Rani Tapaswini (Sunanda) was Rani Laxmibai’s neice and the daughter of Sardar Narayanrao. A pious girl, who was widowed in her childhood, dedicated her life to worship, reading spiritual books, praying to the goddess Chandi. Least interested in the materialistic pursuits, she lived a monastic life. Her sacred temperament and asceticism, besides her courage and endurance made Rani Tapaswini a pillar of support for the people. Like Rani of Jhansi, she used to practice horse riding and the art of war. She could manage the entire kingdom allotted to her father, after his death. She had her father’s fort repaired and even recruited and trained soldiers for the upkeep of the kingdom.
1. Covert fight against British
Rani Tapaswini used to loathe the British. This would to manifest through her talks. A livid British government imprisoned her without any enquiry. However, due to her ascetic nature, the British felt that she would not pose any danger to them. As a result of this she was released from imprisonment. Soon after she shifted to Naimisharanya and practiced spirituality through worship of Chandimata. The British assumed that she had renounced everything for her spiritual pursuit. Even there, many people sought Rani Tapaswini’s guidance. She used to preach and ask to worship Chandimata. That is how Rani Tapaswini became ‘Mata (mother) Tapaswini’.
2. Emboldening the soldiers to revolt against the British
People used to visit Rani Tapaswini’s Ashram in Naimisharanya to seek her blessings. She made some faithful devotees and soldiers from British regiment rise against the British. From the beginning of 1857 some sages and fakirs started moving through these regiments. They had the ear of sympathetic soldiers. They would inflame sentiments among the soldiers by telling them things like ‘The British look down upon you; they insult you by calling you Niggers. The British have looted and bankrupted our country. You are as valorous as their soldiers but they are paid more. How come you do not understand that you made our kingdom fall on their command? Soldiers from many regiments are now ready for the rise against the British. These British have conquered our nation and now they are prepared to convert us to Christianity. Do you want to convert? Arise, awake and revolt against the British’. Of course, all this was taught to them by Rani Tapaswini.
3. The Revolt
Before the 1857 War of Independence, Nanasaheb, Balasaheb, Tatya Tope, and Ajimulla Khan visited Rani Tapaswini. They discussed ways to start a revolt. Ajimulla Khan suggested that a red lotus can be distributed amongst the regiment by all sages and fakirs. (It was a tradition that chapatis would be distributed to inform all of an impending disaster or war). So it was decided that the civilians will be informed through chapatis to be prepared for the revolt. Similarly sages and fakirs were moving through villages. This activity was so secretive that the British has no inkling about it.
People from various villages, influenced by Rani Tapaswini, participated in the revolt. Since the British were well equipped with modern weapons and the treasury of the nation was in their custody they could suppress this revolt. They inflicted a crushing defeat on the revolters with unprecedented cruelty. Rani Tapaswini understood that there is no point in fighting against British. She realised that as long as the weak and greedy Kings of the land had signed pacts with the British it would be a futile effort to do so. She went to Nepal with Nanasaheb. Jungbahadur, the king of Nepal was a friend of British. She emphasised the importance of independence even there. She did not like to live in the kingdom of this helpless king. As a result of which she went to Darbhanga and then to Kolkata.
4. Partition of Bengal and the Rani’s participation
Rani Tapaswini started a school ‘Mahabhakti Pathshala’ in Kolkata. Lokmanya Tilaka accompanied by Khadilkar, the subeditor of ‘Kesari’ met Rani Tapaswini there. Mr. Khadilkar wanted to start a secret weapons factory in Nepal. The Rani was acquainted with Nepal’s commander Samsherjang. Through the Rani’s contacts a tile making factory was started which was a front for a weapons manufacturing factory. These weapons used to be transported to Bengal. Unfortunately a traitor betrayed the cause and Khadilkar was caught. He managed to escape to Maharashtra. During this time, the ageing Rani was saddened to notice that there were people who were against the freedom movement. Still she participated in the movement against partition of Bengal. This stalwart of the Indian independence movement died in 1905. It is sad that today Maharashtra and indeed the entire country has forgotten this great lady, Rani Tapaswini.
(Reference : Mahan Bhartiya Krantikarak (Great India Freedom Fighters), 1st part 1770 to 1990, writer: Mr. S.D. Zambare, (Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Ani Sanskruti Mandal, Mumbai)) (Daily Sanatan Prabhat, New Moon day, Kaliyug Year 5112 (11.07.2010))