“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 Ahilya was her honoured name.”
Poem on Rani Ahilyabai Holkar by Joanna Baillie 1849.
The history of India has its own share of great women, throughout the ages who played a significant role as rulers, poets, warriors. Be it the Gond queen Rani Durgavati who defied the mighty Mughal army of Emperor Akbar, or the brave Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi who fought against the British their deeds were a part of folklore and history. In such an illustrious pantheon, there was Ahilyabai Holkar, the daughter in law of Malhar Rao Holkar, the founder of the Holkar kingdom. Widowed at a young age, took over as queen, she takes her place in history among other great queens. Known for her wisdom and administrative ability she rebuilt many Hindu temples, offered facilities for pilgrims, and built a new capital at Maheswar on the banks of the Narmada.
Ahilayabai ruled at a time, when the whole of Central India, Maharashtra, was facing power struggles one way or another, as well as intense battles being fought for the throne.
While there was indeed a section of the kingdom that objected to her assumption to the throne, her army of Holkars stood by her and supported their queen’s leadership.
Just a year into her rule, one saw the brave Holkar queen protect her kingdom – fighting off invaders tooth and nail from plundering Malwa. Armed with swords and weapons, she led armies into the battlefield.
There she was, the queen of Malwa, slaying her enemies and invaders on battlefronts with four bows and quivers of arrows fitted to the corners of the howdah of her favourite elephant.
It was to her credit, that during her 30 year long reign, Malwa was never once attacked and remained an oasis of stability and peace. While Indore developed under Ahilyabhai’s reign, into a prosperous trading town, she also developed her own capital at Maheswar on the banks of the Narmada. She built many temples at Maheswar, a fort, a palace, repaired many ghats. She also built many forts, roads in Malwa, donated to temples and sponsored many Hindu festivals. She also built many temples, ghats, wells, tanks outside Malwa too all over India.
While Ahilyabai built and also repaired many temples all over India, some of her more famous works are rebuilding the Kashi Viswanath temple after it was destroyed by Aurangzeb, there is also an Ahilya Ghat at Varanasi as well as the Ahilya Dwarkeswar temple. Apart from that she also repaired the Manikarnika, Dasasvamedh Ghats, built Dharamshalas there.
We find her statue in the parliament of India as a token of respect to her feeds towards the development of the nation.