Ahilyabai Holkar

Ahilyabai Holkar (31 May 1725 – 13 August 1795)[1] was the hereditary noble sardar of the Maratha Empire, India. Ahilya was born in the village of Chondi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. She moved the seat of her kingdom to Maheshwar south of Indore on the Narmada River.

Ahilya Bai Holkar
Shrimant Akhand Soubhagyavati Ahilya Bai Sahiba
Ahilyabai Holkar 1996 stamp of India.jpg
Ahilyabai Holkar on a 1996 stamp of India
Noble of the Maratha Empire
Reign1 December 1767 – 13 August 1795
Coronation11 December 1767
PredecessorMalharrao Holkar
SuccessorTukoji Rao Holkar
Born(1725-05-31)31 May 1725
Grram Chaundi, Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India
Died(1795-08-13)13 August 1795
SpouseKhanderao Holkar
IssueMale Rao Holkar (son)
Muktabai (daughter)
Ahilya Bai Sahiba Holkar
HouseHouse of Holkar
DynastyMaratha Empire
FatherMankoji Shinde

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 took over the affairs of Holkar fief. She tried to protect her land from plundering invaders. She personally led armies into battle. She appointed Tukoji Rao Holkar as the Chief of her militia.

Ahilyabai was a great pioneer and builder of Hindu temples. She built hundreds of temples and Dharmashalas throughout India. Her greatest achievement was to rebuild the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in 1780, which was dedicated to Vishvanath; the presiding deity of the city of Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu sites of pilgrimage, that had been plundered, desecrated, demolished & converted into a mosque on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1696.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Ahilyabai was born on 31 May 1725 in the village of Chaundi, in the present-day Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. Her father, Mankoji Sindhia (Shinde), a scion of a respectable Dhangar family residing at Chonde of the Beed district, was the Patil of that Village.[3][4] Women then did not go to school, but Ahilyabai's father taught her to read and write.[5]

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 Baji Rao I 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 Yashwantrao, a brave but poor man, after he succeeded in defeating the dacoits.[6]


The Royal Palace of Maheshwar
Courtyard of the royal palace (Rajwada), Maheshwar
Statue of Ahilya Bai Holkar in the royal palace, Maheshwar

Her husband was killed during the siege of Kumher in 1754.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9][10]

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:

"Proceed to Gwalior after crossing the Chambal. You may halt there for four or five days. You should keep your big artillery and arrange for its ammunition as much as possible....On the march you should arrange for military posts being located for protection of the road."

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, Haridwar, 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.

After her death, she was succeeded by Tukoji Rao Holkar I, her commander-in-chief, who soon abdicated the throne in favour of his son Kashi Rao Holkar in 1797.


Ahilyabai died on 13th August, 1795 at the age of 70. A woman of modern times, Ahilyabai's rule is remembered as a golden age in Indore’s history. Ironically, her daughter became a Sati by jumping into the funeral pyre when her husband, Yashwantrao Phanse, died. Ahilyabai was succeeded by her commander-in-chief, Tukoji Rao Holkar.

Views about herEdit

Statue of Ahilybai Holkar, Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh

"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."

— Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (1946)[11]

"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 Ahilya was her honored name."

— Joanna Baillie, English Poem (1849)

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.

"Ahilyabai's extraordinary ability won her the regard of her subjects and of the other Maratha confederates, including Nana Phadnavis. 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."

— John Malcolm, A Memoir of Central India [12]

"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."

"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[citation needed]

"Definitely no woman and no ruler are like Ahilyabai Holkar."

"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[14]

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."

— John Keay, India: A History (2000)[15]

"The Great Maratha lady who affords the noblest example of wisdom, goodness, and virtue. Akbar is among male sovereigns, and Ahilyabai is among female sovereigns".

