Empress of resurrection, Devi Ahilyabai Holkar !


India’s captivating history contains a rich tapestry, Indian history has faced a lot of conflicts in the phases of invasions. The Hindu civilization was a nature’s gift in every way as a temple of God. In the era of the Islamic conquests the land of prosperity faced a period of severe stress, shuffle and strain for 10 centuries- the period of heroic defensive resistance on one side, and aggressive subjection on the other. The transition period came as a reconstructing force in the deccan with the rise of Maratha’s. The movement born in the deccan got spread throughout the length and breadth of India within half a century. The first phase was represented by Chhatrapati Shivaji maharaja and his descendants in a defensive nature and the second phase by Peshwa Bajirao I in an aggressive and assertive turn. This turn also brought a divine grace, blessed and chosen by the universe Devi Ahilyabai Holkar, who merged as a beacon of enlightened governance, administrative foxiness and cultural renaissance. A country which witnessed many queens of valour but the legacy of Devi Ahilyabai Holkar stands nonpareil for her remarkable reign of 30 years, leaving an impeccable impression and inspiration for eternity. commemorating 300th year anniversary of Devi, her enduring impact on Indian society and embodied principles continue to resonate with us, till today.


Rising above the ordinary

Looking back at the realms of history, lost in the passage of time, are the stories of valour and compassion of women who were fenced with barriers and traditions. Yet they fought the odds of life, and remained determined to serve our land, mother India will remind every generation, of the footprints that they have left behind. One such legend today is a brave warrior and a great leader revered as Rajmata and Devi, the Queen of Malwa, “Devi Ahilyabai Holkar”. She is an embodiment of the divine Dashabhuja. Her countless accomplishments, overcoming the strong gender barriers and beliefs that existed in 18th century making an inspiration for many generations to womankind. A humble tribute to maharani Ahilyabai Holkar on 300th year of her birth anniversary. Philosophical view towards “Naari shakti, Devi sets a true definition of feminism and woman empowerment.

Early life

The era of legacy was marked on 31 may 1725 A.D. in the family of Mankoji and Sushila Shinde, in the village of Chaundi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. Maharani Ahilyabai possessed no royal lineage but a simple upbringing celebrating extensive philanthropic efforts in the spiritual topics. From an ordinary background to extraordinary ruler, she sets up a unique example of happy and harmonious combination of contending cultures and morals in the society.

Universe operates on its own timetable and events unfold precisely as intended. The entrance of Devi onto the stage of Indian history is marked accidental by the history but as always stamped in the royal seal of her reign ‘Shankar Ajnevarun’ (as per the orders of the Shiva) the encounter of Malhar Rao Holkar and little Ahilya was conspired by the almighty. Since a tender age, Devi has displayed a satvik tendency, leading to her marriage with khandoji (son of Malharji) at a very young age due to her appreciation for simplicity and humble character. As fortune consistently favored Malharji on the various fronts of the battlefield, an unexpected tragedy struck him, causing all aspirations to momentarily halt. Khandoji’s demise from a cannon-ball during the siege of Kumbher on March 24, 1754, Which left Devi engulfed in despair and sorrow, contemplating the practice of sati. However, Malhar Rao intervened, guiding her away from this path and instead, he mentored her in administrative and military affairs. Through his guidance, Devi emerged as a significant figure in Indian history, her potential unlocked, reshaping the narrative of the era. This exemplifies a remarkable instance of Aryan governance under a capable Aryan woman, marking a pivotal transition in the historical landscape.

Facing the daunting task of assuming leadership in the male dominant society she exhibited a remarkable resilience and determination in betterment of Malwa region and Holkar kingdom in 18th century which later proved to remain a paradigm of benevolent and effective governance.

Reign of compassion and justice

Devi embodied the principles of dharma and righteousness through her actions, policies and judgments. Following the demise of her father-in-law she was recognized as the successor of the Holkar family by the peshwas. She diverted her void by taking numerous projects for the betterment of society, including the construction and renovation of temples (which were subjected to cruelty by the Mughals), of Ghats, wells, educational and health institutions.

On December 11, 1767 she was duly authorized as the Queen of Indore but the charities of Devi were in her own territory as well as throughout Bharat-Khand are too well known to need any special remarks. Wherever there stands temple, ghats and other charitable institutions or buildings un-named and un registered, the thought used trace Devi’s name.

Her patronage of the arts, literature, and architecture enriched the cultural landscape of central India and left an indelible mark on the heritage of Malwa. Recognising the potential of commerce, she implemented policies fostering entrepreneurship and innovation, transforming Maheshwar into a thriving centre of trade and industry. Infrastructure development under her reign facilitated trade routes, laying the groundwork for economic prosperity. he spearheaded the establishment of a textile industry within the city, introducing the tradition of Maheshwari sarees. This thriving handloom industry has undergone a remarkable transformation, with women taking centre stage at the loom while men contribute to ancillary and external aspects of the craft. Devi’s unwavering support for merchants and traders served as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation, paving the way for Maheshwar’s evolution into bustling commercial centre.

She was remarkably progressive for her era. Despite prevailing the norms which used to forbid women from education, she was well educated and she emerged as inspiration in 18th century for advocating the introduction of female education in the society. Her reign was not merely theoretical but practical, aimed at enhancing the lives of her subjects. She was swiftly and impartially available for her people despite of her busy schedule to ensure that justice is dispensed.  

Despite facing encirclement by invaders presuming the kingdom’s vulnerability, Ahilyabai displayed remarkable courage in defending her homeland. Leading her soldiers into battle, she repelled enemy forces, earning the adoration of her people. Stories of her care for her people abound. She helped widows to retain their husbands’ wealth. She made sure that a widow was allowed to adopt a son. In one instance, when her minister refused to allow an adoption unless he was suitably bribed, she sponsored the child herself and gave him clothes and jewels as part of the ritual.

