Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Punytithi

18 August 2020 –

“In later days from Brahma came,
to rule our land, a noble dame,
kind was her heart and bright her fame,
Ahilya was her honoured name,” wrote poet Joanna Baillie in 1849 in honour of one of the greatest Maratha woman ruler of Malwa.

Born in the village of Chondi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharani Ahilyabai as she was fondly referred to Rajmata Ahilyabai Holkar was the Holkar Queen of the Malwa kingdom.

She was married to Khanderao Holkar in 1733 at the tender age of 8. But distress was quick to befall the young bride when her husband Khanderao was killed in the battle of Kumbher in 1754, leaving her a widow at only 29.

When Ahilyabai was about to commit Sati, her father-in-law Malhar Rao refused to let it happen.

He had been her strongest pillar of support at that time. But a young Ahilyabai could see her kingdom fall like a pack of cards after her father-in-law passed away in 1766, only 12 years after the death of his son Khanderao.

One can imagine how a woman, royalty would suffer after losing her husband, father-in-law and only son. But Ahilyabai stood undeterred. She did not let the grief of her loss affect the administration of the kingdom and the lives of her people.

She took matters into her own hands. She petitioned the Peshwa after her son’s death, to take over the administration herself. She ascended the throne and became the ruler of Indore on 11 December 1767.

The Queen of Malwa, apart from being a brave queen and proficient ruler, was also an erudite politician. She observed the bigger picture when the Maratha Peshwa couldn’t pin down the agenda of the British.

“Far and wide the roads were planted with shady trees, and wells were dug, and rest-houses for travellers were made. The poor, the homeless, the orphaned were all helped according to their needs. The Bhils, who had long been the torment of all caravans, were routed from their mountain fastnesses and persuaded to settle down as honest farmers. Hindu and Muslim alike revered the famous Queen and prayed for her long life,” writes Annie Besant.

She was 70 when she died and was succeeded by her commander-in-chief, Tukoji Rao Holkar I.

According to Besant “Indore long mourned its noble Queen, happy had been her reign, and her memory is cherished with deep reverence unto this day”.