— An English writer quoted in the book Ahilya Bai Holkar by Khadpekar[16]

A commemorative stamp was issued in her honour on 25 August 1996 by the Republic of India.[17]

As a tribute to the great ruler, Indore international airport has been named Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport. Similarly, Indore university has been renamed as Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya.[citation needed]

Works throughout IndiaEdit

Ahilya Ghat, Varanasi
The current structure of Vishnupad Temple is built by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar in 1787
Ahilya Bai's Fort

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.[18]

Ahilya Bai's Temple
Symbol of holkars
  • Alampur (MP) – Harihareshwar, Batuk, Malharimarthand, Surya, Renuka, Ram Hanuman Temples, Shriram Temple, Laxmi Narayan Temple, Maruti Temple, Narsinh Temple, Khanderao Martand Temple, Memorial of Malharrao (I)
  • Amarkantak- Shri Vishweshwar Temple, Kotithirth Temple, Gomukhi Temple, Dharamshala, Vansh Kund
  • Ambegaon – Lamps for temple
  • Anand Kanan – Vishweshwar Temple
  • Ayodhya (U.P)– Built Shri Ram Temple, Shri Treta Ram Temple, Shri Bhairav Temple, Nageshwar/Siddhnath Temple, Sharayu Ghat, well, Swargadwari Mohatajkhana, Dharamshalas
  • Badrinath (Uttarakhand) – Badrinath Temple, Shri Kedareshwar and Hari Temples, Dharamshalas (Rangdachati, Bidarchati, Vyasganga, Tanganath, Pawali), Manu kunds (Gaurkund, Kundachatri), Garden and Warm Water Kund at Dev Prayag, Pastoral land for cows
  • Beed – Jirnnodhar of a Ghat,khandeshwari temple.
  • Belur (Karnataka) – Ganpati, Pandurang, Jaleshwar, Khandoba, Tirthraj and Fire temples, Kund
  • Bhanpura – Nine Temples and Dharmashala
  • Bharatpur – Temple, Dharmashala, Kund
  • Bhimashankar – Garibkhana
  • Bhusawal – Changadev Temple
  • Bitthur – Bhramaghat
  • Burhanpur (MP) – Raj Ghat, Ram Ghat, Kund
  • Chandwad – Vishnu Temple and Renuka Temple
  • Chaundi – Chaudeshwaridevi Temple, Sineshwar Mahadev temple,
  • Ahilyeshwar Temple, Dharamshala, Ghat,
  • Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh – Pranpratishta of Shri Ramchandra
  • Cikhalda – Annakshetra
  • Dwarka (Gujarat) – Mohatajkhana, Pooja House and gave some villages to priest
  • Gangotri – Vishwanath, Kedarnath, Annapurna and Bhairav Temples, many Dharmashalas
  • Gaya (Bihar) – Vishnupad Temple
  • ((Gokarna)) – Rewaleshwar Mahadev temple, Holkar Wada, Garden and Garibkhana
  • Grishneshwar – Shiva temple and Shivalaya Tirth
  • Handiya – Siddhanath Temple, ghat and Dharmastala
  • Haridwar – Kushawarth Ghat
  • Indore – Many Temples and ghats
  • Jalgaon – Ram Mandir
  • Jamghat – Bhumi dwar
  • Jalgaon – Donated for Ramdas Swami Math
  • Jejuri – Malhargautameshwar, Vitthal, Martand Temple, Janai Mahadev and Malhar lakes
  • Karmanasini River – Bridge
  • Kedarnath – Dharmashala and Kund
  • Kolhapur – Facilities for temple pooja
  • Kumher – Well and Memorial of Prince Khandera
  • Khargone – fort and many temples and ghats
  • Kurukshetra (Haryana) – Shiv Shantanu Mahadev Temple, Panchkund Ghat, Laxmikund Ghat
  • Maheshwar – Hundreds of temples, ghats, dharmashalas and houses
  • Mamaleshwar Mahadev Himachal Pradesh – Lamps
  • Manasa Devi – Seven temples
  • Mandleshwar – Shiv Temple Ghat
