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PRABUDDHA BHARATAGlimpses of Holy Lives | Rani Ahalyabai: Centred in Yoga  




          Glimpses of Holy Lives



          Rani Ahalyabai: Centred in Yoga



     Through her many qualities, this divine lady was an ornament not only to Maharashtra, but to entire humankind. Her virtue was so all-embracing that in every aspect of dharma and conduct she had her fame immortalized. Her munificence was so great that till today it remains unparalleled in Hindustan. Her justice was so correct that both businessmen and thieves blessed her. Her humility was so natural that she never allowed anyone to praise her. Her supervision was so strict that no state functionary could act without her permission or bring her to disrepute. She was so unavaricious that she never aspired after other states nor tried to increase her property holdings by burdening others. Her kindness to living beings was so broad that her concern extended even to animals and birds.


     Although this appraisal of Rani Ahalyabais excellences by Chintaman V Vaidya was made over a hundred years after her death in 1795, this was an assessment that her contemporaries, both friendly and hostile, would have ungrudgingly attested to. For Ahalyabai, unlike the proverbial prophets, was an object of veneration even in her own times.


     At a time when degeneracy and despotism were the rule, Ahalyabai built up a genuine welfare state through her wisdom and sagacity. Her biographer, Mukund W Burway, observes:



     Light assessment was the great boon she conferred on the agricultural classes generally. It was the basis of the prosperity and contentment of the whole class of kirsans (peasantry) who were undoubtedly happy under Ahilyabais regime. She never encouraged forced labour, the bane of all barbarous or unenlightened rules. She respected the rights of village officers and proprietors of lands, whereby the Rayat had confidence in the good faith of her administration and regarded her almost with religious veneration. Ahilyabais treatment of her officers and servants was sympathetic and liberal, combined with mild severity and stern justice.



     The numerous petty Rajput Chiefs, tributaries and neighbours were treated fairly and amicable settlements were made with them in such a manner as to enable them to maintain themselves decently. This led to the peace and contentment of the Rajput neighbours, who blessed Ahilyabai for her disinterested and generous behaviour towards them, and always remained attached to her side. Ahilyabais settlement with the criminal tribes of Gonds and Bheels were as satisfactory as her other arrangements. Conciliatory measures were tried at first, and when they failed, she had recourse to a more rigorous system, incorrigible offenders being put to death, though such instances of severe justice were very rare


     No person of her time was more respected then Ahilyabai. The Mahomedans vied with their Hindu brethren in doing honour to her and admiring her extraordinary virtues and charity. To incur her displeasure was sufficient to ensure a social degradation and a loss of reputation. Such was her hold on the Indian mind.


     In his celebrated work Memoirs of Central India Sir John Malcolm writes: Among the Princes of her own nation, it would have been looked upon as sacrilege to have become her enemy, or, indeed, not to have defended her against any hostile attempt. She was considered by all in the same light. The Nizam of the Deccan and Tippoo Sultan granted her the same respect as the Paishwah.


     But Ahalyabai was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and her personal life was punctuated with tragedies. Born into the family of a petty village patil in Aurangabad she was married at the age of eight to Khanderao Holkar, the nondescript son of Malhar Rao Holkar, who himself was then rising from being a small-time horseman to the founder of the Holkar state of Malwa. Khanderao was accidentally killed by a cannonball while on an expedition with his father near Bharatpur. Ahalyabai was then only nineteen and was prevented from becoming a sati only by the earnest importunities of her parents-in-law, who, having lost their only son, now looked upon Ahalyabai as their son.


     If Ahalyabai imbibed the devotion, piety, and spirited nature of her mother-in-law, Gautamabai, she was trained in administration by Malhar Rao. When the latter was away on military expeditions, it was Ahalyabai who managed the household affairs as well as the jagirs. She also supervised the casting of cannons and small firearms, the preparation of ammunition, and such other functions, and oversaw the artillery. All this was done under explicit directions from Malhar Rao, who used to regularly communicate with her even from the battlefield.


     Malhar Rao died in 1766 and his successor, Ahalyabais son Malerao, too died the next year after a spell of insanity. Ahalyabai was now left alone facing a scheming minister, Gangadhar Chandrachud, who was backed by Raghoba Dada, the uncle of the Peshwa, Madhav Rao I. Chadrachud wanted Ahalyabai to adopt a minor son, so that he could wield de facto power, whilst Raghoba wanted the Peshwa to attach Ahalyabais estate. Ahalyabai would not give in to such machinations. She established personal contacts with the Peshwa and his noble wife, Ramabai, and the former soon issued an order ratifying Ahalyabais succession to the Holkar state.


     Ahalyabai maintained very cordial relations with the Peshwas, with Mahadaji Scindia, who was at the height of his powers then, and with other neighbours. She also had her own vakils in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Srirangapattana, Lucknow, Pune, and Nagpur to coordinate her business, public relations and diplomacy. But it was not mere diplomatic soft power that she wielded. The modest but efficient Holkar army performed creditably under Tukoji Holkar, Ahalyabais trusted commandant. She even raised a womens regiment to confront Raghoba when the latter assumed a threatening stance. Once when the Chandrawat Rajputs annexed Rampura and threatened the Scindia territory, the ladies of Mahadajis family wanted to move over to Ahalyabais capital at Maheshwar for the sake of safety. Ahalyabai wrote back that although they were always welcome, their prestige would suffer if they came over at that time. Instead, if need be, she would be with them in nine hours time even as her own army was moving to tackle the menace.


     Fate struck another cruel blow on Ahalyabai when her only daughter Muktabai committed sati in 1791 after her lone son and husband died in quick succession. That Ahalyabai could withstand all these shocks and continue her ministration speaks volumes for her courage and fortitude. Her deep personal faith and a disciplined spiritual life were the wellsprings of this fortitude. Her day began an hour before sunrise with prayer and puja. And these, along with scriptural readings and charities, occupied the entire morning, interrupted only by a light breakfast. Her durbar from two to six in the afternoon was followed by two to three hours of devotions, a frugal supper and then business again from nine to eleven. She maintained this routine to the last days of her life till she gave up her body very carefully, having recited the divine name (as recorded in the Holkar Kayafiyat) on the banks of the Narmada.


     The temples of Vishwanath, Somnath and Vishnu at Varanasi, Saurashtra and Gaya, the Manikarnika Ghat at Varanasi, the KolkataVaranasi highway, the daily abhisheka of Shiva at Rameshwaram with Ganga water brought all the way from northern India, and the endowment for pilgrims at Kedarnath in the Himalayas are all silent witnesses to the yoga of action, in which was centred the being of this remarkable queen, for whom devotion to the divine had become inseparable from enlightened rulership.


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015









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