In the 17th century, powerful kingdoms appeared in the north-western part of India, arising out of the decadence of the Great Moghul Empire. Resourceful men had carved out these states which they governed with great efficiency. And so it was that the Kingdom of Indore came into being.
A century later, the ruling Maharajah decided to marry off his son and heir. A young girl named Ahilya was found in one of the kingdom’s villages; she was known not only for her beauty but also her intelligence and strong character.
She became a princess and heiress of Indore. Her husband valued her, but her father-in-law the Maharajah valued her even more. Having discovered the young Ahilya’s qualities, he appointed her to the kingdom’s administration as his advisor. She proved to be so efficient, so intelligent, so determined, that very soon, the Maharajah could no longer do without her.
At this point, Ahilya’s husband, the heir, passed away. Ahilya, who had likely loved him very much, prepared the funeral pyre on which she intended to sacrifice herself, as per an Indian custom called ‘sati’, or ‘the widow’s suicide’.
The Maharajah would not have it. He summoned Ahilyah and explained to her that she was far too helpful to the kingdom to disappear too soon. He must have been very persuasive, because the young widow abandoned her intention to commit suicide, and became the most powerful advisor: the Maharajah’s hand and ears.
When the Maharajah died, his grandson, Ahilya’s son, succeeded him. He was young, but he was mostly weak, lacking in qualities and proved incapable of ruling the kingdom.
As such, he died after nine months. It was not impossible that the Queen Ahilya had something to do with this sudden death which was also useful to the kingdom.
Whichever way things happened, it was Ahilya who assumed power after her son’s body had been burnt and his ashes thrown into the Ganges. She reigned for thirty years, much to the delight of her people. This genius woman administered her kingdom to perfection and tirelessly worked to ensure the well-being of her subjects.
She herself lived modestly. Her residence in Maheshwar was so tiny that it could hardly be called a palace, but she was content. She was extravagantly generous towards religion and built 92 temples across the entire India, of which the Golden Temple of Varanasi is the most well-known.
But, as one of her descendants, my friend, the prince Richard Holkar, observes, the Queen Ahilya was an impeccable strategist, and chose the places where she built temples in order to expand her power to new territories.
The Queen Ahilya still remains an iconic figure of Maheshwar and one of India’s most celebrated historical figures.