The queen who brought peace and prosperity with her wisdom.
Known for her wisdom and administrative skills, Ahilyabai had a humble beginning in a small village, near the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. She was born in Chondi to the village head, Mankoji Shinde, on May 31, 1725. Women did not go to school during that time, but her father himself educated her and taught her how to read and write.
So great was his liking for the girl, that Malhar Rao got Ahilyabai married to his son, Khanderao, at the age of eight, in 1733. Twelve years after the wedding, in the year 1745, Ahilyabai’s husband got killed during the siege of Kumbher fort. Grief stricken, it is said that Ahilyabai wanted to sacrifice herself by committing sati. But it was her father-in-law, Malhar Rao, who dissuaded her against it and instead, trained her in administrative and military matters.
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. Rani Ahilyabai never observed purdah, held daily public audience and was accessible to anyone who needed her ear.
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.
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.
Visuals: Eshita Munshi