This is the story of the life and times of an extraordinary lady, Devi Ahilyabai Holkar. Born in the village of Chaundi, around 1725, she impressed Bajirao Peshwa and his dear friend Malharrao Holkar, with her brilliance, merely as a little girl of eight or nine. Malharrao Holkar brought her into his family as his daughter-in-law, the wife of his son, Khanderao Holkar.
Ahilyabai undertook training under his mentorship and proved herself worthy of subsequently inheriting the reins of the Subhedari that was bestowed on Malharrao Holkar.
Ahilyabai’s personal life was fraught with tragedies. A husband, who showed no interest in the administration of the state and later, a son, who not only carried his father’s vices a few steps ahead but was also a persistent source of concern for her. But Ahilyabai’s parents-in-law offered her a strong backing. After their death, Ahilyabai was still to face the loss of many relatives, one by one, either to ill health or to the evil tradition of Sati. Despite being battered by the deaths of her near and dear ones, she weathered many a political storms with tremendous fortitude and righteousness, taking a strong stand even against her own people, when required.
Ahilyabai’s charity and philanthropic work during her reign, is celebrated far and wide. She built innumerable temples, embankments on the river Narmada, wells, roads, and rest houses for travellers…but what remains a lesser known fact is that she was not just a benevolent ruler but a visionary, an astute strategist and a keen statesman. She was a lone woman who not just survived but thrived among the shrewd and scheming statesmen of her times. That in itself was no mean an achievement in an era subjugated by male chauvinism. She was a lady ahead of her times in every way.
Ahilyabai’s reign of nearly 30 years, after the death of Malharrao, is marked by the growth of commerce and trade as well as art and literature at Maheshwar. Her compassion for social concerns and passion for religious reforms remains unequalled. Her devotion to the country and her allegiance to the throne of the Peshwas remain exemplary!
This is a humble effort to explore the emotional journey of the life of the lady who etched a special place in history not just with her altruistic work but also with her incomparable developmental work. She should be known not just for her charitable draft but political craft`a true Karmayogini!