297th Birth Anniversary of Ahilyabai Holkar
Born on May 31, 1725, in the village of Chaundi (current day Ahmednagar), Maharashtra, today marks the 297th birth anniversary of Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar, regarded as one of the finest female rulers in Indian history. Her father, Mankoji Sindhia (Shinde), a scion of the Dhangar family, was the Patil of the Village. At a time when women were not allowed to go to school, Ahilyabai’s father taught her to read and write.
Who was Ahilyabai Holkar?
Ahilya Bai Holkar was the hereditary noble queen of the Maratha Empire, in early-modern India. She established Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh as the seat of Holkar Dynasty.
Ahilyabai’s husband Khanderao Holkar was killed in the battle of Kumbher in 1754. Twelve years later, her father-in-law, Malhar Rao Holkar, died. A year after that she was crowned as the queen of the Malwa kingdom. She tried to protect her kingdom from plundering invaders. She personally led armies into battle. She appointed Tukojirao Holkar as the Chief of Army.
Ahilyabai was the brave queen of Malwa. She stood tall and undeterred even after the tragic loss of her husband, son, and father-in-law and assumed the throne in December 1767. Within a year into power, her kingdom was surrounded by invaders from all across, assuming Malwa’s kingdom now acceded to weaker hands. However, the brave Holkar queen with an indomitable spirit to protect her land, led her armies into the battlefield laden with weapons and expelled the rival forces who came to plunder Malwa.
Rani Ahilyabai never observed purdah, held daily public audience and was accessible to anyone who wanted to see her.
During her reign, Malwa was never once attacked, when at that time the whole of Central India was facing a power struggle, with battles being fought for the throne. Under her rule, Malwa remained an oasis of stability and peace.
She turned her capital city, Maheshwar, into a literary, musical, artistic and an industrial centre. She even established a textile industry there, which is now home to the famous Maheshwar saris. Ahilyabai turned Malwa into a prosperous land, starting with improving the infrastructure of the place by building forts and road and repairing Ghats. She built wells, tanks and rest houses across areas stretching from the Himalayas to pilgrimage centers in South India. She sponsored festivals and gave donations to build, repair and restore temples.
From Badrinath, Dwarka, Omkareshwar to Puri, Gaya, Rameswaram, every holy pilgrimage place in India had a contribution, in one way or another, from Ahilyabai Holkar. She built wells, tanks and rest houses across areas stretching from the Himalayas to pilgrimage centers in South India. She sponsored festivals and gave donations to build, repair and restore temples. Most notable of all was the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple, which she rebuilt and restored in 1780, 111 years after its destruction by Aurangzeb.
The warrior queen passed away on August 13, 1795, at the age of 70. Centuries later, her legacy lives on in the form of the numerous temples and dharamshalas, and in the amount of public work she dedicated her life to.
She built hundreds of temples, more than 30 dharamshalas and garibkhanas, numerous ghats and wells, all for the welfare of people. Ahilyabai Holkar’s 28-year-reign, during the 18th century, is still cited as a model of benevolent and effective government.