Excerpt: Laxmibai Declares Herself Queen After the King’s Death
Excerpt from Moupia Basu’s ‘The Queen’s Last Salute’.
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But she had no time to brood over her gloomy thoughts. A loud wail went up, and within minutes the palace had erupted into a scene of bedlam and mayhem. There was complete pandemonium all over. People rushed out from their quarters, screaming and wailing.
Cries of ‘The king is dead! Maharaj nahin rahe!’ rang out. Chandraki stopped in her tracks, caught in the centre of all the commotion.
‘The Maharani! I need to be with her,’ thought Chandraki and rushed towards the queen’s chamber. But there was no one there and the curtains were drawn. Only one attendant waited outside.
‘Is the queen inside?’ Chandraki asked.
The girl shook her head. ‘Maharani is with Maharaj in his room,’ she replied.
Chandraki rushed to the king’s chamber. Th is was a place she rarely visited and she hesitated before entering.
‘Can I go in?’ she asked one of the guards posted outside.
‘The Maharani has ordered that no one should be allowed to enter the room.’
‘When did Maharaj die?’
‘About half an hour ago,’ the guard replied.
Chandraki stood outside the room not knowing what to do. It would not be appropriate to disturb the queen in her moment of grief. But what if she needed something?
‘Is anyone else in the room?’
‘Only the prince,’ the man replied. Chandraki knew that it would not be long before the rest of the Newalkar clan would arrive to offer false sympathy to the queen.
There would be an ugly scramble among these relatives to prove their loyalty to the crown, eager to seek favour with the queen. There would now be a sudden rise in the number of claimants to the throne.
Each would swear that he was the direct descendant of the king and had the right to succession more than the next. Poor Maharani, Chandraki thought. How would she be able to ward off such people? But she knew that Lakshmibai was no fool and was extremely brave.
But she was also extremely alone.
It was a while before the queen emerged from the chamber. She signalled to the guards.
‘Call the durbar! I have to announce His Majesty’s death. Also, start making preparations for Maharaj’s funeral.’ She pulled her veil across her face and walked towards her own chamber on the first floor.
There was nothing in her gait that showed she had just turned a widow at twenty-five, and that her whole world had collapsed. She not only had a five-year-old son to raise but also an entire kingdom to take care of and thousands of lives for whose welfare she alone was responsible.
Or, that the Company Sarkar was already knocking at her door and that she was completely alone.
Maharani Lakshmibai appeared in court a few hours later to officially announce the death of the king of Jhansee.
‘From this moment onwards, I am your queen, your ruler, and all decisions regarding the administration of the kingdom will be taken by me with immediate effect.’
Instantly, shouts arose across the durbar hall that echoed with cries of ‘Maharani Lakshmibai ki jai! Maharani Lakshmibai ki jai! Yuvraj Damodar Rao ki jai!’
The assembly of people gathered outside the durbar hall went berserk. Word had spread that Maharani Lakshmibai was now the new ruler of Jhansee. People thronged the palace gates, and it became a huge task to hold back the jubilant crowd from breaking into the palace.
The shadow of gloom that had been cast over the kingdom following the king’s death was suddenly dispelled with the heartwarming news that it was their own Queen Lakshmibai who would now rule the kingdom. Joyous cries filled the air.
Trumpets blew and dhols thundered as emissaries set out with news of the turn of events.
Chandraki too rejoiced. She stood beside the queen holding the prince’s hand. She had been unable to meet the queen after the king’s death. And now, here she was, standing beside the throne, watching her queen address the sabha. What a momentous occasion to be a part of! Yes, things had changed in a matter of hours, but with the Maharani on the throne, everything would soon be all right, and things would go back to normal. What Chandraki didn’t know was that things had changed indeed, but nothing would ever be normal again.
Maharaj Gangadhar Rao was cremated later in the day and with that the fate of Jhansee was sealed. The queen observed the mandatory rituals, all but one.
‘I will not shave my head,’ she told Chandraki.
(Excerpted from the book The Queen's Last Salute: The Story of Jhansee and the 1857 Mutiny, written by Moupia Basu and published by Juggernaut.)
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