Perched atop the Bangira Hill in the erstwhile town of Balwantnagar, later renamed Jhansi, the construction of the Jhansi fort is ascribed to Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo Bundela, the Bundela Rajput chief and the ruler of the kingdom of Orchha in 1613. Considered one of the strongholds of the Bundelas, the incredible Jhansi fort has stood the test of time and attacks by numerous invaders, until it came under the rule of the Mughals.
Chhatrasal Bundela was only 12, when his father Champat Rai was killed by the Mughals during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. However, inspired by the ideals of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Chhatrasal raised the banner of revolt against the Mughals in Bundelkhand in 1671, declared independence and resisted the Mughals until December 1728, when Muhammad Khan Bangash, commanding 52,000 men strong force in the Mughal Army, attacked Maharaja Chattrasal. After a severe battle, the 79-year-old Chhatrasal was defeated and was forced to retreat to his fort at Jaitpur and appealed to Peshwa Baji Rao for help. Finally, with the help of the Marathas, Chhatrasal defeated the Mughals, reclaimed his throne and in return of his help, gifted a part of his state, including Jhansi, to the Peshwa.
In 1742 Naroshanker was made the Subedar of Jhansi, who extended the strategically important wall of the fort up to a circumference of 7.3 km and also added some other highlights within its compound, which included the Shiva Temple. After Vishwas Rao Lakshman, serving the Subedar of Jhansi from 1766 to 1769, Raghunath Rao Newalkar was appointed the Subedar, who built both the Mahalakshmi Temple and the Raghunath Temple.
Although the inefficient administration of Ramchandra Rao and his successor Raghunath Rao III left Jhansi in a very poor financial position, Raja Gangadhar Rao, son of Shiv Rao Bhau and a descendant of Raghunath Hari Newalkar, the first governor of Jhansi under Maratha rule, was a very good administrator.
Gangadhar Rao married Manikarnika Tambe in 1842, who was later renamed Lakshmi Bai and gave birth to a boy, Damodar Rao in 1851. However, as the boy died after only four months of his birth, the Raja adopted a child, called Anand Rao, a son of one of his cousins, who was renamed Damodar Rao, after the deceased child of the Raja, on the day before he died.
But although the rituals of adoption were done in the presence of the British political officer, after the death of Raja Gangadhar Rao, the British East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, rejected Damodar Rao's claim to the throne as he was adopted and annexed the state to its territory, applying the Doctrine of Lapse, launched by the British company, applicable for the Princely States in the Indian Subcontinent. However, in March 1854, Rani Lakshmi Bai was granted an annual pension of Rs. 60,000 and at the same time, she was ordered to leave her palace and the fort.
That move by the British opened a new chapter in the history of Jhansi. During the Sepoy rebellion, also known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Rani Lakshmi Bai, popularly known as Jhansi ki Rani or the queen of Jhansi, took the control of the fort. Jhansi was at peace under her rule from August 1857 to January 1858, but when the invading forces of the British East India Company, under the leadership of General Hugh Rose besieged Jhansi, she led the Jhansi forces, fought gallantly against those of the British Company and made a daring escape with her son by jumping out on horseback straight from the fort, just in time before it was captured by the British on 4 April 1858. Later, she was grievously wounded and consequently died on 18 June 1858, in a combat against the British in Gwalior. The British could capture the fort of Gwalior, three days after her death. After the Crown rule was proclaimed in India, the Jhansi city, along with the Jhansi fort, was bestowed to Jiyaji Rao Scindia, the Maharaja of Gwalior in 1861, but subsequently, Jhansi was taken back by the British from the State of Gwalior in 1868.
Standing on the top of the Bangira Hill in Uttar Pradesh and built with an impressive North Indian style of architecture, the massive Jhansi fort, sprawling over a large area of 15 acres is around 1024 feet (312 m) in length and 738 feet (225 m) in width. The 20 feet thick surrounding walls of the fort, supported by 22 columns are further surrounded by a moat. The 10 iconic gates that give access to the south-facing Jhansi fort are named Khanderao Gate, Datia Gate, Bhanderi Gate, Unnao Gate, Bada Gaon Gate, Lakshmi Gate, Sagar Gate, Orchha Gate, Saiyar Gate and Chand Gate. The Execution tower of the fort was erected during the time of Raja Gangadhar Rao, for the execution of offenders, which was later used by the British also.
There are two temples in the fort compound, namely the Shiva and the Ganesha temple. The Shiva temple, a fine example of both Bundela and Maratha architecture, was built by Naroshankar in the mid-18th Century. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple houses a Shivalinga, made of granite. The Ganesha temple, dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Ganesha, is the place where Rani Lakshmi Bai was married Raja Gangadhar Rao.
Apart from the above, the Jhansi fort also contains the Mazars or the enshrined tombs of Ghulam Gaus Khan and Moti Bai, along with their cannons, named Kadak Bijli, which has a crocodile front and the back of an elephant and Bhawani Sankar. Gulam Gaus Khan was one of the three trusted soldiers of Rani Lakshmi Bai, killed during the war of 1857, when the canon ball burst inside his canon Kadak Bijli, which he was operating. Another interesting thing in the fort is a memorial board reminding the visitors of the hair-raising feat of Rani Lakshmi Bai of jumping on horseback from the fort. Today, the fort also houses a museum, showcasing several ancient relics and artefacts, depicting the history of the fort and its surrounding regions.