Brave saga of Rani Ahilyabai comes alive

Above: H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar inaugurates an exhibition on Devi Ahilyabai Holkar, the warrior queen of India at Balgandharva Rang Mandir, Pune on 13th January, 2010

The Pioneer, 14th January, 2010

FACT has put together a first-of-its-kind exhibition depicting the life and times of the great warrior queen of Indore, writes Tiego Bindra

After the hugely successful exhibitions on Aurangzeb, which raised the hackles of communalists and their political mentors, and Shivaji, FACT - India has put together a fascinating exhibition on Rani Ahilyabai, the warrior queen of Indore. The show was inaugurated by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in Pune on Wednesday.

“I knew that Ahilyabai had built the Kashi Vishwanath temple,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “but there are many facts about her which I discovered through this exhibition, such as her being a simple girl from a village and having raised a battalion of women.” Mr Prafull Goradia, a columnist with The Pioneer and sponsor of the exhibition, pointed out that “it was not men who repaired the damages done by invaders to temples, but a woman of courage dedicated to her country”.

FACT - India is managed by Fran├žois and Namrita Gautier. The acronym stands for Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism. FACT - India not only fights against human rights abuses in South Asia - whether of Ahmadi Muslims and Christians and Buddhists of Bangladesh or the Kashmiri Pandits of India - but also highlights the greatness of Indian culture.

Fran├žois Gautier said, “In spite of the many abuses on Indian women widely reported, nowhere in the world have women been so honoured like in India. Half of the deities are feminine and the unique concept of Shakti honours the feminine element in all things. Countries such as France or the US never had a woman as their top leader, whereas India had Mrs Indira Gandhi ruling with a strong hand.”

India has had many female rulers, warrior women and poet queens, but Ahilyabai Holkar commands tremendous admiration for her accomplishments during her 30-year-long reign. She was noted for her piety, for her administrative ability, for her keen interest in all her people and for an extraordinary amount of building at holy sites all over the country. Visitors to Varanasi know of the golden domed temple of Vishwanath, Lord of the World, in the heart of the city.

Ahilyabai, though a queen, led a simple life as can be seen by the recount of her daily routine: She rose an hour before daybreak to say her prayers. Then she had scriptures read to her, distributed alms and gave food to a number of poor people. Her breakfast, as indeed all her meals, was vegetarian. After breakfast, she prayed again, and then took a short rest. From two to six she was in her durbar; after religious exercises and a light meal, she again attended to business from nine to eleven. She did not neglect the defence of her motherland and employed a French officer to train four battalions of her army, so as to resist the march of the English troops in Gujarat in 1780.

Her life was marked by prayer, abstinence and work, with religious fasts, festivals and public emergencies affording the only change in this routine. Her devotion was to Shiv, although she respected all religions. “Shri Shankara” appeared on all royal proclamations along with her signature. In spite of all that is known about the warrior queen and all that she has left behind - timeless testimonies to her imagination and beneficence - she has not been given the recognition that she rightfully deserves.

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