Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

In news: Ahilyabai Holkar (1725 –1795)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Ahilyabai Holkar

Mains level: Read the attached story


There has been a proposal from the district administration to rename the Western Maharashtra city of Ahmednagar as ‘Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Nagar’, after the 18th century Malwa queen, Ahilyabai Holkar.

History of Ahmednagar

  • Ahmednagar lies in the Western region of Maharashtra.
  • It has been a part of some prominent kingdoms, starting from 240 B.C. when the vicinity is mentioned in the reference to the Mauryan Emperor Ashok.
  • The Rashtrakuta Dynasty, the Western Chalukyas, and then the Delhi Sultanate ruled over the region in the Medieval period.
  • In the last case, the rule was not direct, and a revolt by Afghan soldier Alladin Hasan Gangu led to the establishment of the Bahmani kingdom in the Deccan.
  • After some time, Ahmednagar (then known as Nizamshahi) became one of the five independent kingdoms to emerge from that empire.

How did the city of Ahmednagar first get its name?

  • In 1486, Malik Ahmad Nizam Shah became the Bahmani Sultanate’s Prime Minister.
  • He fought back an attempt by the king to dislodge him from power, and defeated the army of the Bahamani kingdom near Ahmednagar in May 1490.
  • Finally, in 1494 he laid the foundation of a city close to where he defeated the army, on the left bank of Sina river, and named it after himself: Ahmednagar.

Who was Ahilyabai Holkar?

  • Born in Chondi village of Ahmednagar to the village head Mankoji Shinde, on May 31, 1725, Ahilyabai was one of the few women rulers of Medieval India.
  • While the education of girls and women was rare at that time, Mankoji insisted on it for his daughter.
  • When she was eight years old, Malhar Rao Holkar, the army commander to Peshwa Bajirao, is believed to have spotted her at a temple service in Chondi.
  • Impressed by her devotion and character, he decided to get his son, Khande Rao, married to her.
  • Ahilyabai took control of Malwa after her husband’s death in the Battle of Kumbher against the king of Bharatpur in 1754.

Her Administration

  • She brought about two important changes in the administration, both divergences from the traditions of her era.
  • She vested the military power in Tukoji Holkar, a confidante of her father-in-law though not related.
  • She separated the state’s revenue from the personal use of the ruling family. Her personal expenses were met from inherited wealth and the land holdings she had.

Role in demolished temple re-construction

  • From Gangotri to Rameshwaram, and from Dwarka to Gaya, she spent money on rebuilding temples destroyed under the Mughal rule.
  • The most significant one, however, is the current Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi.
  • Destroyed by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb to build the Gyaanvapi mosque, the temple was restored in its current form by Ahilyabai in the year 1780, 111 years after its destruction.
  • The Somnath temple, witness to the regular destruction by a host of aggressors over the centuries, was restored in 1783 by all the Maratha confederates, with a significant contributions from Ahilyabai.
  • With temples and rest areas in Kedarnath, Srisailam, Omkareshwar and Ujjain, Ahilyabai contributed to the improvement of facilities at other holy sites hosting Jyotirlingas too.


  • Ahilyabai died in the year 1795 at the age of 70.
  • Her legacy is not documented in a structured way in history textbooks or popular references either.
  • Part of the problem is the general absence of any non-Mughal, non-British narratives in contemporary Indian history books.


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