  • Mangaon – Datta Mandir, Near Sawantwadi, Konkan, Maharashtra, India
  • Meerut Chandi Devi Temple
  • Miri (Ahmednagar) – Bhairav Temple in 1780
  • Naimabar(MP) – Temple
  • Nandurbar – Temple, Well
  • Nathdwara – Ahilya Kund, Temple, Well
  • Nandurkhi BK – Well
  • Neelkantha Mahadev – Shivalaya and Gomukh
  • Nemisharanya(UP) – Mahadev Madi, Nimsar Dharmashala, Go-ghat, Cakrithirth Kund
  • Nimgaon (Nashik) – Well
  • Omkareshwar (MP) – Mamaleshwar Mahadev, Amaleshwar, Trambakeshwar Temples (Jirnnodhar), Gauri Somnath Temple, Dharmashalas, Wells
  • Ozar (Ahmednagar) – 2 wells and kund
  • Panchavati, Nasik – Shri Ram Temple, Gora Mahadev temple, Dharmashala, Vishweshwar Temple, Ramghat, Dharmashala
  • Parli Vaijnath – Shri Vaidyanath Mandir
  • Pandharpur (Maharashtra) – Shri Ram Temple, Tulsibag, Holkar wada, Sabha Mandap, Dharmashala and gave silver utensil for the Vitthal Temple, Pandharpur, Well-Which known by Bagirao well.
  • Pimplas (Nashik) – well
  • Prayag (Allahabad UP) – Vishnu Temple, Dharmashala, Garden, Ghat, Palace
  • Pune – Ghat
  • Puntambe (Maharashtra) – Ghat on Godavari river
  • Puri (Odisha) – Shri Ramchandra Temple, Dharmashala and Garden
  • Pushkar – Ganpati Temple, Dharmashala, Garden
  • Rameswaram (TN) – Hanuman Temple, Shri Radha Krishna Temple, Dharmashala, Well, Garden & arrangement to supply water of the river Ganga collected from Gangotri
  • Rampura – Four Temples, Dharmashala and houses
  • Raver – Keshav Kund
  • Rishikesh – Many temples including Shrinathji and Govardhan ram temples
  • Sakargaon – well
  • Sambhal – Laxmi Narayan Temple and two wells
  • Sangamner – Ram Temple
  • Saptashrungi – Dharmashala
  • Sardhana Meerut – Chandi Devi Temple
  • Saurashtra (Guj) – Somnath Temple in 1785. (Jirnnodhdhar and Pran Prathistha)
  • Siddhivinayak temple's inner sanctum at Siddhatek in Ahmednagar District
  • Shri Nagnath (Darukhvan) – Started pooja in 1784
  • Srisailam (AP) – Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple
  • Shri Shambhu Mahadev Mountain Shingnapur (Maharashtra) – Well
  • Shri Vighneshwar – Lamps
  • Sinhpur – Shiv Temple and ghat
  • Sulpeshwar – Mahadev Temple, annakshetra
  • Sultanpur (Khandesh) – Temple
  • Tarana – Tilabhandeshwar Shiv temple, Khedapati, Shriram Temple, Mahakali Temple
  • Tehari (Bundelkhand) – Dharmashala
  • Trimbakeshwar (Nashik) – Bridge on Kushawarth Ghat
  • Ujjain (MP) – Chintaman Ganapati, Janardhan, Shrilila Purushottam, Balaji Tilakeshwar, Ramjanaki Ras Mandal, Gopal, Chitnis, Balaji, Ankpal, Shiv, and many other temples, 13 ghats, well and many Dharmashalas, etc.
  • VaranasiKashi Vishwanath Temple (1780[19]), Shri Tarakeshwar, Shri Gangaji, Ahilya Dwarkeshwar, Gautameshwar, Many Shiva Temples; Ghats including Manikarnika Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Janana Ghat, Ahilya Ghat, Shitala Ghat; Uttarkashi Dharmashala, Rameshwar Panchkoshi Dharmashala, Kapila Dhara Dharmashala,
  • Vrindavan (Mathura) – Chain Bihari Temple, Kaliyadeha Ghat, Chirghat, and many other ghats, Dharmashala, Annakstra
  • Wafgaon (Rajgurunagar, Pune) – Holkar Wada and one well
  • Ambad (Maharashtra) -Matsodari Devi Mandir
  • Vikharan (Shirpur Dist: Dhule Maharashtra) Well
Weapons used by Holkars


