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  • Writer's pictureMs. Aum Pherwani

QUEEN OF MALWA - INDIA’S “SHE-RO” ..A student's take on Indian Historical figures

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

She's beauty and she's grace, she is the queen India can never replace. To quote poet Joanna Baillie - "kind was her heart and bright her fame, and Ahilya was her honored name." Yes, I am writing about legendary Maratha Queen Ahilyabai Holkar. She was born in 1725 in the village of Chaundi to a respectable family. She learned how to read and write even though women in that time did not go to school. Interestingly, her entry into history was a bit of an accident. The Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao had stopped in Chaundi on his way to Pune and saw 8 year old Ahilya at a temple service, after which he recognised her devotion and character and brought her as a bride for his son Khanderao Holkar into Holkar territory.

After Khanderao's death in 1754, Ahilya had given up all hope and was ready to perform sati, but her father in law Malhar Rao convinced her otherwise. She began her training in military training, civil and military affairs, coached by Malhar Rao. Thus trained to be a ruler, a woman from humble beginnings led the entire Premodern Hindu India. According to me, she was the most enlightened of all of India's rulers. Less than a year into her reign, the heroic Holkar queen was seen defending her realm, battling off attackers tooth and nail to prevent Malwa from being stolen. Armed with swords and weapons, she led armies into the battlefield, also looking after all administrative properties, holding daily meetings with her ministers and was always there when her kingdom needed her. Being a Hindu queen, she built dozens of temples, ghats, wells and tanks, also doing a super impressive feat and rebuilding the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi. A definite proof of her ability as a ruler was during her reign, Malwa was never once attacked, when at that time the whole of Central India was facing a power struggle, with battles being fought for the throne. Under her rule, Malwa remained an oasis of stability and peace.

The reason I am so inspired by the Queen of Malwa is because she stands out as a strong ruler spreading the message of dharma, rejuvenating Hinduism, and promoting the relatively modern virtues of small-scale industrialisation. She overcame the 18th century disadvantage of gender and truly proved herself to the world, giving hope and strength to all the women in the world, evidence that a person can overcome anything. After her husband's death, she stayed alive and channeled her grief into running her kingdom smoothly for the sake of her citizens. By refusing to stand by the practise of “purdah”,she would communicate directly with her kingdom and make it flourish. Maheshwar, her capital, was a kaleidoscope of literary, musical, artistic, and industrial triumphs.

Ahilya thought ahead of her time - helping widows to retain their husband’s wealth and making sure they were allowed to adopt a son. She also urged everyone to give it their everything in whatever they were doing. Merchants, artisans, and artists produced some of the greatest things under her reign, and they were paid on a regular basis. These forward thoughts are what made her such a great queen. As students, we should all strive to have the same dedication and determination to reach our goals as Ahilya did. I would like to end my article with what we teens say in the 21st century, “she be epic”.

By Aum Pherwani

Aum Pherwani

Ahilyabai Holkar
Stamp in her honour

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