Written in 1884, Mazha Pravas was the first Indian-language account of the 1857 Rebellion. An excerpt from a path-breaking unabridged translation of the Marathi original.
That night the Rani had personally toured the site of the battle in the city and in the fort, and had made arrangements. An informer now came forward and gave the news that despite the English government’s spending two to two-and-a-half lakhs on ammunition for Jhansi, it did not look as if they would win. Also, the ammunition had run out. The fight would only last till the next morning. Then their army would strike camp and leave.
Now, an elephant intoxicated with musth had been tethered at the gateway. Two or three cannonballs fell on the elephant enclosure. One of them fell on the elephant’s back and burnt it badly. Cannonballs also fell on the horse enclosure, and very valuable horses were killed. The Rani had a menagerie. There were parrots from all lands, mynahs, peacocks and other birds, as well as deer, sambar, and other animals in that menagerie. As cannonballs fell, all the animals lost their lives, screaming loudly. There was no limit to that disaster.
Thus this battle raged day and night, for eleven days in all. Just before the next dawn, the nobleman Dulajisingh Pardeshi, master of four thousand troops, who had been fighting to the south of the city for over an hour at night, stuffed the two cannons he was commanding with bags of millet instead of cannonballs, with treachery in mind. On hearing the sound of those being fired the courage of the citizens was broken and there was confusion. The fighting men were frightened. And then four or five more reports of blanks being fired were heard.
When day dawned, we, along with some officials who were on the sixth floor, came down to the third floor and watched. The British had put head-loads of grass soaked with water on the heads of labourers who numbered about three to four thousand. Thrusting the head-load bearers in front of them, the white folk came behind and around them carrying carbines and rifles, and pushing ahead forcefully till they came to the walls of the city. Then they placed all the head-loads near the walls one upon another up to the top, making paths like staircases, and thousands of white men began to be seen on the walls of the city. The soldiers guarding that side began to grow fearful, threw down their weapons, and went into the city. None of them remained there.
Seeing this from the fort, the Rani, taking with her about fifteen hundred foreigners, that is, Muslims or Arabs who were old retainers, armed with swords, descended from the fort. With these fifteen hundred foreigners, she went out of the main gate into the open field outside, and as they turned to the south, thousands of white men came from that direction. Their swords were out of their scabbards and were bared, and the swords of the foreigners too flashed in their hands. The Rani, also carrying a drawn sword and walking behind the others, was suddenly inspired to go into their midst.
The only comparison we can make with that battle is the Mahabharata war. Swords flashed for a moment. Then, as soon as the white men and the foreign soldiers met, in less time than it takes to count to fifty, the swords of the two sides clashed. After that, the white people lost courage and entered the streets that went to the east of the city to save their lives, and then rifle bullets started flying from there against which the Rani’s foreign retainers were helpless.
Then a nobleman, seventy-five years old, who was under the patronage of the Rani, came forward and taking the Rani’s hand, told her, ‘Your Highness, for you to go forward on this day at this time, and fall to a rifle bullet, would be an ignoble death. There would be no glory in it. All those white men have gone behind that building. From there, they will shoot you dead. It would be better if you went into the fort, closed the gates, and followed whatever stratagem God may suggest. This time is one of retreat.’ Saying this and holding the Rani’s hand, he turned her back, and her foreign soldiers too retreated with her, letting out war cries. They came back to the fort, hammered in the bolts of the doorways, and rested secure.