Ahilya Bai Holkar
Shrimant Akhand Soubhagyavati Devi Shri Ahilya Bai Sahib Holkar (31 May 1725 – 13 August 1795) (ruled 11 December 1767 – 13 August 1795), was the Holkar Maharani of the Malwa kingdom, India. Ahilyabai was born in the village of Chondi in Jamkhed, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. She moved the capital to Maheshwar south of Indore on the Narmada River
She was the daughter of Manakoji Shinde of Aurangabad. She was married to Khanderao Holkar, only son of Malhararao Holkar. Malhararao was an assistant chieftain in the army of Peshwa . Her husband was killed in a cannon attack. She was hardly 20 years old at the time. As was the custom, she wanted to commit sati by getting into the funeral pyre of her husband. Her father-in-law Malhararao persuaded her not to do so, since she was his sole hope and solace in this life, in as much as, his son had been an indolent, irresponsible and pleasure-seeking person. Ahalyabai had two children, a son named Malerao and a daughter Muktabai.
Ahalyabai grew up into and intelligent and courageous woman. Her father-in-law trained her in the administration of the affair of the state, and coached her in the collection of revenue and in the management of the army. She combined herself qualities of a good administrator for the welfare of the state and those of an extremely religious person. She devoted many hours every day to reflection, prayer, and scriptural study.
“She was one of the purest and most exemplary rulers that ever existed” according to Sir John Malcolm, a great Maratha historian. She is often compared with Catherine II of Russia, Elizabeth I of England, Margaret I of Denmark. She ruled from 1767 to 1795 with great skill and understanding. She governed the state from a palace fort at Maheshwar on the northern bank of the Narmada River.
It was the specialty of 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. Devi Ahilya inherited personal fund which at that time was estimated to be sixteen crores rupees. Ahilyabai used personal fund in charitable works. Among Ahilyabai’s accomplishments was the development of Indore from a small village to a prosperous and beautiful city. She also built forts and roads in Malwa, sponsored festivals and gave donations for regular worship in many Hindu temples.
However, Ahalyabai did many things as monuments of her piety and interest she had for the welfare of her people. She constructed many highways, wells, ghats, rest-houses and temples. The most noteworthy among them are road from Calcutta to Varanasi and the temples of Somanatha in Saurashtra, of Vishnu and Gaya and of Vishweswara and Varanarsi.