Indian rulers patronized their works to the sacred spots of their own limited territory but were more or less provincialized: Devi ‘Nationalized’ them. The vision of the nation from her view was broadened and even though India was geographically and politically divided, Devi achieved unity without resorting to conquest or coercion. Devi bestowed on an India that was partitioned politically, spiritually and geographically for over 10 centuries (830 A.D. onwards). The Holkar government operated discreetly, avoiding seeking recognition, yet meticulously maintaining records of their charitable endeavors under the “Devsthan classification list.” Their charitable efforts primarily focused on two main aspects:

a) Restoring and revitalizing sacred sites and pilgrimage centers.

b) Supporting and promoting Indian architectural revival and development,

sufficient enough to stamp her religious work as ‘National’. Religion is, to us, “realization”. It, therefore needs to be “rational” as well as “national”. Devi’s scrupulous upholding of the efficient gifts to mosques and maulanas, her donations to saintly fakirs reveal the “rational” side of her religion. The religious aspect of the Maratha movement, led by its most discerning leaders, aimed to combat the negative influences brought about by external interactions. It was a struggle centered on principles, rather than targeting individuals. Devi adhered to and maintained this clear distinction.

From the records it can be accorded that the income of the Khasgi was keeping equal pace and the expenditure too. Devi tries to plant her charities in and about the newly conquered provinces. Her efforts at Gaya, Banaras, Ayodhya, Pandharpur, and Jagannathpuree speaks about her nature of “re-construction”. Even the buildings speak about the out- posts of the “New spirit” that was awaken from the companionship of Maratha movement. The new temples erected were surrounded and served by learned shastri who were invited from all parts of India, and were supported by Devi; and they, in return, used to work as missionaries of the Hindu religion in all its aspects.

Her steps brought about amicable relations between distant and divided Hindu rulers; and united their hearts, though not their territories; The Nizam and Tippu revered her, and respected her word, the whole of India lived in peace and love under the magic of her name. Her territorial rule was, indeed, limited; but her spiritual rule on people’s heart was unlimited.

Thus, we see her humane to all human beings, with no distinction of caste, colour or creed. the birds of the air, the beasts of forests, and the fish of the waters had their own shares of her humanity. Devi through her charities, became in tune with the infinite. The charities were, then, a means, and not an end in themselves. As the soul advanced, the charities flowed. Few authoritative questions to verify their significance and implications as well: -

1. Dr. Frazer: - With Akbar, the Mughal system culminates and with him it disappears. His principles and vision vanish. His narrow-minded success got swept all away, and nothing to replace what he destroyed, leaves chaos behind him even after two generations of power. “Re-Constructing force” comes from a quarter where no on looks for it. “The Deccan”.

2. Dr. Shafat Ahmed Khan: - “There are town in India which are more sacred, and evoke warmer feelings of devotion and piety than any place in any part of the world. Around them cluster sentiments alike of “religion”, and “patriotism”, from the propagated idea and movement which have frequently changed the map of India.” (Presidential address at Poona, 1935)

Adding to these profound sentiments, it is worth noting that the sacred cities have profoundly influenced to change the map of human consciousness. In the words of Rolls Water Brown’s “The Creative Spirit,” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” These reflections encapsulate the essence of Devi’s life’s work and inspire hope for the future.

Malcolm’s Memoir of Central India devotes fully 21 pages of unstinting tribute to Ahilyabai reign. Initially disbelieving of the praise heaped on her by dynastic friends and allies, but when Malcolm went searching ‘among all ranks and classes’, he said, for a more balanced assessment. He failed to find one. ‘The more enquiry is pursued’, he wrote, ‘the more admiration is excited.’


The course of life, marked by prayer, abstinence, and labour knew little variation. Nature, however stronger than nurture, the life span was slowly but surely approaching its culmination. The Hindu month of Shrawan alternates with fasts and feasts, which was a very busy month for Devi, on dark- half of shrawan of 1795 A.D. Devi passed away calmly and consciously at the age of 70 after feeding twelve thousand souls and donating prescribed for the welfare of the state. A life followed with pain and obstructions in way of her personal happiness, she brought life and joy in lives of countless people.

Kaushali Ram (Author of Sri Ahilya-Kama-Dhenu, A poet of Central India) says: - She has purified her body, Speech and Mind; her chief delight was “to listen and to know”. “Happiness to all” she longed and prayed for, her intellect was immerged in action controlled by rules and discipline.

Ahilyabai Holkar, often hailed as the Philosopher Queen, was frequently compared to historical luminaries such as Margaret I of Denmark, Elizabeth I of England, and Catherine II of Russia. In recognition of her valour and greatness, the Republic of India issued a commemorative stamp on August 25, 1996. That same year, the Indore Government instituted an annual award in her name, to honour exceptional public figures. The Indore domestic airport was renamed Ahilyabai Holkar Airport, and Indore University was rechristened as Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya in her honour. Her enduring reputation as a saintly figure in Malwa and Maharashtra, transcending her role as a warrior queen, is evidenced by the timeless testimonies of her benevolence. She was also revered as a Karma Yogi and a Raja Yogi. Her devoutness, profound concern for her people, administrative acumen, and the monuments she erected across the country will be remembered with gratitude for generations to come. Her connection to nature, which seemed boundless, concluded with her, leaving an imprint on future rulers and governance. The extent to which this legacy is upheld remains a subject for introspection.

(This article is a small way in which Adv. Arundhati Singh Chandel likes to pay tribute & remembers the Legacy of Devi Ahilyabai Holkar on her 300th Birth Anniversary)