In Marathi

In popular cultureEdit

  • Former Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has written a book "Matoshree" based on the life of Ahilyadevi Holkar.
  • A film titled Devi Ahilya Bai was produced in 2002 featuring Mallika Prasad as Devi Ahilya Bai, Shabana Azmi as Harkubai (Khanda Rani, one of Malhar Rao Holkar's wives) and also including Sadashiv Amrapurkar as Malhar Rao Holkar, Ahilyabai's father in law.[20]
  • A documentary for UGC-CEC channel VYAS was made by Educational Multimedia Research Centre, Indore about her life and times.
  • In Thane City in Maharashtra, a children's park has been named as 'Ahilyadevi Holkar Udyan' after her. Also, a road has been named after her in the same city.
  • The airport at Indore is named Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Airport in her honor.
  • There are two universities named Devi Ahilya Vishwa Vidyalaya in Indore, Madhya Pradesh and punyashlok Ahilya Devi Holkar university in Solapur, Maharashtra.
  • In the 1994 Hindi TV series The Great Maratha, Ahilyabai's character was portrayed by Mrinal Kulkarni.
  • In 2016, a TV serial titled Punyashlok Ahilybai Holkar aired on Colors Marathi starring Urmila Kothare as Ahilybai.
  • In 2021, a TV serial titled Punyashlok Ahilyabai aired on Sony. Aditi Jaltare played the role of a young Ahilyabai[21]


  1. ^ Pradesh (India), Madhya (1827). Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers: Hoshangabad. Government Central Press. p. 64.
  2. ^ Madhuri Desai 2017, p. 83.
  3. ^ Khanolkar, D.D. (1979). Marathwada University Journal - Volumes 17-18. Marathwada University. p. 67.
  4. ^ Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi (2002). Education and the Disprivileged Nineteenth and Twentieth Century India. Orient BlackSwan. p. 40. ISBN 9788125021926.
  5. ^ "Ahilyabai Holkar Information in English | Ahilyabai Holkar". 2 May 2020. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  6. ^ "Ahilyabai Holkar Information in English | Ahilyabai Holkar". 2 May 2020. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  7. ^ Jaswant Lal Mehta (1 January 2005). Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1707–1813. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. pp. 606–. ISBN 978-1-932705-54-6.
  8. ^ Anne Feldhaus (21 March 1996). Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion. SUNY Press. pp. 184–. ISBN 978-0-7914-2838-2.
  9. ^ Omkareshwar and Maheshwar: Travel Guide. Goodearth Publications. 2011. pp. 60–. ISBN 978-93-80262-24-6.
  10. ^ R. V. Solomon; J. W. Bond (2006). Indian States: A Biographical, Historical, and Administrative Survey. Asian Educational Services. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-81-206-1965-4.
  11. ^ Jawaharlal Nehru (1946) The Discovery of India. Meridian Books. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-19-562359-8
  12. ^ Malcolm, J., A Memoir of Central India, quoted in John Keay (2000). India: A History. Grove Press. p. 407. ISBN 978-0-8021-3797-5.
  13. ^ Annie Besant (2018). Children of the Motherland. CHIZINE PUBN. pp. 290–291. ISBN 978-1-377-17734-2.
  14. ^ Arvind Javlekar (2002). Lokmata Ahilyabai. Ocean Books. p. 140. ISBN 978-81-88322-08-4.
  15. ^ John Keay (2000). India: A History. Grove Press. p. 425. ISBN 978-0-8021-3797-5.
  16. ^ Quote of an English writer given in the book Ahilya Bai Holkar by Khadpekar
  17. ^ "Ahilyabai Holkar". Indianpost.com. 25 August 1996. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  18. ^ Arvind Javlekar (2002). Lokmata Ahilyabai. Ocean Books. p. 62. ISBN 978-81-88322-08-4.
  19. ^ "Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple – A Brief history". Archived from the original on 10 February 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
  20. ^ "NFDC: Cinemas of India". Nfdcindia.com. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  21. ^ World, Republic. "Ahilyabai Holkar serial's cast: Here's a list of all the actors & characters on the show". Republic World. Retrieved 15 January 2021.

External linksEdit