Ahilyabai Holkar (1725-1795)
Ahilyabai Holkar was a great ruler and the Queen of the Kingdom of Malwa. Popularly known as Rajmata Ahilyadevi Holkar and she was born in 1725 in the village of Chondi in Maharashtra, India. She was the daughter of Mankoji Shinde who belonged to the Dhangar community, serving as patil of the village. Her father educated her himself and she grew up living a humble pious life, when one day, her destiny changed forever to eventually see her become the ruler of Malwa in the 18th century.
Young Ahilyadevi’s character and simplicity impressed Malhar Rao Holkar, who then served under Peshwa Bajirao’s army as a commander. So great was his liking for the girl, that she was married to his son, Khande Rao, thus becoming a bride in the esteemed Maratha community of the Holkars. After her husband’s death in the battle of Kumbher in 1754, Ahilyabai was introduced to the administrative and military affairs of the state by her father-in-law, which saw her perform brilliantly under his guidance.
After Malhar Rao’s death, she requested the Peshwa to grant her the power to lead the administration of the region. His approval saw Rani Ahilyadevi take hold of the reins of the state in 1766, to become ruler of Malwa, with Tukoji Holkar appointed as her new military head. Receiving the full support of her loyal army, Ahilyadevi led them into several wars, whilst, she being a brave warrior and skilled archer herself, fought with valor atop elephant-back, even protecting her kingdom from the plundering Bhils and Gonds.
Rani Ahilyabai moved her capital to Maheshwar, constructing the splendid 18th century Maratha-architecture based, Ahilya Fort, on the banks of the sacred Narmada River. Besides her capital being an industrial enterprise for textile, it was also a thriving destination for literary, sculpture, music and arts, which saw Moropant, the famous Marathi poet, the Shahir Anantaphandi and Sanskrit scholar, Khushali Ram, being patronized during her era.
A wise, just and enlightened ruler who cared for her people, she was available to the aid of everyone holding a daily public audience in her court. During her glorious reign (1767-1795), Rani Ahilyadevi’s innumerable contributions made her a beloved and respected queen amongst her people in a prospering kingdom. She wisely spent the governmental money building several forts, rest houses, wells and roads, celebrating festivals and donations to Hindu temples.
Her feminine side saw her aid widows in retaining their husband’s wealth and in adoption of a son. Besides her transformation of Indore from an erstwhile village into a prosperous and enchanting city, she is also accredited with renovating temples. Her most memorable activities include the construction of numerous temples and pilgrimage centers across an area extending from the Himalayas to South India, at sacred sites like Kashi, Gaya, Somnath, Ayodhya, Mathura, Hardwar, Dwarka, Badrinarayan, Rameshwar and Jaganathpuri.
Ahilyabai Holkar’s magnificent and glorious rule ended when she passed away in 1795. In memory and honour of her greatness, the Republic of India issued a commemorative stamp on 25 August 1996. The citizens of Indore also instituted an award in her name in 1996, to be bestowed annually on an outstanding public figure, the first recipient of it being Nanaji Deshmukh.