Wednesday October 18, 2017

Ahilyabai Holkar: The Queen of Warriors

The lady warrior who turned the village of Indore into a beautiful city

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Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar Source: Wikipedia

By Shubhi Mangla

Ahilyabai Holkar was a strong woman and the queen of the Kingdom of Malwa in Indore. She was born in 1725 to Mankoji Shinde who was the patil of the Chondi village in Maharashtra, India. She was educated by her father, who taught her himself. She lived a humble and peaceful life but one day her life changed forever and led her to become the ruler of Malwa.

Royal Palace of Maheshwar Source: Wikimedia Commons
Royal Palace of Maheshwar
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Malhar Rao Holkar, who served as a commander in Peshwa Bajirao’s army was impressed by young Ahilyabai. He married his son Khande Rao (Prince of Indore) to Ahilyabai and she became the bride of the Maratha community. She resided in the palace and learned statecraft and often accompanied the army to war. During a battle in 1754, her husband lost his life. Her father-in-law was extremely shattered upon his son’s death. He wanted Ahilyabai to look after the Kingdom and considered her his only son. She was soon introduced to the military and administrative affairs of the kingdom.

She took control of the Kingdom of Indore. As a ruler she led a very simple life. Ahilyabai lived on the banks of Narmada River at a pilgrimage site known as ‘Maheshwar’. There were very few leaders who gave up on luxuries and followed such a simple lifestyle. Ahilyabai proved to be a great warrior. As a skilled archer, she even fought with Bhils (tribes of Rajasthan) and Gonds (tribes of central India).

Also Read: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj: A warrior who helped revive Hindu culture

Ahilyabai Holkar Fort overlooking the ghat Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ahilyabai Holkar Fort overlooking the ghat
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1766, the kingdom was passed on to her son Maloji who turned out to be an unworthy and cruel ruler. She sentenced her only son to death by being crushed by an elephant as he was found guilty to a capital offense. Ahilyabai again took control of the state. Rani Ahilyabai moved her capital to Maheshwar which was famous for textiles, literature, music and art, sculptures etc. She built the famous Ahilya Fort on the banks of Narmada River which was based upon the splendid 18th century Maratha architecture. She was a wise ruler, who was always ready to help her people. She always made herself available to aid needy people and also held a daily public audience at the court to listen to their grievances. All this made her a very respectable and beloved queen. Ahilyabai always spent the government money wisely. She built forts, roads, wells, dharamshalas and celebrated festivals and made donations to temples. She renovated temples and aided widows in retaining their husband’s property. Being a powerful leader, she had every reason to turn arrogant like any another ruler but Ahilyabai’s humility and modesty never vanished. Once a poet in her court wrote a book consisting of poems praising her Ahilyabai but the queen had it thrown into the river! For the reason that she didn’t want any eloquent praises. She employed forest tribes as travelling merchants for which they were paid well.

Statue of Ahilyabai at Maheshwar Palace Source: Wikimedia Commons
Statue of Ahilyabai at Maheshwar Palace
Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to hinduhistory.info, “Two famous examples were the Vishnupad Mandir in Gaya and the Somnath Mandir in Gujarat. Every day she distributed food and clothes to the poor and to holy men and women. She would personally see any citizen who wished to lodge a complaint, whether it was a poor peasant or a rich merchant. Her success in administration stands out in contrast with most of the other important Hindu rulers of the time who were involved in petty feuds, and were not discharging their duties fully”.

Ahilyabai passed away in 1795 after serving as a ruler for 30 years. This period of time was legendary for Indore where the government was functional and the city had prospered. She was considered as a saint by many people for her work.

Ahilyabai Holkar stamp Source: ebay.in
Ahilyabai Holkar stamp
Source: ebay.in

In memory of this great female ruler, the Government of India issued commemorative stamps in 1966. In the same year, the people of Indore also instituted an award in her name to be annually given to citizens who turn out to be outstanding public figures. Nanaji Deshmukh was the first recipient of this award.

Ahilyabai Holkar Award Source: Pinterest
Ahilyabai Holkar Award
Source: Pinterest

Extracted from hindujagruti.org, this is a short English poem written by Joanna Baillie in 1849 in memory of Rajmata Ahilyadevi Holkar. It reads:

“For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and tright her frame,
And Ahlya was her honoured name.”

Shubhi Mangla is a student of Journalism & Mass Communication in New Delhi, Currently working as an intern at Newsgram. Twitter @shubhi_mangla

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Ahilyabai Holkar – The noble-hearted warrior Queen

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By Harshmeet Singh

India has never been kind to its women. Despite its indifference towards the amazing contributions of women at different points of Indian history, India has been fortunate enough to be blessed with some extraordinary women rulers in the past who not only successfully saved their kingdom from external forces, but also took it to far greater heights than ever before. One such ruler was the Holkar Queen of Malwa Kingdom, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar.

Born in a modest family, Ahilyabai caught the eyes of Maharaja Malhar Rao Holkar during the latter’s visit to a Shiva temple in Ahilyabai’s village. He immediately decided to bring her to Indore and marry her with his son, Khanderao. Close to a decade into a happy married life, her husband passed away in the battle of Kumbher. All set to Sati herself, she was stopped by her father-in-law. After the death of Malhar Rao, the throne of Indore fell to Mali Rao, Ahilyabai’s son. The unjust and cruel rule of Mali Rao only lasted for 9 months before he died, leaving Ahliyabai at the helm of Indore. And thus began the golden period of Indore’s history.

Her biggest challenges were the dacoits and thugs spread across the Kingdom. To get rid of them, she announced that she will marry off her daughter Muktabai to the person who brings an end to these dacoits. She stood by her word when she married Muktabai to Yashwant Rao, the young man who brought an end to the threat of dacoits in the kingdom.

Her rule was marked by digging of wells, building of temples and several policies of religious tolerance. For her noble deeds, historians compare her to the Queen Elizabeth 1 of England and Queen Catherin II of Russia. During her rule, she personally led the military campaigns of Indore’s army. She never observed purdah, and instead held regular public meetings to take a stock of the ground reality in her kingdom. Her rule saw Indore getting transformed from a small village into a splendid city.

Not only Indians, but the British were also in awe of her persona. A poem by Scottish poet Joanna Baillie in 1849 says,

“For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame,
And Ahlya was her honoured name.”

She passed away at the age of 70, leaving behind a flourishing kingdom that was ready to play a key role in India’s future. Fittingly, in her honor, Indore’s domestic airport is named “Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport”. Her reign was a proof that whether India acknowledges its women superheroes or not, they will leave their indelible mark on Indian history for the good.