Punyashlok Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar – an inspiring, benevolent queen, who made a huge impact on our history. Her life of this magnificent queen is so inspiring that it must be celebrated through the length and breadth of this nation.
When the entire nation was in the clutches of Islamic invaders one woman dreamed of Swaraj and took forward the same dream. Ahilyabai was born in 1725 at Chondi in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. Her father, Mankoji Shinde, was the Patil (chief) of the village. Ahilya bai did not come from a royal lineage; she belonged to Dhangar (Dhangad or shepherd community. Now considered a nomadic tribe, the community is agitating for Scheduled Tribe status). Ahilyabai’s father taught her to read and write.
Malharrao Holkar was a commander in Bajirao’s army and the Jahagirdar of Malwa province. Once on his way to Pune, he stopped at Chondi village for rest, and there he saw Ahilyabai serving the needy and doing the seva of a nearby mandir. That image made a place in his heart and he inquired about her. After inquiring about her, he was impressed and asked Mankoji to marry his daughter to his son Khanderao Holkar, Mankoji didn’t deny the proposal as the Holkar family was one famous family and in few days they got married. Many years passed and an unfortunate incident took place, Khanderao Holkar was shot dead in the battle of Kumbher in 1754, and at the age of 21, Ahilyabai became a widow. After this Ahilya Bai was fully prepared to go “Sati” but Malharrao Holkar stopped her from doing so and in the coming years he taught her governance, politics, and other required skills to run a province. Remember that this was a huge thing for that time.
Malhar Rao Holkar died in 1766. The son of Khande Rao and grandson of Malhar Rao, Male Rao became the ruler under a regency. Male Rao sank into insanity and died within a year of succession. This resulted in a huge void in the power structure of the kingdom. Ahilyabai stood up with great courage without any fear of facing such a terrible crisis.
Already trained to be a ruler, she requested the Peshwa to let her taken over the administration. Some people in Malwa opposed her but the army of Holkar was enthusiastic about her leadership and supported their queen. She was granted permission by the Peshwa, and the golden era of Malwa, as well as Bharat, began…..
Some people rejected Ahilyabai’s leadership but after she was backed by the Peshwa’s of Pune, the entire Holkari army stood firmly behind them. Ahilyabai appointed Tukoji Holkar, who was one important person to Malharrao, as the commander of Holkar’s army, and Ahilyabai emerged as a great, far-sighted ruler for 30 years. The main reason was the competence with which Ahilya Bai managed the civil affairs, the support she gave to Scindias and the sanctity she gained by her charities. Tukoji remained content with military command. She combined talent, virtue, and energy which made her a blessing to the country over which she ruled.
Ahilya Bai was a skilled archer and tales of four bows and quiver of arrows fitted at the four corners of her howdah (elephant seat) had become a part of the local folklore. But she gave every art equal importance in her province. The Malwa province prospered because of her belief that art, literature, science are as important as a strong army to defend a state. Ahilyabai’s court was open to all, and the sufferings of each one of them were heard by her, and she gave justice without any partiality, so the people of her province were always happy and had faith in the justice system.
Ahilya Bai sat every day in open Durbar, transacting business. Her first principle was moderate assessment and sacred respect for the rights of village officers and proprietors of land, and quick justice. She referred cases to courts of equity and arbitration (Panchayats) and to her ministers for settlement, but when appeals were made to her decision, she heard every complaint with great patience.
When the wealth of the Holkars came into her hands, she used it properly. All the government revenue was brought into a general account and applied to the general expenditure of the government. Accounts were kept with scrupulous exactness. After paying civil and military charges Ahilya Bai sent the balance to supply the exigencies of the army deployed outside Malwa.
She never neglected her army. Her Army backed Peshwa’s in various wars, be it the Gujurat war in 1772 or Konkan or fighting against tyrant Tipu.
She was also a classic politician. She solved most cases peacefully and effortlessly. Only once she was not able to resolve conflict with the Bhils and Gonds. This conflict was resolved by granting them those waste hilly lands & right to small duty. She was astute enough to warn the Peshwa, vide a letter of 1772, about British intentions.
Ahilyabai never observed purdah. She helped widows to retain their husband’s wealth and made sure they were allowed to adopt a son. In addition, she encouraged everyone to give their best in whatever they are doing. During her tenure merchants, craftsmen & artists produced one of the finest products and received salary regularly.
The capital Maheshwar was turned into a literary, musical, and artistic and industrial center. The textile industry was established there, which is now home to the famous Maheshwar saris. Her capital Indore transformed itself from a village into a prosperous city and wealthy mart for Malwa products. In Malwa, various roads and forts were constructed.
She also used the wealth for religious purposes. This was not limited to her own domains but extended to all places of Hindu pilgrimage in east, west, south, and north. Her generosity is reflected outside of her kingdom in constructing numerous Ghats, wells, tanks, and rest houses.
She renewed and restored many temples and other Hindu pilgrimages across India. The current Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Benaras was built by her. A small temple was constructed at Somnath, the large one that we see today was built after independence. A temple at Gaya in Bihar. She reconstructed, renovated, and approved annual maintenance for diverse temples including Ellora, Somnath, Kashi Vishwanath, Kedarnath, Prayag, Chitrakut, Pandharpur, Parli Vaijnath, Kurukshetra, Pashupatinath, Rameshwar, Balaji Giri, Eklingaji, Pushkar, and thousand others.
Only after knowing it, one realizes how Ahilyabai Holkar became Ahilya “Devi” Holkar. Be it Dharmakarya or be it military prowess Ahilya Devi Holkar was a great ruler of Malva.
Ahilyabai Holkar’s magnificent and glorious rule ended when she passed away on 13th august 1795. Today on the occasion of her 225th Punyatithi, lets bow down in front of this benevolent queen and thank her for what she has done for our Dharma and our nation.
Shat Shat Naman, Ahilya Devi!