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.