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In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble dame,
Kind was her heart and bright her fame,
Ahilya was her honoured name,” - Joanna Baillie in honour of one of the greatest Maratha woman rulers, Ahilyabai.
Ahilyabai Holkar was born in the village of Chondi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar in 1725. She was fondly referred to as Rajmata. She was the Holkar Queen of the Malwa kingdom. Her father, Mankoji Rao Shinde, was the Patil (chief) of the village.
Her father home schooled her. She was married to Khanderao Holkar in 1733 at the age of 8. Her husband was killed in the battle of Kumbher in 1754, leaving her a widow at 21. Her only son, Male Rao Holkar ascended the throne under her regency. He too died on 5th April, 1767.
Ahilyabai stood undeterred even after loosing her entire family. She did not let her grief affect the administration of the kingdom. She took matters into her own hands. She petitioned the Peshwa after her son’s death, to take over the administration herself. (Son)
She ascended the throne and became the ruler of Indore on 11th December, 1767. The supreme ruler of the Empire, Peshwa Raghoba, was instigated by one of Ahilyabai’s own ministers to confiscate the excess wealth of Indore.
Ahilyabai pointed out to him that under the agreements that existed the wealth of the treasury was supposed to be for the well being of her subjects or for charitable purposes. The Peshwa was infuriated that she defied him, and threatened military action.
She in turn challenged him to meet her on the battlefield. A msg was sent to Peshwa: “Now I'll show you how weak I am. If I lose fighting against men I'll have lost nothing. But if you lose against women then you'll be in the soup! And remember that's exactly what will happen.”
The Peshwa had a change of heart. He said, “You have misunderstood. I did not come to fight, but to mourn your son’s death.” He ended up staying as Ahilyabai’s guest for a month and was thoroughly impressed at the skill with which she ruled.
She protected her kingdom, fighting off invaders tooth and nail from plundering Malwa. She led armies into the battlefield and slayed her enemies and invaders on battlefronts with four bows and quivers of arrows fitted to the corners of the howdah of her favourite elephant.
She reduced crime/theft by encouraging people to get involved in trade & farming. She passed away at 70. To honour her, in 1996, leading citizens of Indore instituted an award in her name to be bestowed annually on an outstanding public figure. Nanaji Deshmukh got the 1st award.
Her life shines brightly in the firmament of history, for ruling her kingdom with piety and selflessness; sincerely devoting herself to her subjects while keeping Dharma at the forefront of all that she did. Her life is an inspiration for future generations of Hindus.
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