It was a regular day in the life of Ahilyabai Holkar. It was the early 1730s and the young, wise girl was heading for the temple service in the village of Chaundi. The 8-year-old was extremely proud of the fact that she was one of the very few girls in the region who knew how to read and write. At the time, girls weren’t encouraged to study, but Ahilyabai's father, Mankoji Rao Shinde, the Patil of the village, believed otherwise. As she sprung along to the temple, she had no idea her life would change. It was a defining moment for the future when she was spotted by Malhar Rao Holkar, a commander in the service of the Maratha Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao and lord of the Malwa territory.
Malhar Rao Holkar was on his way to Pune when he stopped at Chaundi and was acquainted with Ahilyabai Holkar. Legend has it that he was so impressed by her that he took her to the Holkar kingdom and got her married to his son Khanderao Holkar in 1733. When he died in 1754, followed by the death of her son in 1767, Ahilyabai, well-read and already posing the qualities of a leader, became the queen of the kingdom. Thus began the reign of this princess who went on to become a successful ruler, breaking many stereotypes.
But her journey from being a royal princess to the ruler of a state wasn’t an easy one. From petitioning to the Peshwas to establishing an identity, Ahilyabai Holkar’s life has not just been interesting but also inspiring. And this Women’s Day week we are all set to celebrate her legacy by understanding her life, with a unique heritage walk organised by Sahapedia through its outreach programme, India Heritage Walks on March 10th in Indore.
Today, perhaps the only name that stands as a true example of women's empowerment in the city of Indore is that of this Maharani of the Holkar dynasty – Ahilyabai Holkar. The reign of Ahilyabai of Indore lasted thirty years. Today, some of the city's symbolic sites are named in her honour, such as the Indore domestic airport, named Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport, and Indore University, named Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya. Although Devi Ahilyabai Holkar established her capital in Maheshwar, her palace stood right in the heart of the famous Khajuri Bazaar of Indore. The walk begins here.
As we walk through this buzzing bazaar, we will take a look at some great images, informative posters and observe the hidden architectural history that emerged during Ahilyabai Holkar’s rule. It was said that the royal family never used any public money for personal use. Ahilyabai Holkar’s personal wealth was estimated to be 16 crores, most of which she used for philanthropic purposes and the construction of many temples, forts and promenades across the country. In fact, the queen is to be credited for the development of the city of Indore.
After the bazaar, we will head directly to the palace, known as the Rajwada, built in 1766. A Maratha-style architectural marvel, with heavy wooden doors and cylindrical bastions on four sides, the Rajwada is bound to leave one speechless. Entering its premises takes one back in time, and that is what we will do as we uncover the glorious past of Indore with a special focus on Ahilyabai’s rule and other empowered women of Indore.
After viewing some old artefacts displayed on the first floor of the palace and discussing their significance, we will explore the palace’s sculptures, its beautiful garden and admire its ornate decor that has witnessed the life and times of a spectacular woman.
The walk is being led by Ankit Goswami, a prolific storyteller from Indore who is a graduate in mass media (Journalism) and works with Mintage World, an online museum and collectorspedia.
With him, we will discuss stories about her courage and valour, and anecdotes about her rule in Indore as we discover the lessons her life holds for us in contemporary times and how it has influenced the other powerful women of Indore.
Come, celebrate the true spirit of Women’s Day like never before.
This guided tour is free.
For more details and registration, click here.
To learn more about the history and heritage of Indore on Sahapedia, click here.