Main content

Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi: Badass Queen

Sunil Khilnani profiles Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi, who became a heroine of the 1857 Rebellion. Through her life and death, he explores the portrayal of women in Indian history.

Prof. Sunil Khilnani explores the life of Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi, the queen who fought against the British and became a heroine of India's 1857 Rebellion.

"The Rani was certainly no ordinary queen," he says of the woman who was listed by Time magazine as one of its 'Top Ten Badass Wives'. A typical day for Lakshmibai involved weightlifting, wrestling and steeplechasing - all before breakfast. Yet, despite her physical prowess, she was a reluctant rebel. She was drawn into the uprising only when the British annexed Jhansi after her husband died. The legend goes that, when the Rani's fort was under siege from the British, she mounted her horse, her young son holding on tight behind her, and leapt to freedom from the ramparts.

The most iconic image of the Rani of Jhansi is at her last stand, in battle: again on horseback with her sword held high and the reins of her horse between her teeth. It's an image that evokes powerful Hindu goddesses like Kali and Durga. However, Sunil Khilnani argues that, by ascribing its heroines extra-human powers, supposedly to celebrate them, India is in fact denying the reality of women's experience.

Producer: Jeremy Grange
Executive Producer: Martin Smith
Original Music composed by Talvin Singh.

Available now

15 minutes


  • Wed 10 Jun 2015 13:45
  • Wed 17 Feb 2016 14:15
  • Thu 18 Feb 2016 02:15

Featured in...

Remarkable individuals who shaped India, and sometimes the world.

Remarkable individuals who shaped India, and sometimes the world.

Professor Sunil Khilnani introduces the second series of Incarnations.

Incarnations - The Podcast

Incarnations - The Podcast

Download all the episodes from the series and listen at your leisure.

Incarnations: Art and Music

Incarnations: Art and Music

The artists who created the illustrations and music for the series.