|Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar|
|Her Highness Maharani Shrimant Akhand Soubhagyavati Ahilya Bai Sahiba|
Ahilyabai Holkar on a 1996 stamp of India
|Queen of the Malwa Kingdom|
|Reign||1 December 1767 – 13 August 1795|
|Coronation||11 December 1767|
|Successor||Tukojirao Holkar I|
|Born||31 May 1725|
Grram Chaundi, Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India
|Died||13 August 1795|
|House||House of Holkar|
Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar (31 May 1725 – 13 August 1795) was the Holkar Queen of the Maratha Malwa kingdom, India. Rajmata Ahilyabai was born in the village of Chondi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. She moved the capital to Maheshwar south of Indore on the Narmada River.
Ahilyabai's husband Khanderao Holkar was killed in the battle of Kumbher in 1754. Twelve years later, her father-in-law, Malhar Rao Holkar, died. A year after that she was crowned as the queen of the Malwa kingdom. She tried to protect her kingdom from plundering invaders. She personally led armies into battle. She appointed Tukojirao Holkar as the Chief of Army.
Rani Ahilyabai was a great pioneer and builder of Hindu temples. She built hundreds of temples and Dharmashalas throughout India.
Ahilyabai was born on 31 May 1725 in the village of Chaundi, in the present-day Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. Her father, Mankoji Rao Shinde, was the Patil of the village. Women then did not go to school, but Ahilyabai's father taught her to read and write.
Her entrance on to the stage of history was something of an accident: Malhar Rao Holkar, a commander in the service of the Maratha Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao and lord of the Malwa territory, stopped in Chaundi on his way to Pune and, according to legend, saw the eight-year-old Ahilyabai at the temple service in the village. Recognising her piety and her character, he brought the girl to the Holkar territory as a bride for his son, Khanderao (1723–1754). She was married to Khanderao Holkar in 1733. In 1745, she gave birth to their son Malerao and in 1748, a daughter Muktabai. Malerao was mentally unwell and died of his illness in 1767. Ahilyabai broke another tradition when she married her daughter to Yashwant Rao a brave but poor man after he succeeded in defeating the dacoits.
Her husband was killed during the siege of Kumher in 1754. In 1754, on request of support from Imad-ul-Mulk, the Mughal Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur's Mir Bakhshi, Ahilya Bai's husband Khanderao Holkar, in the army of his father Malhar Rao Holkar, laid the siege of Kumher fort of Jat Maharaja Suraj Mal of Bharatpur State who had sided with the Mughal Emperor's rebellious wazir Safdar Jang. Khanderao was inspecting his troops on an open palanquin in the battle of Kumher when was hit and killed by a cannonball from the Jat army. After his death in 1754, his father Malhar Rao prevented his wife Ahilya Bai from committing sati. Malhar Rao Holkar died in 1766, 12 years after the death of his son Khanderao. Malhar Rao's grandson and Khanderao's only son Male Rao Holkar became the ruler of Indore in 1766, under the regentship of Ahilyabai, but he too died within few months on 5 April 1767. Ahilyabai became the ruler of Indore after the death of her son with Khanderao.
A letter to her from her father-in-law Malhar Rao in 1765 illustrates the trust he had in her ability during the tempestuous battle for power in the 18th century:
Already trained to be a ruler, Ahilyabai petitioned the Peshwa after Malhar's death, and the death of her son, to take over the administration herself. Some in Malwa objected to her assumption of rule, but the army of Holkar supported her leadership. She led them in person, with four bows and quivers of arrows fitted to the corners of the howdah of her favourite elephant. The Peshwa granted her permission on 11 December 1767, and, with Subhedar Tukojirao Holkar (Malharrao's adopted son) as the head of military matters, she proceeded to rule Malwa in a most enlightened manner, even reinstating a Brahmin who had opposed her. Ahilyabai daily public audience and was always accessible to anyone who needed her ear.
Among Ahilyabai's accomplishments was the development of Indore from a small village to a prosperous and beautiful city; her own capital, however, was in nearby Maheshwar, a town on the banks of the Narmada river. She also built forts and roads in Malwa, sponsored festivals and gave donations for regular worship in many Hindu temples. Outside Malwa, she built dozens of temples, ghats, wells, tanks and rest-houses across an area stretching from the Himalayas to pilgrimage centres in South India. The Bharatiya Sanskritikosh lists as sites she embellished, Kashi, Gaya, Somnath, Ayodhya, Mathura, Hardwar, Kanchi, Avanti, Dwarka, Badrinarayan, Rameshwar and Jaganathpuri. Ahilyadevi also supported the rise of merchants, farmers and cultivators to levels of affluence, and did not consider that she had any legitimate claim to their wealth, be it through taxes or feudal right.
