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Remembering Ahilyabai Holkar On Her Birth Anniversary: An Iconic Symbol Of Women’s Empowerment

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Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India in his book, The discovery of India mentioned the legendary Ahilyabai Holkar. He wrote, “She was a very able ruler and organizer.” Ahilyabai Holkar, born on May 31, 1725, in the village of Chaundi in Maharashtra. Women’s education was not prioritized then but her father Mankoji Rao Shinde homeschooled her to read and write. Malhar Rao Holkar a commander in the service of the Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao got her married at the age of eight to his son Khanderao, after a chance meeting with her at the temple service in the village. 

 

After her husband died in 1754 Ahilyabai was trained to be Malhar Rao’s successor. After her son Male Rao passed away in 1766 she had to head the Holkar State. Nehru wrote that the reign of Ahilyabai, of Indore in central India, lasted for 30 years during which perfect order and good government prevailed and the people prospered.

 

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan showed his respect on the birth anniversary of Ahilyabai Holkar. Ahilyabai after assuming charges set up her capital at the ancient city of Maheshwar on the banks of the Narmada River. She tactfully faced the plundering intruders establishing order and peace in her region. Her reign saw the building of numerous forts and roads in the region and the rejuvenation of Hinduism reflected in the construction of temples, ghats, and wells in the  Malwa region. The message of dharma was spread and small-scale industrialization was promoted. She transformed Indore into a developed city. 

 

The Sati system was prevalent during her time. After Khanderao’s death, Malhar Rao prevented Ahilyabai from committing sati. During her 30 year reign Malwa remained stable and peaceful, Indore remained undiminished and unattacked.  

 

She set up a Textile weaving industry in her capital Maheshwar. An NGO, Rehwa Society is working to revive the art and tradition. Thousands of looms exist in and outside Maheshwar which provide employment opportunities to lakhs especially women.

 

She set up a trust to ensure independence for the women. She also encouraged the preaching of the scriptures. Trade and commerce flourished. Infrastructure was built in order to facilitate travel & speedy communication. Maheshwar became a center for literature and arts. Many sculptors, artists, and craftsmen were patronized. Ahilyabai rebuilt the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. 

 

Ahilyabai Devi raised the standards of governance and administration. She empowers women to rise above the prevalent patriarchy and stand out as able independent women of today.

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