Born in Varanasi sometime between 1828 and 1835, Lakshmi Bai was the member of a high-class Marathi Brahman family. She was principally raised by her father and in addition to academic studies she was trained in horse riding, shooting and fencing. In 1842 she was married to the Maharaja (king) of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao. In 1851 she gave birth to a son named Damodar Rao, however the child died at just four months old. In 1853 the Maharaja adopted the son of a cousin to preserve his line, also naming him who Damodar Rao. The Maharaja died the next day, leaving Lakshimi Bai to rule Jhansi as regent for her new son.
However because Damodar Rao was adopted, the British East India Company claimed that Jhansi no longer had a legitimate ruler and annexed its territories, forcing Lakshmi Bai to leave the palace at Jhansi Fort. Replaced by an agent of the Company, Lakshmi Bai refused to accept the rule of the British. When the Indian Rebellion broke out in March 1857 she supported the uprising, rapidly assembling an army to reclaim Jhansi Fort and once again declared herself the regent ruler.
Initially Lakshmi Bai was not interested in fighting the British beyond maintaining order in Jhansi and her forces were principally involved in border skirmishes with other regional lords. According to some accounts she led the charge in two of these battles personally, riding on horseback armed with swords. Her armies included a significant portion of women, who she ordered should be trained how to shoot.
In early 1858 the East India Company forced her hand by invading and laying siege to the city of Jhansi for 2 weeks. Lakshmi Bai's forces resisted fiercely, hoping to hold out long enough for the army of their ally Tatya Tope to assist them. However Tope was defeated before they could reach Jhansi and the British eventually breached Jhansi's defenses. Lakshmi Bai herself escaped with a small contingent of guards. Regrouping with Tope, Lakshmi Bai then scored a significant victory by successfully assaulting the city-fortress of Gwalior, seizing it's treasury and arsenal. She then marched toward Morar to counterattack the British in defense of Gwalior. During the ensuing battle she was unhorsed while fighting a British cavalry officer and killed. Gwalior was retaken by the British 3 days later.
Following her death the British General Hugh Rose described Lakshmi Bai as "the most dangerous of all Indian leaders". She is remembered today as a heroine of India, with numerous memorials in her name. The Indian National Army's first female regiment was named after her.