There are many stories of her care for her people. In one instance, when her minister refused to allow the adoption unless he was suitably bribed, she is said to have sponsored the child herself, and given him clothes and jewels as part of the ritual. To honour the memory of Ahilyadevi Holkar, in 1996 leading citizens of Indore instituted an award in her name to be bestowed annually on an outstanding public figure. The Prime Minister of India gave away the first award to Nanaji Deshmukh.
Ahilyadevi was not able to settle the conflict peacefully in the case of the Bhils and Gonds, who plundered her borders; but she granted them waste hilly lands and the right to a small duty on goods passing through their territories. Even in this case, according to Malcolm, she did give "considerate attention to their habits".
Ahilyabai's capital at Maheshwar was the scene of literary, musical, artistic and industrial enterprise. She entertained the famous Marathi poet, Moropant and the shahir, Anantaphandi from Maharashtra, and also patronised the Sanskrit scholar, Khushali Ram. Craftsmen, sculptors and artists received salaries and honours at her capital, and she even established a textile industry in the city of Maheshwar.
"The reign of Ahilyabai, of Indore in central India, lasted for thirty years. This has become almost legendary as a period during which perfect order and good government prevailed and the people prospered. She was a very able ruler and organizer, highly respected during her lifetime, and considered as a saint by a grateful people after her death." An English poem written by Joanna Baillie in 1849 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 mother's 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 honored name."
"Ahilyabai's extraordinary ability won her the regard of her subjects and of the other Maratha confederates, including Nana Phadnavis. Collecting oral memories of her in the 1820s, Sir John Malcolm, the British official most directly concerned with the 'settlement' of central India, seems to have become deeply enamored of her. "With the natives of Malwa ... her name is sainted and she has styled an avatar or Incarnation of the Divinity. In the soberest view that can be taken of her character, she certainly appears, within her limited sphere, to have been one of the purest and most exemplary rulers that ever existed". (J. Malcolm)  John Keay called her 'The Philosopher Queen', a reference perhaps to the 'Philosopher king' Bhoj:
"Ahilyabai Holkar, the 'philosopher-queen' of Malwa, had evidently been an acute observer of the wider political scene. In a letter to the Peshwa in 1772, she had warned against association with the British and likened their embrace to a bear-hug: "Other beasts, like tigers, can be killed by might or contrivance, but to kill a bear it is very difficult. It will die only if you kill it straight in the face, Or else, once caught in its powerful hold, the bear will kill its prey by tickling. Such is the way of the English. And in view of this, it is difficult to triumph over them."
"This great ruler in Indore encouraged all within her realm to do their best, Merchants produced their finest clothes, trade flourished, the farmers were at peace and oppression ceased, for each case that came to the queen's notice was dealt with severely. She loved to see her people prosper, and to watch the fine cities grow, and to watch that her subjects were not afraid to display their wealth, lest the ruler should snatch it from them. Far and wide the roads were planted with shady trees, and wells were made, and rest-houses for travelers. 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 Musalman alike revered the famous Queen and prayed for her long life. Her last great sorrow was when her daughter became a Sati upon the death of Yashwantrao Phanse. Ahalya Bai was seventy years old when her long and splendid life closed. Indore long mourned its noble Queen, happy had been her reign, and her memory is cherished with deep reverence unto this day." (Annie Besant
"From the original papers and letters, it becomes clear that she was the first-class politician, and that was why she readily extended her support to Mahadji Shinde. I have no hesitation in saying that without the support of Ahilyabai, Mahadji would never have gained so much importance in the politics of northern India." (Historian Judunath Sarkar)
"It reveals beyond doubt that all ideal virtues described by Plato and Bhattacharya were present in her personalities like Dilip, Janak, Shri Ram, Shri Krishna, and Yudhishthir. After thorough scrutiny of the long history of the world, we find only one personality of Lokmata Devi Ahilya that represents an absolutely ideal ruler." (Arvind Javlekar)
It was the specialty of the Holkar family that they did not use public funds to meet their personal and family expenses. They had their personal fund from their private property. Ahilyabai inherited personal funds which at that time was estimated to be sixteen crores rupees. Ahilyabai used the personal fund in charitable works.
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