpur of Lalitpur district are neatly displayed in the palace. These are believed to be from the Pratihar (9th century) and Chandela (12th century) periods. Across the palace are skeletal ruins of structures that were, at one time, used as stables. When the British troops attacked the palace, they killed 50 bodyguards of the Rani here. The palace and the ruins were taken over by the Archaelogical Survey of India in 1961.

There was an underground passage in olden days connecting the fort to the Rani Mahal. This has since been closed.

The State Museum is next on my itinerary. This magnificent building with several galleries has ancient art and sculptures, paintings, arms and ornaments, relating to Bundelkhand region, on display. Photography is permitted in the museum but for this one has to pay Rs 10.

Opposite the museum is the Laxmibai Park which has an impressive life-sized statue on a tall pillar of Rani Laxmibai astride her horse. Within the park is a huge road roller, no more in use, which at one time must have been extensively used for the construction of roads. That it was of foreign origin, was evident. Its antiquity and impressive appearance cannot but fail to draw the attention of visitors to the park.

I am adviced by Krishan Kumar, a prominent businessman of the city, to pay a visit to St. Jude’s shrine. I head for that sacred spot.

I choose to enter by the rear gate which is close to the main road. Confronted by an affable and helpful priest, I inform him of my mission. I am given a copy of Bovena to St. Jude and a souvenir brought out in 1991 during the shrine’s silver jubilee celebrations. I browse through it and then get busy freezing the church in my camera.

Samadhi of Gulam Gaus Khan, Moti Bai and Khuda Baksh Known to be the first shrine of St. Jude in whole of South-East Asia, the foundation of this shrine was laid on October 29,1956. The massive domed building was completed in a short span of time and inaugurated formally on October 27,1966 by his excellency Dr James Knox, the Apostolic Pronunceo to India.

It was a Capuchin missionary priest Msgr Francis Xavier Fenech from the tiny island of Malta in Europe who popularised the worship of St. Jude in Jhansi. Way back in 1947, a temporary chapel was built in the Bishop’s House and St. Jude’s statue was installed on a side alter. The same statue now occupies an important place in the shrine.

Throughout the year, there is a constant flow of the devout to this shrine, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. During the solemn Novena and the feast of the saint in October, the shrine teems with thousands of pilgrims.

Before I leave, the priest asks me where I am staying in Jhansi and offers free-of-cost accommodation in the pilgrims quarters in the precincts of the shrine, if I so desire.

Next I visit the Lakshmi Tal on the outskirts of the city. On the left bank of this lake is a temple dedicated to Maha Lakshmi after whom this lake is named. Other temples in the vicinity are the Mahakali temple, the Rani Raja temple and the Mahadeo temple. Close by is the samadhi of Raja Gangadhar Rao.

Other places worth seeing around Jhansi are Orchha (16 km), Barua Sagar (24 km), Paricha (25 km) and Datia (18 km)

Impressed by the valour and piety of the erstwhile kings and Queen Laxmibai, I call it a day and return to Delhi.